Doing It Anyway – My Messy Beautiful

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“Everything is a miracle. It’s a miracle that one does not dissolve in one’s bath like a lump of sugar”  - Pablo Picasso

 

A month or so ago, my absolute favourite blogger in the entire world announced that she’d be opening her website up to guest submissions. Glennon Melton blogs at Momastery. Her words are so incredibly moving, amusing, inspirational and thought-provoking that two years ago when I first discovered Momastery, I spent every spare moment over the course of about two weeks devouring every single word of each and every post she’d written in the preceding four years. Like chocolate cake for my soul. I laughed and cried and changed how I viewed womankind.

 

It was Glennon’s words that inspired me to start sharing my own thoughts via my blog, nearly eighteen months ago.  At first it seemed a ridiculous idea. Who would possibly be interested in anything I have to say, anyway? Why would anybody care about my rambling ideas on life? And anyway, there are so many amazing blogs and incredible writers out there. I couldn’t possibly measure up.

 

But then I remembered reading something that Glennon had shared on Facebook. I can’t recall the exact quote but it was along the lines of “I will not let that which I cannot do stop me from doing what I can.”

 

As I sit here, having stared at a blank screen for a while, I’m reminding myself of this advice. The thought of one of my posts sharing a page on Momastery feels a bit like being thrust on stage with Beyonce Knowles and told to harmonise, when you’ve only ever sung out loud in the car and even then your children told you to pipe down as they couldn’t hear One Direction over your caterwauling.

 

Starting my blog was scary and daunting but I did it anyway.

 

There will always be someone better at something than me. And you, too. There will be more inspiring writers, better dancers, funnier raconteurs. There will certainly be better singers. But, do you know what? I think we should sing anyway. Dance anyway. Write anyway. Just…. do it anyway.

 

Because someone, somewhere needs to hear your song, to feel your music. They need you to make them smile today. Or start a conversation. Or lend a shaky hand. Other people might be better qualified. More polished. More confident than you. Do it anyway. Smile at somebody. Make eye contact. Say hello. Do it anyway.

 

But, but… what if you’re not enough? Just…do it anyway.

 

Life is hard. Harder for some than others. Weathering storms makes us more grateful for calmer waters when they eventually arrive. We learn to somehow stay afloat. Sometimes by clinging on for dear life to the nearest buoyant object, thrashing about and gasping for air. But what if each storm is pushing us forward? Teaching us to swim and not sink? To use our survival skills to build a raft? A raft to lift others out of the depths, to offer sanctuary and somewhere safe and dry for those who are frantically treading water behind us?

 

It’s connection that keeps us going. Support from others when we can barely stand, nevermind swim.

 

The woman you see at the school gates…. the one who never makes eye contact or smiles? Smile at her anyway. You don’t know what she’s going through. Make space on the raft.

 

And the competitive parent? The one who seems to be passing judgement on you and your child-rearing skills with her every utterance? Take a deep breath and remind yourself that she is struggling, too;  There’s space on the raft. There’s always room for one more.

 

The only way I can think of to teach my children to be compassionate, kind and caring individuals is to lead by example. I can’t change the world, but as I’ve said many times before on my blog, I can create small ripples. A smile, a hello, or some words of encouragement might be all I can offer at times. This might seem futile given the pain and sorrow that so many endure on a daily basis. But I’ll do it anyway. It may not seem enough, but I’ll do it anyway. Those who don’t smile back may well be the ones who need smiles the most, you see. Smile anyway.

 

I very nearly didn’t write this post. I couldn’t think of anything that seemed worthy of sharing. Anything good enough. But, guess what? I’m doing it anyway.

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  1. This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about Glennon’s New York Times Bestselling Memoir, Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!

Finding The Music

“Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.” Plato

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Monkey and I were temporarily stranded in our car the other day on account of a veritable monsoon outside. Trees seemed to bend at unnatural angles nearby as rain smashed horizontally into my windscreen. The sky was a menacing and murky shade of black and mid-morning looked very much like dusk.

