Monthly Archives: April 2014

Reclaiming my body

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When we set off on holiday this Easter I had two main objectives: to relax and unwind after a hectic few months, and to spend some quality time with my little family. I think we achieved these rather well, but there was something else that happened that I hadn’t really been expecting or even realised I needed: over the week we were away, I gradually began to feel like my body was mine again – something I haven’t really been able to say since before I fell pregnant.

Since puberty, and in common with many other women I know, I’ve had a bit of a tricky relationship with my body. I struggled with anorexia as a teenager, and put myself through the mill with rather too much partying in the years that followed. Through my twenties I was plagued by an underlying paranoia about being frumpy and overweight, though looking at pictures of my younger self now I realise this was completely misplaced. My body was simply the physical manifestation of my self-esteem: the less happy I was, the more I hated what I saw in the mirror.

Through all of this I never stopped exercising – sometimes healthily, sometimes to excess. Having loved gymnastics as a kid I became obsessed with trampolining when I discovered my local club aged fourteen. It was that, actually, that stopped my anorexia being more damaging than it was: my coach declared one day that I was not allowed to come to training if I lost any more weight, and slowly but surely I began to find a balance. I kept the trampolining up through my late teens and twenties, funding my way through university by coaching at local sports centres. I also rediscovered gymnastics with tumbling classes at a circus school in East London, and loved going to yoga whenever I could slow down enough to fit it in. I also started going to the gym from time to time, though I’ve never had much patience with exercise just for the sake of it.

In the lead up to my wedding though I worked out a lot, made suddenly nervous by the idea of all those photographs. When we got married in the summer of 2011 I was probably in the best shape of my life. I was happy, and felt comfortable in my skin for the first time in many years.

Then when we decided to start trying for a baby the following spring my focus changed. I was terrified that the abuse I’d subjected my body to when I was younger would mean that I wouldn’t be able to have children, and focused everything on creating a nutrient rich environment to nurture a new life. It worked, and I fell pregnant more quickly than either of us had imagined, but that was just the beginning. I was scared all the way through that something would go wrong, stayed away from vigorous exercise and let myself gain probably a bit too much weight. I really wasn’t thinking about that though – I was following my instincts and doing what I felt would be best for our baby. The one thing I am really glad I stuck to was a pregnancy pilates class. That was never really about keeping in shape, but it did help keep me grounded as my body changed beyond recognition.

After Arthur was born, I was amazed at what my body had created and couldn’t begrudge it a single ounce of the extra weight it had acquired along the way. None of that mattered any more: my body had gone from being an awkward shell housing pent-up insecurities to a powerhouse that had grown a brand new person and delivered it into the world. And all that was important to me in the early days was to help that little person thrive: to work through the challenges we faced in establishing breastfeeding and keep myself strong and focused enough to be his mum.

Those days turned into months, and though I’ve shed a little weight along the way through breastfeeding and kept my core strong through babywearing my body is a long way from where it used to be. It’s not that I want my old body back – and I certainly wouldn’t want the angst and neuroses that went with it. But something has been niggling at me about wanting to reclaim a little of my body for myself, and that’s what happened on this holiday.

Between us, Leigh and I gave each other some time over the week to focus on ourselves. Just an hour or so a day, but even that felt pretty incredible after being on duty pretty much permanently for the past sixteen months. I did yoga and pilates classes, swam some lengths in the pool, went for a run. I even got to lie in the sun for a while, the warmth of its rays caressing my skin. And possibly best of all I enjoyed some proper swimming in the sea, back and forth along the bay as Leigh and Arthur played in the sand, feeling my breath quicken and my muscles tighten as my body slowly became my own again.

I’m not expecting to have it back entirely: I am still very much committed to breastfeeding Arthur – for how much longer I’m not sure any more. I still enjoy co-sleeping with him, even though it means I can never entirely relax and often wake up feeling achy and stiff. And I still intend to wear him in the sling for a while yet, which lovely as it is does restrict my movements rather more than I would like. But alongside all this I’m going to make an effort to get to know my body again, to give it the attention it deserves after everything it’s been through.

