I had a boyfriend once who refused to kick piles of autumn leaves.

Every time I did it, he would do that thing where you draw your breath in sharply between your teeth.

‘What’s the matter?’ I would say, foot mid air, ready to send a heap of red and gold leaves flying across the path.

‘You shouldn’t kick the leaves like that,’ he would reply. ‘You never know what might be under them. You’ll probably end up kicking dog shit.’

It took the edge of my autumnal fun, that’s for sure.

It made me sad too, because as an attitude to life, what even is this??

why you should kick autumn leaves View Post

Post in association with EE

Last weekend Belle and I went to Bristol as Belle wanted me to take some pictures of her against cool backgrounds.

Belle

(The backgrounds in some of the others are better I promise.)

MY BABY GIRL!!!

When did she get so big??

It always makes my insides twitch a bit when I see pictures of either of my baby girls looking so grown up. There is such a vulnerability at this age isn’t there? She’s 15, and so very nearly on the cusp of being an adult, at yet at the same time she is just a child, full of doubts and insecurities. I think this photo of Belle captures that mix pretty well.

Parenting at this age is hard too. You want to protect them, but you want them to be exploring their independence and learning to make good decisions. It’s like you’ve put in all the work and then you have to step back and see if it all holds together. (A bit like when I do crafts or DIY, but hopefully sturdier.)

I’ve been exploring this theme with EE today in a post about cyberbullying and the Royal Foundation’s Stop Speak Support campaign. In the post I talk about the challenges as a parent in keeping kids safe online, and highlight three things that you can talk to your children about that will hopefully go some way to equipping them with the right skills, should they ever come face to face with cyberbullying.

Please go and have a read now and make sure you know what those three things are.

Normally when I ask Belle what she wants to do at the weekend she says ‘nothing really.’ She stays in bed until about 1pm and then watches Vampire Diaries until I drag her out to Homesense or something dull like that.

Last weekend though when I asked her, she said ‘I want to go and do a photoshoot, where I wear lots of different outfits and you take pictures of me in front of cool backgrounds.’

Well.

Who would have thought it?

So Belle filled the back of our tiny car with clothes and shoes and make up and hairbrushes and I got my camera and we went up to Stokes Croft in Bristol. When we lived in Bristol we lived pretty close to Stokes Croft and it’s one of my favourite parts of the city. There’s such a vibrance to it – so many colours and cafes and different kinds of people. Unfortunately on Saturday it was also a bit on the drizzly side, and bitterly cold, but we had hot chocolates in Cafe Kino, braced ourselves, and did our best.

I understand that being 15 can suck quite a lot. I look at my body now and think about my body at 15 and I want to cry a bit, because of the inversely proportional relationship that goes on – the younger and more beautiful you are, the more full of self-loathing you also are. Once you get old enough to realise you’re actually a goddess, i.e. me, then things are rather past their prime. Hopefully Belle will be able to look at these photos and realise how beautiful she is.

(Although probably not because of being 15. See above.)

Anyway, we had a lot of fun, despite the cold, and it was nice to get out of the house for a proper weekend outing.

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I had a bit of a moment last week where I started to worry for my sanity. A moment where I realised I really have become a crazy cat lady.

‘Are you actually even okay?’ Bee asked me tactfully, when she came over for tea on Friday night. I was explaining how I’d been combing vanilla powder onto the kittens.

‘It’s a HACK!’ I said, with a slight hysterical edge. ‘I saw it on the INTERNET!’

Let me explain.

As you know, a few weeks ago we brought home three rescue kittens. They have full detective names, but they are Camille, Endeavour and Humphrey for short.

One of my very favourite things about them is how much they love each other, even though two are brother and sister and one of them is just a random that happened to be in the room when we went to visit the rehoming centre. They sleep in big fluffy piles and purr when they see each other and lick each other’s face and I LOVE IT.

am I a crazy cat lady?

Until last Thursday. View Post

This is something I have been thinking about a lot lately, but I’ve yet to come up with an answer, or formulate an argument, so I am writing here as a way of exploring the issue and how I feel about. So I apologise in advance if the post gets a little fragmented – it’s me thinking out loud.

So my question really is how much emotional vulnerability is it ok to show in front of your children? As a single parent, a mother from the age of 17, I have become an expert at suppressing my emotions to always appear positive and in control. This comes I think not only from taking on responsibilities so young, but also from my relationship with my family.

I’m sure my mother will forgive me for saying that being a parent coincided with a difficult period in her life, a tearful period, in which emotional vulnerability featured highly. Because of this, I think I learnt to be sensitive about how I behaved and the things I said, not wanting to upset anyone or make anyone cry. I have taken this forward into my adult life and am still very anti-confrontation. If I can act in a way to minimise upsetting someone else then I will.

