The end of the Birthday Party as we know it: when kids grow up.

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L-R, Lily, Amelie the little sister, India the birthday girl, and Daisy

This month, my eldest daughter turned 10. Ten! Once I was hit by the realization that she will therefore start secondary school next year in 2017, I did break down weeping and sniffling over the baby photos. I suspect this must be a mummy-thing, because my husband simply gave me a conciliatory pat on the shoulder and exclaimed rational surprise at how quickly the years (and sleep deprivation) have disappeared.

 

This year, for the first time since her first birthday, India did not have a party. This was the year when I finally felt it would be justifiable to suggest she choose two friends to accompany herself and her sister to the cinema, and lunch after. India likes to forward plan these things (I’m talking 6 months in advance), and so she had chosen her buddies long ago. This new-fangled take on birthdays made things both easier and harder, because numbers of invitees were severely diminished, and some people had to be left out; never easy. However, after a decade of parties and catering, and with the little lady in double figures, the grown-up daytrip went down well.

 

I engaged the resources of my mother for adult company (there’s only so much Alvin & the Chipmunks I can cope with alone), and we set off for Gunwharf. India, Amelie, Lily and Daisy were perfectly behaved throughout the film, and were model mini-diners in Pizza Express afterwards. Following the meal, we returned back home before finishing the day with the birthday cake, one of those few annual occasions where adults have to sing badly, out loud, in front of other adults, and children with long hair have open flames put in front of their faces.

 

I can’t deny that I was exhausted afterwards (8 hours is a long time when Alvin makes a vocal contribution), but every minute of the day was worth it to see India beaming with enjoyment – and made all the more worthwhile when she thanked me that evening for having made ‘such an effort’ for her. This independent gratefulness is, I suppose, simply another sign of her growing up; a recognition that the adults around you do actually put themselves out for your happiness.

 

Something she won’t realise until she’s much older though, is that I gained just as much enjoyment from being able to facilitate the day for her and her lovely friends. And anyway, compared to baking 200 fairy cakes and opening up my house to twenty-eight 5 year olds, their parents and a magician, it was a doddle.

 

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Women & Weight: what is it about size that brings out our inner bitch?

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My friend Leanne and I met last week for coffee and, in amongst chatting about various things, we started discussing size, weight and shape. Nothing new there for a female, or perhaps indeed a male.

 

Whilst I was pregnant with my youngest daughter eight years ago, I piled on the pounds. I was signed off work and laid up with a pelvic disorder, and once I gave birth, I took on the almighty task of losing the weight. I’m now nearly 7 stone less than I was on the day I gave birth, but that’s my personal choice. I’ve also been a stone less than I am now, but again, that was my choice.

 

But weight, size and shape are not concepts that are easy for women. When I was huge, I expect people commented upon it behind my back, and when I was thin and running tens of miles each week, I know for sure that they commented behind my back.

 

One person suggested that my husband needed to ‘man up’ and ‘make me eat more’, but given that I was still within a healthy weight range, had a blood pressure and a heart rate that the GP congratulated me on, and was asked by a surgeon at QA to consider talking to bariatric surgery patients about how I’d managed to rely on willpower, I think my husband was reassured that I was fine. (And isn’t that an interesting concept in itself? That my husband was somehow less ‘manly’, whatever that may mean, if he didn’t sit me down and force-feed me Ben & Jerry’s?)

 

Bizarrely, not one of the people who was rude about my appearance behind my back ever thought to question if I was indeed ok. In a world where eating disorders are now rife, you would imagine that – if someone cared – they might ask after you, and express concern. But with women and weight, nastiness often rules.

 

Let’s face it: we’ve all done it. We’ve all looked at someone and expressed shock at how large or small they are – and often the latter occurs through envy. People can be beautiful either way, and as long as you’re the size you want to be, and you’re healthy, should it concern anybody else? After all, to be nasty about someone who may be an inherently good person, purely because of what they weigh, and not because we have taken umbrage at an immoral act or instances of diabolical behaviour, is, in itself, pretty petty.

