Take all your problems & rip ’em apart

Take all your problems

And rip ’em apart

Carry them off

In a shopping cart

Be like the squirrel, girl

Be like the squirrel

– “Little Acorns” by The White Stripes

It’s not a well-known song, but “Little Acorns” by The White Stripes is a song to live your life by. It tells the story of Janet, who has been having a tough time lately. But as she’s walking one day, she sees a squirrel storing up nuts for winter. She notices the way the squirrel brings the nuts to her nest one at a time, and eventually manages to store up as much as she needs.

Clever Janet sees this as a metaphor, and realises that if she takes the “one acorn at a time” approach to her problems, they will be more manageable.

Okay, so it’s sort of a silly song. A hard rock riff and an entreaty to be like the squirrel. And it also might be something that we all already know implicitly. Of course it makes sense to break problems into smaller pieces to make them more manageable. But knowing something doesn’t mean we always do it.

So what are the problems that sometimes overwhelm us, and how can we “be like the squirrel”? Here are some situations where being like the squirrel has helped me.

 

Grief

Regular readers of this blog will know that I keep banging on about the death of my grandmother, who brought me up in my early years. It’s been a couple months now but sometimes I’m still suffocated by sadness and I just miss her so much. I had read about it before, but now I know firsthand, that grief never really goes away. Some days are better than others. Let each moment of grief be it’s own little acorn that you acknowledge. I’ve been allowing myself to feel sad when it happens, rather than trying to just carry on, even though that sometimes seems like what everyone expects.

Work

I work part-time but I’m pretty sure I’m still doing a full-time job and then some. I never, ever get to the bottom of my to-do list and sometimes I worry that I’m not keeping up well enough and I’ll get in trouble. But actually, everyone is just as busy as me in my office, and we’re all doing our best. So I just take one small task at a time. And I try not to multi-task, because that is a way of doing lots of work but never finishing anything.

Money

I also, like most normal people, do not have as much money as I would like. I have a lot of bills, like childcare, to keep up with. And I’m not very good at budgeting or saving. If I try to impose an austerity regime on myself, I’m going to (a) be miserable and (b) fail at it anyway.

So my acorn approach is to just think a little harder about each time I want to do something that costs money. How much do I really want/need this thing? Is there a way of doing it cheaper? And each time I manage to save some money by thinking it through, that is a small success.

My house is a tip

This is one that I get pretty stressed about. We have too many toys, but it hurts my heart to get rid of things that were loved when my children were smaller! Am I the only one who gets sentimental about brightly coloured plastic?

Sometimes I start planning to get organised, but am discouraged by the enormity of the task. One thing cascades into another until I just don’t know where to start. Saying I would just do one job becomes just as difficult as trying to do it all at once.

So I’ve started taking a more novel approach and applying complete and utter blinkers to certain bits of mess. Instead of focusing on doing small jobs that might ultimately add up to a tidy house (neeever gonna happen), I just focus on the things that really need keeping up with. The dresser near the front door always gets piled up with loads of random crap. Fine, I’m ignoring it. But I’m going to keep up with the washing. Sort of.

I wish I had more close friends

Becoming a mum changes your social life forever. I used to constantly be with friends, and I had a different friend for every situation. I could call up my “going to the theatre friend”, my “going on holiday” friend, or my drinking buddy. When I had my kids, I grew apart from some of these friends, either because they had kids too and also had no time, or because we were now living such different lifestyles.

I have found it difficult to make mum friends in my local area, and only have a couple ladies who I consider real friends and not just acquaintances. I sometimes feel pretty depressed that I can’t find a group of friends to hang out with at a moment’s notice, or even just that I feel so socially awkward  and isolated among groups of mums on the school run.

But you know what, it doesn’t even matter. Quality over quantity. I’m putting more energy into the little acorns I’ve already collected (the genuine, proven friends). And every time I feel awkward on the school run, I’m just going to carry on saying hello to people even when they don’t respond, and smiling at them all like some sort of maniac.

I’m a shouty sweary mum

When I get stressed or worried or upset or hurt, I shout and swear. That is my reaction. It’s something I’m working on. But I still sometimes step on a bloody lego brick and then turn the air blue in front of my children.

Or when my 5yo is completely ignoring my entreaties for him to stop chewing on a fidget spinner before he chokes on it, and the 10th time I ask him I shout, FOR GOD’S SAKE STOP CHEWING ON THAT BLOODY THING OR YOU’LL END UP IN HOSPITAL!

I am aware that this is not ideal parenting. Judge me as you will.

