New Year: New Starts or Same Old?

New Year’s resolutions seem to be getting a bit of a bashing on my social media this year! I have no interest in obsessing about my weight or adopting a crazy diet or giving up booze or any such nonsense, but personally I really enjoy the ‘new term’ feeling of January and the opportunity to reflect and plan for positive change. I might not keep up everything over the whole year, but some things usually stick and I feel better for them.

This year I really want to focus on my own well-being, physical and mental. The adage “you can’t pour from an empty cup” resounds. I have spent much of 2017 tired, in pain and feeling anxious and I feel as though I’ve reached my limit of what I can give to others (my family and the community) in this current state. So I’m desperate to get back to good health. For me, this means a renewed focus on exercise – I’m going to commit to one hour of PT and one run a week, in addition to my current Pilates session – and also an attempt to eat better. I’m not about to give up sugar or caffeine but the two comprise around 60% of my current diet and I feel totally shit for it. And I think in December my Deliveroo count was at around… *whispers*… five a week. So, more home-cooking and fewer sugary snacks. Takeaway is going to be limited to Friday night only and I’m going to try to cut down to one ‘treat’ a day (I know this is still loads but I can’t even admit what I’m reducing from!!). Hopefully more sensible, balanced eating will develop over the year. And I’m sure that if I can feel less crap physically, I will feel better mentally too.

Another thing that I know will help my mental health is to cut down on my spending, which frankly had gone NUTS by the time Christmas arrived. I have a few exceptions already agreed with myself (ear piercing, teeth whitening and a Keep Cup and reusable water bottle!) but otherwise I’m going to cap all non-essential spending until the end of March. If I want to buy anything new, I need to sell something to raise the funds. I’ve done this before and it was hard but satisfying. I have already started to unsubscribe from the many, many emails I receive from my favourite online shops, which feels worryingly like a bereavement. The next step, that I am dreading also, is to unfollow the online retailers who tempt me daily on Instagram. It feels sad, because I love to be inspired, but actually it is too hard to resist the lure of beautiful things, multiple times a day. I’m less sure about Instagram influencers – should I unfollow them too, even if I find them funny and/or interesting? It’s hard, when the lines have become so blurred between marketing and entertainment. What do you think?

Another aspect of life that has been getting me down is the state of our house. It is cluttered and, frankly, a mess. I am going to write a list of things we need to do and focus on getting at least one job done each week. First up – BE GONE, CHRISTMAS! I’m so sick of our droopy tree!

So far, so selfish! Looking outward, I want to get back to volunteering and I’m going to take January to explore some options, with the goal of starting something new in February. I previously helped as a legal volunteer at the Prisoners’ Advice Service and Liberty and I’m hoping to gain some further experience in the social welfare/human rights areas. If anyone has any suggestions/opportunities, let me know! I’m also going to continue my work as a trustee of A Mile in Her Shoes – we have lots to do in the year ahead, including from a legal perspective, so I’m excited about that.

I also want to do MUCH more to improve my waste from an environmental perspective. I absolutely loved the idea of @arthur_eats on Instagram to change one small thing each month and I’m determined to get on with it instead of merely admiring from afar! First up, I am going to stop bulk-buying 500ml bottles of sparkling water (and drinking about five a day). It is so terribly wasteful and simply not justifiable. I am completely addicted though, so I am going to be kind to myself and buy some large 2 litre bottles to make the weaning process a little more gentle. So, a reusable water bottle is one of my ‘permitted’ purchases! Any recommendations? I need something that can go in the dishwasher or I’ll never use it! Next to go will be my preposterous disposable coffee cup use (hence the Keep Cup on my ‘allowed to buy’ list).

Next up, I am going to borrow a resolution from last year, that I stuck with for a few months, which was to read more. I adore reading but often find myself in an unsatisfying cycle of Instagram/Facebook scrolling and online shopping instead. Hopefully the spending ban will help with this one! Any must-reads for the new year? Nothing too taxing to begin with please!

Finally, I want to see much more of my loved ones. 2017 has been a completely brutal year in terms of health for my family. Unfathomable in many ways, to be honest. But what has been made clear is that taking people for granted is for fools. You have to invest your love, and time, to make the best memories. The moments I’ve had watching my children bond with their grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and close friends have been, without doubt, the best moments of the year. So I need to do better. Invite people, travel more, be less absorbed by my little life and more committed to my wider family. I can’t fix anything, or anyone, but at least I can be there.

And that is a LOT to be getting on with. I am excited to begin: I love fresh starts!

What’s your NY resolution policy? Do you have any plans?

Just do it indeed. Less talk, more action, Gemma!

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Village People

It’s become something of a cliché to talk about a parent’s need for a village to raise their children but, as I lie in my bed failing to sleep off a debilitating bout of infective mastitis and I hear my wonderful nanny taking care of the children downstairs, it feels like an omission not to talk about it.

I live far from my parents in Scotland, and quite far from my husband’s parents in the south of England. I didn’t go to school or university in London. Many of my friends from law school or work have since moved to the sticks to raise their kids: escaping terrifying stabbings on the doorstep, choking pollution and exorbitant house prices in search of charming village greens, enormous back gardens and (it would seem) a fucking hideous commute.

My sister moved to south London a couple of years ago; though it’s not really *that* far, it involves a day trip, organised in advance, rather than popping in to see each other. (My other sister moved to Mexico, so it’s a good job she’s so lovely or I’m not sure we’d be on speaking terms.)

