The choices that make us

We are a product of our choices. Our lives guided by the choices we make along the way.. The things we choose become part of who we are and how we live. I believe that there is power in our choices, and that this  power can bring us hope in even the darkest situations. That it is how we choose to respond  to those situations, when we are frightened, or angry, or sad, that makes us who we are. That we are a melting pot of all the choices we make when all we want to do is hide from the world. That all of these choices, and many more besides, fit together to create the person we are today.

My belief that I always have a choice has been a solace  through the hardest points of my life, but that isn’t to say that my choices have always been the right ones, or that I have always chosen to respond with kindness, grace, and compassion. No matter what the situation, no matter what how crappy my choices were, they were exactly that: my choices. If I was behaving like a bitch then that was the choice I had made in that moment in time. Even if I acted in complete contrast to the person I saw myself to be, I had still – for whatever reason – chosen to behave in that way. I am always careful to take ownership of my choices and responsibility for my actions: even if I am ashamed of them.

Sometimes we aren’t conscious of the choices we make, and this was certainly the case when I first fell ill. When I felt so horrendous, trapped and alone, I was angry, bitter and jealous of those around me; until one day I realised that those emotions were directed, unfairly, at my friends, for no other reason than the fact they were living the life that I so desperately wanted. Even though I loved them and wanted nothing more than for them to be happy, I was still choosing to allow my feelings to be coated in negativity. It was so easy to be angry when I felt that my world had been turned upside down. But, just because it was easy, it doesn’t mean that  was right. By choosing to be lost under a cloud of negativity and bitterness, I was choosing to live in its shadow, in a world I didn’t recognise that was filled with darkness in which nothing could grow, and where no-one could reach me. I was choosing to give up on happiness, as if it was something that happened to other people, something that wasn’t made for people like me. I stopped seeking joy for myself, and stopped trying to bring it to the life of others. I was choosing to reject love: self-love, the love of others, and the love I had for others. I knew that this was not the life that I wanted to live. And I knew that the only person responsible for these thoughts was me, and that I was the only person who could change my outlook. No-one was coming to save me, there was no Prince Charming coming to rescue me: a truth I found as frightening as it was empowering.

Changing the way I felt seemed like an insurmountable endeavour, the feeling that  my illness had taken every single one of my choices away was ever-present. My symptoms often seemed like a prison, from which there was no escape. That the disease plaguing my body stood in the place of every choice I had ever made, blocking the path I had forged for myself. I felt like I was trapped inside a body that didn’t work the way it used to. I had lost my mobility. Fatigue cloaked my spark. Pain stole my patience. These things had been taken without my permission. I had not made a choice for this to happen to my life.

I can’t say exactly when it dawned on me that I did, in fact, have a say in the life I was living. There was no lightbulb moment, no bolt of lightning. It was a slow and steady epiphany. It was true that I had no choice in my illness, but it simply wasn’t true that I had no choice over how I responded to it. I could choose to be snappy and angry, filled with jealousy and bitterness, or I could choose to be patient and tolerate, to start to love again. I was no longer a passive observer of my life; I was the writer, director and actor in the story of my life. I was strong. I was powerful. I had a choice.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? Well, it is. Kind of. I had to learn, hard lesson after hard lesson, how to choose to respond the way that I wanted to. Some lessons didn’t come easy. I messed up. I frequently reverted back to my old choices. By now we all no the ferocity of my Guilt Monster, and in these situations it was bigger and badder than ever. Snapped at my children? I felt guilty for my lack of patience. Hurried along the high street, tutting at the people slowly meandering along? I felt guilty for my lack of tolerance. And so I learned that guilt is the enemy of choice; an enemy that has to be overcome.

I took tiny baby steps towards the life I wanted. Sometimes the steps were so small that they were all but invisible to anyone but me. It was all of these tiny steps  put together, that led my journey back to the life I longed to be a part of again. Sometimes I messed up, I reverted back to helplessness, I made bad choices. But every single day I started again, made my choices afresh. Then, suddenly, I began to see myself differently: I was no longer a victim. I was an empowered woman. And, sure, I still make mistakes, but I keep trying the best I can, in the knowledge that the only one writing the story of my life, is me.

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Sunday Secrets: I think we’ve been lied to

I’m an 80s kid: big hair and big shoulder pads were everywhere. In fashion, masculine was the new feminine. Women were taking their equality and running with it. As society was increasingly open to the idea of women being equal to men, a phrase filtered through: you can have it all. Anything a man can do, a woman can do. Anything a man can be, a woman can be, too. And, just as men didn’t need to choose between having a career and having a family, women didn’t need to make that choice either: they could have it all! Well, guess what? I think that’s a big, stinking, lie. 

rosieDon’t get me wrong, I am a feminist. And wholeheartedly believe that women should have equality to men in all aspects of life; if a woman wants a jet set career alongside raising a family then the opportunity for her to do so should be there. But I also believe that the ‘you can have it all’ mentality can be negative and disheartening.

With the increase of the ‘you can have it all’ philosophy, women with children can face judgement and pressure, not least from themselves. I couldn’t possible count the number of times I have heard the phrase ‘I’m just a stay at home Mum’, like raising the next generation isn’t one of the most important jobs in the world. Similarly, I have friends who have chosen not to have children; does that mean that they’re not grasping the opportunity to ‘have it all’? Does it heck! But, as we are told that we can have it all, women can feel that if they don’t have both the successful career and a family – whether through choice or circumstance – then they have failed, or that they should have both of those things. And that’s a load of tripe. 

workFlip the focus to the working mum: maybe her children go to nursery, perhaps she has a childminder, either way her child spends a portion of their day being cared for by someone else, allowing her to work. Which is obviously brilliant! So, women can work full-time, exactly the same way that men do, right? Well, not in my experience.

