A week ago I wrote about childbirth and how tough I had found it. Twice. The idea behind the post was to share the fact that although I appear to be a very strong mother, providing for my children in the wake of their father’s terrible brain injury, I found childbirth traumatic, scarring and 12 years later I’m still thinking about it. Still wondering what went wrong.
I made the mistake of selecting the wrong words for the title. I wrote that women who had sailed through with only gas and air could ‘shutup’. I also wrote that they were no more deserving of a medal than those who had been ripped apart and had felt totally out of control. This was an example of the care you need to take with words; I don’t actually want anyone to shut up – I want to say that I felt that women who have an easy birth are really congratulated, they are called ‘amazing!’ and people marvel over their ability to manage pain etc – but they are NO BETTER and NO WORSE than their sisters who need interventions. That was what the message was, but it got lost.
It was a clumsy title, now changed. But what happened that day was powerful. I had messages telling me that I was fuelling the competitiveness. I had shamed people. I had exposed people. My own friends were uncomfortable with me being ‘spikey’ – but I felt spikey about it.
I took the post down and I softened it up. I changed the bits where I had sounded too cross. I watered down my real feelings because they were not acceptable. I behaved well and calmed everyone down.
I lost my voice.
I felt the power of the pack. There was a pincer movement around me. My nasty title was too nasty. We need to talk about this. We repress so much and hide so much from each other. We don’t tell pregnant women how likely it is that they will be in agony. We don’t say how scary it is, how you think you might die. How close you come. We push it all under the soft felty blanket of the new baby because to talk about it would be to make you the important bit, and it’s not about you any more is it? It’s about the baby now. Forget how you got her. If you look back too much, you’re not being a good mother. Be happy now. Don’t betray the baby by saying it was horrible having him.
Well, it is scary. It’s painful. I felt out of control. I wanted to die. It still lingers. I felt that I’d failed. I wish I had been more prepared for that possibility, to know that many women fell the same way. I wish women were more true. I wish older women would speak to younger women. I wish it wasn’t whispered about in kitchens and that the young women were not ‘protected’ from the harsh stories of how we get our children out.
I wish that the easy times were not the only times discussed. It is not a fail to have had a bloody tough childbirth, it’s a very ordinary thing.
The deep flaw in our sisterhood is that we consider it admirable to sail through this rawest of experiences and we don’t talk to each other about the far more common reality which is traumatic and frightening as a result.
I’m not going to lose my voice anymore. We need to talk.
This photo is the first I have of me as a mother. Wired up, tubes in arms, drugged, ripped, bleeding, battered, frightened to the point – I’m actually going to say it -of being traumatised.
This was a normal birth. They actually wrote something on the notes like ‘NVD’ (Normal Vaginal Delivery), something like that. But not that. I was not noticing much detail after the drag through the Devil’s own 24hrs. I wanted them to write, ‘VTVLVHBASMSTS’ (Very Traumatic Very Long Horrible Birth: Amazing Mother Set To Shine) I had honestly felt, at times during that ripping, punching, vomiting, howling, wrestling, splitting, seizing, crippling day that I would have shot myself if someone had only handed me a gun.
How the bloody hell can some women tell me they played scrabble until they were 10cm dilated? I can’t imagine it. At 1cm I was writhing in agony, unable to speak, curled over a cardboard kidney tray on the actual lino floor of the hospital while some force grabbed every tissue and sinew in my entire middle and dragged it up, across, down, out; clamped it together, slammed me into blackness where words were far, far away and getting a shoe back on was actually, completely impossible. I am a big woman. An athletic, tall woman. I am strong. I worked full time as a teacher until 37 weeks. I ran the school nativity play a couple of weeks before the due day. I have gruelled through endurance races with swims through icy Easter lakes that freeze your genitals, seize your breath and numb your limbs – but this, this was like nothing else on Earth. This was a Normal Vaginal Delivery.
