A New(ie) perspective.

In my house there are unswept floors, unvacuumed carpets and untidy piles of unread magazines. I go to work early and promise myself I’ll leave at 4, then 5, then 6 o’clock. I plan to shop for groceries during lunch, after work, after I have collected my daughter. Late home, I face the spectre of cooking and serving an overdue evening meal to unbathed children while yesterday’s towels bunch wetly in the bathroom. There are dog-nose prints on glass sliding doors, finger-prints on the stairwell and a headful of unwritten blogposts. There are unmade phone calls, unmade beds, unrealised promises. I can’t stop thinking about things I should be doing and things I haven’t done. I want more time, more time, more time.

Lately it has been quite a struggle. And so I haven’t written for a while.

Today, with some precious writing time, I don’t want to dwell on the issues of madness and mess – suffice to say they exist and are unresolved. Instead I want to talk about something that’s saving my sanity and whose images are crowding my camera memory cards. It’s close and unexpected. It’s Newcastle, Newie, my home.

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Most weekends I manage an hour or so to go walking. Originally unplanned and now pleasant habit, I head to the breakwall in town near Nobbys Beach, always an hour or so before dusk. It’s a beautiful time of day, my favourite time of day. It’s when sidewalks are being swept clean of daylight-muck and preparing for night. It’s when shadows lengthen, stark skies become shaded-colour and people pack up and head home. There’s a sense of completion and a touch of anticipation at dusk. It’s day’s end, the sunset winking in night’s welcome.

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And the reason I’m walking here and not somewhere else is the landscape. I could walk anywhere; my gorgeous local park, my street, the bike track, anywhere. But I find myself driving into town, parking the car and treading the coastal breakwall with it’s beachy-backdrop, to its end and back again.

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While I walk I listen to music. It soothes me more than the crash of waves, the cry of seagulls or the chatter of fellow-walkers. You might question why I don’t let the rush of water-on-sand be my soundtrack. I think it’s because I see these walks as a bit of an escape, a chance to clear my head of The Crazy, and so I like to set the tone for this time myself. It’s one of the few times I get to listen to my choice of music, that I want to hear, that I like.

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Unexpectedly, these walks have changed my life. The solitary nature of them is soothing, and the exercise warranted, but it’s the stage show that’s taken my breath away. Incredibly, I’d forgotten about the power of it and how much better I am for it.

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The air is fresh, salty, bracing. The ocean can be angry grey-green, mildly turquoise or glassy, crystalline blue, rolling gently or spraying thunder against man-made rocks. Recently there have been dolphin pods, breaching whales, quick and cheeky seals. There are try-hard tugs ushering in overloaded ships, their cumbersome bulk swaying ponderously into the harbour. To the side, over-excited dogs populate Horseshoe Beach, fetching sticks amongst the off-shore foam. People, everywhere, all sorts – families, kids, tourists, surfers, cyclists, walkers, lovers, strangers, even robed monks. There is sand, salt, marshy smells and flowering plants. There are bleached timber keepsakes, pock-marked rocks and swooping kites.
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And then there’s the show. The horizon, the sunset, the end-of-day/beginning-of-night spectacle that demands its shaded-eye salute. The business end of the harbour looks delicately pretty in silhouette. The pink-tinged horizon urges you forward, faster, to beat the night-fall. Overcast days provide a gentler final act, a slower drop of the shadowed grey-on-grey curtain. Other times the harbour is angry and the only nod to the passing of time is the steely-blue boiling of the clouds as they roll into Newie.
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Every week this event reminds me that nature is fierce and wonderful. I feel lucky to witness it, to be in Newcastle where nature is so near that I can always, always find it closely, quickly. That I can feel better and happy because of it. That it can transform me from darkly overwhelmed to clear-headed and composed; there’s something about facing a sunset that makes you feel special, amazing and even beautiful.

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The sun sets and I walk a little taller, smiling. I drive home, sad for the moment just ended but grateful – grateful for nature’s show, for reminding me what truly matters, grateful I know how easy it is to feel better, and how unimportant an unkempt house really is.

I go home, kick aside the widely-strewn toys and hug my daughter.

Lavender and Aliens

When I first met her she was only a few weeks old. So small and gorgeous, eating and sleeping her way through the days. She cried and cried, sniffled and sighed her way into my heart. White with tan spots, she was a tiny Jack Russell, my first dog.

