Going back to go forward.

 

I’ve big news. I’m going back to University. As of yesterday I’m a fully registered and enrolled student, again! In July I got accepted to study for my MA in Creative Writing at Queens University Belfast. Fair to say that I am excited and terrified in equal measure – What if I’m the oldest in the class by decades? How will I juggle it with motherhood? What if everyone laughs at what I write, or what I’ve got to say? What if I’m not good enough? All these questions, and more, have been whizzing about my head and feeding my internal monologue. And yesterday they were joined by a healthy dose of ‘What the F***k am I doing?’ Everyone was so, so young. I’m not in the habit of hanging around with folk barely out of their teens. I’m either with little folk who still need help wiping their arse, or people with faces like my own; faces with creases, faces with stories to tell. NOT faces that look so… new. And here’s the other thing; they are all so sure of themselves, they seem to know exactly where they’re heading, they already know their place in the world. It was terrifying. Borderline traumatic. Where have the past twenty years gone? Surely there must be a mistake? I felt completely out of place. Unlike my self-assured compatriots, panic and fear seeped through my system.

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I gathered myself over a coffee (though I felt more in need of gin) and I stopped judging. I stopped presuming that everyone was looking at me with pity thinking I was a sad old woman still in pursuit of her dreams at almost forty! I thought of myself at nineteen or twenty years old. I thought about the things I would do differently, if I had my time again. I thought about what my nineteen year old self would make of my thirty-nine year old self. I thought about what I might say to her, if I had the chance. Because I remembered that once upon a time, I too, was a confident young woman who thought she knew her place in the world, who thought she knew what she clearly didn’t. I was that girl. And even though, she has all the benefits of youth on her side, the woman I am today would not swap with her. As the Dixie Chicks say, ‘I’ve gone the long way around’. Maybe not everything in my professional life is how I might have envisaged when I was a nineteen year old university student, but it’s only when you get older that you realise not everything in life goes quite to plan. I feel lucky and blessed to be healthy, to have a happy marriage and two wonderful sons. I guess all those fresh-faced students will have to live a bit longer to appreciate just how precious the simple things are. To realise that sometimes you have to go back, in order to move forwards.

Classes start next week. Please God don’t let the lecturers be young enough to be my off-spring!

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Life at 39 and 3/4

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Apologies for being MIA but I’m using every spare minute I etch away from ‘mum camp’ on revising the latest of my book edits. But I have to post this one quick or else the 39 and 3/4 will cease to apply! So, for what it’s worth, here’s what I’ve learnt as I exit my thirties:

 

 

  • Even though the calendar tells me I’m about to turn forty I feel exactly the same as I did at twenty. No one tells you that the ‘older’ outstrips the ‘wiser’ like dog versus human years! I’d say I’m only incrementally wiser than I was twenty years ago.
  • Nothing worth doing is ever easy. Yup, it’s true. Life, marriage, work, children – individually they’re hard, combine them, and you’ve got a lifetime of sweat and toil right there. None of them are easy, but they are worth it.
  • With every crisis comes opportunity. Granted it’s not want you want to hear while in the middle of a crisis, but it’s true.
  • Love endures, it just does – always. If you want to find love, you will, even in the most unlikely of places.
  • More things scare me now. A lot more. But only by doing the things that scare me, can I grow.
  • Each day is precious – appreciate each ordinary damn day – even the grey and rainy ones! This is so difficult to do. It’s what I know, it’s what I’ve learnt since being thirty, but I’m still struggling to practice it.
  • Find a good colourist. You’ll be seeing a lot of her.
  • Be the best version of yourself. That’s all you can do and it’s enough. Surround yourself with people who think it’s enough.
  • Marry someone older – it’s a guaranteed way to always feel young.
  • Persistance is more important than talent. I’m still hoping this one is true and that I can achieve my publishing goal in my forties.
  • Quality over quantity.
  • Look after yourself, no one else will do it for you. Get enough sleep, eat well, exercise, make time for the things you love.
  • The decade between thirty and forty goes really, really fast! Enjoy it.
  • This too shall pass. Bad times don’t last, but neither do good. Hold on tight,  rejoice in the journey and appreciate every damn day – even the crappy ones.

In other news, I’m learning how to increase my ‘GRIT’ and will pass it on in a post soon. We’ve our summer holiday still ahead of us – it entails a small boat and five children  – what can possibly go wrong? I’ll see you on the other side.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you for the music.

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I’m struggling through my latest book edits at the moment. I’m full of self-doubt and the seeming impossibility of the task. Then, two weeks ago, I got a recharge when I went to see Take That headline at Hyde Park. Some of you will groan at that, my Dad will say, ‘take what?’ (he’s been saying that for twenty-five years – with my dad there’s no such thing as an old joke) and others will wish you could have been there too. Music is one of the things, like books, that can unite or divide. It’s subjective. It’s personal. It reaches into our soul and touches each of us differently.

I went to my first TT concert when I was sixteen so it’s fair to say I’ve seen them more than a few times and most of those have been with the same person. We’ve been best friends since 1994 when we were allocated the same halls at Uni. On our first night out together we discovered our love for TT. It wasn’t cool to like them then ( I appreciate some would say it’s not cool to like them now). Anyway, they were our first strike on the ‘what do we have in common’ list and they remain a lasting bond in our friendship nearly twenty-two years later. For us, their music encapsulates a lifetime of  highs and lows. It transports us to when we were carefree students; young and untethered to any place or anyone, when we didn’t need to worry about our grey roots or the signs of age on our bodies,  when our most pressing decision was where we were going on our next night out, when we swapped clothes incessantly, when we lived and breathed our daily lives, when we went to the students union for the day to drown our sorrows because Robbie left ( any flimsy excuse would do!) A time before marriage, before children, before grown-up heartbreak, before she found a lump and told me not to cry, before social media, almost before mobile phones, before ‘selfies’ were called ‘selfies’ they were just ugly, mostly drunken, photos!

