Now You Are Five

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I’ve been trying to write this for a little while now and am shamefully completing it almost a month after the event of Elfie’s fifth birthday. But I feel like Elfie turning FIVE has been such a milestone for our family – not just for Elfie but for everyone in our little family of three and it’s been difficult to put into words exactly how I feel about this little poppet now she’s getting older.

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Sidenote: since when did I become grown-up enough to be the mother of a five year old?! Hasn’t happened yet, probably never will.

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I’m going to hark back to one of my favourite motherhood quotes here because its never resonates more than on the birthdays of my kids; the days are long but the years are short. And holy mackerel do these years go by swiftly, I can remember Elfie’s 4th birthday like it was yesterday but looking back at the pictures now she was so teeny tiny. What a dot!


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So here we are at five, which feels so much more grown-up than four and a million miles away from three. The year has been huge for Elfie as she started school last September, and with school comes all the associated fun stuff like the Christmas play, maypoleing, sports day, the annual camping trip… it’s been fantastic for us all. I chose to send her to a village school a 10 minute drive away rather than the huge primary school around the corner; there are only 10 children in her year (vs 60 at the local primary) and 26 in the whole school. This environment has been really brilliant for her, she has so much confidence with older children and just adores being around her friends.

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She’s a fantastic learner and truly enjoys reading and writing; we spent hours in the garden on a blanket yesterday as she painstakingly wrote out a story and I spelled the odd word to her. Elfie’s thirst for knowledge is beautiful to see and really reminds me of myself at her age, she loves books as much as I did and devours them like a hungry caterpillar ;)

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I’ve written a lot about how Elfie and I sometimes have a tricky relationship, what with us being carbon copies of each other and everything. We’re both laid back in some ways but highly strung in others, defiant, head strong and know what we want, so it’s safe to say we have clashed in the past. Dare I say that these clashes are getting fewer and far between; we’re learning to talk more to one another when we have issues rather than rant and strop (her, not me, honest ;) which has resulted in a much more harmonious relationship.

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We had chicken pox this year which was truly awful and Elfie seemed to suffer with it much worse than Hux. There’s a reason you can only catch it once and thank god – me keeping her off school for a week was a crime as far as she was concerned. It was nice to us to spend some time together just the two of us but I wish it would have been less itchy and more fun.

FYI: despite the pox there’s always time for Frozen Dresses.

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I love how close we are now. Cuddling is such a big part of our relationship and she’s always grabbing me round the neck when I tuck her in and saying “I just never want to let you go, mummy” or getting in to my bed in the morning and wishing she could cuddle forever. So do I, Elfie. So do I. We have these big chats and I feel like our family situation means that we have a very special relationship – she tells me stuff and I tell her stuff – we know each other inside out. Some point over the last couple of months marked the time that Elfie had spent more time living with me as a single parent than she did with her dad in the house as a family of four. Though her father is still very involved I really do feel like I represent not only a mum to her but also part of the strength that comes from a dad.

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Elfie has a stonker of a personality. She is so sweet, so kind, so thoughtful. It’s not an exaggeration to say she is loved by all – she is just such a little treasure. She has beautiful manners (*takes a bow*) and brings sunshine wherever she goes. She has her moments – like mother, like daughter, remember? – and likes to take herself off on occasion for a little strop. But I normally find her 20 minutes later lying on her bed casually reading a book or playing a game on the iPad, strop or quarrel completely forgotten.

10986395_434534216708961_1966216557_nElfreda, whatever did I do without your bright sunshiney smile in my life? You are a light in the dark, a laugh in the silence and on occasion a pain in my bum. But your mummy loves you to the moon and back. And then again. And again and again and again. I hope you know that.

Elfie’s 4th  birthday / Elfie’s 3rd birthday / Elfie at 2 / Elfie’s 1st birthday

Dear Self: Start Living The Dream.

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It’s 2am as I write this, which means you can make the safe assumption that Jet Lag is still making me her bitch. Recent Google searches this past 24 hours have included; ‘can jet lag kill you?’ ‘jet lag feel terrible’ ‘how to make jet lag go away’.

It hasn’t helped.