At some point in the torture you may hear a infinitesimally tiny voice penetrate the nightmare and offer the chance of an anaesthetist. This God of a being will often be too far away, saving another luckier woman. They may just catch you in the window of opportunity though. Catch you lurching and arching, crying and grasping objects, people, sheets – they may see that you are not going to be able to heed the warning about a ‘possible headache’ as a side effect, or that you even gave a shit whether your head was, at that moment, blown apart by a canon. You have never before had not a nanosecond of doubt that someone should hurry up and insert a needle, the length of your entire arm and curled like a butterfly’s proboscis into your spine; two people holding you still while you dangerously contort to push yourself out of your own skin and away from this.
You may come back to this world, to escape Hades and the underworld where you’ve been, if the epidural works. You may be able to sip water and say a word to introduce yourself to the women who have had their fingers up your innards. You might get this chance to experience the exciting anticipation of labour, the breathless stamina testing final furlong, without the feeling that you would rather die. And it is exciting. Amazing. And with luck and the skill of other people, you will probably end up with a healthy baby. A baby – just as good as the women who manage without the drugs. Just as good a prize.
So, if you were blessed with the miraculous combination of nerve endings and corporeal wiring that abated the punishment of having the baby, if you managed to have a bath, a cup of tea and and watch Netflix before gliding your baby out, you were lucky. Just that. Not better. Not more hardy. Not cleverer. Not more deserving of a round of applause or a medal. You were lucky. The competitiveness of this in the FB status or the playground newsfeed can be another kick in the uterus. Women for aeons have squatted in rice fields and managed it unattended. We are all merely products of our time with a dependency on interventions and some of us are wired differently.
If you get up the hill in your 4×4 faster than I do in my Honda, you are not better – you’re just in a different machine. Some bodies are wired up to feel this as torture, some as a ‘bit of a challenge’ – can we all try to let women be listened to, to let them feel that they were not ‘failing’ for their hard labour relying on whatever drugs they could beg out of the NHS.
We are all doing our best, and we all need the support and the praise. Try not to focus on the journey, but on the result. Even those of us who found it tough are being given an easier time than multitudes of others.
The acronym NVD was followed, for me, by the acronym the GP wrote on my notes when I went, two years later, crying to tell her that I was pregnant again: PTS. Post Traumatic Stress.
This picture is me at the height of my running obsession in 2012. These were the pre-days. The days before my ex-husband had the huge stroke. The days when I knew that things were not quite right but I could have no idea of what was about to happen and how the growing worries about us would explode in the aftermath of the devastation.
At this point running was solving a lot of things for me. It was my way of escaping a reality which felt comfortable and lucky, but not mine. I could pull on those trainers and go, in a straight line, out of the door and away from the husband who was wonderful, but who I knew was not my soul mate. Would never be. No matter how much I wished he were. I could get a break from the baby who vomited up to 50 times a day, the toddler who woke before 5am every day without fail and the effects of over three years without a single unbroken night. Unlike going for a walk or going to the shops, running can be selfish and you are allowed to go alone.
Running made me feel like something was progressing. I was winning at something. The miles crept up. The loss of a few toenails was a small price to pay for the fresh-air, the freedom, the strength and the sense of being part of a fraternity of fit people in a running club and at organised events. But, if I’m really honest, the side effect of running that became the most addictive was the weight loss.
Over two stone went in the first year. People started to tell me to ‘be careful’ – well, HOW THRILLING. That just feeds it. Don’t say that to people. It’s confirmation. You’re being noticed. I could eat whatever I wanted because I ran so much. But then I worked out that if I reduced what I ate as well, I would get super slinky. I pretty much ended up having a year without any obvious fats. I ate melba toast and ham. I still drank loads of wine. I became utterly thick. I couldn’t remember simple things I’d done at work. My brain began to feel the effects of having no fats available to create the sheaths around the synapses. My dad told me I looked stringy, my breasts were all but gone and I worried and worried about being invited to eat out because I did not want to ever eat fatty stuff again. I was a machine. A running machine.