I’d had dogs drift in and out of my life as a child; we lived opposite a bush reserve which seemed to be a regular dumping ground for people’s refuse and unwanted animals, so I’d had a few puppy-pets in my primary school years. Each stayed for just days at a time before we ultimately delivered them into an uncertain future at the local RSPCA. I always tried to keep them, the undesired and unloved – their status endeared them to me even more. But it was not to be, and I promised myself I’d have the much-longed-for and four-legged friend as soon as I was grown-up and out on my own.
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So here we were. My new gorgeous girl’s name was Lavender, the first of a run of formal names given to her by the breeder, written hurriedly on the top of her vaccination card. She didn’t seem like a ‘Lavender’ to me – she was all spitfire and boisterousness, leaping and pawing her way through our yard. She was demanding; her need for attention was boundless and her perseverance in seeking the same was impressive. She would literally cry and wail for hours and hours, with no respite, whilst simultaneously chewing her way through the base of the laundry door. She was strong-willed and fierce. She was a pocket-rocket-sized chick with attitude. I thought long and hard about her name and decided on Ripley – not for the ‘believe or not’ connotation, but after Ellen Ripley, the lead female character in the movie ‘Alien’. They shared so many characteristics, fortitude, guts and determination, it seemed appropriate.

And so Ripley continued to exasperate and delight us in equal measure. In retrospect, having a Jack Russell as my first dog probably wasn’t the smartest move – I had no idea how to train any dog, let alone a breed that needed strong direction. Jack Russells are just too damn smart and I was ill-prepared for the pre-emptive and complex nature of their thought process. Ripley easily assumed the title of ‘pack leader’ and lead us a merry dance for several years.
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There was the time my grandmother ‘baby-sat’ Ripley at her house. Ripley was very young, still had puppy-teeth, and managed to corral my grandmother into the corner of her kitchen, nipping her heels whenever she tried to escape. She was still there when I returned a few hours later. Then there were the numerous times Ripley tried to escape – any gate, open for a millisecond, was an opportunity to flee. Her best effort was the afternoon before my 30th birthday party. She bolted through legs, out the gate, onto the road and straight under a moving car; I noted the tyre marks on her tummy as she was whisked away to the vet. I was so distraught, I wanted to cancel everything and yet – she was absolutely fine, back to engineering escape tactics within a week. And then there were the times when she simply needed to burn a little energy. She’d tuck her tail neatly under her bottom, pull her head in low-line with her back and shoot off like a bullet, lapping the yard. She’d run and leap into nothingness, off retaining walls and over hedges. One day, one overly-eager leap too far snapped her cruciate ligament – a footballer’s injury. The operation cost in the thousands; she chewed her stitches out twice.
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Things changed for Ripley when we acquired dog number 2 – beautiful, gentle Jasper. He was more than twice her size and three times her weight. He was a rescued dog from the RSPCA. He developed pneumonia 3 days after we brought him home, and so disappeared again for 2 weeks back to the veterinary hospital. Ripley clearly thought she’d won; she never liked sharing and now believed she had somehow sent this new dog packing. She seemed….satisfied. Not so. Jasper returned, and with a case of nose-severely-out-of-joint, Ripley initiated a series of arguments, nasty ones. For a while we thought we couldn’t keep Jasper. Then, eventually, things were resolved when Jasper assumed his role as bottom of the heap, the last in the pack. Poor Jasper – such a kindly old soul, he was never a match for Ripley’s mischievous maneuverings. And so, finally, our dogs settled into life together.
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I remember being (unnecessarily) worried about Ripley’s reaction to our expanding family. One New Year’s Eve, only just pregnant and still nursing the secret, I spent the night on our back deck with friends and family. I was tired – Ripley sensed my lethargy and jumped onto my lap for gentle pats and rubs. She nudged my belly more than once and eventually fell asleep curled into my warmth. I swear she was making the most of the now-dwindling opportunities for some alone time with me.

Life rolled on, and so we hit 2013. Both Ripley and Jasper were 15, turning 16. Incredibly old and happily ensconced in sunshine-y days of overstuffed cushions and soft brushes. Our dogs had lost the chase, and so now companionably shared water bowls and grassy lawn with pigeons and doves. Life became slower – filled with afternoon naps and sleepy tail-wags.
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Which brings me to now. My best mate Ripley, my little terrorist, has gone. We had to make the terrible decision to put her down. She was so mightily old, and lost her dignity one morning in such a mess that her milky eyes bade me turn away. Her back legs lay loose and unwilling to move. I tearfully rang the vet and said “it’s time”. I held her face and stroked her head as she went. It was heartbreaking.

