Give Yourself the Credit

I’ve arranged my mornings so that, even though I have to get up when it’s still dark, I have some time to myself to take a shower, get dressed and have a cup of tea in peace. But every now and then someone wakes up when they shouldn’t – that’s life, right? One morning last week, I was 100% mum: standing in front of the bathroom mirror, naked from the waist up, doing my mascara with one hand and holding Giant Baby with the other, while she helped herself to some milk. Not the most auspicious start to the day.

We usually get ready in a flurry, but we have fun, too. We goof around, we sing, we mess about with the baby. But on this day, when I got the others up for breakfast, the mood was off. Middle Child lost her shit over the bowl I’d given her. Really. The wrong bowl. Then Biggest Sister started on about something else – on and on and on. She was whinging, Middle Child was whinging, the baby started whinging … Until I bent down and looked Biggest Sister right in the eyes and told her, more loudly and slowly than I should have, “I don’t care.”

These are words you shouldn’t say to your kids, I know. But the effect they had on her was unprecedented: she burst into tears and sobbed, “I don’t want you to get sick again!” Sometimes we forget – because kids spend half their time acting like blockheads, insulting each other and physically bashing each other about – that they’re actually really sensitive sometimes, and they remember everything. E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G. Something – the words I said, the crazy look in my eye, the whole atmosphere – triggered something in my daughter’s memory. “I don’t want you to get sick again!” She hasn’t got a clue what mental illness is – she’s eight – but you can bet your life she wasn’t talking about the time I had pneumonia.

It was like a slap in the face. Get a grip, I told myself. We are not doing this again. It was a giant effort at 7:30 in the morning, but I turned against the tide. I didn’t let the current sweep me away – I turned and fought my way back upstream because that is my job.

And it’s my privilege. It’s something you can’t do when you’re depressed – you can’t decide. The current is already too strong and it’s already  carrying you away – to a meltdown, a panic attack, suicidal thoughts – wherever. I can’t tell you how great it feels to realise, having once lost that control, that you have it back again. It’s one of those things you don’t know you’ve got till it’s gone.

So why am I telling you this story? Because of how it ends. With me walking to work, having left all three of my kids (on time) where they should have been, and all three with smiles on their faces. I’m not proud of the words I said to my daughter, or of the way I frightened her, but I am proud of how I recovered it. That morning could have really gone sideways, but it didn’t. Because of me.

And this is where it gets good. This is where I got proof I’m changing, and I’m on the right road … I felt good. About myself. About the way I handled the situation. I focused on the good, not the bad. And that’s a giant step forward for me. I gave myself the credit … and I gave myself a break.
We all screw up. We’re human. But we also do amazing little things all the time. Too often, we focus on the mistakes we make during the day, and not the wins. They may be small wins, but they count.

John S. Hall said, “When I’m feeling proud of myself, I should remember to ask myself why I think I am of any value at all. I have done nothing that a hundred thousand other people couldn’t do.” But it works both ways. If you’ve got incredibly low self-esteem (uh … you called?) then the opposite applies. People like you, people like me, we wait for a bad day to get all introspective. Why? Why do we only beat ourselves up when things go wrong? Why do we never say, when things go right – Nice one, self, you really aced that! This is how our sound byte should read: “When I’m feeling negative about myself, I should remember to ask myself why I think I’m of no value at all. I have done something that a hundred thousand other people would congratulate themselves for.”

Let’s start today. Let’s start celebrating our wins. Not on social media, where all that is ever celebrated is success and beauty, but inside ourselves. No one else has to see; no one else has to know. You’re not doing this for them – you’re doing it for YOU.

Unplugging

Unplugging is a fairly new concept. After all, until recently, most of us weren’t ‘plugged’. But these days media is all around us and many people are starting to feel the need to switch off. Because technology, which has always a been a tool, has become for some people a source of stress, an obsession, even an addiction.

The Phone

I didn’t think I was really attached to my smart phone. I often missed calls and took several days to reply to messages, so I couldn’t be one of those phone-obsessed people, right? But then my phone, a nice hand-me-down Huawei from my brother-in-law, met its maker one night in a pool of water. I borrowed another one quick, in case the school or nursery had to contact me, but it was from the dawn of time and it had no Internet. I’m not sure it even had a camera.

Suddenly, I was unplugged. And I noticed. But I didn’t actually miss social media. I realised how often I’d been checking my phone, just reading notifications, seeing likes and comments … Just how much time had I been wasting looking at that tiny screen?

