Tree pose...

posted on: Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Life has shrunk down, for weeks I have been in final edit stage of my book and that has meant a pretty rigorous schedule of school run, interspersed with yoga or running, then at my laptop for hours on end. To some degree the process of doing a Masters was one I questioned a few months ago. I felt as if I had opted for a really hard route - anyone can write a book, it's entirely within someone's capability - but I chose to do it accompanied with a tough academic backdrop. The requirement is that I produce a first draft and critical analysis of it by next Monday. So I'm working. I sent the first three chapters to my friend Dawn - an old and trusted friend - and her feedback was so lovely it made me cry! Not because she was gushing and facile, but because she was honest and constructive and I for the first time I thought - I might actually be able to pull this off. I question why I would be wracked with self-doubt at this stage? It's such a curious process to write a book. It dredges up stuff you haven't thought about for years and exorcises themes you hadn't realised you were attached to. And I'm a fairly self-aware person; note six years of navel-gazing on this blog.


So - it is all book, book, book and in amongst that we hurtle towards the end of the school year. My daughter has exams and I can feel the pressure building for next summer when she sits the 'real' versions. My son is struggling to keep up with his own sports schedule and my husband has been away so much that I had to stage an intervention. It's very much feeling like a treadmill.


I pacify myself with thoughts of summer sun in Florida - where we plan to go in August. Yes, I know it's going to be scorching but honestly, I don't mind. I am lizard.


Now the house is more or less complete I am incredulous at the build process we went through. Now everything is covered over and lovely I can hardly recall how very ugly this house became and how much I thought we would never finish it. Now, in all of its whiteness - I even chose a white patio - I find myself getting this pious glow of happiness about it. I am so pleased its done and I am so pleased we persevered. All of my musing about how affected I am by my surroundings, I can honestly say that living in a space that is pleasing does good to my soul. As does the process of following a long-held dream to write a book.


I met with old friends for lunch this week and we discussed how far we'd come; given that we met when our kids started school. Of all of us, I have changed my life the most. When they met me I was deeply entrenched in being a career woman, I'd just gone back after my second maternity leave, I was an amped-up force in high heels. Now, I am a bohemian writer. I wear kicks all the time, I can barely walk in heels. I put yoga before most things. I kept hearing myself say 'you can't keep doing the same thing and expect a different outcome,' meaning that when you sit round a table of 40-something women and we all complain about life, we must make a change if we want to be having a different conversation in a years time.


Things I have learned. It's true what they say about creativity; it releases something in you that provokes contentment. If I don't do yoga my body hurts. If I don't get good sleep I am gloomy the next day. It's worth cooking a meal for the family from scratch every night; I'd say this is one of the biggest changes I've made. It's gruelling, but the family meal is the cornerstone of everything for us - and for anyone who is dropping by. I love hosting friends of my kids and sitting down to a proper meal. On a weeknight. I learned that to retire completely from work is not a great idea; there's a flaw to work like a dog then abruptly stop. Better to keep doing something but do it less. Or do it more and stop doing something else. We all make our choices.


Meanwhile our house gets, this time of year, the most crazy wisteria. Honestly I am obsessed with it for an annual two week period in May I am out there photographing it like a maniac. Prettiest thing. I learned that I am very lucky.


The young...

posted on: Tuesday, 17 May 2016

I've been thinking. I see a change in what I write here, I know that is because I am distracted toiling on the book but also...it's something else. Many blogs, mine included, concentrate on daily life, the comings and goings of family and associated preoccupations. Over time this has been regular fodder and if I look back I see the detail I shared about my kids and their lives. So last week, my daughter turned 15 and this felt like it amplified the feeling I have had for a while, which is that it is not fair to share stuff about her here. It's not my place to. This is interesting as clearly there are many, many 'mummy bloggers' who do just this and to some degree we are shown the intimacies of a child's life to the point of extremes. I do wonder what will happen when these children grow up and learn that their lives were documented to the world and kinda without their consent?! This has started to play on my mind as although I have always written about motherhood and my perception of it, I have tried not to plunder what my children are feeling about things; if they want to do that they can write a blog themselves.


I think parents live in and consume the online world in the same way as our kids do and whilst many lecture on the risks of this environment, we have to be mindful too of the way we use/abuse it. So in short, this has been in my thoughts. There's lots I could write about the joys and challenges of parenting a teenage daughter and near-teenage son and I will continue to make comments on this whole journey, but I shall remain reticent about what I share!