Like a stuck record I found myself sighing, complaining and moaning about the weather, as we waited for a gap in the downpour lengthy enough to allow us to dash from car to shop and hopefully back again.

It was at this point that my little boy said:
“I like the sound of the rain on the roof, mummy. It sounds like music“.

Music
? I hadn’t thought of that. The soundtrack to my bad mood was in fact melodic to his ears. Despite the grey, the cold and the wet he had somehow found the music. Found harmony. Exacted some joy from the situation.

I think children are incredible teachers if we can only learn to listen to their lessons, but in order to do so we need to slow down. In actual fact, on that rainy day recently we were in no particular hurry. It really didn’t matter if we spent five minutes longer in the car. It wasn’t necessary for me to huff and puff and moan. I could’ve just enjoyed some one-on-one time with my son and made the most of it. Tuned in to life’s radio, turned the volume up and sang along, as it were.
Life can be so fast paced. Dashing between drop-offs, panicking over pick-ups, hurrying through homework, procuring presents for parties and worrying about work. I sometimes think that if this phase of my life were to have a soundtrack it would be the Flight of the Bumblebee. Go go go… Don’t stop! Press on! Hurry!

In actual fact, musical moments are everywhere if only we can make ourselves slow down enough to hear them. We race through life at warp speed without pausing to listen to it’s harmonies.

Obviously the sweet sounding laughter of my babies and their words of love and affection are like music to my soul. But in all honesty, sometimes the sound of my husband’s key in the door is the sweetest music to my ears, with the words “Goodnight Mummy” coming in at number two in the chart.

As I sit writing today, it’s almost 11am on a Monday morning. It’s quiet. Both children are in school. I can hear the clock ticking quietly, the gentle hum of the fridge and birdsong from outside. These sounds are peaceful. Undisturbed. Mundane, even. But alongside the rhythmic, understated percussion from my tapping keyboard they make an uplifting melody. Their tones resonate positivity after several weeks of silent, whispered apathy.

I’m able to write again, which means I’m in a better place. The keystrokes a tip-tap of positivity and hope. Of words which, until recently, had been drowned out by the din of self-doubt, deafening depression and audible anxiety. But as I sit here now, in this moment. I hear calm and I feel more peaceful than I have in weeks, if not months. And really, this moment, this verse and this note is all that matters. All that ever matters. Hearing the harmonies, listening to life’s lyrics. Slowing down, seeking out and taking in those few joyful moments a day. One day at a time.

Because let’s face it; All the world may be a stage but we aren’t characters in a musical.

We won’t skip from place to place with orchestral accompaniment, joyfully and gleefully dancing our way from one blissfully perfect day to the next; Merrily separating our fighting children and going about our daily chores with palpable ebullience. (In fact, if this is the case, we might need to speak to the doctor about getting our meds changed again).

Life is not always up-tempo. Sometimes the backing track will be more melancholy than mellifluous. Now and then you might find ear-splitting death-metal will be the anthem of the day and even locking yourself in the bathroom won’t afford you a nanosecond’s peace and quiet from your little monsters.

We can’t expect symphonic raptures all day, every day. But if we can stop and find the music every so often… if we can fill our ears with their polyphonic laughter and their gentle, sleeping breaths, allowing the music to sink in to our souls once in a while, I think we’re winning.

Some days life’s orchestra is pitch perfect. Others are more attuned to a beginner’s recorder recital but there’s meaning in the music and melody in the moments, if we listen hard enough for it.

So this week, try to keep your internal jukebox in check, Avoid discordant stuck records and negative thoughts if you can. Turn the volume down on them. Crank up the bass on a tune that makes you smile and dance with your children until they begin to look at you like you’ve lost your mind. Make your own music if you can’t find any. Listen out for the joy.

The Best Days Of Our Lives… And Other Such Lies.

“The difference between school and life? In school, you’re taught a lesson and then given a test. In life, you’re given a test that teaches you a lesson.” Tom Bodett

Every day, twice a day I do the school run. Well, the school walk, really. It’s twenty minutes each way and once the mayhem of shoe location, lunch preparation and eventual depositing of Monkey safely in his classroom has been achieved, I can walk back with less haste and collect my thoughts a bit.