This of course comes at a price. I have always known this on a personal level – people see me as hugely positive and confident, difficult to upset, detached even. One long term boyfriend actually told me I was cold hearted. The danger with this is that people don’t worry about upsetting you. They think the positive exterior means I don’t worry about things, that I am a tough cookie. But this is not true. I am just an expert in the brave face, practised at making the best of things and seeming to shrug off criticism or rejection.

I have always known this sometimes hard exterior has an effect on my relationships with men, but recently I have begun to wonder how it affects my relationships with my children. Bee told me recently that I am annoyingly cheery, that she sees me cry so rarely that it scares her when I do. So how does this make her feel about me and, more importantly, about herself? Does she think I don’t care? Or will she think that letting down your guard, being prepared to open yourself up emotionally, and admitting to feeling sad sometimes are weaknesses?

I’m on my own as a parent. I don’t have anyone to offload negative feelings to on a day to day basis, and I am loathe to become the teary parent that my children are constantly afraid of upsetting. I am also very aware that it would be all too easy as a single mum to use an older child as an emotional crutch, and I really don’t want my children to feel in anyway responsible for me. But then maybe I should accept that family members do have a responsibility to look out for each other. This is hard for me though. My tough teenage mum shell doesn’t want to rely on anyone for anything. Dependence feels like a weakness. I need to be able to look after myself.

I am starting to wonder though if showing a bit more vulnerability sometimes and asking for help more often might actually endear me to people more. I’m sure it must be hard for friends and partners to feel useful and needed if I appear so capable. And maybe it would show Bee that actually it is quite normal to often feel lonely, bored, fed up and sad. We are all human after all, but perhaps I don’t show it as much as I could.

I’d be really interested to know what other people think about this. Do you cry in front of your children or do you believe in putting on a happy face at all times? Have the relationships in your childhood shaped the way you parent? How as a parent can you show vulnerability at the same time as being the person who provides security? Answers on a postcard please…

Photo credit: Cesar S

It was meant to be the perfect date, but it definitely did not go to plan! If you're looking for perfect date ideas, here's how NOT to do it.

This morning I wake up in a state of eager anticipation. I take a little more care than usual getting dressed – I put on a skirt and brush my hair and everything. Why such glamour you may ask. Well, Bee is visiting her Dad and Belle has been invited to a birthday party, so I have a rare Saturday morning to myself.

And so this morning I am going on the perfect date. (Not like this one.)

A date with myself. An illicit coffee shop rendezvous with the weekend papers.

I find the papers make a perfect date. They are interesting, able to talk about a wide range of topics, they make me laugh and most importantly the don’t judge when I dip my croissant in my coffee and drop soggy crumbs on my cardi.

Of course the time limit and the rarity of the opportunity combine to pile on the pressure – that urgent feeling of having to Make The Most Of it that most parents will appreciate. In a bid to really enjoy myself as much as possible I end up visiting three different cafes, trying to find the perfect retreat, before settling on one that really looked very much like all the other two.

My perfect date starts well, and I’m half way through the Guardian when my secluded corner starts to become rather crowded. I have bagged myself a comfy sofa, and am happy to have well behaved extras occupying the two chairs opposite. However, the longer I stay the more I find my space being overtaken.

A small boy plonks himself down in one of the chairs and helps himself to my sports section. Fine. I don’t like sport anyway. His Dad joins him in the second chair. Still manageable. But then the boy’s grandparents arrive and suddenly things are not so fine. I am forced to take my feet off the sofa so Grandma can sit down. I toy with moving but want to stand my ground – I was here first after all. And so long as I ignore Grandma’s shuffling and awkward glances I can still pretend I’m on my own. Just about.

But then it all gets a bit much. I am already starting to feel a little overwhelmed when another couple plus child appear – apparently friends of the family. “What’s going on here then?” says Dad number two.

“Just a little family outing,” says Grandma.

“Who’s that then?” asks Dad two, nodding his head in my direction.

“I’ve no idea!” exclaims Grandma loudly, as though I have just attached myself to them and they are humouring me.

“I am sat right here!” I want to yell, but of course I don’t. Instead I keep my head buried in the paper, hoping they will feel uncomfortable and drink up quick. No such luck though. Dad two plus family are invited to join them. There are now seven of them and me and everyone knows one’s company but eight’s a crowd. I do my best to stick it out but my presence at the crowded table now feels vaguely ridiculous.

It’s not long before I give up, make my excuses and push my way out through the family party. Hmph. Not exactly the romantic coffee for one I had planned. Still, I got as far as the Review section of the paper, which is further than I normally get before about Wednesday, so I probably should be grateful…