I like a lot of things about social media. I feel closer to friends I left behind in the UK, and closer to some family members. I’m part of some great groups, I see beautiful photos, and I occasionally find good articles that people have posted. But I don’t want to spend too much of my ‘real’ life in that world. I also don’t want my kids to see me doing that. I don’t want to give them the impression that anything on the Internet is more important than right here, right now – more important than them.

I got a new phone for Christmas (thanks, Mr Chef!), so I had no smartphone from 9th to 24th December. It wasn’t long, but it was long enough to convince me I needed to make changes.

  • Now, I have no notification sounds, so I’m not prompted to check my phone constantly.
  • If I’m in the house, I put my phone somewhere out of sight where I can still (probably) hear it ring.
  • I let the notifications pile up (I’ve turned them off completely for Facebook) and then, once a day at most, I’ll go into the apps I use – Gmail, Instagram and Facebook – and check what’s going on.

It’s not unplugging as such, but it’s good for me, for now.

The TV

I know some people want to give their kids an ‘unplugged childhood’, so they axe screen time completely and replace it with fresh air and exercise. I understand that.  … But, for me, the two things aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s all about balance. I played outside a lot as a kid, but I also have some great memories of watching Indiana Jones and Star Wars with my brother, of rolling around in stitches at Blazing Saddles, and of watching Formula 1 on Sundays with my dad.

I like films (and good TV shows). I enjoy watching them myself, and I wouldn’t want to deprive my girls of that enjoyment.  I think there are some great kids’ films out there, but there is also a ton of mindless, flashing crap on TV. So, when we returned from our holiday at the end of August, I found a balance that works for us. There is no TV. Ever. And no series on Netflix or YouTube. There is only movie night – usually once a week on a Friday or Saturday. We order souvlakia, we pick a movie everyone will enjoy, and we sit down to watch it as a family. (Except the baby – she just chows down the food and then crawls around the floor looking for crumbs). The kids look forward to it, and so do we.

But that’s just my balance. I cut TV because its mostly rubbish where I live. I cut YouTube because I can’t really trust what’s on there and it’s full of adverts. Plus, my middle one got moody whenever I turned her shows off – she doesn’t do that with films. And I feel that, for us, watching a movie together is quality time. We laugh together, we gasp out loud together, we talk about it afterwards, we listen to the soundtrack for weeks. It’s fun.

Other families might prefer being totally screen-free, while some parents might need the TV just to get stuff done. I’ve been there. I’ve used Peppa so I can take a shower – and I’m not ashamed to admit it. It depends on your kids’ interests, their temperament, your circumstances and your ideas.

Screens can be good or they can be bad – for us and for our kids – we just have to find our balance.

Planning Old Skool (or Ode to My Bullet Journal)

Nobody wants to start the New Year in a flurry of disorganisation, do they? So today I’m going to talk planning. … It’s so uncool, right? It makes me feel like that kid in class who not only bothered to write revision notes, but also highlighted them in multiple colours. But I’ve got to do it. I’ve got three children in school/daycare – with all the accompanying paraphernalia/activities/trips/strike days  that includes. I work and I still need to run my household. Plus, my OH is awesome, but he’s also a chef and sometimes works crazy hours (or more than crazy – like when he went to an island for 5 months last summer, working seven days a week until 1 or 2 am). Oh, and my memory is rubbish – I need backup. Continue reading

Setting Goals … and Remembering your Ithaca

January 1st is approaching – a new year, a fresh start, a clean slate. At this time of year, people often make resolutions … and they often end up not sticking to them. There are plenty of reasons to break your resolutions, I guess: circumstances change, you set your sights too high, or maybe you didn’t really want to do that thing so badly after all.

I’ve never made any resolutions, but this year I will be setting goals. Our life, since we moved to Greece, has been far too fuzzy. Greece was always my dream since I was 15 years old and, having arrived, I became less focused and a bit directionless. Then my mind became preoccupied with things other than my future. From the sidelines, I’ve watched Mr Chef find his passion, follow his dream, follow his own plan and find his place. (I’m so proud of that guy – I’m his #1 fan!) Now I have to decide what it is that I want next – for us, for all of us … for me.

I learned about setting SMART objectives in school (I can’t remember why now …) and there is also Locke and Latham’s theory, but both of these seem (to me) to be quite business-focused. Words like attainable, measurable and feedback make my brain switch off, so I made my own goal-setting checklist. It doesn’t have a funky acronym, but  it works for me!

STEP 1

Let’s begin by taking a blank sheet of paper and a pen. I’m a notebook junkie, and I got myself a new A4 spiral just for this! Then write these words:

  • family
  • friends
  • body
  • travel
  • money
  • career
  • soul

They’re not really headings as such – more like prompts. You might see, when you finalise your goals, that they cross more than one category, For example, I might put down under Family that I want to see my parents this year, but then I have to get the baby’s passport and save up for and buy plane tickets (Money) and go to the UK (Travel). … But let’s not worry about that yet. Let’s just write down what’s in our heads – all of it. The realistic ambitions and the crazy dreams. The mundane, the obvious, the wild and the downright scary.