I was getting oddly close to having an actual eating problem at the age of 38. But sharing clothes with my super slim sister, my junior of 8 years, felt amazing. I am a clever woman. I understand the media and pressure and social expectation blah blah – and yet, I was pretty much falling into the trap myself and loving far too much of it.
The nightmare of the stroke ended my obsession. Life wasn’t able to give me the moments of escape for a good long time after that fateful day. I didn’t need to run to feel that I was in control of something, as suddenly, I had to be in control of everything. I didn’t want to get away from the children. I wanted to hold them tight and be present.
A few years on, a few stone later, I’m starting again. The trainers are back out. I want to get back into it. It was good for me in so many ways. Mentally, it is important to run. I also want to lose some weight. But I don’t want to become obsessed. I think it’s very easily done, even as a proper grown up. I will try to do this in moderation now, to find a middle way suitable for a woman of my age with children to lead though life. I want my daughter, particularly, to see that being fit and strong is a good thing and that I can do it without falling into the skinny trap again. I don’t want the side effect to become the motivation this time because that is where it went wrong before.
The side effect needs to be just that. The motivation needs to be the mental space and pride that comes with getting out there. I just have to watch it though – running is brilliantly addictive but sadly, so is being thin.
I’m proud to say I’ve moved on. I have gone from being the oft-weeping, thin-smiling, compliant ex-partner; hiding my hurt and being quite available for ‘return of item’ visits, to the acidic lash-tongued texter of today dishing out anything I hope will feel like a punch in the face. Anything to get a reaction because dealing with an emotional hermit crab is beyond frustrating and I’m really, REALLY feeling it.
I have gained a few steps along the curve of grief chart – that line that tells you you’ll be back to normal at some point. I’ve done the shock / sadness section and now it’s ‘anger and bargaining’. I’ve still got resignation and sadness (again?) to look forward to before the ascent to normality – whatever that was? Was it good? I can barely remember.
Anger and bargaining. Those texts today should cover the anger bit… bargaining? I’ve tried all the ‘We could do this…..we could try talking to **insert name of super expensive counsellor who seems to have stopped your mates from loathing each other temporarily **….we could try again for a few months…..I will do more of ***insert anything you don’t mind doing more of***….. anyhow, none of it has worked so that’s that out the window.
Onwards to Resignation then. Deep breath. He said he wanted to be with me forever, he said he wanted to build a house for all our children, but actually, it turns out, he’d rather not. It’s been hard to come to terms with that. I’ve always felt that I was a rather nice prize. I’d like to live with me.
A good friend has cajoled me into her online training program. It’s a 5 week course, 5 days a week, 5 minutes a day. It’s called ‘High 5’ – not sure how she came up with that – but it’s been pretty remarkable. It takes you through your visions, values and beliefs and aims to get you to become your best possible self. That feels pretty damn distant. I’d be OK with the pre-me. The one just before the fall in love, when I felt great, attractive, fun and not the massive wallowing husk of wafers that I have been rinsed out into.
She took me for a run today, this mate. She took her dog and me. I trotted along and she coached me all the way, she talked me through things. I soaked it all up. She told me about the Emotional Release Techniques, where – I think- you can try to reset your body and stop a certain behaviour, exchanging it for a more positive reaction. Rather like resetting your factory settings after you’ve messed up your iPhone with too many blurred photos of the floor, (all my photos are of the bloody floor) personally I’m looking forward to exchanging the kind of low moments when I call my 11yr old a ‘bloody shitbag’ through clenched teeth for losing the 3rd water bottle in a week, for a warm fuzzy glow where I cuddle him up and laugh about his carelessness.
I don’t know if I can use this technique to fully restore my settings. I’m not sure that I should. I have learnt a lot from the rollercoaster of him. I know that I should be wary of men who won’t speak (unless you’re asking about entirely practical things) so I need to keep that scar as it’ll save me from gaining another.
I would like to be hopeful again though. Not bitter about it. Not angry, bargaining or sad. I would like to get back to a state where I believe I’m good enough. Being asked to leave is a very powerful punch. Being passive and hopeful that he’ll change his mind for months has been a self-administered hook to that punch.