The thing about jet lag is that I’ve had stacks of time to think (and play on Tinder, but that’s another story). What I haven’t had stacks of time to do is absolutely anything productive whatsoever because my brain is mush and I’ve been busy burying my face in my childrens’ necks after being apart from them for a week. Even on occasion at 2am which I’ll admit is kind of creepy, but then again there’s nothing like the smell of your kid’s neck. Sorry/not sorry.

So I’ve been thinking about next steps. It’s all well and good making big declarations as I have – sticking it to The Man to follow my dreams of independence, travel, and happiness. But as I was handing in notice, preparing to go to New York and thinking about turning 30 I didn’t really anticipate what would happen on my return home. When real life hit. And now I’m back I guess I really have to start doing that. But exactly how do you turn your dreams into reality?

Jet lag has been providing me with answers. Kind of…

I’ve worked out that my first step should be to define exactly what your dreams are. Great! So this is the bit I bore you with mine ;)

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BUSINESS! So, one of my dreams is to expand my business and to build on what’s already there to create a successful, knowledgeable marketing consulting machine. Fine. I’ve had a Brooklyn fried chicken-induced brainstorm over a company name and mission statement so we’re well on our way there (though none of them were approved by Kirsty, my business advisor extraordinaire…).

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WRITING! But I want the sum of what I do to be more than a Marketing Consultancy. Blogging has been such a huge part of my life for so long and I feel like by going corporate work-wise a year ago I lost my way a bit. You can’t really blog the intimacies of your divorce or vagina while you’re working for a global corporation now, can you?

No more! I am finding myself again in these pages and on your screen. I’m going to re-discover my mojo and write, write, write about finding love (haven’t yet, don’t get your hopes up) and being brave and what motherhood is all about and everything that interests me in between. I’m going to treat my website like one of my clients’ and look at it critically, making it the best it can be. And I’m really excited about that.

Cool, so that’s the work life sorted.

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CHILLING! I’m going to slow down. So much of my life is run at 100mph – I’m always finding myself getting cross with slow drivers, slow walkers, slow check out cashiers. I need to chill the fuck out, calm myself down and realise that a life led at a slower speed is much more enjoyable. And healthy!

Speaking of healthy I want to be well, in mind, body and spirit. Which means gym, yoga, meditation, green juices. In my 30s I’m turning into an organic spirulina-swilling meditating health fan and I am really happy about it so there.

I’ll still drink wine, though.

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MY BABIES! I’m going to make more time for my children. This whole life-changing exercise is about them, really. I want them to know I am around to be whatever they need me to be, at any time they need me to be it. In our house a happy stress-free mummy = happy kids and the effect on them when I’m spending time at home without a work-panicked, stressed and furrowed brow is palpable. I’m going to be present for them as much as I can and do everything for their happiness.

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INSPIRATION! I’m going to read. Not just the unread stack of books under my bead but blogs, papers, twitter feeds. It is so good for the soul and I miss the feel of beautiful words on my eyeballs, I really do. I miss being inspired and I am going to look especially to my fellow women (Laura! Emma! Lena Dunham!) to do that for me.

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TRAVEL! I want to spend my child-free time experiencing the other side of the world. Or Europe. Or the country. Whatever, I just want to push myself outside of my geographical comfort zone and explore new places. And even sometimes do this with the children.

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In one of my favourite quotes from Girls – which I have been watching a lot of in my dozy sleepless haze – Hannah Horvath says that she may be the voice of a generation. Or at least a voice. Of a generation. Is this not true for everyone? I think we all have voices, even if we’re not quite sure what we’re meant to use them for.

My voice may have got told to SHHHHHHHHH last week by a gobby New Yorker who then gave me the finger in a Mexican restaurant (she had a point. I was loud and obnoxiously singing The Smiths), but it is metaphorically going to be speaking up way more from now on.

Let’s speak up and live our dreams, yeah?

 

Who Wants To Be a (Boots Points) Millionaire?

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I must go in a Boots store at least once a week. I remember it from when I was spending my very first wages from my very first job as a pot washer in the pub in the next village. I earned the princely sum of £3.00 an hour – I can still see the orange eyeshadow palette I bought from No7 that autumn. It ROCKED.