But I’ve also gotten better and better at showing more empathy with my children. When they get upset about something like misplacing a small plastic junky toy, or because one brother knocked over the other’s tower, I’ve learned to say “I’m sorry honey, I know you worked hard on that tower”. Instead of what I’m thinking, which is “get the f**k over it already”.

So every acorn of positive parenting, every time I offer some extra praise, is one to add to the pile that is making up for the fact that my eldest definitely knows all the swears and how to use them. I’m also working on replacing my swears with rubbish replacement words too. Like “oh FFFidget spinners” or “GoddaaaaarNit”.

Do life’s little problems sometimes get you down? What problems could you add to this list, and how do you deal with them? Here is the song, btw:

Tammymum
The Pramshed
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Parenting lessons in the midst of loss

What is this life if, full of care
We have no time to stand and stare.
– William Henry Davies

These words have been repeating in my head over the last week or so. They’ve been in my head because my grandmother, who brought me up in my early years, died on the Sunday before Easter. I knew it was coming. And yet knowing didn’t make that final news any easier.

I was at my sister-in-law’s house and we were getting ready for a day out. I looked up from the email on my phone telling me the news, and suddenly my world had changed. The colour had drained from it. Nothing was ever going to be the same again.

Grief is a hard taskmaster. It doesn’t matter how long or short a time you had with someone you love. It is not comforting to think that it “was just their time” or any other platitudes people always say. They might be true, but you need to take some time to process your feelings in your own way. You deserve time to reflect, and the person you love deserves it too.

But I had no time to stand and stare. Off we went on the day out, me “not wanting to make a fuss”, chasing around after my children and acting like everything was normal. And it continued through all of the next week. My eldest was home from school and I had all the time off work for once. I’d planned lots of fun activities for us and I didn’t want to disappoint him.

But all week I was wishing I could just stop and grieve. To quote another poem:

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone …
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message, [S]he is dead.
– W.H. Auden

I had to keep going, but I wanted to stop. People would ask how I was doing and I felt like it was a stupid question. Everything should stop. She is dead. The world has changed forever. She is dead. Could everybody just stop going about their daily business please? She is dead.

But the world doesn’t stop.

I felt angry at first that I couldn’t stop and grieve the way I wanted to. But now my son is finally back at school, and I have a day off and I can do what I want, I think he saved me as well.

If she had died before I had children, I would have fallen apart. I probably would have gone to bed and felt sorry for myself for days and days. But instead, I was able to focus on these little people who needed me more than I needed to be sad. I knew I would have time to remember my grandmother. But in the meantime I was able to spend time with people who love me just as unconditionally as she did.

And it made me feel grateful that the only mother I’d ever known had lived to see me become a mother. Not everyone is that lucky. And it made me think that, while feeling sad is okay, the reason I feel sad is a blessing. To move away from poetry to slightly more popular culture:

A heart that’s broken is a heart that was loved.
– Ed Sheeran

I am so sad to lose her because she was a good parent to me. And I’m finding the best way I can remember and honour her is to apply her example to my own parenting.

So here are some parenting lessons my grandma taught me.

1st birthday.jpg

My grandma and me on my 1st birthday

She was always gentle

There is no doubt that she told me off and disciplined me when it was necessary. I remember having a tantrum so bad one time when she wouldn’t let me stay up late on New Year’s Eve one year because I’d done something naughty. I was pleading to stay up by crawling on the floor and accidentally bashed my buck front tooth on the floor, splitting it in half. Ouch!

But she didn’t yell at me. She reasoned with me. She told me when I was disappointing her. And I never wanted to disappoint her. She taught me the value of being good for its own sake. And no matter what I’d done, she was always ready to give me a big hug.

So this week, when my children tried my patience, instead of getting cross and shouting, I’ve been giving them big hugs. It’s surprising how easy it is to fix things with hugs.

She always listened

From when I was a toddler who wanted to pretend to be a cat or keep snails as pets, to being the woman who needed to talk about my PND, my grandmother always listened to me. I was always able to tell her absolutely anything and she would just listen. She wouldn’t tell me what to do. She didn’t judge me. She wouldn’t make it all about her. She wouldn’t change the subject. She would just quietly take it all in and say something comforting.

I want my children to tell me important things when they’re adults, so I’m going to listen to them starting now, even if it’s that same knock-knock joke I’ve heard a million times.

She shared my pride and gave me confidence

If I was proud of something I’d done, I could call and tell her about it and she would be just as enthusiastic as me. She would never be unimpressed, or think that the achievement could have been bigger or more prestigious. Right down to when I would try hard to dress up nicely for a meal out. I remember she would always say “ooohhh” in admiration for my looks. She never tried to make me be like her, or like she might have wanted me to be. She was impressed by who I was on my own terms.