I’m deffo K.O’d right now.
But this little 5 minutes a day is resetting things in a teeny tiny way. I can, at least, see that this is a stage and it’s not forever.
I’m pressing and holding the top and bottom buttons – Factory settings will be restored, but I am hopeful that there will also be an upgrade.
I’ll readily admit that this is the first week that I’ve actively not been drinking. And I’ll also admit that in writing this and launching it out into the net, I’m running the risk of being a massive hypocrite if I back out quickly – a label I have never wanted since the teenage days of watching everyone’s Catholic parents come streaming out of Sunday mass where they’d been genuflecting in bent concord, desperate for the forgiveness that would ensure their place at His Right Hand, and straight into St Dominic’s Irish Social Club where they’d immediately order a pint and slag off Bridie O’Flanaghan for being such a fecking mare.
So this becomes an insurance policy for me. I do not want to fall back into the daily drinking trap. It has a lot to answer for. It definitely affects the way that I look after my children.
I’m not talking about the kind of drinking that we can all “tut-tut” at. The bench-dwelling-9.5%-tramp-cider that we know we will never be keeping ourselves warm with. What I mean is the large glass of wine that you think about all day. The one, then the two, then the ‘Oops, that’s over half now’, then the ‘Jesus, that’s nearly all gone’ wine. The wine that drops your shoulders, swills your gills and fills you with calm, that makes the dishwasher unloading seem like an OK task and stops you from scoffing what’s left of the cottage pie in the ceramic dish after the kids have been bullied into bed. No one is going to call Social Services about you having that kind of a drinking habit. But it’s not good. No, it’s not good at all.
Within one week of conscious sobriety (and can I make it clear, I’m no health guru, am not of any religious affiliation and have no reason to say this other than to insure myself against relapse) I have noticed a very real, in fact alarmingly, soberingly real, shift in behaviour in this house.
As a single parent I feel that I deserve a glass of wine. I work, I make all the breakfasts, packed lunches, suppers, do all the washing, instigate and support the homework, bin changing, my own marking, toilet seat de-yellowing, shopping – you know the score. I love wine. Happiness. My goal. Socially acceptable disconnection waits at the end of each day. But the wait is the problem. I can feel myself ramping it up, like the Countdown Clock, the mad shepherd that I become, snapping at them and reading through David Walliams’ books in the manner of this Amish man selling a rather beautiful quilt, and all because my friend awaits; red and alluring, telling me that I can hang out, but only when they’re in bed.
My daughter’s nursery teacher told me, a few year ago, that she had said, “When Mummy kisses me goodnight, she always smells of wine” – shit, maybe I’m not even waiting most nights then? Must have been the weekends. We both laughed. But actually, it’s not the best me. It’s not what I want her growing up to remember about me. I don’t want to be putting out the recycling on Monday morning and feeling relieved that there’s the odd Dolmio jar clanking away in the glass bit among the week’s wine bottles.
I have spent so much money on this habit that has done so little for me. It’s dried me out into the half-reptile that I am; daily basting with oily unctions necessary to abate total flakeage, it’s provided the daily calorie equivalent of two deep-fried doughs for no nutritional gain, it’s robbed me of £15-£20 a week (almost a grand a year – that’s a damn fine holiday…) but worst of all, it’s given me a fire, a fuel that acts against the very behaviours you need to have at the fore when you’re the person caring for the children. Think of all the top blogs, all the funniest women out there and how so much of the content is based upon getting the bloody kids to shut up and piss off so that we can get a drink in. Yes, we do need some fun. We deffo do – but in the same way that I detest the cartoon ‘Horrid Henry’ for showcasing really shitty behaviour to small kids who don’t need that in their psyche, I think we need to just have a think about why the ‘Piss Off Kids’ blogs are so huge…..we all love the comfort and guilt-lessening effect of a mirror- if she’s doing it, then it’s OK that I’m doing it… but, lovely fun people, one day they’ll be gone. Then they won’t need you to be awake for them, to be calmer and more forgiving. You can party damn hard then. You probably did choose to have these children after all.