My tastes have moved on a bit since then but my Boots loyalty has not. It’s one of those safe places on the high street where you know exactly what you’re going to get and what it’s going to cost – like John Lewis or Pizza Express. When I was in New York last week (did I mention I’d been to New York? I feel like I’ve hardly discussed it ;) I felt comforted to find a Boots aisle right in the middle of a Duane Reed pharmacy… a little bit of unexpected England slap-bang in the centre of Williamsburg.

One of my favourite things to do at Boots is to save up my Advantage Card points until I have ridonkulous amounts and then splash out on something I wouldn’t usually buy myself. I’m one of those people who closely monitors the advantage card points offers, pouncing when there’s a 500 bonus for a high spend or 100 extra points for toothpaste Today I received 350 extra points for buying a St Tropez product that had been already reduced from £14.50 to £9: I felt like I’d won the lottery!

Boots are currently running the chance of a treat of a lifetime for Advantage Card holders; one lucky user of the Advantage card app is going to become a Boots millionaire, winning 1,000,000 Boots points, worth £10,000! To celebrate this they’ve asked me to have a think about what I’d spend a million Boots points on.

This was not a difficult task.

The last time I splashed out using my points I bought a really fancy Kent hairbrush. I love the fact you can do this – it feels like guilt-free splurging. Carrying on the hair theme, if I was a Boots millionaire I’d look at buying new curling tongs and a lifetime supply of Moroccan Oil.

I love the range of brands Boots stock and my favourites run from Essie to Clinique, Soap and Glory to Clarins. Clinique’s bonus time is a double whammy for me as you can get points AND freebies, and I’d use my million points to purchase every single one of their chubby sticks. I’d also head to Molton Brown for hand soap and cream, followed by Essie for thousands of nail polishes.

I’d treat the kids too, of course (probably) – I love the clothes in Boots’ Mini Club range and then I’d buy a lifetime supply of nighttime nappies because those things are expensive.

If you want to take part all you have to do is download the Boots App then go to ‘my offers’ before 4th August – check back on 19th August to see what you’ve been treated to!

What would you buy if you became a Boots points millionaire?

The Vagisil Blush Index #endembarrassment

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Not my vagina but the closest you’ll ever get to it

I’m going to start this post off by saying that I have literally no problem in talking about intimate things with my friends. And sometimes not even my friends. When meeting some rather nice men in a rooftop bar in Brooklyn last week my buddy and I were told that we probably don’t have boyfriends because we were too open. How can you be too open?! Ok, yes, we were probably too open for Americans. But that’s British gals for you.

I wasn’t always this way. I used to be a proper get-changed-under-my-swim-towel kind of woman. But now I happily get it all out at the gym, the doctors, wherever they let me, really. Smear test? Let’s go! Topless beach? No problem!

I think I first became comfortable-ish with my body when Elfie was born and I realised just how many people have to see your hoo-hah before a baby can come out of it. One of my lasting memories from that birth was a midwife telling me while I was still in theatre that they would have to pop a little tablet up my bum for one reason or another; I said “ooh actually, I’d rather you didn’t “ and she was like, yeah, too late missy. That was the moment I realised that embarrassment when it comes to my intimate areas is pretty much an outdated and irrelevant concept.

Vagisil recently spoke to 2,000 British women about their attitudes and embarrassment towards the subject of intimate health and I have to say that, even for someone who was too shy to get a pants-off bikini wax until after her first child was born, I was quite surprised. Nearly half (47%) of British women Vagisil spoke to felt embarrassed when the word ‘vagina’ came up in conversation) and nearly one third admitted to never speaking to their GP about an intimate health problem.

I get this – it can be really difficult to speak to people about what’s going on in your pants. But how can we move to being embarrassed about our intimate health to feeling happy WhatsApping our friends to ask “do you think this is cystitis or thrush?” (sidenote: if you’re my friends, you’ll know).

It’s really sad that 70% of the women surveyed blamed the media for the way we feel about our bodies. We’re expected to be these smooth Barbie doll models of perfection and really, who hasn’t felt slightly wistful when watching the hairless and seemingly vagina-less gazelles that masquerade as Victorias Secret models? I know I have. I bet Karlie Kloss has never texted Taylor Swift to check is she has cystitis or thrush (OR HAS SHE?!).

