I want to lay myself bare in front of someone. Not bare as in naked. I’m happy to keep my clothes on, but to be completely known. To be known without fear.
Maybe that’s only possible with someone new. Someone you’ve only just met. Before the judgements start, and before they know your whole life story. Maybe that’s a freedom that can only come from someone only knowing you in this context or in this space. Or is that the opposite of being truly known. But with knowledge comes shame. It’s why Adam and Eve covered themselves in the garden of Eden. They became aware of their nakedness, were ashamed, and covered themselves with leaves.
Why is nakedness, shame, knowledge and vulnerability so incredibly intertwined?
Being loved and cared for is precious and having people who love you because or in spite of your vulnarabilities is beautiful, but it’s also burdened. Is there a way of laying yourself bare without being vulnerable? Not really. Not when it’s your soul you’re talking about. The very core of you.
And why is it so hard to be vulnerable with people you know would just want to be there for you, who are eager to lift you up?
This is my problem. I don’t want anyone to think – or worse, to know- when I’m struggling. I don’t want anyone to be aware that things are hard. That money is too tight. That there’s no milk in the fridge. Or worse, that the coffee jar is completely empty. I don’t want anyone to know that I lie awake at night, terrified of doing the wrong thing, making the wrong decision.
I don’t want people to know this.
Because no one can really, truly help. Sure, in the short term, but then I feel indebted. And I have enough to deal with without feeling indebted too. And the ones that can’t help end up feeling helpless, leaving me feeling guilty. So I carry my burdens alone.
It takes all the will power I have to make it through each day. Some days. Not every day.
And so, to make sure that no one can see the weakness, the vulnerability, I build a wall all around me. It helps keep me strong, having a wall to lean against. It does help.
But it does get lonely in my room for one.
As much as I loved the baby showers I had with both of my daughters, and appreciated the effort that went in to them, I have since been introduced to a different way of celebrating the pending arrival, which has touched me and moved me so much, I secretly wish I’d had a blessingway too.
A blessingway is an old Navajo ceremony, which celebrates a woman’s rite of passage into motherhood, or motherhood again. While a babyshower focuses largely on the new baby, a blessingway is all about the mother to be, as evidenced in a number of ceremonial activities that take place.
I’ve attended blessingways in England, and in Australia, and have seen and heard them done in the United States, and there are many variations, but the basics of it remain the same – women come together to celebrate birth.
While at a traditional babyshower everyone brings a gift for the baby, at a blessingway, (while you can still bring a gift for the baby) the ‘gifts’ you bring can include a bead, a poem,a flower, a candle, and red string.
During the party, the host – normally a best friend or family member – will give the mother to be a strong piece of string, tied at one end. Then each guest will give her a bead, with a reason as to why they’ve chosen that specific bead for her. She will then string it into a necklace which she can wear, look at, or hold during labour, as she chooses.
Everyone can also bring a flower from their garden, or from somewhere special to them, which is threaded into a crown for the expectant mother to wear during the day, and to save as a memory of the day, should she wish.
People can take it in turns reading their poems and birth wishes – affirmations – or they can be put together somewhere for the mum to read leading up to and during her labour. My Australian friend had flags to put up in the room during her c-section. My British friends had them stuck on the wall by their birthpools during their home births.
The candle is lit during the ceremony, to guide the baby, and welcome him or her earthside, before being blown out again. If the mother is going to let people know when she’s in labour, they can take them home with them and light a candle for her when labour starts, or if she is unlikely to announce it, she can keep it at home and light the candles herself, as a reminder of the women standing with her in thought.
Finally, the culminating element of the ceremony, is when the host ties a red string around her wrist or ankle, and the mother then walks around the room, wrapping the string twice around each guest’s arm and leg, creating a tie between them all. The mother then walks around cutting the string, and everyone ties it off. There are two traditions here: some people leave it on until it falls off on it’s own – I had one stay on for almost six months! – or they can break it off once the baby is born. Often times, people will send them back to the mother, so that she can thread them into a pillow or similar for the little person.
And once the ceremony is completed, there’s cake!