There’s a trampolining class I’ve been going to at the place Arthur does his baby gym, but I’m often too exhausted to give it my all. I’m going to try to rectify that, to make the most of the opportunity to do something physical that I love. I have a hula-hoop that was one of the main tools in my arsenal for getting fit for my wedding, and I’m going to try to pick that up again whenever I can – even just for ten minutes at a time. And I’m also going to try my best to fit in some of the other things I enjoy – swimming, yoga, running – and let Arthur and his Dad spend some time together, which I know they’ll love.

This holiday didn’t immediately transform my body, but it reminded me that it is mine, that it is strong and flexible and that I shouldn’t take those things for granted. I am looking forward to building on that over the weeks and months to come: to continuing to be a mother, but also remembering to be me as well.

Thank you to Sara at ‘Mum Turned Mom’ for inspiring this post with her prompt ‘In matters of healing the body or the mind, vacation is a true genius!’ (Mehmet Murat ildan).

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Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com

Water Baby

For my birthday last year, Leigh bought me an awesome baby-proof camera: it’s shockproof, waterproof, and takes pretty fab photos to boot. It really came into its own during our week in Cyprus, letting me capture Arthur’s love of being in the water.

He’s been a bit of a water baby since we first took him swimming when he was six weeks old. He loved to go underwater then, and loved it just as much in the pool at Paphos.

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When we took him in the baby pool he kept trying to dunk himself! I was proud of the confidence he was showing, though it did obviously mean we had to keep a very close eye…

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He enjoyed just paddling around in the shallow water too – it was great to be in a pool that was shallow enough for him to walk around in, and he really relished the freedom it gave him.

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We also discovered a new game, where he clung on and rode on my back. I think we need a bit more practice before I’d be confident he wouldn’t dunk himself inadvertently (or in fact just dive off my back on purpose), but we had great fun anyway!

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Despite having lots of fun playing in the pool, he wasn’t so convinced by the water in the sea. He did plenty of sea-swimming last summer, and when we went to the beach was desperate to paddle, wiggling his toes in the sand and letting the waves wash over them.

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However when we ventured a little deeper he really wasn’t so sure. I guess the water was maybe a bit cold, but it was definitely warmer than the sea in Cornwall last year!

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Since we’ve been home he’s been pointing at the Brixham sea and saying ‘Bader! Bader! Bader!’ (his preferred word for water, though he has pronounced it more accurately a couple of times). He’s obviously forgotten how cold it is already – I can’t wait till the air heats up a little bit so I can take him for a dip!

Off the beaten track

We had a couple of hours to kill between catching up with friends in our last days in London this week, and decided to let Arthur lead the way in exploring Hyde Park.

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Predictably, he had no interest at all in sticking to the paths, and as soon as we let him go he toddled off across the grass.

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Arthur was however very interested in the dandelions and daisies that were scattered through the green, and his explorations were punctuated by cries of ‘rose’ – the word he has adopted as a generic term for flowers. When I picked him a dandelion he was intrigued at first, but left me feeling a bit guilty when his next instinct was to try to reattach it to the stalk… He also naturally tried to taste it, though I don’t think he was too impressed.

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He really enjoyed being set free to choose where to wander, with barely a backward glance to check we were following him. I think he knew we were close behind though, and he soon let us know when he was done with exploring. He relinquished his independence with outstretched arms and cries of ‘duddle’ ready to come back into the sling and continue our journey together across the park.

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Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

 

Word of the Week: Bird

Today the word that sums up the week that was is:

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Arthur’s had a bit of a thing for birds for a while now. I think it started with the simple swallow mobile that hangs above his changing table: that’s certainly where I first remember him saying the word ‘bird’ back in February. The seagulls that circle round our town might have something to do with it to: as Arthur’s become more aware of the world around him he’s pointed them out any chance he gets. He looks for them in books and pictures too, and has surprised us by being able to identify even very abstract images as birds, excitedly naming them as he realises what they are.

It turned out that Cyprus was a bit of a bird lover’s haven. There were so many little birds flying around the gardens of the hotel, sitting in the trees and delighting Arthur as they hopped on the ground in front of him or swooshed past him as he toddled around. When we finally made it to the Paphos Archeological Site we learnt why there were so many – Cyprus’s geographical location puts it right in the path of migrating birds travelling between Europe and Africa and the Middle East, with over 390 species of bird having been recorded on the island.