That was Saturday. The next day, Sunday, was a day of celebration. My grandmother, the one so richly rounded-up by my little Jack Russell, was turning 90. Quite a milestone. She still lives on her own, shops for herself and walks every morning to get the newspaper. She’s funny and smart and can source a sarcastic comment when needed. Our relatives were coming from north and south the be part of the afternoon. It was a lovely few hours of shared memories, champagne and laughter. I let myself enjoy the event and tried not to think about Ripley.
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Then my grandmother began opening her presents. I was assigned the role of scribe, writing down the gifts on the corresponding card so my grandmother would now who-to-thank-for-what. Our gift was a photo book, around 150 pages of images of my grandmother from birth to now, and with family and with friends. I’d included 2 photos, one of each of our dogs. The caption under Ripley read “Moira’s nemesis”, a nod to the ongoing love/hate relationship they shared. It made me smile to think that even the day after she died, Ripley was still being remembered in all her rambunctious and domineering glory.

And so it came to be that within the space of 2 days I celebrated one long life and began grieving the end of another. Beginnings and endings. Life, overwhelming.

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Remembered always and so very missed.
Ripley Faulkner.
1997 – 2013.

Anything can happen.

Recently my partner and I indulged ourselves as a guests of friends at the Peppertree Winery harvest luncheon. Fantastic food, lovely wine, fabulous company. A true celebration and degustation feast. And for me, yet another example of the extreme highs and lows in life of late.
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Let me explain this further. Recently, a number of close friends have experienced some distressing and life-changing situations, all in the space of a few weeks. I previously wrote about some of them here: Thankful. Friends have unexpectedly ended a seemingly-happy marriage; one had a double mastectomy; others had a family member attempt suicide; and a friend’s beloved father passed away. Conversely, over the same period I’ve experienced some thrilling life-rides: an opportunity to pursue a hobby semi-professionally; the lost-now-rediscovered joy of writing; the will, discipline and desire to exercise; some seriously much-needed and regular alone-time, to sort out my unkempt mind.

So I found myself on the way to Peppertree, in the confines of a mini-bus, talking about this strange life. My friend was incredibly sad and unsure she should be with us, as current family matters are tragic and overwhelming. Her despair and grief was palpable – she felt helpless, uncertain and unworthy of enjoyment.
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In talking of things so very sad, we moved to the inevitable ‘why?’. There were and are many reasons why, but a left-fielder thrown into the mix was this: seems the Universe is in a bit of a state at the moment, all skirts akimbo and make-up askew. We’re in an astrological ‘event’, advised by a friend-of-a-friend that there is massive change afoot and “all the crap is falling out” – it’s a time when things are ending, and a time of new beginnings.

I know, I know – that last thought could apply to, well, everything… things begin and end all the time. For many of you, talk of universal matters seems ridiculous, and I get it. How could external forces existing millions of miles away exact any influence on the decisions of individual souls? But here’s the thing – with all the extreme events, mad changes, highs and lows of late, in the grab-bag of crazy that is this life – it fits. And when you’re suffering, sad or simply overwhelmed with grief, you look for a ‘why’. Interested in the friend-of-a-friend’s theory, I decided to do a little Google-ing. Turns out there’s some serious eclipses rocking around the Universe at the moment, sending astrologers into a spin. There’s talk of life-shifts and changes, and not by halves – it’s apparently ‘revolutionary transformation’ time.

For me, a series of lunar eclipses peppering our skies does not adequately explain the cluster of hard and awful happenings in my friend’s lives. What it does provide is a potential “method-to-the-madness” which may be of comfort to some. And whilst I’m not sure where I sit on this, I am sure that it’s hard to watch people you’re close to experience life’s crud, it’s horrible to feel helpless when all you want to do is ease someone’s pain, and its human nature to always look for answers and reasons.