A blessingway is a great alternative for anyone not overly fond of party games or being the center of attention for too long, and provides a more meaningful, and still fun afternoon with friends, celebrating the new life to come, but also celebrating mum!
Originally written for Zulily.co.uk
I’m not there yet. I can’t see the lemonade. Or the tequila shots. All I can see is a truck full of lemons. All I can taste the bitter sting of loneliness and of disappointment on my lips, down the back of my throat. I have to remind myself to breathe at times, and other times the pain in my heart is so intense, I have to blow the air out, release the pressure, like you’d squeeze the air out of a beach ball at the end of summer.
I’ve never fallen victim to depression – sure as a teenager I went to see a shrink because of my ‘depression’, but I wasn’t medicated. In my early 20’s I went on anti-depressents for a while, but I didn’t like how numb it made me feel. That’s not me. I like to face myself head on.
Back then I decided to quit smoking at the same time, so I’d end up walking to the gym and exercising two, three times a day… just to keep my head busy, stay active. But this time I just feel numb. Tired.
So here I sit, so anxious I can’t bear to leave the house some days. Singing ‘The Hanging Tree’ to myself over and over to stop from collapsing in the supermarket because I want to scream, just run through it screaming. I’m not suicidal, I don’t want to kill myself but I visualise what it would be like slamming into the back of a truck, driving into the sea, just checking out, for a while. But I can’t because there are two little lives that depend on me, and no matter how many tears I fight back, no matter how many pillows I scream into, no matter how desperate I am for safe arms around me, I could never endanger them. Never hurt them.
I trust this will pass. Everyone has bad days, sad days, I guess this is that darkness before the dawn. Maybe when I get through this the healing can begin, and I can find a way forward. Maybe this pain is that final dying off before regeneration can begin.
And then one day maybe there’ll be beauty again. Maybe someone will see my soul again. Maybe I’ll be enough, for me.
I’m not bashing McDonalds here. If I’m going to eat fries, I’ll eat theirs. If I’m going to pick up something cheap on the way home, it’s going to be their sweet chilli chicken wrap. Back when I was a student I had an impressive collection of Happy Meal toys. So understand that I’m not standing on a pedestal and waving a finger at people who eat at McDonalds, but I saw the new McDonalds Ad on TV tonight and it is honestly everything that’s wrong with our view of childhood today.
No running by the pool
Yeah, okay, there’s some sense in not running by the pool. But I’ve heard people say the same about the park, the playground or even their own gardens. If a child was running at 30 miles an hour I’d understand. I’d also be impressed. Don’t let them lose out on the opportunity to experience and manage risk because we’re afraid of bumps and scrapes.
This excited boy drags his parents into a museum. They can’t walk fast enough. He finally sees what he wants to show them, and puts his hands up on the glass. Not on an ancient artifact, just on a bit of glass, that someone will be cleaning later on anyway – and he’d just been holding his mother’s hand so we know he wasn’t covered in ice cream. Way to deflate the kid’s enthusiasm. And tomorrow he doesn’t want to go back and we say he’s not interested in history, or science.
No bouncing on the bed
Okay, here again, it’s not their bed. Fair enough. And it’s not great for the bed. That’s why my kids need a trampoline… this is obviously a child with a lot of energy, and bed shopping is boring.
No fairground ride
Actually my daughter was refused a ride on a roller coaster recently and I was really very glad about it, having gone on it myself. I’m an adrenaline junkie, and I was mildly terrified. Sometimes these things have valid reasons. Sometimes they have ridiculous health and safety limitations. How many kids today have never even climbed a tree? Not because it’s more dangerous, but because we are afraid of their pain. We are afraid of them evaluating risk in a safe(r) environment.
We got stuck on a different roller coaster at the same park recently, and had to sit in driving rain for 15 minutes waiting for the fire department to come help us walk along the tracks: 7 meters to the public platform. Along a solid pavement. It was ridiculous. Health and safety leaves us with a generation of people who are incapable of understanding their limitations because they’ve never been allowed to test them.
No adventurous cycling (with helmet on)
The boy tries to make a ramp with his bicycle. It’s not even high. But no, no… too what? dangerous? puh-lease.