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Vagisil is on a mission to end the embarrassment that exists around intimate health, and do something about the issue – something I’m all for.

Dr Becky Spelman, Registered Psychologist at Private Therapy Clinic, advises: “Look at it rationally – accept that everybody is fallible and nobody is perfect no matter how they might appear on the surface. Every woman has her own genitals and this is natural.”

I challenge you to not look at the next woman you come across without thinking about the fact they have genitals ;)

If you’re finding it hard to address an intimate issue with a health professional and need some advice, see the below from Dr Spelman:

“You could ask yourself ‘what’s the worst thing that could happen?’ Then sit with that feeling, if it seems too much try breathing in through the nose for 3 seconds and then slowly out through the mouth, focusing on the feeling of the breath. This should give the feeling of embarrassment a chance to subside.”

We’re all human beings; Gisele’s had two kids so I’d fully expect her to have her own pelvic floor issues.

Let’s #endembarrassment and talk about vaginas!

Big thanks to Vagisil for sponsoring me to write about my vagina when I probably would have done it for free ;) 

You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby

 

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The last time I took a picture like this it was a very different situation. I was 27 and off to visit my best friend in New York because my marriage had ended. Just like here I snapped my suitcase and handbag on my bed all ready for me to drive down to Heathrow, full of excitement, trepidation and shoes.

I didn’t write much about what was going on then because really… what do you say? I didn’t quite believe myself that a 9 year relationship was coming to an end and even if I tried couldn’t tell you what I was feeling. My whole adult life had been spent with one man; we’d grown up together, had two children together, built a life together yet had become increasingly unhappy together. It wasn’t supposed to happen like that – I was distraught, confused, heartbroken, scared. I needed head space so I made a last-minute decision to visit one of my oldest friends in the states.

Boarding that plane felt strange. I’d been tied to someone for such a long time – emotionally and legally – and I didn’t know if we would still be bound in this way once I got back to England. It was the first time I’d been on a plane alone or travelled alone and it felt like it was the beginning of me getting to know myself.

As it turned out that trip was the making of me. I arrived scared and wary of what might lie ahead but somewhere in the steam and skyscrapers of New York I found who I’d grown up to be in that past decade. My joie de vivre and sparkle returned and I came home knowing what was about to happen. Not just knowing; at peace with the decision. I knew our story would end in divorce.

It’s been two and a half years since that trip and it hasn’t been easy. It’s been overwhelmingly surprising to discover how difficult divorce is. Who knew, right? Divorce isn’t one long Caribbean holiday!! What an awakening.

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I expected the devastation to ease off over time but that’s not how it works. In a situation like mine that was so amicable it can seem quite senseless and take a long time to get your head round why this is happening to you. Don’t get me wrong – we did the right thing and having my time again I would always choose the path of divorce – but the lack of having someone to blame in the situation has been harder than you might think. There’s been foot stamping, crying, happy days, sad days. I might have uttered the phrase “it’s not fair” once or twice. It gets better, it does.

And so a week ago I boarded another plane. It felt only right that for the occasion of turning 30, another seminal life event, I did it in the place that was previously so important in helping steer my destiny. But I didn’t buckle up feeling lost, wounded or unsure this time. This was a whole new (American) ball game.

Divorce leaves many things in its wake and I can truly say now, two and a half years on, that over here contentment and happiness is one of them. Because of what I have been through I work harder, am less selfish, love more, sleep less (sad face), am braver, more thoughtful. It really is all good. It’s a pain in the arse situation to have to go through – love is supposed to be for life, not just a decade – and the paperwork is insane ;) I will forever be heartbroken that my children will grow up without their father living in the same house as them but nobody plans for this to happen. This time travelling to New York I knew exactly who I was going out there and who I was going to be coming back (horrendously jetlagged for a start…).

You’re not getting off with me turning 30 this easy – there will be many more reflections coming your way in the next few days. But for now just be proud that I’ve written 700 words about divorce and growth that began with a photo of a suitcase and haven’t once referred to my emotional baggage.