Our children don’t always turn out to be who we expect, but we should always love them for being themselves and trying their best.

She taught me kindness

When my grandma first moved to Florida, she found her house was infested by small lizards and tree frogs. They were little green frogs that made noises like puppies barking. She would catch the frogs and gently put them outside. But they would keep coming in.

frog-1514727_1280.jpg

Some people’s next move would be to call some sort of exterminator. But not my grandma. She put little dishes of water out all over the house so the frogs wouldn’t get dehydrated. She went to the pet shop and bought mealworms to feed them. Every evening before bed she would walk through her house calling the frogs and would hand-feed them those nasty little mealworms.

She fed the lizards too. And stray cats. Birds. Even the squirrels. They would all eat out of her hand like she was Snow White. If only they would have done the housework for her too!

Her example of kindness even for creatures that others treat as pests is something I remember every day. She taught me to turn inconvenience into a chance to be kind. I only hope that, through example, I can show my kids that it is always better (and easier) to be kind than to be cruel.

Moving forward

And so I am getting used to a world in which I can’t call my grandma and tell her about my day. She can’t share in my successes or commiserate with me about my failures. And it’s going to take me some time to get used to that. And I’m going to feel sad. And some days, I’m not going to be okay about it.

But I know that she hasn’t left me completely. She’s there when I hug my children, when I listen to them and talk to them softly. She’s there when I sing them to sleep. And I will never stop feeling grateful for her giving me a gift of love that I can pass on to my children.

17760143_10154287702376423_3296767588005800398_n.jpg
When my grandma first met my eldest.
Tammymum

Mindfulness and coping with grief

Trigger warning:  the topics of losing a loved one and teenaged death are discussed in this post. 

I am going through a tough time at the moment. My grandmother, who raised me in my early years, is very ill. She is unresponsive in hospital, and it’s looking like I’ll never get to speak to her again. So although she is not completely gone yet, I am already missing her. I will probably be writing a few posts about my grief and in tribute to her when the time is right. In the meantime, I asked the wonderful Hayley from Mission: Mindfulness – the blog to share some thoughts on how to cope when we lose someone who means the world to us. Hayley’s thoughts here are helping me every moment that I wish I could hear my grandmother’s voice on the phone.

A guest post by Hayley from Mission: Mindfulness: the blog

Dear Reader,

Nicole wrote to me a few weeks ago asking me to write a guest post for The Mum Reviews blog. Nicole is a blogger buddy of mine who I didn’t want to let down, and I was honoured to be asked. I really wanted to write something that fitted with her remit of mindfulness and suffering a loss, yet I was fearful of writing such an important post. I am certainly no therapist and not an expert in grief management, but said I’d have a think and get back to her. And then yesterday I knew what I wanted to write, so here it is.   

********
Today was the usual busy morning at our house.  Porridge being served.  Bread being toasted.  The radio blaring out.  The kids were, well, just being kids really …

And then suddenly an unexplained and unanticipated sadness hit me – coming from what seemed like nowhere. I was transported to a different place and time. But, as I tuned into the song on the radio, I recognised what was going on. Oasis’s “Masterplan” had started to play. My chest felt like I’d been squeezed too tightly in a big, unsolicited hug, and my eyes prickled in the familiar sensation I feel when tears are close.

Although nearly 20 years ago, the power of music was able to vividly remind me of a tragic event. A time when the fragility of life became palpable to me.

The time when my older sister’s boyfriend was suddenly taken from the world in a tragic car accident.

We’d all had a fabulous summer – working and playing together. It was the era of Britpop, and some of us were enjoying the twilight of our teenage years, while others were embarking on the beginning of their 20s. I recall the new Oasis album had been playing A LOT as we drove around the country roads of Lincolnshire, causing great debate. Some of us loved it – Adam, my sister’s boyfriend, being one.  Others of the group were not so sure.

That I remembered all of this as if it were yesterday is testament to how powerful music can be. At that moment, the sadness of losing Adam seemed as raw as it had at the end of the 90s.

And yet Adam had not been my sweetheart. Nor my son. Nor my grandson. Nor my  brother. Nor my best friend. And so I can only begin to imagine how many times, and how intensely, this happens to people who were these things to him. And as my thoughts overtake me, whisking me away from my residual feelings, I wonder: how did they cope?