Keep off the grass
I understand the concept of other people’s property, and that children need to learn respect for things that aren’t theirs, but really? Keep off the grass? Isn’t that the bit they play whatever sport it is on? Is a young boy running on the grass on his own going to wreck it? I doubt it. I sincerely doubt it!
Avoid the puddles
Why? Because his feet might get wet? His shoes might get muddy? Well, that would have been a lesson well learned. Jump in puddles, get wet feet. Now, instead, outside is just another boring place where you can’t have any fun.
But by all means, run into a fast food restaurant and have ‘quality time’ eating processed food
But don’t worry kiddo. There’s always McDonalds. There you can hear ‘yes’. There you can have fun, and laughter and freedom to truly enjoy the best that childhood has to offer. With your cardboard children’s meals and plastic toys. (Yeah, I know, my kids have it sometimes too. That’s HOW I know.)
This advert does not make me want the chicken wrap I so enjoy (when I don’t think about the farmed chickens.)
It makes me sad for a fictional boy named Harry and all the children like him.
It makes me want to run my children barefoot down a hill to jump in puddles and leap over logs. It makes me want to carry an extra tin of plasters for every little booboo that teaches them to fall and stand up again. That teaches them just how far you can pull a branch before it snaps, that teaches them how unpleasant thrown sand in the eye can be. That teaches them that if a fall from knee-height hurt, a fall off a cliff will be fatal. That peers don’t always have the best advice or intentions.
It makes me grateful that my children are free range and hopeful that somewhere out there, when they’re grown up and looking for partners of their own, there will be someone left who had a freerange childhood too.
I’m a mean mama. I love you so much, that sometimes a mean mama is the best I can be for you.
There are so many things in this world that I wish to protect you from, to keep you from, to keep from you that sometimes it means that what you want in the now I have to say no to because I want to keep you safe.
Yes, I want to keep you from predators and yes, I want to keep you from people whose love for you may be more about themselves than you. And yes, I want to keep your body safe and your belly full and your learning continual and your development appropriate, but I also want to keep your mind.
I want your thoughts to be of adventures and mysteries, I want your dreams to be of fairies and ballerinas, or trucks and superheroes if you wish. I want your biggest dilemmas to be whether you should bring the red spade or the blue spade to the beach, if your new friend in the park will l be there again tomorrow or not or whether you will walk or take a scooter.
I want to wash copious amounts of muddy trousers and scrub grass stains out of the knees, to have to carry a spare set of wellie boots for when yours are full of puddles. I want beach toys and wooden food and glitter to litter my floors and to be sweeping up sandpit sand for years to come.
I want equal wardrobe space for fancy dress as for clothes, and to be ‘persuaded’ to take a fireman, fairy, pirate or princess with me on every milk run.
There are many years ahead where you will worry about your appearance. There are tears that you will cry over boys and lovers and friends come and gone.
There may be a time for you to care about what’s popular, what’s hot, what’s happening in the world around you, but that time is not now.
Now is the time for a clean fresh face, and a wardrobe that allows you the movement and freedom of childhood without trying to make you into a mini-woman. Now is the time to enjoy fanciful stories and childish movies. Now is the time to live to the fullest and enjoy a kind of freedom you will never again experience, a kind of life you will only appreciate years after its gone.
My girls, a time will come where you will wear make-up and listen to music with themes that don’t belong to childhood. A time will come where your choice of outfit might make me cringe and your choice of entertainment might leave me questioning where I went wrong. I know it will because it came for me, as it does for everyone.
Even Peter Pan grew up eventually…
But innocence lost is lost forever. Childhood left behind is a street with only one direction. There’s no turning back time.
I will do my best to keep you young, to hold on to your youthful days, to be the buffer against words like sexualisation and objectification, and a torrent of marketing that tries to tell you what “stuff” you need to be popular, or beautiful, or loved. I will cocoon you, so that the subjects and realities of teenage years or adulthood become known to you then, and not a day before.
I will be your fortress even when you wonder why you can’t do the things other kids are allowed to and I will be you shield till such a time as your decisions are made by your desires for your life, not those of your peers, or characters in TV shows and magazines.