 

Having experienced both sides of the weight spectrum, I am also amazed at how people find it ok to tell you to eat a pie, but they never wrestle the Mars Bar out of your hand when you’re obese. It astounded me, whilst I was looking online writing this article, how many ‘body positive’ fat women post skinny-shaming images on their instagram; where on earth is the positive message there? It’s just setting one side of the scales up against the other.

 

So far, my little girls have never been exposed at home to words such as ‘diet’, or ‘bad’ foods. We’ve tried very hard instead to speak about being ‘strong’ and ‘healthy’, and our scales are hidden away except for the rare days when I step on them, dependent on how my jeans are feeling. In an age where Daisy Lowe, size 8, is being described by the press as ‘curvy’, this seems all the more important. I truly hope that they grow up with healthy attitudes towards not only their own size and shape, but other people’s too, and an equally healthy attitude to all kinds of food. Above all, I hope they grow up liking people for who they are, and not what size of denim they fit into.

 

First published in the Portsmouth News, Tuesday 16th February 2016

Image courtesy of london.endangeredbodies.org

The Liberating Art of Just Not Giving a Hoot*

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(*Insert mood-appropriate word of four letters here.)

Last week, I discovered a book that, for want of a polite term, was all about the subtle art of not giving a hoot; not one hoot in terms of spending time with people you don’t like, doing things that you don’t care for, expending precious energy about stuff that you’re not interested in.

 

This seems incredibly liberating. My husband and I were chatting to some friends last week about growing older and the ways in which you change, and all of us agreed that, with maturity, comes a sense of not giving a hoot. Obviously this doesn’t mean that you should set out to hurt others, but life is a game of self-preservation and, given that you will live just once, surely you should spend your time, love and energy, on the people and actions that matter the very most to you?

 

This is not the kind of selfishness we experience when younger, when we are more interested in self-satisfaction. Instead, it’s an altogether different kind of selfishness. One in which you simply get to an age where you face your own mortality a little more, you are willing to stand up for yourself a little more, and you are mature enough to construct a coherent argument as to why you should do exactly that.

 

I can’t imagine that in most people’s final moments, were you to ask them, that they’d tell you how they wish they’d spent more time in a mindless job, less time with their families and friends, and more hours involved in meaningless activity. So, perhaps, if we cut out the stuff, or change the stuff, that we are the least happy with, then our quality time can be poured into the things that we truly care about, having a positive impact that is true to ourselves and true to others.

 

When we’re younger, we get sucked into caring too much about what people think of us, what parties we are or are not invited to, and what label jeans we ‘should’ be wearing. The problem of course is that once we‘re older, and more tuned into what really matters, our children take not one jot of notice about our advice. It’s something that each of us has to come to learn. Or at least those of us whose brain function has evolved significantly since the primordial swamp we were once existing in. I’d like to think that we all get to a stage where we wear what we wear because we like it, with not one whit given to whether anybody else is impressed by it or not.

 

You may find yourself spending precious hours of your free time involved in activities that you have no interest in, simply to please other people that you are not particularly struck on, and that gives you no real defining sense of self. But what you could do, is quit that activity, and spend the time devoted to people that you do care about, or a cause that is close to your heart, and that will have a happy impact on both you and them. Sometimes a  sense of duty is a great thing but, at other times, it fools us into believing that we need to waste hours of a life that we will never live again, on something that drives us mad.

 

Perhaps there simply comes a time in life when we recognise that it truly is all about quality and not quantity. You can lead a huge celebrity life that has a positive impact on millions, but you can also lead a small life that is meaningful and precious to you. That one small life can impact thousands, via the attitude you have, the love that you give, the work that you do, and your sense of social responsibility. As long as you are living the life that you want to live, and you’re not hurting anybody else in doing it, then who gives a hoot what anyone else thinks?

First published in The Portsmouth News, Tuesday 9th February 2016

Image courtesy of positiveoutlooksblog.com

Be More Dog

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My family and I are the owners of many pets, one of which is Dolly the dog. Dolly is a Shih Tzu (try getting your five year old to say that in polite society), and enjoys many a long walk.