School mornings are a bit like groundhog day, in that we generally see the same faces at more or less the same junctures of the route as we half walk/half jog and scoot uphill on our way, usually seven or eight minutes behind schedule. There’s a particularly cross-looking couple who are always hastily chain smoking before they get on the tube. My son will usually make a comment about the stinkiness of their cigarettes, within earshot. There’s also a guy who looks almost exactly like an old colleague of mine but with his eyes slightly further apart. If he’s reached the bottom of the hill by the time we start our ascent I can be sure that we’ll arrive after the school bell.

An array of dog walkers holding little bags of dog poop pass us, not forgetting the ubiquitous elderly ladies with shopping trolleys. My daughter likes to wave and smile charmingly at them before breaking into a lion’s roar once she’s gained eye contact, causing surprise and alarm amongst some of the more mature passers by.

But those who really provoke flashbacks in my memory are the teenagers – the girls in particular. I see the same ones each day and it’s difficult not the cast them all into different roles based on the hierarchy which prevailed at my and I’d imagine pretty much every other secondary school in living memory.

I see the immaculately groomed girls with perfect make up, glossy swishy hair and a well practised scowl. There’s an exceptionally tall and broad young woman who, despite her flat shoes, towers above the boys who hang around outside the coffee shop next to school. She hunches herself over in an attempt to look smaller, looking as if she’d rather be absolutely anywhere else but here. I see the awkward looking girls who don’t quite have the right coat or school bag, walking a few paces behind trying not to be noticed and find myself transported back to my own early teenage years in the mid 1990′s.

Factions of them stand at the bus stop, gathered around someone’s smartphone sharing in-jokes whilst others linger in solitude, pretending not to care.

As a teenager I remember thinking if my school days were to be the best of my life, I was done for. I really, really didn’t like school. I found the swishy-haired girls intimidating and wondered if there was a handbook or memo I’d missed, explaining how best to communicate with the upper echelons of the school’s clique system. I always felt on the outside looking in and that’s because, really, I was.

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So it’s with that in mind that I wish I could somehow communicate with the girls I see each morning and afternoon. I wish I could ask the pretty and popular ones to use their powers for good. To smile more if they can and to extend an olive branch to the geekier girls who they barely acknowledge unless it’s to ridicule them for wearing the wrong shoes, bag or shade of lipgloss. I’d love to sit down with the lonely and left out ones and tell them that it’s okay, or at least that it will be. That these tough times will be one day be behind them. And yes, far tougher days may well be ahead, too. But school ends.

You don’t have to stay in touch with the girls who torment and tease you. You can one day leave it all behind. I want them to know that often the worst offenders in the school-ground cruelty stakes actually peak in high school. Life may never get better for them, but it will for you, it really will. The ones who tease you for your good grades will still be standing at the same bus stop in a few years time when you drive past them in your shiny new car.

I realise, of course I do, that I’m making vast generalisations and judgements based on appearances here and I do so with my tongue half in my cheek. I have no way of knowing the circumstances of any of the strangers I see each day on my travels. I’m well aware that behind each hurried or distracted face lies a story and an individual. With feelings, experiences and struggles that I know nothing about.

I can’t help every angsty or surly teenager survive high school. But I can use my own memories and experiences to help raise two children with the strength to hold their heads above the parapet when they reach their teens. At the moment they are two and four years old. I have several years before the onset of their teenage years. Somehow I hope to find a way to make them brave enough to include those who are left out and to not base their self worth on their social standing at school.

But the question is, how? More than anything I want my husband and I to be the people they can turn to regardless and unconditionally. I hope that the knowledge that we love and support them 100% will be enough to help them weather any and every storm. But will this be enough?

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Some of my class of ’95.

I’d really love to hear if and how memories of your school days have shaped your parenting in any way. Whether your children are little like mine or currently going through the teenage stage right now, I’d be so grateful if you’d please leave a comment below. You’ll be asked for your email address, which will be kept private and you don’t have to use your real name. Thank you, lovely readers!