Then let’s walk away. For an hour, an afternoon – whatever. Just leave all those words to sit there on the page, and relish the calm in your head. All those thoughts are out on paper now. Have a glass of mulled wine. Eat a mince pie. Read a book. Relaaaaaaax.

STEP 2

Now it’s time to get back to that page (or pages – mine’s a double spread!) and make some sense of our earlier brain dump. We’ve got to be selective – we can’t do everything at once – so we’ve got to prioritise. Which of your ideas/hopes/ambitions/needs/dreams you choose to pursue now depends on a lot of things: the season of life you’re in, your financial situation, your other commitments, how much time you can give, etc. Only you know you, so choose wisely.

STEP 3

It’s time to turn those words into goals. A goal should have a few special features:

1 A goal should be crystal clear. It’s no good setting  “get rich” as a goal (for example!) because it’s too vague. How will you make money?

2 As well as how, we need to ask why? What’s our reason for wanting this? And do we have a quality reason? You might say, “I want to meditate every day.” Why? So you can tell everyone you meditate every day? Bad reason. So you can journey into your mind, quiet your soul and face the day with another perspective? Good reason.

3 Big goals are great, but they should always be broken down into baby steps. When Mr Chef decided to become Mr Chef, he didn’t just say, “I’m going to change my career.” He researched cooking schools, chose the best one, gathered the papers to apply, got in, studied hard, applied for and worked in jobs that led him on a logical progression from B line cook, to A line, to sous chef. … Baby steps, guys. Rome wasn’t built in a day and all.

4 Always set a date. This is the T in SMART, and I’m not going to argue with that one. If we don’t set a date, our goals might remain nothing more than dreams. They need to have a completion date. Dates are deadlines – they give us motivation. Be realistic, but don’t slack off either.

5 We should write our goals down – they won’t be concrete in our minds until we see them on paper in the cold light of day. And they should be written down in our own handwriting. It’s more powerful and more personal.

BONUS Before you start thinking about your goals, think about your achievements. Look back at how far you’ve come and what you’ve accomplished. Feel good about yourself, feel strong and positive. Then, do yourself a favour and listen to this – it will remind you what all this is about.

For me, these days between Christmas and New Year’s Eve are the perfect time for a bit of contemplation. I’ve got leave from work, the kids are home, the Christmas madness is over, and there’s a lull. There is peace. Maybe right now is not the time for you to do this, but I think a lot of people like to go through this process at this time of year. If you do decide to create some goals, I’m right there with you! Just remember to keep your destination – your Ithaca – in mind. But don’t hurry your journey. Because it is the journey itself, and not the destination, that really matters.

Letting Go

As we approach the end of the year, I’ve been getting reflective. Specifically, I’ve been giving thanks for all the awesome things that have happened this year, and for being able to watch my kids grow and develop. And, as always, for my incredible OH who stands by me through everything. We didn’t say the standard wedding vows, but if ever a guy knew the meaning of for better or worse, it’s him.

But I’ve also been thinking about the not-so-cutsie, not-so-nice areas of my life. This year, a few people I know have shown their true colours … and, guys, they weren’t beautiful like a rainbow. Some of those people I’ve been able to avoid, but others are too close to home. They are – for better or worse – a part of my life, and I can’t get away from them.

I could fake it, but their constant lies and their duplicity are some of the reasons I find them toxic. Plus, I hate being fake. I spent all summer doing it for the sake of my kids, and I’m so over that now.

I’ve tried to discuss it, but I knew before I began how it would go – denial, defensiveness and casting around to blame somebody else. Talking themselves up, talking everyone else down. Saying beautiful, meaningless words loudly in the hopes that I’ll forget the other words and the actions … which we all know speak louder than the aforementioned.

There’s no point in trying to sort it out like adults. Not when the people concerned behave like selfish children, but will forever insist on speaking to me as if I’m a very stupid little girl. As if I hadn’t been to more places, done more things and seen more – for better or worse – than they ever will.

But it can’t be left to fester. I left it for a while, to gather my strength, I guess, although I didn’t realise it at the time. And then I was strong enough to let it go.

Don’t let the sun go down on your anger. Too many suns had set, and I was still angry, but I was determined not to let the old year end on my anger. I wouldn’t carry those negative feelings forward into 2018. Enough was enough.