Fifteen years is fifteen years - no matter how many times I try to reconcile that I have a fifteen year old daughter, it still sounds nuts to me. My husband and I looked at each other wryly on her birthday as if to say 'wtf? how did that happen?!!' Like everything in parenthood, it's bittersweet. I feel acutely that we enter a different phase now; our children are 11 and 15 and I think the difference comes from the fact that they are so aware. Their initial experience of life is pretty much formed, I mean I can recall exactly what I did and felt like at 11 and 15; I had arrived. To think that they have arrived is a sobering concept! But equally it feels amazing and they are the best company ever. Although they may drive me to distraction, both particularly trying in their ways, I love spending time with them. I am the lioness.

I am trying not to let this phase go to my head though, whilst I feel old and wise, I am not in many ways. I still consider myself a young mother (I had my daughter when I was in my mid twenties) and I have contemporaries now who are still having babies at 42, a thought which terrifies me!

I see that I have been self-editing for a long time, not here necessarily, where I am remarkably honest considering the unknown audience, but in my real life. Writing the book has been a fascinating exercise in getting to the bottom of how I feel about things. It is so cathartic and has come out so differently to what I imagined. But I see a theme; I have been tempering myself all along. Trying to fit in, wondering about life choices, really analysing what the decisions of the last few years really meant.

By this I mean, why I gave up my job. Because I couldn't manage it all anymore and my body was telling me in no uncertain terms to stop. I didn't want to be that woman. Why we spent over two years and all our money renovating our house. Because it was a labour of love. Why I am quite as involved in my children's lives? Because having been that 'other' woman, the one who worked and felt guilty and tired all the time, I had some making up to do. Why our weekends completely revolve around sport. Because I see now that sport and being in a team and making a commitment and using your body are all so so crucial to children, it has come to define what we are all about as a family. Why I wear variations of the same mother wardrobe every day and then wonder why I get so bored? Because I thought if I wore palm tree prints and had flamingoes on my shoes that I might get judged. Why I come away from coffee mornings and think: am I the only one who has an opinion? Because no one is saying what they really think. It's a veneer.

So I make these evaluations and I've written a book that encompasses many of these themes and I am just going to sit with it for a while. See how it settles.

And wear my palm tree prints and be happy.



Werk...

posted on: Friday, 6 May 2016

It's the final stretch; I am writing to a deadline, completing the first year of my Masters by the end of May. Wooahhh it feels like not that long ago that I decided to do this crazy go-back-to-school endeavour and now I have nearly finished a book! That's nuts. My friend Simone always said I had a book in me; turns out she was right. What it has meant though is that I have not had much of a presence here. That's temporary so I just wanted to drop in, say hi.


The book - well let's just say that at the moment, wrangling 29 chapters (yes, 29) feels like kneading an enormous piece of bread dough that is so big it won't even fit on the table. You get the analogy. It's hard work and it feels unwieldy and it makes my brain ache. I see in terms of themes my book is about all the stuff that has mattered to me. Like friendship or motherhood or marriage or women. Fascinating what comes out when you put your mind to it.

In other news, it's the first run of sunny days this Spring and this makes me so happy. This time of year is always special as it reminds me of when Boo was born and when everyone who visited us in hospital were wearing summer clothes and it felt like a whole fresh season. She turns fifteen next week. I type that and think it looks like madness; how can fifteen years have passed?!! Funny how it goes. 

As ever when the season changes I want to shed the clothes I have been shrouded in all winter and switch them up with new fresh things. New clothes. But then I remember the shopping embargo and instead think, ahh maybe not. Or maybe I will just try one or two key items. Like these slides (yes, glitter) and this dress (yes, orange). I watched the Iris Apfel film and I can say that it has profoundly affected me. I keep thinking about it and about her. What a character and as for the way she dresses - so inspirational. I want to be just like that when I am in my nineties. I am thinking glasses are an incredible distraction from an ageing face, I so now need to get some big ole glasses. And anyone who wears shoes that have flamingos on them is a friend of mine.