Today I have no answers – but instead I can offer the following:

1. I recently read an article written by Em Rusciano on the hard and tumultuous change her life has undergone (you can find it here Em’s Life). Her story featured a beautiful piece of music that I love; an Eddie Vedder piece that I find both melancholic and uplifting all at once. It’s from a movie called ‘Into the Wild’, about a guy who abandoned life as we know it to embrace pure ‘experience’ by living simply, in nature. It’s a movingly tragic yet joyful story of a life – all highs and lows.

2. The only person I know who truly answered ‘why?’ is author Douglas Adams. The ultimate answer to the question of life, the Universe and everything is apparently 42.

3. My take? I believe the only thing that’s certain in this life is that nothing is certain…..and that anything can happen.

Reality Mum.

I’m enjoying Mothers Day…really, I am. I had a sleep-in, which I love, and was given the gift of noise-isolating headphones for my mp3 player (they’re actually fantastic but, oh, the irony!). My daughter has been hugging me all morning, wishing me ‘Happy Mothers Day’ whilst also asking me when it will be finished. She put on her thickly-tread gumboots to play outside after lunch and promptly walked through poo left on the deck by our geriatric dog who can’t quite make the lawn anymore. Wouldn’t be so bad except she had walked it all over the decking boards before I noticed the smell, having just sat down to read a magazine that I’ve scanned the same page of for the last 3 days. I burnt caramel in the saucepan and had to send out the troops for more condensed milk whilst I dealt with my teary ineptitude. I’m going away for work tomorrow and haven’t packed or organised anything related to meetings or the daycare run. All in all – a pretty typical day as me, and as a Mum.

In stark contrast to this – I’ve been reading a lot of facebook posts today about mothers, from friends to their Mum, grandmother or daughter. Lots of flowery well-wishes, chrysanthemum-kisses and pale pink-dusted memories. Some of the messages infer motherhood is one long cupcake baking session. Stark contrast to my day so far. Where’s the ‘thanks for wiping my bottom’ or ‘thanks for tolerating my belligerently toned teenage years’? It got me thinking about being a Mum, and the tremendous highs and lows that come with the experience – for all involved. There’s no denying that sometimes I look at my daughter, my gorgeous girl, and am overwhelmed with love to the point of weeping. Other times…well, I’m being honest – I’m sure she’s as unhappy with my behaviour as I am with hers.

Which brings me to today’s post. A little unrefined, but warranted. A more balanced view of a mother’s days, not just the May-dated one. For Belle. Enjoy.

Motherhood.

You want it cold,
you want it hot,
you want it warm,
You want it ‘NOT’.

You whinge to me
Of hair astray,
And blame me, too,
For missing play.
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I write your name,
For you to trace.
You roll your eyes
And pull that face.

I bathe your limbs,
I wash your clothes;
You paint the walls
And pick your nose.
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You stamp your foot
And cry in rage,
And all I did
Was turn the page.

I touch your face
To make you smile.
You frown at me
and run a mile.
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I paint your nails
The colour pink.
You chew it off
And flood the sink.

You want a say
In clothes and shoes,
Then moan and cry
When I say ‘choose’.
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You drive me mad
And age me fast.
I had you late;
I hope I last.

And whilst oft’ said,
it’s more than true;
You’ll never know
How much I do.

Yet in the blur
Of daily grind
Such joy and warmth
In you I find.
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Your frowning smiles,
Your happy tears,
Your lovely face
I hold so dear.

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So in this deal,
I think I win.
Your hand in mine,
Your cheeky grin.

For here I am,
And you are too.
I am your Mum.
Thank God for you.
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Just a kiss.

My last few blog-posts have been a little on the serious side, so today I’m ‘upping the fluff’ with talk of happiness and hearts, warm fuzzies, slow smiles and tingly anticipation. I’m talking about the power of a good kiss.

First, I must make an admission that goes to context. I love watching my dirty-little-secret show, ‘New Girl’. I say dirty-little-secret because, in general, I receive indulgent eyeball-rolls when I mention it. It’s a half hour ensemble comedy that people either love or hate, so I tend to keep my obsessive adoration of this show on the down-low.

‘New Girl’ recently featured one of the best on-screen kisses I’ve seen in a long time. The sort that makes you audibly sigh whilst watching it. Long-awaited, much-heralded and seriously hot. It was….very…..well, momentous. After witnessing both characters skirt around the emotional edge for an entire season, the guy finally grabbed the girl, pulled her close, wrapped her up in his masculinity and kissed the hell out of her. I can’t help it, I love it – and I’ve watched it more than a few times.