So to where/whom do I turn, when my left boob turns a blazing red, I have a dizzying temperature and I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck?

My husband, luckily. He is supportive and amazing and I’m very very glad he’s mine. But he works tremendously hard (largely so that I can focus on looking after the kids) and I can’t call upon him every time that I wish I could: he has meetings, deadlines, responsibilities that can be passed on only in fairly dire circumstances.

My best friend, thank god. I’m not sure exactly how we managed it, but 17 years after meeting at university, we live literally around the corner from each other. She also has two kids, one of whom is just a few weeks younger than my son. There have been times when our circumstances haven’t allowed for anything more than toiling through life’s mundanities with our heads down (and will she ever forgive the betrayal of me moving to New York shortly after our sons were born instead of staying here to enjoy our maternity leave together?!) but more recently we have increasingly found ways to help each other: sometimes we take care of the other’s kids so we can get some work done or go to an unavoidable appointment; some blissful days we hang out all together and we drink tea and (increasingly often) take it in turns to offer mediation services for toddler squabbles; sometimes we all have supper together (although always at her house – did you see my previous post?!). I am so grateful that my best girl is so close.

Finally, I have the world’s most incredible nanny. She started working for us when I started working part-time when my son was around 16 months and she continues to improve my life in every possible way (not just when I’m too sick to get out of bed).

This triumvirate of THANK GOD are my saviours.

But three makes a pretty small village! And sometimes my husband is stuck at work and my best friend is doing the school run and my nanny is looking after her other charges or (god forbid) on holiday and I find myself thinking that I need more support!

I often find refuge online: I chat to fellow parents, some of whom kept me sane and made me laugh (usually to the point of waking a sleeping baby with a snort) during endless spells of cluster feeding, worries about allergies and reflux, problems with breastfeeding and weaning, and wondering if dungarees make me look like a children’s TV presenter and, indeed, if that is actually a problem… I’m not sure I can overstate how important some of these friends were to my confidence as a parent and to my mental health when I moved to New York and my village of three was a tiny village of one.

I have also noticed, since writing this blog in particular, that Facebook and Instagram hosts friends from school with whom I’ve not spoken in years and family friends and friends from my former work and friends of friends and some complete strangers, who are parents now or hope to be and who want to talk about parenting, who are going through many of the same things as me and who are helpful and kind. The best bit about posting a new blog article is, without doubt, the conversation that often ensues; it makes me feel a part of something, and maybe sometimes like I’m helping a bit too.

So I am growing an online village too, which makes me feel happy, mostly. But it also leaves me wanting more sometimes. In part because I think the internet can bring a sense of false intimacy, a feeling of closeness that might be a bit less profound than you realise. The second is that I can’t leave my kids with a virtual babysitter (obviously the TV has its place, but it isn’t very good at feeding them or changing nappies). So when the shit hits the fan and I am struggling to cope, my online village is generally too distant, literally and sometimes figuratively, to be able to help.

And I don’t just want a village for emergencies! When a long day looking after two kids stretches before me, with the only prospect of adult conversation the Amazon delivery driver or the woman who makes my takeaway coffee in our local cafe, it would help (definitely a little but sometimes a lot) to meet up with a friend in the playground or have them pop over for a cup of tea (or wine, depending on how long the day in question has been thus far).

But… (and I feel like a teenager writing her diary as I type) making new friends is so hard! I’ve often chatted to fellow mums in a cafe, at a baby music class or even in the GP’s waiting room, but I’ve never been brave enough to bridge the gulf of unfamiliarity and vulnerability to ask them for a coffee.

I’ve also seen lots of meet-ups for mums on Instagram but I’ve only been brave enough to go to one so far (an “OLA Mama mum meet” about photography, which was fantastic but I arrived late, perhaps missing the mingling, and I didn’t feel like I’d overcome my nerves by the time I left again!). Tomorrow afternoon, if I can shake this wretched mastitis, I’m going to Victoria Park in East London for a picnic/chinwag/couple-of-hours-of-preventing-my-son-climbing-into-the-lake-like-the-last-time-we-went-there organised by a lovely local mama with whom I share a love of leopard print and the Dalston Curve Garden, which I’m pretty sure means we are bound to be lifelong friends. Maybe one day I’ll FINALLY go along to Forest Kids Hackney, as inspired by that same local mama (though I will perhaps hold off until my son’s favourite thing to do in public isn’t to run away from me and hide), or try out one of the many new apps that launched in the last six months or so for making mama friends, like Peanut or Mush (I *think* they’re a bit like Tinder but with (I assume) much less shagging).

There are so many opportunities to meet people if you want to, but so often I find that I’m too anxious or too shy or too preoccupied with life (does anyone else spend most of their free time (“free” in the loosest sense of the term) doing laundry, ordering groceries and packing up clothes to return to online shops?!) to make the effort. I’m inherently lazy; I want the benefit of friends without having to put in the work! Clearly the answer to that is to sort out my priorities, but ugh: speaking to new people is so hard!

It’s time for another antibiotic and hopefully some sleep now, so I’m going to press post and check in the morning if writing with a fever is as productive qualitatively as well as quantitively. I suspect not, but hopefully in the meantime you can let me know if you have made new mum friends and, if so, how! (And can I come along next time?)

Where is everyone?