I don’t find it easy to let things go. I hold on, I remember. Every word, every slight, every look. It’s not healthy. Some people in my life here are the opposite – they can yell, and dish out judgement, and then ignore me completely … and then a while later, it’s supposed to be OK. Maybe it is, for them – but not for me. You stop speaking to me for three weeks because I miscarried a baby? You never, ever waste an opportunity to make snide comments to me (but never in front of other people, who might defend me)? You blow up and scream at me in front of my children, scaring the crap out of them, because I took 30 seconds out of your life to install a car seat that could save my daughter’s? You may have forgotten about those things now, but I haven’t. Not because I can’t forgive. Because I believe that a person who does those things is not just having a bad day – they are not OK on the inside.

Of course there’s a reason. Projecting dissatisfaction or frustration with their own life, probably – after all, the (stupid) foreign girl makes an easy target, right? Maybe it’s just plain old jealousy. Selfish as it sounds, I really don’t care to find out. Too many words have been said, too many things done over the years to make it right. I couldn’t patch it up, I couldn’t hold on to it – I just had to let go of it.

So I had a conversation. I said – in a mild, sensored way – what I needed to say to make my conscience clear. I listened to a few truths, a few half-truths, and a whole lot of empty words. … And I was free.

It sounds so easy, but I couldn’t do it before. Not just because I was still angry, but because I was blaming myself. I thought I should be able to fix it, I should be able to be liked, to be loved. I was doing something wrong – I was too honest, too foreign, too modern, too … something. Then, in the autumn, I posted this graphic on my Facebook page – because I really did want to let some things go … and I managed most of them, but not this.

Someone commented on the post,  I think we tend to believe that everything is down to OUR f*ckups. That really struck a chord with me, because I realised that is exactly what I do believe, although I’d never been conscious of it before. After every run-in, I would get into a state replaying the conversation in my head, thinking about what I should have said or done differently, feeling that somehow the blame lay in my quarter. In actual fact, none of this – the remarks, the treatment of my kids, the whole sticky situation – is my fault.

That’s the truth. And – corny as it sounds – in this case, the truth did set me free.

I have no illusions. The drama will continue, the empty words will continue, the snide remarks and undermining of my character in front of my children will continue. But it won’t touch me now, because I’ve let it go. There is a force field around me of simply not caring. That sounds bad, but maybe it’s healthy. My family – my husband and my kids – are my priority. And after them are the close friends who make up my tribe, my home, our adventures, the world we live in. I’m putting my energy into those areas, and after that I just don’t have enough left to care about some imaginary drama about some imaginary slight, or about somebody trying to make me feel small so they can feel big.

I think there are some things you can’t let go of until you’re ready – like anger and grief. But if you are ready, you should let those things go. You must. Realise that it’s not your fault, and realise that holding on is only causing you more pain.

Be free.

Advent Calendars That Mean Something

It’s nearly December, people! Woot woot! In case you hadn’t noticed, I L-O-V-E Christmas … but Mr Chef has a rule that there is no Christmas in the house before 1st December. I have a rule that there is nothing but Christmas in the house after 1st December. A happy marriage is all about compromise, guys!

So what happens on 1st December, then? Well, the Christmas tree comes OUT, the cheesy music goes ON and the decorations go UP! We take loads of photos (most, if not all, of which we’ll delete later) of everybody wearing various festive headgear – Santa hats, reindeer antlers, etc. – messing around with baubles and getting tangled in tinsel. … And then there’s the swearing at the lights, but let’s not mention that, and ADVENT CALENDARS!! Continue reading

Own It

I had an epiphany as I was walking home from work the other day. This was it: I am in control of my own life. Hang on, I hear you say – that’s not an epiphany. … But for me, it was. Continue reading

Hello, No-vember

It’s a very short word – only two letters long. It’s one of the first words we learns as toddlers. … So why is it so hard to say?

I find it really, really hard to say ‘no’ to people. I’m not naive or gullible, but I have struggled my whole life with this need to be liked. I will bend over backwards for anyone – even people I hardly know – just so I don’t have to inconvenience them. It’s the best way to sabotage your own life – because once people learn that you can’t say ‘no’, they will take advantage of you and use up not only your time, but your resources and your energy. Continue reading

Falling in Love (Again) Part II

This is beyond doubt the most personal, revealing (and rambling) post I have ever written. Believe me, I am so far out of my comfort zone right now, I’m in another country. But write it I will – for the record, and for anyone else who has lost their Old Self to depression, love and all. As one of my favourite writers, the fabulous Neil Gaiman, said, “The moment that you feel that, just possibly, you’re walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself, that’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.”

So here goes. Continue reading