I had a successful career in a field I enjoyed and was good at, my boys were being cared for by an awesome childminder, I had a happy marriage, and I was fortunate enough to be able to work from home. In that moment it damn well looks like I had it all, but I’ll let you in on a secret: it sure as hell didn’t feel like it. I would constantly find myself giving neither my children nor my job my undivided attention; work emails would interrupt bedtime stories, conference calls would fall at tea time. Sure, I could have turned my phone off, but my husband didn’t have to and I can have it all, just like him, remember? Meh.

School assemblies, Christmas plays, poorly children, school holidays – all things that I would never have wanted to miss -encroached on my working day. JB was the main breadwinner so, as well as wanting to be there on those occassions, I also felt like I should be there, both as a Mum and as the partner whose wages we were less financially reliant upon. But, no matter how much I wanted to be there with my kids, calling my boss for the third time in two weeks, to tell him that I wouldn’t be able to work that day, gave me a knot in my stomach. And, of course, the work didn’t stop because the school was closed, and my to-do list didn’t magically disappear because my child was poorly.

I constantly felt harassed, stressed and flustered: my life was frantic. I know that some women thrive on it, but my disorganised, busy, distracted brain just couldn’t cope. To the world it may have looked like I was living the ‘you can have it all’ dream, but, in my mind, I may well have had it all, but I had it all badly. I may well have had everything, but nothing had the best of me. I couldn’t be the Mother that I wanted to be nor could I be the employee that I felt I should be.

working mumWhen I lived a life that was pretty much the definition of having it all, I just wasn’t happy; no matter how desperately I felt that I should be. After all, isn’t that what being a feminist was all about? Shouldn’t  I embrace the very things that women had fought so hard to get? Well, no. At least that wasn’t the right answer for me. I wrestled a lot with my feelings and thoughts about this and kept on coming back to this: just because we, as women, have it all available to us, doesn’t mean we have to take it all. Just like even though you can eat unlimited food at the Chinese buffet, it doesn’t mean that eating ten plates of chow mein wouldn’t make you vomit.

Perhaps having it all isn’t necessarily how it has been sold. Maybe having it all to choose from is, in itself, the point. We can choose what suits us. We can choose have a kick ass career or work part time. We can decide to have no children or have ten children. We are so lucky that as women living in the 21st century we have so many opportunities available to us. I am fortunate that my skill-set, my chosen career, has facilitated my choice to forge a new path and work for myself as a freelance copywriter: a choice that really does make me feel like I have the best of it all.

To me, having the possibility, and ability, to create a life that is right for us and our families really is having it all. And I am so very, very grateful for that.

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Hey, kids! Don’t do that, try this.

There are many things that I love about our scaled back life. Simple living is giving us more time together, making us less rushed, reducing stress, and generally making our lives a bit more ‘chilled’. We have had conversations we otherwise may not have had, and we have laughed a lot. But, there is just this one thing…

It’s tiring. Okay, so, in many ways the opposite is true, but when it comes to our decision to reduce screen time it’s a little different. I always thought that cutting back on time spent on the TV or computers would be difficult for us all and, although we are adapting, it’s taking some getting used to.

But, why is it tiring? Basically because we have three small boys! Although they are pretty good at independent play, finding things to do and making up their own games, sometimes they are just in an ‘I’m bored’ mood, and that is exhausting.

To help us all, and to save my patience and sanity, I have started collating ideas about things that they might enjoy doing instead of looking at a screen. This means that, rather than just telling them what they can’t do, I am giving them ideas of what they can do instead; and my children definitely respond better to that! These are just a few of our current firm favourites:
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- team comic book. The idea is to create a comic book together, from start to finish, working together to create characters and storylines, then drawing the pictures and putting together the captions. To be honest, in our superhero crazed house, it is no surprise that this was a hit!

- create-a-pokemon. Who knew Pokemon were even still a thing? I had no clue, until Charlie brought home some cards from school, well and truly gripped by Pokemon fever. The best thing to come out of this is the boys creating their own Pokemon, with specific skills, strengths and characteristics, drawing Pokemon cards and then battling each other with these new characters.

- shared reading. Depending on how pushed for time/energy I am, I will either do this with the boys or they will just take it in turns to read a book; generally reading a page each. We are currently working our way through Awful Auntie; I’m not sure who’s enjoying this more!
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- book reviews. As we are obsessed with books, and Charlie has started his own blog that includes book reviews, this was a natural thing for us all to try. I’ve been encouraging them all to note down some things they did, and didn’t, like in the books that they have read, and to draw pictures of their favourite moments from the book. Not only is this making them in to book reviewers, it also changes the way they interact with the text.

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- den hangs. We have been pretty fortunate with the weather lately, so have been able to take full advantage of our new garden. So, the boys have been putting their den (built by JB) to good use. They collect up games, snacks, pens and paper, and disappear down the garden, emerging some time later. Obviously, I’m not allowed to join in with this, on account of it being a secret den and all…

So, there are some examples of things that the boys have been enjoying since their mean-mama reduced their screen time. And as for me…? It’s been reading and writing all the way… And I’m loving it.

 

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