This week I have seen:
a) Better skin already. b) Less tiredness; I’m happy going to bed at 9:30pm, there’s no wine to get through. c) Smaller bill at Aldi. d) 2lbs gone. e) KIDS ARE HAPPIER – I’m NOT joking. It could be a coincidence…..BUT, I was happy walking about with them at Halloween, I was not rushing. I was happy and calm when daughter couldn’t sleep because I had no other agenda; I helped her settle instead of shrieking “YOU HAVE GOT TO SLEEP!” up the stairs as it was surely MY wine time. I’ve been happier in the morning. I feel like I’m at the start of something good, rather than commiserating myself about the end of things.
There’s definitely been a noticeable change for good and my children have got a better parent. I want this, not just for them, I want this for me. For the best me that I can be – because I really like her a lot more than the fractious, snappy wine-hag of the past few years.
I remember running through a field with a very close friend a few years ago. Unbelievably, I was getting my ‘flow’, (that sacred running thing where you feel like you could go forever and that the world has never been more perfect; In my case probably a state of bliss not dissimilar to the reported peacefulness of drowning and mostly to do with a lack of oxygen to my brain) while my friend shattered my illusion that she was living the most perfect life by telling me of her desperate, tear-inducing longing for child number three.
My sister was equally certain that that she had to have the third child. In both cases it wasn’t a longing to see what ‘a boy’ or ‘a girl’ version of themselves would be, as both were already blessed with a daughter and a son. It was a deep-rooted knowledge that there was another member of the family that they had to try to discover. Someone was waiting in the wings.
The trouble is, this unquestionable knowledge isn’t always known by both parents. Indeed, as my sister’s brilliantly acerbic Scottish husband cut it with her after she had confided that she still felt there was “another child within me”, “Emma, there are about 150 000 potential children within you, You Cannae Have Them All!”
My friend consoled herself with a very beautiful, very expensive, turquoise velvet bed in the sad knowledge that it was safe from accidents with possets and mustard yellow pampers. My sister continued up the career path into the Academic Publishing Director’s chair.
Of course, both are fantastically savvy and devastatingly beautiful women. Of course, both now have third children. Both are content.
There are many women and men who do not want children at all and many who want children but find that the path to parenthood is desperately tough; denied even – but I do believe that in almost every one of us, there is an inbuilt need to nurture and I have noticed that when the days of baby-head sniffing bliss are over, when the books are closed for further entries and the ‘no vacancies’ sign has been swung from your uterus, I do believe you’ll probably get a dog.
It’s a step. It’s a pattern. We are susceptible. You don’t want a bloody dog? You hate the idea of picking up warm crap in a sandwich bag and carrying it? Well, you probably once hated the idea of spending more on a pram than you did on your first car and the idea of sleeping on a mattress on the floor next to a vomiting toddler wasn’t likely to have been in your Top Ten Best Moments but you did those didn’t you? The country is filled with parents who know they just do not have the energy for more procreation; for the Bounty packs, the Bumbos, the Growbags, the Breastpads and the search for a good-enough childminder.
But something is missing. They are not needed so keenly, as desperately as they once were. There is a hole. The hole reminds them that time is passing. The hole reminds them that they are passing through stages. They know what lies at the end. The End lies at the end. Deny the hole. Deny your mortality. But do it in a slightly easier way than having to have loads of vigorous sex again and then loads of unbroken nights resulting from your vigorous sex.
Growing up in Oxford, in my rambling family of 15 children, holidays were a predictable feast. We went up the A12 in a yellow minibus, always to Southwold in Suffolk. In the 1970’s Southwold was not, as it is now, the micro-bubble of Telegraph readers in Joules Gilets, where a week’s rental of a 3 bed cottage is over a grand and the best beach plots are prematurely bagsied by Boden-clad Jemimas and Olivers and their loud parents from the very start of the private school hols in late June. Back in the day you could find a fusty old house with an asbestos-lined pantry and very cheaply grant your straggly brood a 2 week break from city life.