 

Recently, Dolly and I have been partaking of our longer sojourns with my friend, Leanne, and her dog, Cooper. Dolly and Cooper race off into the distance, ears flapping, paws scampering in wanton abandonment. They experience the purest joy in the smallest things: a walk, some sunshine if they’re lucky, a friend to share it with, and a sniff of one another’s bottoms.

 

Leaving the latter firmly aside, it is also what Leanne and I gain from these walks. Which led to us discussing the marvelous concept that O2 have recently taken advantage of in their marketing campaigns; be more dog.

 

As humans, we tend to spend our days wishing half of them away. Even my daughters have cottoned on to the concept of the weekend, and question how many sleeps it is until various events. We lose track of the little things, like showing enjoyment when we see friends, and playing.

 

As Leanne and I watched our doggies bound across the hill on Castle Field, furry silhouettes of joy with the wind in their ears, it seemed as though this is what life should really be about.

 

Seize the little moments; take pleasure in them. Run or skip if the urge takes you. Show your friends (in an appropriate manner that doesn’t lead to arrest) that you’re happy to see them. Greet your spouse with enthusiasm when they arrive home in the evening, and make your loved ones feel appreciated.

 

Have a power nap on the rug if the need takes you, and take pleasure in your meals. Drink more water and indulge in occasional treats without guilt. Be demonstrative with your emotions.

 

Jump up and down with glee and, when the situation calls for it, smile so hard that you look slightly demented. Equally, when necessary, do as you’re told and take it on the chin. Explore nature and take a minute to simply adore the world around you.

 

I urge you, this week, to make the effort. I advise drawing a line at the eat, regurgitate, repeat action that some canines indulge in with both food and bodily expulsions, but, in general, grab your life by the furry bits and don’t let go: Be more dog!

 

Image courtesy of rubyandduke.com

(Since this was written, for the avoidance of canine jealousy, we have added a new addition to the doggy family, Ethel the Pug.)

 

 

Turning into your Mother. Have you?!

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My mother, Janet, circa 1972

A metamorphosis that began some years back, slowly at first, and then with the speed of a pimped up mobility scooter, is now complete. I am no longer turning into my mother. I AM my mother.

 

Many moons ago I noticed that occasionally when I opened my mouth, my mother popped out. I found myself moaning about the things that, previously, would’ve had me rolling my eyes at her. The lines on my forehead, the cost of white goods, and the substandard coffee in particular café chains, are all examples.

 

However, a few weeks back, when I was 39 years, 5 days, 11 hours and 40 minutes old, the transition became complete. I was in Lakeland (a sign in itself), having just purchased thermal socks and vests from M&S. You may think that this is the key giveaway, but no. It gets worse.

 

The exact moment came with my gleeful exclamation, “I’ve just found this little beauty on the shelf! Non-drip limescale remover! NON-DRIP!” And I rest my case. There’s no doubt. There is no need for further debate. I am my mother.

 

Subsequently, all the things my mum does these days that leave me rolling my eyes, are only a step around the corner for me. Some fool (I will find you), recently sold her a smart phone. The hours that have been spent since in a hair-pulling frenzy of frustration, trying to explain this contraption to her, are innumerable.

 

I have also noticed, on a recent shopping trip, that my mum has transitioned into one of those drivers that may as well be in a Flintstones car pushing it with their bare feet. Even road-kill was overtaking. I was pawing at the windows urging the car forwards to 30 mph with sheer force of will by the time we reached Hilsea. I can only hope that one day, I too will be able to inflict little gems such as these on my own children.

 

Our mothers are so important in our lives, such a touchstone of safety and comfort, and I have to say, I am happy to have turned into mine, simply because I hold her in such high regard. My friend Jodi and I often look back at our childhoods, having grown-up in one another’s pockets, and laugh about the things that our mothers told us off for. I doubt we ever said it as teenagers, but our mothers meant, and do mean, the world to us. Here’s to you and yours.