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.

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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!

You Beautiful Thing, You.

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A few days ago I saw this ad on the TV. I was actually reading at the time so had to rewind the television to make sure I’d heard it correctly.

Sadly, I had. There is an actual TV commercial running which implies that your relationship with your children depends on whether or not you can lose weight and keep it off. Seriously? I have no words.

Well, obviously I have lots of words. Which is fortunate as otherwise this would be my shortest post yet.

I’d like to set your mind back almost a year and ask you to revisit the point of my Mummy Kindness Manifesto:
“I will not be defined by the number on a scale. It is not my worth”.

Talk about easier said than done.

Everywhere we look we’re bombarded with messages. All of which promise happiness, success and belonging (and in this case, your only hope of bonding with your children) if we only buy this….Wear that…Smell like this….Eat that… don’t eat that. Look like her…. Don’t look like her. It’s endless and it’s everywhere.

Image, it seems, is everything. It’s our only hope. We can’t possibly amount to anything in life if we don’t drop a dress size or four. There is no fate worse than fat.

The truth is, being comfortable in our own skins is bad for business.
It’s no wonder that the same companies who manufacture cakes and desserts also want us to subscribe to their diet programs. They want us to spend money getting fat so that we can spend more to get thin.

And of course, they don’t want us to stay thin. No. The most profitable customers are those of us with a history of yo-yo dieting. The more weight we lose, the more we can re-gain. More revenue for the slimming clubs, protein powder suppliers and personal diet chefs.

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I spent twelve years selling advertising for best-selling magazines and newspapers. It’s no secret that January issues are filled with diet advice and pictures of miraculous celebrity weight-loss stories. The reason for this is the fact that it’s the busiest time of year for diet focused advertising. So the publishers feed (pun intended) our insecurities to create an environment perfect for advertisers to slot in to. They make sure that the antidote to the dose of self-doubt we’ve been served is readily available for purchase from their sponsors. It’s a commercial practise and it’s at the expense of our self-esteem and confidence.

To give you some background info on me, I’m 5ft 4 tall and currently a UK size 14 (that’s a size ten for my US readers). I’ve seen dramatic fluctuations in my weight over the past two years. I lost a great deal of weight following a strict protein-only diet before gradually regaining it, and then some. Anti-depressants and tendency to numb feelings with chocolate hasn’t helped. Not one bit.

I’m not an exceptionally large woman by most people’s standards (fashion magazines and celebrities notwithstanding). I’m smaller than the UK national average. I’m well aware, however, that I’ve gained weight recently.

When it comes to dieting I’ve tried most of them over the years. I lost a couple of stone on WeightWatchers before my wedding. I gained half back and then fell pregnant. I lost the baby weight then had another baby. I quickly lost weight again with the Dukan Diet. I’ve thrown out bigger sized clothes and bought smaller ones and I’ve grown out of them again. Three times I’ve lost around two stone pretty quickly and gained it back again.

I’m an all-or-nothing person when it comes to dieting. I’m generally either incredibly strict and at the gym every day or completely off-the-wagon. There’s not really a middle ground for me.

I’ve spent at least twenty years obsessing over my weight and appearance. Whether consciously or subconsciously I compare myself with everyone, all the time and rarely, if ever, feel like I match-up. I know some very stunning women and many of them are “bigger” girls. I know lots would be thrilled to be the same size as I am. I look at their beautiful faces and wish I was prettier. I can find something or someone better than me with almost any comparison. So I guess the trick is to simply stop comparing.

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Can you imagine how different life would be if you were comfortable in your own skin? If you didn’t feel inadequate next to other woman who you perceive to be better than you in some way or another?

It’s a widespread belief that getting fat is the most detrimental factor to anyone’s health. We hear it so often that we don’t question the logic. But it’s just not as straightforward as that; body size is not an accurate indicator of someone’s health.

We all know the skinny person who eats nothing but junk and who rarely moves from the sofa. They are at a far higher risk of health problems than a heavy person who eats healthily and exercises regularly. I’m only scratching the surface of this topic and plan to post more in future weeks, but you can find much more info via this fantastic blog.

It’s my belief that if we’re truly happy with ourselves and our choices we will cease to care so much about other people’s opinions.

Because, truly, when we stop to think about it, isn’t the approval of others a huge factor when we try to get thinner?

The media and society tells us we have to be thin to be beautiful and it’s become so ingrained in our thinking that we can’t imagine feeling differently.

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Now, I’m not saying that we should all ditch our new year diets and go on a huge cake binge. However, I do think we need to question why it is that we feel our lives will be transformed if we shrink a bit. Why do we need to be thinner to feel better about ourselves?

Our bodies are precious. They’re beautiful. The wobbly bits, the stretch marks and the scars? They’re beautiful too. Our bodies are entitled to be nurtured and loved.

Healthy food and exercise is good for the body, mind and spirit. It’s important to look after yourself, not because a magazine says you need to resemble a supermodel or teenage popstar, but because you deserve your own loving care.

You have nothing to prove, because you’re already good enough. Honestly.

We need to have faith in our own beauty because our children are watching and listening. Even when we don’t realise it, they’re learning from us.

They need to know that they’re worthy of love and acceptance whatever their appearance and that food is to be enjoyed and not feared.

I want my children to see the beauty in people of all shapes, sizes and colours. Not just those who fit an aesthetically perfect stereotype.

The only way I can think of to teach them is to lead by example. To look after my body with my health and well being as a priority and not just a target weight or dress-size in mind. This, if anything, is my resolution for 2014.

Happy New Year, you beautiful thing, you.

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