At times you may hate me, but in time I believe you will see that it was always about what was best for you and one day as you watch your own daughters hurtle with frightening velocity from infancy you will understand that sometimes “you’re being mean mama” is just another form of my deep and undying and eternal love.
Today I took my girls to watch the Cinderella movie, and as it was about to start, I found myself wondering if I was doing the right thing introducing or worse, underpinning the story of a prince that comes to save the princess, whose contribution to king and kingdom is pretty much her beauty. (Do princesses ever get old with saggy bums and boobs?) I shrugged it off in the end because it’s a story, and one the girls have read and heard before anyway.
About half way through the movie, I began to think about the change to Disney movies over the last few years: Brave, Frozen, I’m sure there are more, where the hero is actually a heroine, and girls aren’t being told they are helpless individuals with only their looks in their favour anymore… for the most part.
I was so impressed with how they ‘did’ the new Cinderella movie. While they didn’t actually change any of the story, the bits they ‘filled in’ changed so many of the morals of the story. Cinderella, while a bit of a victim of her circumstances, and of the ‘way’ things were done in specifically Elizabethan England (think Jane Eyre, and marriages made for fortuosity) was still the master of her own mind; she still chose her responses to what was done to her; she still managed her emotions and tempered what she thought by what she believed in. Perhaps because her foundations in “a golden childhood” were so solid, and forged in love, or perhaps because of what Viktor Frankl 1 calls self-actualisation, whereby some people have the ability to see joy and beauty no matter their circumstances. Whatever the reason, the character Ella, who slept in cinders for warmth, was able to be who she knew herself to be, irrespective of the cruelty thrown her way.
Forget about princess and true love! THAT is a message for today’s young women!
No one is coming to save you. No one is perfect, any more than you yourself are perfect. Prince Charming will someday let you down. Just as you will let him down. Because we don’t die at 35 any more. Our years as adults are longer now, and someone, somewhere will disappoint you, hurt you, betray you, break your heart, or worse, your trust. And what matters is not what others do to you, but what you do with yourself after that. And how you respond when a time comes when you are the one with the power.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
Ella’s mother, on her deathbed, tells her young daughter to face life with courage and kindness. I’ve been thinking about this all day, and I can’t think of better mottoes for life. Everything can be filtered through courage and kindness. Tough love takes courage, forgiveness takes courage. Standing up for yourself takes courage. Not hitting back takes courage and kindness. And the whole world would be a different place if in our interactions with others, we always asked ourselves first: is this kind? Is what I’m about to do or say, kind.
As we were driving home I asked my girls what they thought of the movie, and of course they loved it. They thought the dress and the shoes were beautiful. They thought the castle was magical. They thought it was terribly sad that Ella’s mother died, just like Nana (although I was informed it wasn’t exactly the same, since she died in the day and Nana died at night. How do those minds work?!)
But they didn’t see Cinderella as a helpless girl, they didn’t see the prince as her ‘saviour’. They saw a girl who kept her head while those around her were losing theirs (thank you, Rudyard Kipling 2) and was rewarded for it in the end. Our journey home was spent chatting about courage, and kindness and what they mean to us in the real world. What choosing a life of courage and kindness means between them as sisters, between them and children on the playground, when they’re faced with bullies and mean people, how those mottoes are implemented in our lives.
As far as lessons from movies go, I’ll take this one and run with it, for if I can send my girls into the world strong enough to be courageous and gentle enough to be kind, I will consider it a job well done.
In December last year we were suddenly struck by an opportunity to be stronger than we never wanted to be. My mother had come to visit us for the holidays when she was suddenly taken ill. There’s a back story, but the short version is that they discovered a 21cm tumour in her abdomen, and two weeks later she died.
Those two weeks gave us an experience we never asked for, and as a family, we all learned a whole lot from it all. I sure know what not to say to someone dealing with death or terminal illness now. Admittedly a lesson I’d rather not have learned.
If you’ve landed here because you’re looking for a way to support someone dealing with death or terminal illness, remember that every situation is different, and people are different too. These are the things we highly appreciated or felt we could have used.