There are all sorts of subliminal messages for me when it comes to anything to do with flamingos, palm trees, pineapples and dolphins. This is a Florida thing. I am still obsessed. I have a writing friend who is also a brand specialist and he was telling me about the memory triggers that are deeply rooted in us that makes us like a certain thing or I guess, more importantly, make us want to buy certain things. This is fascinating to me, especially when you consider why some people, like Iris Apfel have an 'eye' for things. It boils down to knowing what you like. And I like 1980's palm trees. This is why I am enjoying the Mara Hoffman Instagram. Pink and green and a smattering of tropical. It's resort wear and I feel like I want a life that has a resort wear requirement in it.

Meanwhile, a return to yoga yesterday, I don't even know why I stopped. I guess it was having a month of school holidays that did it. I was in my poses thinking 'I love this; why did I stop?' and having answer other than life got in the way. I hate when that happens, but it happens a lot.

The same applies to writing the blog, I don't do it enough and I will try to do more once the deadline is out of the way. I was telling someone about my decision to do a Masters and write a book and how it had enabled me to have a contrast to being a full time mother. I used to be a working mother and that utterly defined everything about me, it was what I did and I defended it to the ends of the earth. In the time since I stopped working (over two years) I see that  actually what I was attached to was having something in my life other than motherhood. It's not as simple an equation as to suggest that motherhood was not enough. It is. It's the most important thing I will ever do. But there has always been a danger of being consumed by it and that felt unhealthy; both for me and for them. So I used to work to stave that off. Then I stopped and devoted myself utterly and was, I must say, not the happiest I've ever been. 

Now, it's a new phase.

What I wanted to find was a way to be a full time mother and have an active brain and life; as honestly even if you work in a really demanding job it's not as if you get to be a part time mother. It is, by definition, a full time gig. You just become adept at shoe-horning it in around everything else. So, as things stand I think I have a possibility of both. I can be the mother and I can write. Of course no one is paying me to write yet, but I am willing to give it a try.


When you call up that shrink in Beverly Hills...

posted on: Saturday, 23 April 2016

Getting back to things. Why is it that I fall out of the rhythm of life so easily? I pretty much had a month off writing, although I tell myself that is what 'writers' do, I am dimly aware that in order to be a writer, you have to write. I find myself making excuses when the kids are around for the holidays; endless pickups and drop-offs are not conducive to creative thought. Instead I turned to audio books, listening to stolen moments as I go about my day, always thinking about writing but just not doing it.


I returned to college yesterday to see my tutor and realised it's not that hard to get back on the bandwagon, I just need to get on and do it. That old procrastination is always there in me and I now need to banish it. I have just over a month to finish the first draft of the book song with a couple of critical essays and hand in year one of my Masters! OMG. Remember when this was just a glint in my eye? Remember when I used to say 'yea, I'm gonna write a book one day' and everyone nodded at their screens and thought 'yuh-huh, get on with it...'? I see that actually I had to get over myself and start studying and making this a priority and so here I am, at the corner of bucket list and academic resurgence central.

And the book - people ask what it's about. I say 'life', glibly. It's about families and marriage, adultery and love, mothers and fathers, adolescence and innocence. It's about choices and envy. All sorts...

Meanwhile, it's summer term, implausibly my son starts cricket and my daughter is playing rounders today. Being back at school works for all of us, although we complain and spend a lot of time looking forward to the next holiday. We are going back to Florida in the summer - again - and this makes me happy every time I think of it. I am reading a short story by John Updike where he observes how American friends move to England and talks about my country's muddy, gloomy grey demeanour and how charming it is, how different. The funny stodgy food we eat. The Britishness of it all. And I think my equivalent is the Florida palm tree. Give me a fake flamingo stirrer in my glass, a view over some sun-kissed water and a fish taco and I am replete.

There's a subtle hint at warmer weather and so it's time to remove the layers of coats and scarves and venture out from winter hibernation.

We have now been back in our house for six months and so in daily life, it has become more normal, I absorb the choices we made and think: yes I am pleased with that tile or no, that wood has not darkened as I expected etc. I can say that given we took so damn long to renovate this house (2+ years) I did think long and hard about the choices and am generally very happy. The best investment was ceiling speakers which afford nightly kitchen music playing of all sorts; of course it was Prince this week. I was so sad to hear he'd gone; he was the soundtrack to my youth.

I am pleased with the bold white patio, the white walls, the white kitchen...if in doubt go white. But the best times are when the sun floods in on a Saturday morning like this and cast shadows across the floor. The puppy basks in it and I think back to the slimy, oil-leaking, ugly monstrosity that our house was and conclude it was worth it.

by my fave jessica cooper


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