The minibus is a great way to travel as a group. Small wonder it became so popular with religious cults and orphanages. However, my parents realised, at some point into their prolific campaign of procreation, that actually stopping for a wee was likely to double the journey time if every child was allowed the right to simply declare that they needed to go willy-nilly. Hence, the minibus potty technique was employed whereby the desperate child could unstick themselves from their excruciatingly hot black PVC seat – in 1979 without the hassle of any seat belts – push aside a few bin bags of clothes in the central aisle, and settle down for a sphintcer testing rollercoaster of control as they aimed to a) keep most of it in the plastic receptacle and b) not entirely fill it.
The game didn’t end there though readers – then came the part that tended to wake all siblings up from their sweaty sleepy leanings upon each other – the ‘pass back up to mum’. Nothing like a wobbling, brimming potty of warm piss being handed over your head to bring you acutley back to the present. Then, with a hearty reminder to slide shut the side windows, mum would tip the contents out of the front passenger window and at 62mph you could claim one of the clinging drips and play pee- racing games with your siblings.
Sadly, not many families are lucky enough to have the opportunity to play pee-racing on journeys any more, what with hygiene and decorum oddly being favoured. So, the need for alternative entertainment has arisen. And with the 2.3k miles of motorway in Britain being traversed, not as you would think at a lovely steady 70mph, but with the fastest average speed of 48.6mph (M40 London – Birmingham) and the slowest average of 25mph (M606 around Bradford) chances are you’re going want to jolly yourselves up a tad – after all, as a southerner I have both the general decline in concentration and attention of our children to deal with, as well as the sad news that the M25 -the frequent literal and actual ‘Jam’ in our M23/M25/M40 motorway sandwich- was named ‘Britain’s Most Depressing Road’ by Motorcycle News in 2010 and I doubt much has improved in the days since that seminal scrutiny.
I shall now give you a few ideas to brighten up your travels WITHOUT THE NEED TO PLUG your children into electronic devices and thus ruin their imaginations, conversations, interactions, and general social skills for THE REST OF THEIR LIVES. It’s NOT a bloody cinema. You’re travelling together.
A classic with a new twist. Create your own set of cards. A grid per traveller. Let yourself go mad thinking of the scenarios you would be almost, probably, likely to stumble across. I promise you, the kids and the adults will go MAD for this. You might decide to have to have a witness to verify your spottings if one person claims Bingo before you’ve reversed out the drive, but a year or so ago, in the days when the significant male actually wanted to holiday together, this kept 5 children aged 7-14 totally happy all the way to Wales, Devon then back to Sussex. You can even bribe them with a prize.
Come on. It’s the best. You can all have a chance to decide on your song. Granted, you may have to sing ‘Pen, Pineapple Apple Pen’ but it will be your turn at some point and if you can teach them the words to REM’s ‘It’s The End of The World’, you’re giving them an education and a very cool party trick for life.
National Trust Service Stations.
Forget ‘Welcome Break’ or whatever Costa-harbouring-rip-off-tat-peddling hyperbunker is on your route. Get someone to buy you a family National Trust membership. It’s about £70 a year. Get it for Christmas. It’s not only for Grannies. You can then plan almost any inter-UK trip with stops at a beautiful house and garden. You can stretch your legs among Capability Brown’s finest plantings. You will have a superior toilet experience to the minibus potty one. You can take your own food. It’s amazing. I have been to LOADS of fantastic places, the children have always loved it and the journey gets broken up into chunks that feel really manageable.
This is the real winner. You just have to have a LOT of it available. The ex-ish male in my life has the winning situation of having a builder’s van for a family car and thus, could shove boxes of cheesy oatcakes, carrots, hummus, cake, fruit, water, tortilla chips, rice crackers – almost everything we needed under the plywood floor at the back. No journey seemed too bad when you could pull off the road (using your mobile phone to guide you) and stop for half an hour and a little picnic. We even found a National Trust car park once and got out the gas stove, made the 5 kids some porridge and then slogged onwards with the grumbling magically, oatily and milkily, dissipated and forgotten. Just fill your car with good snacks. You’ll feel safe.