It’s not all that hard, really, to prepare a meal. The problem is planning them, thinking about what goes with what. Unless you have unlimited resources, most people can’t afford to just eat out all the time, and when your life revolves around Morphine-runs, or physically sitting with someone 24 hours a day, in shifts, there are so many decisions to make all.the.time. that ‘what’s for dinner?’ is incredibly hard to answer.
Two things to note here are that everyone turning up on the same day with a meal might not be practical. If your recipient doesn’t have a freezer, they can end up with a fridge full of food, all needing to be eaten immediately. My friends used a free web service called Meal Train to schedule the meals so that we had a meal delivered to our house every day for just over two weeks. It was phenomenal. I cannot say how much pressure that took off me.
Provide disposable baking trays and dishes, and when you can’t, just make sure to label your stuff so that the recipient doesn’t have to worry about remembering who’s is what.
This might sound weird, and might not be appropriate to everyone, but two days before my mom passed away, we went grocery shopping (it was Christmas eve after all), so we had a fridge full of food. My vegetable delivery had also come, so the counter was full of vegetables too. I wasn’t in much of a position to sort, cook or store, so by the time a week had passed and people were bringing us meals, I had so much in the fridge that was turning or going off, that having someone come and just go through the perishables – even to take it away and turn it into meals – would have been a godsend. I just didn’t have the strength or foresight to deal with it.
3. Laundry/domestic services
Again, depending on your relationship or the people involved, but people still wear clothes, and unless there’s someone unaffected by what’s going on who is keeping on top of the domestics, things like laundry, cleaning or picking up toys still need to be done, but can seem overwhelming. Personally, I will never again say ‘if there’s anything I can do, let me know’. Because once again, there are so many decisions to make, when someone asked me if there was anything they could do, I couldn’t pin it down to anything. A friend who came over and said ‘I’m here for an hour, can I do the laundry, sort out the toys or is there anything else you really need done?’ is the one I actually gave a ‘task’ to. While you know people really want to help, it can feel so awkward ‘putting people out’ and sometimes you feel people are just asking to be polite.
4. Turn Up
Well, I’ve just said it. Turn up and offer your services. Whether that is as a friend, to provide a domestic task, or simply to take the children to the park for a while. Turning up says “I’m here. I really want to do something for you”. (Make sure you’re not adding to the burden, of course. Bring coffee, bring cake.) (I don’t know that this would work for everyone. Some people might not like it at all. You know your friend!)
5. Offer an escape
One of my friends asked me what evening I could go out with her. She said to bring my Kindle and we could sit together quietly and just read and drink coffee. And she meant it. We didn’t have to talk about what was going on. We just sat, together. It was so lovely. I needed it and now, months later, I remember that night as an oasis in a very difficult time.
6. Unexpected Bills
Money is rarely spoken about among friends, and that’s fair enough, but assume that when someone is looking after someone terminally ill, or who has died, even if there is life or funeral insurance, these only come later. If you want to help someone with money, offer to pay their phone bill for the month – we had to make so many international phone calls for family and friends abroad who we didn’t want to find out on Facebook. There will be increased gas and electricity or water bills if family all gather in one place – we had 9 people in our house for a period of weeks. It all adds up.
Then there’s also loss of income. Most people are blessed to have leave to cover them for emergencies, but that only goes so far, then they have to take unpaid leave and eventually that could become unemployment. Fortunately it didn’t go that far for me, but I personally lost almost a week’s income. In a minimum wage family, that can be crippling. Most people – me included – would have a hard time accepting offers of financial help. A friend of mine knows that and as she left my house one day, she popped something into my handbag. I saw her, she saw me seeing her, and she said ‘…just a little something for you…’ and it was £100 that went towards paying that mammoth phone bill. A kingly gift that you certainly don’t expect everyone to be able to do, and not everyone would need, but I appreciated it immensely.
7. Take the Children
If there are small children involved, taking them to the park for a few hours is a fabulous idea. Even better is dropping off a few new games, an activity book, or a new movie for them to watch. Something that engages them, giving the person caring or taking care of arrangements an opportunity to do so, or to do anything else.