One of Arthur’s cutest bird interactions was at the archeological site: strolling between the ruins and mosaics through tree-lined avenues he spotted a couple scratching around in the grass. He headed straight for them, calling out ‘bird’ in his adorable little voice, and staring and pointing as they made their escape just before he reached them.

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His identification of things as birds has expanded now to cover things that fly – or things with wings at least. So when we passed a jasmine bush awash with butterflies he called those birds, and one night we awoke to the sound of his voice as he lay between us, pointing at a moth on the ceiling and marvelling at the bird that had made its way into our room.

And on our flight home, as he started to begin to compute the experience of air travel, he looked out of the window at the wing of the plane and decided that too was a bird. I’m pretty sure at that point his mind was well and truly blown…

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The Reading Residence

 

Chillaxing in Cyprus

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So it turns out that Arthur’s not as bad at relaxing as we initially feared. The above picture of utter chilled out bliss captures his third nap of the four he managed yesterday. Today he dozed off again in the sun after his mid-morning milk feed, enjoying the embrace of the warm air whilst being sheltered from the sun’s rays by our makeshift towel tent.

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This afternoon he zonked out after a supremely relaxing lunch – he was mesmerised by the taverna’s in-house guitarist, and happily munched on octopus whilst Leigh and I enjoyed each other’s company. I’d fully intended to write this post this afternoon, but Arthur’s chillaxing was contagious and I joined him for a nap instead.

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In between his many naps, Arthur has been increasingly delightful company. He is especially loving the water, the myriad stray cats and the birds that flit around the gardens. He’s getting his confidence back, but at the same time being adorably cuddly. I think it is safe to say that we have achieved our goal of relaxing more than just a little, and as our holiday comes to an end are feeling revitalised and ready to face the next phase of our adventures.

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Bacon: A Short Story

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She wasn’t sure how she’d cope, after he was gone. It wasn’t just that he was gone after all, but the circumstances! They’d joked for years about the apocalypse – everyone had, hadn’t they? And now it was here.

No-one else seemed nearly as concerned as she was, least of all their sons. They were teenagers now of course, so agreeing wasn’t exactly in their psyche. Still she’d hoped the headlines would have drawn them in – convinced them she wasn’t just going crazy.

When they hadn’t she’d had to take matters into her own hands. She found it hard to predict the hunger of two teenage boys. It was challenge enough to feed them when Tesco was there to help, but what about when even that didn’t exist any more? It sent a shiver down her spine, the thought that such a bastion of capitalism might just cease to exist.

Beans, sweetcorn, peaches. There were many things that came in cans, and it was these she began to collect. But something niggled at her, something that just wouldn’t disappear. Her boys needed meat. Every boy did, let’s be honest. But there was nothing in cans that even came close. Once upon a time, during that other war, people had made do. But she really didn’t think they were those people.

She looked it up on the internet. She could have asked someone, perhaps. But no-one else seemed to be taking it at all seriously, and the last thing she wanted was to draw attention to herself.

So she just began her collection: piles and piles of bacon, as dry as possible, because that was the way it would last.

It was Justin who questioned her first. He’d come home with a bottle of lucozade which he’d wanted to put in the fridge, but there was no space. He left it on the counter for a couple of hours, but when Lucas came home they’d confronted her.

“There really is no apocalypse, Mum.”

She’d acquiesced almost immediately. Of course she didn’t want to believe it, not unless she really had to. They’d looked together at the stacks of supplies she’d acquired, wondered simultaneously at the lack of menus the store cupboards suggested. It was the meat she felt most guilty about – if she’d hoarded it unnecessarily then she really should do something about the waste.

There was an evening when this came up in conversation, but the older son was well prepared.

“It’s ok, Mum. Everything tastes better with bacon.”

He was right, of course.

By the time a state of emergency was declared the cities were already burning. The smell wafting over their suburb was strangely familiar, making them salivate with the memory of the supplies they had so carelessly squandered. She couldn’t help but feel a smug satisfaction even as the tanks rolled closer. If nothing else, at least she wasn’t mad.

Thank you to Sara at ‘Mum turned Mom’ for inspiring this post with her prompt: ‘everything tastes better with bacon’. It seemed the perfect excuse for a short story, which in turn seems the perfect excuse to celebrate being shortlisted for the Cloudcuckooland Flash Fiction prize 2014. You can see the rest of the shortlist here

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