And last of all – try to change your mind-set slightly. If you can set off knowing that at some point you’ll get where you need to be, but that you might sit sharing marmite sandwiches in a traffic jam, you might wander around a medieval hunting lodge three quarters of the way in, you might sing together waiting for congestion to clear on the M4 or you might win at Bingo, then the travelling bit will just be a part of your lovely time together. You will feel so much more capable and the kids will feel happy because they are with you.
It’s a daily challenge. Showering yourself with enough love to negate the deficit created by your singledom. Who are all those people who write in to Steve Wright’s Sunday Love songs to declare their constantly growing affection? Has anyone REALLY got a partner who paints banners to hang from footbridges or sends flowers to work? I feel lucky if I get a bloody text containing more than 14 vowels.
I have decided throughout the week to be strong. To draw a line. To not allow myself to be the pet cat that got thrown out but is still available to slink around the ankles when circumstances allow. But, bloody hell, it’s hard being hard. I’ve had to distract myself in a manner of ways.
Firstly, I thought I’d get fit. A few years ago I was finely honed rope of running gristle. I have a photograph where my head looks like a lollipop on the smallest body I’ve had since I was 11. My dad didn’t like it; my friends told me I needed to be careful. I took their advice. That was 2 stone ago. I dropped the running soon after Shocktober ’12 and the day that life imploded. There was nothing to run away from after all, all the shit had arrived. And, Lord knows, I have needed the red wine to get through. But now, I can spend my ‘free time’ (the hour or so I can squeeze out of the day if I speed read Billionaire Boy to one child and set the alarm for 6:30am so I can make the sandwiches in the dark morning kitchen) I can spend this time getting my bikini body back. As that’s obviously a massive priority in my champagne jet-set lifestyle. Those camping trips to Suffolk are just not the same without a chiselled egg-box of a midriff rippling away under the cagoule.
I chose a YouTube video called ’30 Minute Cardio Hell Hole’ or something like that and remembered where my lycra was. I didn’t bother with the sports bra, I gave that to my ex partner’s teenager when I realised that my once ‘Black and White French Art House Film’ minimal spiky runners’ breasts had slowly proved themselves into magnificent basins of dough.
Shall we just say that what then followed, tested both the foundations of this house, my relationship with the couple next door and my pelvic floor. It’s a marvellous thing to have a downstairs toilet. You can bounce off for an assessment service stop during all the 14 second power rests. Power rests. WTF?? Can I point out that jogging like a boxer is not ‘resting’ in my book.
Anyway. I felt great afterwards. Until the next day when I couldn’t even get my own shoes on.
Secondly, in my habit changing week, I read that red wine is very calorific. It is the same as eating a huge greasy fried donut every night. How can that be? it’s a see-through liquid. So unfair. But I’ve heard that Gin and Slimline Tonic is less lard-loading so obviously, I’ve invested heavily in this new way of losing weight. Thank you Aldi. I also bought a bountiful crop of sanitary products.
Oh My Bejesus. What is happening to my undercarriage? (look away now all men and all women under 43) Why the heck does it seem hell bent on creating a scene reminiscent of an 1980’s American Horror Film each month? I’m not changing my mind. I’m not having any more children. It does not need to put on a display worthy of Vegas to remind me of the fleeting fecund possibilities. It’s just a massive hassle. Super Plus? HAHAHAHHAHA. I laugh at your Super Plus. Make a new category. Call it ‘Taggart, There’s Been A Murder’ because that one line (in a Scottish accent – click here for the original) is all I keep saying as I try to deal with this crazy swan-song fountain that my muddled old body is so desperately proffering.
SO, the Gin is helping. It’s been a challenging week. I’m a bit up and down and up and DOWN and UPPPPPP. And I’ve told him to stop contacting me.