This can be a tricky one too. My husband wanted to take Ameli to his parents in the days leading up to my mother’s passing, and I was dead set against it. I was just about to lose my mother – I didn’t want to be separated from my children. My inlaws are wonderful, kind people, but my child’s place was with me. In the days between the death and the funeral it may have been acceptable, but to be honest, Ameli was so clingy and insecure it probably wouldn’t have been a good idea either.
But a few hours in the park, or even just playing with them in the house is a sweet relief.
8. Accommodation and transport
When someone is in palliative care, terminally ill, end of life care or has died, family tend to come together. Offer a couch, sofa, spare room, use of an extra car if you have it, or even a spare bed if that’s all you can cope with.
Social media is wonderful, it really is. I received so much support via Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, but when I shared the announcement of my mom’s death, I wished there was the option to disable comments. I say this knowing that a lot of people who commented on Facebook may read it, so should say that I really appreciated the outpouring of love. It meant so much. But we received a handful of cards in the mail too, and I will treasure those forever. They provided a tangible affirmation of our loss, and each one was like a big hug.
10. Know when to say nothing
The first friend I saw after my mother died was one I ran into in a shop. She shook her head and said “I don’t know what to say. I’m not good at this”. I cannot tell you how much I appreciated that. Everyone wants to say something kind. Everyone wants you to know they care, but they do not know how to show it. In your pain, however, there’s little comfort in someone being ‘in a better place’, and while ‘no longer suffering’ is a big thing, it doesn’t take away the suffering of those left behind. The friends who sat across from me, listening, letting me ramble and mostly saying nothing were the ones who saved my sanity. That’s where healing begins.
Have you been through a loss? What did your network do to support you? What could they have done? Help those who still have to walk this path with someone else know what to do to support them by sharing your comments below.
I’m sitting in the soft play tapping away on my keyboard, while my children play off somewhere inside a myriad of tunnels and ball pits and slides. I hear the occasional sound of a voice I recognise, a shout of glee or a call to come back, but I can’t see them.
I’m sitting here alternating between my thoughts, and the book I’m trying to read, and now this, the thoughts I need to put down on proverbial paper.
There are other parents crawling around this plastic paradise, having lunch or spending time together. I seem to be the only one here not engaging with my kids, which is a nice change, but don’t judge me.
I’m here for a few minutes of peace. A few moments to put my thoughts together to organise my mind. I’m here because I worked till 1am and was up with a hungry toddler at 5am. I’m here because yesterday we spent the day stomping around the woods, playing in a mud kitchen and digging for buried treasure.
I’m here because its been raining for days, and I want us to rest our sore throats rather than jumping in puddles, being wind swept on the beach, and I’m here because I’d rather not take a rest day by sticking them in front of the TV.
I’m here because moving out of a house that was no longer right for us was a mentally, emotionally and physically exhausting experience, and two weeks later its finally knocked my wind out. I’m here because I’m overwhelmed with concern about our future and while my mind is trying to process how we are going to survive as a family with just one income when my husbands contract ends next month and I’d rather not spend my day snapping at my babies because my mind is preoccupied.
I’m here because this is the best choice I could come up with for today, and no, I’m not married to my gadgets and my screens and with being so connected to the world that I’m not connected to the best parts of my world.
Its the exact opposite… today looking after MY need to give MY brain space is the best thing I can do for them. Its easy to judge what you see and think that you know what you see, but today, like every day, I’m doing the best I can for my family.
There’s still washing drying on the line, and a bread rising on the counter. Dinner will be fresh and healthy and made from scratch, and before I head back to work tonight, I’ll kiss each of my daughters and ask them what their favourite moment of the day was. I’ll still look in their eyes and remind them how deeply they are loved and wanted.
Like most everyone else, I’m just trying to do my best for the people I love most in this world and for this morning, that involves leaving them to their own entertainment in a place designed for it, while I empty my mind onto a screen, so don’t judge me. Sometimes what we think is a whole pictures, is only a tile on the greater mosaic of life.