I thank you.

Slowing Down For Summer Good Times

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Today is the first day of my summer. I write this at home, at my work desk, looking into the garden. Which is something I can do now I am no longer tied to an office; I can write from my kitchen table or sofa or the coffee shop round the corner. In pants or PJs or belly tops, not dry clean-only dresses and heels that pinch. Freedom!

School isn’t over for another couple of days so I’ve been feeling like I should take stock. My life has been so busy and completely exhausting these last few months and I know I always say that. But this time I have intentions to change. I think it’s good to be busy and active, feel accomplished and get things done, but I’d quite like to stop for a little while. Slow down, be more of a mother, write more. Remember what I want to do, not what I feel obligated to do.

That’s what our summer is going to be about. Mothering and fun. With a bit of travel and friends and food and drink and experiences. And work, because those school shoes don’t buy themselves, but work on my terms rather than anyone else’s.

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Do you remember what your first memory was? I do. It was my fifth birthday party and I remember the cat cake, the bouncy castle and the magician. It was Elfie’s fifth birthday last week and I want her to have happy memories from now onwards – I don’t want her to remember her mum being rushed and stressed, not being able to read to her because she was taking work phone calls late into the evening. So the brakes are going on, I’m officially slowing down.

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SUMMER. Summer is my favourite, it always has been. As a child summer meant sandy trips to Bournemouth, the paddling pool, our Ragley Hall season ticket, garden football matches. Summer meant outdoors and fresh air and long evenings playing with friends until the sun went down. (Summer also means my birthday. Hooray, birthdays!)

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A few weeks ago pre-Britmums I went for breakfast with the team behind summer at Boots. That sounds pretty grand, but yep, there really is a whole army of people there whose job it is to make summer safe and fun for us all! I always think Boots is a really special place. Like my old friend John Lewis it’s a British institution; I used to live and work down the road from them in their village-sized Nottingham head office and they are one of those brands I completely trust. Boots are all about families and making sure we have maximum fun – safely.

Our meeting wasn’t just about croissants and granola – we were there to learn more about how to stay happy this summer and it truly was an informative session. For example, did you know that the sweat glands on your feet can produce up to half a pint of fluid a day in hot conditions?! We got a chance to speak to the experts on some summer issues that affected us and our families and it was really really interesting and informative. Here were my important takeaways:

Hayfever

As a hayfever sufferer I’ve been feeling the effects of the pollen up til now which is something I take one-a-day tablets for, but I’d never thought to ask the advice of a pharmacist on what more I could do to help myself. When I say I suffer I mean I really suffer, there are days when my hayfever is just completely unbearable: snotty, sneezy, itchy ears and throat, blocked up head, lethargic. Up until now I’d just been getting on with it but the Boots pharmacist advised me that a nasal spray would be my best first defence against the pollen. This advice was literally life-changing, I’ve been using a nasal spray ever since and my discomfort is almost all gone.

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Sun protection

We all know how important it is to protect ourselves from the sun, but did you also know you can be exposed to UV rays when the weather is overcast? I didn’t! 40% of UV exposure occurs when you aren’t in direct sunlight so it’s mega important to wear sun cream throughout the season, even when you can’t see the sun.

I think it’s risky to wear anything less than factor 50 (overprotective mum alert) but if, like me, you still want a bit of colour then I’d recommend Boots Soltan Tan Prolonger aftersun. I use this every summer and it will give you a gorgeous natural glow.

Your eyes

Eyes are ten times more sensitive to UV damage than skin, so protecting them both is really important. Luckily my two love to wear sunglasses and getting them in shades as often as possible is vital – we keep a pair in the house for the garden and one in the car for when we’re out and about, too. At least this seems to be my excuse to pick up a new pair of Ray Bans for myself every time I’m within shopping distance of an airport…

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To celebrate #SummerGoodTimes Boots are helping us have an unforgettable family Summer experience in August. I’ve decided to re-create one of my favourite summertime activities; Bournemouth beach with my favourite people. Buckets and spades, the land train, Mr Whippy ice creams… I can’t wait to show my two how it’s done, British summer-style ;)

What are your summer tips?