Last Saturday was a beautiful warm summer evening the sky blushed pink before tipping over into a navy night sky. We were only 2 among 65thousand others but for one and a half hours we were in a world of our own. It’s been proved that music can alter the way you feel. It can make a bad day better. It can make a good night feel amazing.

They say you never really know someone until you live  with them  – we lived together for three years and she knows me in a way very few others do. She truly knows the shade of my soul. It’s time trickery that we’re now closer to forty than twenty. And even though there are only three where once there were five, their DNA has not altered. Gary Barlow has gone from hero to zero and back to hero again. Their brand is unashamedly ‘pop’ and they are as far from being a ‘boy band’ as Bieber is from his pension, but we still (unashamedly) love them!

I counted my blessings in Hyde Park that night, so thankful to have my wonderful friend beside me healthy and well. Life is busy, it gets in the way all too often; she’s in London, I’m in Belfast.  When we meet we push the reset button; reminding each other of the girls we were in the 1990’s; young, ambitious, fearless. We remind each other of who we still are when you strip away what we’ve become. And because she thinks I can do it, I know I can do it.

Thank-you Julie and thank you ‘boys’ for the music and all the excuses you’ve given us over the years to get together. Could it magic? Definitely. x

 

Holiday Hell or Heaven?

keep-calm-schools-out-for-summer-1The sun is setting on the first day of summer holidays for 2016 (who am I kidding? There hasn’t actually been any sun!) and already my four year old spent most of the afternoon in his bedroom on ‘time-out’ while I took deep breaths and tried to keep a handle on my temper. He’s bright, energetic and has been likened on occasion to the Tasmanian Devil, in a word, he is challenging. Challenging at the best of times, but all day everyday for eight weeks, quite honestly, has me reaching for the gin bottle. I know I’m not the only Mum to be frantically booking every summer scheme within a ten mile radius, because summer, for some of us SAHM’s is a colder version of hell.

Oh, I know I should be grateful for these long summer days with my boys – it’ll go all too quickly and I am privileged to be spending it with them. But the reality is sometimes it’s much more appealing to be walking out the door for a day at the office, or somewhere – anywhere that is quiet, where no one is being punched or wrestled to the ground, where there are no constant shouts of ‘Muuuum’, or groans of ‘Noooo’ as soon as I suggest something I’d like to do, or that the dog needs a walk, or that maybe they should peel their eyes from a screen and actually converse instead!

Familiarity breeds contempt; fact. It would happen to anyone. Can you think of anyone you could live with and happily spend all day, everyday with and not feel the odd pang of irritation? I find summer holidays the perfect breeding ground for  a healthy dose of motherly abuse – I hope I’m not alone in this. The days are long, its usually raining, they’re usually tired, or pimped up on sugar; it’s a lethal combination. I know if they saw me less they would be nicer to me – I see proof most evenings when their Father comes through the door.

And so forgive me, call me a bad mother, call me ungrateful, but there you go, summer holidays do not mean endless blissful sun-drenched days of fun with my children. They mean hardcore negotiation and more juggling than ever as I try to keep everyone reasonably happy.

So, for what it’s worth, here are my top tips for surviving the frontline of motherhood that are the summer holidays:

  • Early bird catches the worm – or at least a wormhole of time before they get up. Summer nights mean late nights and in another week (and with a bit of luck) both of mine will be snoozing late which means I can get up early and get my day started my way.
  • Plan – have a plan for each day and make sure everyone knows what to expect the night before so there’s no fallout in the morning when you suggest oh, lets say a family dog walk (are you seeing a theme here? Young boys have enough energy for a trampoline 24×7 but none apparently to walk a dog!)
  • Holiday schemes – use them. That’s all I’m saying.
  • Bribery – Always works.
  • Gin – after 5pm its perfectly acceptable any day of the week (it is the holidays after all).
  • Smile – These are the days of our lives. These messy, chaotic, loud, busy, hassled, exhausting, long days are the ones we’ll always want to return to. Love them.

Please share your holiday hell or heaven with me. I’d love to hear them.

 

 

Human boys and puppy dogs.

IMG_5252If you follow me on social media thingys you’ll have seen that we’ve a new addition to our family in the form of a Weimaraner pup. (Because trying to pull together a second book, look after two boys and oversee a house renovation is not enough -I only have myself to blame!) But hopefully it will explain why I’m taking the approach of motherofalllists this week and complied bullet points on the similarities I’ve noted between pups and young boys:

 

  • They love food.
  • They pee everywhere.
  • They love to play.
  • They’re really sleepy when you wake them up.
  • They give the best cuddles.
  • They’re incredibly cute.
  • They love Mummy (see point 1 as it’s usually Mummy i.e. me who supplies the food – I’m not stupid, I know there’s a connection – I think it even extends to my husband!)
  • They know their name, but choose to ignore it at will.
  • They’re noisy.
  • They’re irritable.
  • They grow very fast.
  • Sometimes they don’t understand ‘No’ as an answer.
  • When they choose not to understand ‘No’ as an answer they whine – a lot!
  • They need praise for going to the toilet.
  • They’re exhausting.
  • They enjoy the simple things (see point 1 and point 3 ).
  • They’re fun.
  • Sometimes they need a short lead, sometimes they need to run free.
  • They both have keys to my heart.