Of course it would be crude to speak of a hierarchy of grief. Yet in reality it seems that the rawest of emotions come when a person is taken from us too young. By this I don’t just mean someone of a similar age, or younger, to the beautiful Adam, but even someone much, much older who still also seems to have so much life and living left. That sense of injustice and anger which mixes with the deep sadness of the grief must be an almost overpowering blend of emotions.  Understandably these can lead to very dark thoughts.

Until recently it has seemed the norm in our culture – in keeping with the idea of the British “stiff upper lip” – not to allow these thoughts and emotions to consume us. Rather, to distance ourselves from them as quickly as possible, to distract ourselves, or worse still for our “inner critic” to take over and berate us for not “coping” as we perceive we should.

Instead, Rumi, the 13th century Muslim poet (much quoted on Mindfulness courses and retreats) offers a different perspective. The suggestion is to allow these feelings and thoughts to freely come and freely go.  Without judgement.

To be with them for a moment or two. If that feels okay at that particular moment in time. To view these thoughts and feelings as passing guests and treat them accordingly.

This principle, so important to mindfulness, is eloquently described in Rumi’s poem The Guest House. 

The Guest House

Translated by Coleman Barks

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Wishing all who are going through difficult times at the moment much love.
Hayley xx

Blog:  www.missionmindfulnessblog.com
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Tammymum

Hope and the jumping bean

I was inspired to try my hand at a bit of fiction by One Frazzled Mum’s writing in response to The Prompt linky on Mum turned Mom. This week’s prompt is hope. Please be gentle with me. I haven’t tried to write fiction since I was about 12. This is completely made up and not autobiographical or about any real person.

Hope stands at the window looking at the driving rain. She loves being indoors in her warm home while rain batters the window and the branches of trees bend in the wind. She cracks the window open and takes a breath of the air that smells of dry soil stirred by raindrops.

The rest of the house is silent and empty. She walks to the sofa and picks up her phone. No messages. No notifications. She opens up her Facebook app and starts scrolling.

All of the usual stuff is there. A friend from school who works as an estate agent has closed on another mansion. Political posts. Someone baked a cake. Someone else is on holiday. Several people have adorable children.

Hope checks her watch. Another ten minutes has passed. Some people think she’s old fashioned for wearing a watch. Most people just look at their phone. If she did that, she would have lost her phone a hundred times over. She checks the time a lot. She lives by the clock.

She hears the key rattle in the lock and feels that familiar little jump of happiness in her chest every time her other half comes home. It mixes in with all the nervous flip flops that were cavorting in her stomach and makes her feel sick again. As her partner, Peter, walks in the door, she rummages in her handbag for a piece of gum.

“Oh finally you’re back! We’re going to be late,” she says, anxious and distracted at the same time. She finds the pack of gum and pops a piece in her mouth.

“We’ve got plenty of time!” Peter says brightly. “Are you ready to go then?

Hope smacks her gum loudly and gives him a look. “What do you think?”  Then she stands up, grabs her coat and walks purposefully out the front door to get in the car. Peter follows.

The radio blares loudly when the car is first turned on. Hope loves listening to the radio on full blast. An Ed Sheeran song is playing. He’s one of her favourite artists, but not today. She quickly changes the channel, then pairs up her phone to the sound system so she can choose what music she wants to hear. Maybe a bit of Iron Maiden. Aggression and no fear.

Hope sits in the car with her hand on her stomach. She can’t feel anything really. Just like last time. She has felt just exactly the same as last time all the way through. A little bit sick. A little bit hungry. A little bit like her bra is becoming too small. Does this mean that it would happen again?

She had told her friends this time. She wasn’t waiting for this appointment. Last time it was harder to tell them when she was already grieving. When they couldn’t understand why she disappeared for a while. Why she was so sad – and is still so sad. Nothing is ever going to bring back what was lost, even if today brings good news.

Peter parks the car and they walk across the car park, through the sliding doors, up the two flights of stairs and down a long hallway. They enter a small waiting room and Hope walks up to the counter.

“I’ve got an appointment at 1:15,” she tells the receptionist.

The receptionist is distracted, doing twenty things at once. She asks, “Do you have your notes?” Hope hands them over. The receptionist takes them. “Take a seat,” she says.

Hope and Peter sit down on the hard plastic seats. There aren’t any magazines in the waiting room. Just various health-related leaflets. Hope ignores them and tries to check her phone, but she doesn’t have any signal. She grabs Peter’s hand and he squeezes hers in return. They wait in silence for what seems an eternity.

A woman calls Hope’s name. Her stomach jumps, flips and ties itself into a knot. Her eyes start to black out a little bit around the edges and she feels lightheaded. She has to take deep breaths to stop herself from total panic.