It doesn’t take a genius to see the correlation between the rapidly increasing virtual nature of our lives and the disassociation, anxiety and difficulties with mental wellbeing that some of our young people are facing. There’s nothing we can do to halt the progress of amazing technology; it will continue be part of our lives and already it is integral to the lives of our children. What we can do, however, is wake up and see that the more that we rely on an interface or ‘cloud’ to provide our entertainment and interactions, the more that we are losing the part of us that makes us truly human – the part that needs to connect to other people and not just to flat glowing glass.
We are on the brink of a whole new era of virtual experiences with the launch of Google Expediations / 3D virtual headsets where you can strap your phone into a headset and experience 360° visual immersion to a host of places around the world and beyond. The idea is that you can now get a classroom of kids to wander along the edge of a volcano in Iceland and a second later you could be in an Indonesian Rainforest looking at primate life. You can go anywhere. You can ‘meet’ other people and ‘go’ with them. We are going to have to be very careful with this. How is anyone going to be content in their slightly damp terrace in Bognor, when they could ‘be’ wandering the boulevards of Cannes and ‘seeing’ the turquoise waters and fluttering palms. But as wonderful as it is, it’s not the truth. And as with all deception there will be a price to pay. And the price we are paying for this, right now, already, is an upcoming generation of people who are not able to deal with each other in a way that serves them well. They are unfulfilled on some level.
And I am suggesting that they need a few anchors, a few more ‘REAL’ experiences and things to touch, hold and feel that will help them to know that real life is real and real life really is better than anything offered on flat glass screen, stuff that will never really belong to them.
1) Write a letter to someone they love. We (well me, the over 40 generation…) we are the last generation of people who had to write on paper to each other. We didn’t have the internet, emails and Skype in our early years. This is why I still have a box of 136 letters from 1995 when I met my ex-husband and he was away gymnastics training in Germany. I still have them. I can still see his handwriting, touch the paper he touched in that studio flat in Heidenheim, and maybe share them with our children one day when they might want to believe that Mum and Dad did start out by seeing all that was wonderful in each other.
There’s an undeniable magic about finding a real letter on your door mat. It is a portal to someone else and it tells you that they have thought of nothing but you for the minutes it took to sit and write it. And post it. How flattering. How human.
2) Buy a photograph album. Go through your phone’s camera roll with the kids. Choose your favourites and get them printed. Make them real things that you can touch, turn the pages over. Take them to grandma’s and look through them together. Sit next to someone on sofa and share the photos. You will find that you chat, interact, laugh. You will have a totally different experience to the FB share experience. Plus you’ll know what to say if you have to answer that question about what you’d rescue in a fire.
3) Feel your music. Touch it. Show the kids a record player, a CD player. Go and find a friend who has a collection of music that you can touch, feel, sort through. Remind yourself, and the children, that once, when you owned an album, you owned it. You had it. You listened to all of it. Buy an old record player if you can, the kids will adore it. Buy weird vinyl from the charity shops. Get to the library for CDs. When your music is all in a cloud there is nothing you can touch, no covers to stroke, it’s not sensual in the way it used to be. Let the kids start collecting CDs. It’s cheap, charity shops have stacks.
4) Have a Pet. A real life to look after. Nothing virtual. Many good lessons for life here.
5) Have a few Games nights. I have to admit that I grew up with no culture of board games. I had enough brothers and sisters for 40/40, Murder In The Dark and 5 a-side so we didn’t really need them and we would definitely have lost all the pieces. But, there’s a recent resurgence in the board game market for a good reason and I’m getting on board. It’s about interaction, following rules, being fair, having fun, sharing, laughing, being a group. It needs no wifi. You can turn it off. Invite a few mates. Get your kids to invite a few. You will not regret it, it’ll be structured by the game and easy. Just get a few snacks in. I totally recommend DIXIT, I hadn’t seen it until this September but it’s brilliant. Creative, beautiful, inter-generational brilliant. It’s big in other countries; I’m amazed it’s not well known here too.
Please let me know what other ways you have found to get a bit of a balance between the virtual and the real. It’s a hugely important mental health issue as we whizz into this crazy future.