Hope and Peter follow the woman who called her name into a darkened room. “Right,” the woman says, “just lie down and lift up your top, and we’ll go ahead and take a look.” Mercifully, she doesn’t ask any other questions or say anything else.

“This might be a bit cold,” the sonographer says as she squirts gel on Hope’s stomach.

Hope holds her breath as the sonographer probes her stomach with the ultrasound wand. She pushes the wand into her stomach and Hope hears nothing. She moves it again and again. Hope takes a deep breath and then holds it some more. She closes her eyes tight.

Then, a swishing noise. The sonographer smiles and turns her screen to where Hope can see it. “There we go,” she says, “you take a look while I just take some measurements.”

Hope’s eyes fly open and she looks at the screen. She decides to hold her breath some more while the sonographer draws little lines on the screen with her mouse.

“Everything looks fine,” the sonographer says. Hope breathes out and finally allows herself to look – really look – at the screen. She sees a little jumping bean, full of life and potential.

If you’ve been affected by the issues in this story, please check out Tommy’s for support.

mumturnedmom
Tammymum
Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday

On poetry, friendship, memory and loss

A review of Landslide, a collection of poems by Andrew Jarvis

When I announced on my personal Facebook page that I was starting a blog, my most immediately supportive friend was Andrew Jarvis. He was one of a close-knit group of friends I had in high school, from whom I’ve been parted geographically but never in terms of my affection for them. When we were kids, Andy (a nickname he used then but no longer) and I bonded through a love of music, dancing, silliness and not giving a damn what anybody thought of us. To me, Andy was honest and free and ready to barrel headlong into life.

Recently, I saw him again for the first time in 15 years. I have to admit I barely recognised the boy who’d been such a big part of my life. I saw this calm, careful, articulate man named Andrew. He was all grown up and a published poet.

Andrew Jarvis with The Mum Reviews
A picture of me and Andrew when we saw each other recently, for the first time in 15 years.

When he asked me to review his new book on my new blog, I was very flattered. But I have to say I feel a bit overwhelmed with the responsibility. Despite having a PhD in English, I don’t see myself as much of a poetry critic. So I’m approaching this review as a normal person who might want to read a bit of poetry. Thus forward, in my review I will call the poet Jarvis, as if we never drove together to the bowling alley singing Michael Jackson songs at the top of our lungs.

Poetry is perhaps not as popular in modern times as it once was. Friends recommend books and movies to each other, but rarely say, ‘hey, I read this great poem the other day’. Which is a shame actually, because a good poem carefully constructed can say as much in one page as an entire novel. Don’t think you have the time and energy to read much? You have time to spend 2 minutes reading a poem. Jarvis’s latest book, Landslide, is a good place to start. It is full of these perfect micro-stories that whisk you away to another world, draw you in and then spit you out with a changed perspective.Landslide by Andrew Jarvis book cover

I feel like, knowing the author, I should have an insight into his poems and what they’re all about. But I don’t. In any case it doesn’t matter – my English degree whispers to me that the author is dead. So these are the themes that I see in this collection:

  • The brutality of nature and the brutality of man upon the natural world.
  • The inevitable decay of all earthly things, including those things that we love the most.
  • The way in which we love to erase the old with the new, but that memories are not so easily consigned to oblivion.

It sounds a little depressing, but actually it is uplifting . There is beauty in the recognition that these things come to pass and yet we all carry on. But most of all, the beauty is in the words themselves, conjuring images that carry you away from your sofa to a place where “sea lions adore / the abandoned, the thawed / freezers of heads and tails / as if they found Eden”.

Jarvis’s turn of phrase is so evocative and succinct, it’s like encountering each single drop of dew on a spider’s web as captured in a photographer’s lens. Here are a few excerpts from my favourite poems in this collection.

From “The Boxes”

She refilled the candy
when the grandchildren came,
peppermint mints and kisses
made of milk chocolate.

And we always found it,
in her special hiding place,
just below the pictures
and her little children things.

From “Rail Man”

The ballast, anchor, and roadbed,
the torn unfastened fastenings,
they severed his whole to his parts.

From “Old Growth”

Grandfather grew forests for us,
pierced the clouds and summoned their falls,
feeding the roots of his children.

From “Memory Bird”

And like an architect drafting the air,
she wants to remodel her memories,
piece together the wings, and fly back home.

Landslide is available to pre-order from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com. If you are truly awesome, you could also try ordering it from your local bookshop, old-school style, for my old school friend.