Yes, I know it’s a television show and not real. But I don’t care.

Since watching the kiss (and picking myself up off the floor each time) my over-analytical brain has moved into over-analytical mode: “how do those actors walk away from that scene without carrying the moment over into their day-to-day lives?”, “I wonder how weird it would feel filming take after take of that kiss in front of all the crew?”, “what do the actor’s partners think about their day jobs?” and more pertinently – “why do I love that kiss?”

I guess I love the romantic inevitability. The writers of this show have done a sterling job of building emotional and sexual tension over the first season, and it’s worked a treat. Yes, both the characters are kind of emotionally damaged and/or relationship-underdogs, so you want them to find each other. Yes, it reminds you of a time when all that lowest-of-the-low loneliness and angst is balanced by the highest of romantic, youthful, emotional highs. And yes, when they finally kissed I could barely control my squeal and felt my toes curl.

I decided to consult Dr. Google and see what the phrase ‘power of a good kiss’ revealed. Interesting. A couple of (laughable) how-to websites, a “health” site with a 20-something gorgeous “doctor” who’s apparently had 40 years experience in the Chinese philosophy of kissing (??) and an American University study that suggested ‘affectionate mothers raise resilient adults’. So, no help there. My other option was to pursue the practical, biological reasons as to why kissing is lovely, which I decided not to do because it just IS…and I think a scientific explanation would rather spoil this.

It’s worth pointing out here that I think a lot of people (ahem…men….OK, I can FEEL the frowns) underestimate the power of a good kiss. Romantic overtures? Great stuff. Wining and dining? Of course, important. Thoughtful attention? Yes please. Sexy, sexy sex? Always. But a well-timed, unexpected, sensual, take-control kiss beats all the rest, hands down.

There’s not much more to say, except to quote a favourite line from a Bob Dylan song: “I would hold you for a million years, to make you feel my love”. Why quote this line? Because even though I adore the song, and despite being warmly romantic and perfectly divine in its intention, a hold-me-dearly hug might well take a million years to convince me of love – because it’s not a kiss. And you should NEVER underestimate the power of a good kiss.

Thankful.

This week the universe decided to remind me of what I have, and be bloody thankful for it. It was a week of surprising and sad developments, in large unpredictability. Here’s what I took away from life’s casualty room.

Death is a strange thing.
When a life ends, we grieve the loss ceremoniously. We gather with people who we might not ordinarily see, save for such ‘events’. We spend time talking with friends who we’ve not caught up with in a while. Death brings people and families together. Funny, then, that it also often creates the tensions that tear them apart. And there is something heart-breakingly sad about watching families deal with a loved one’s death.
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Relationships are strange things.
They are the source of our greatest joy and our worst heartache. And whilst love is built on trust, shared desires, hopes, beliefs and understandings between two people – the fact of the matter is that people change. It’s the nature of things. Relationships that last are the ones that embrace growth and change together. It is overwhelmingly sad when a relationship ends because that didn’t happen.
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Grief is a process.
It can be a death; it can be a relationship. Either way, the grief that follows is a process that can’t be avoided. It’s amazing to me that more time isn’t spent on arming people to deal with grief, as it’s inevitable that we all face it at sometime in our lives. Grief has recognisable stages, and learning this helped me greatly when I waded through its murk a few years ago. Sometimes long, sometime short, but always – hard.
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Three year olds make everything better.
After a few days of watching friends worlds turn upside down, witnessing their pain and feeling quite helpless…there’s this: my daughter, lying on her tummy on the floor, singing her own songs, writing a letter to Santa because she wants to “make sure he knows I love him”. Her voice is melodic and tuneful, her feet swaying in the air, her letter a zig-zag of lines. She’s so happy. Watching her makes me happy too. I catch my partner’s eye and we share the moment with small smiles. Like everything in this life, she will change and grow, and it is my fondest wish to see it all and be part of it – just as I am right at that moment.
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Suddenly I realise exactly what I have, how lucky I am to have it – and I am bloody thankful for it.

All by myself.

I have a confession to make.

I really, really love time alone. Time with my thoughts. Time with a great book. Time with just me.

I had some of that precious time late last Saturday afternoon. I really needed it – my gorgeous three-year-old daughter had filed down my psyche with hours of incessant ‘why?’, thoughts of work were intruding, urging me to click on the computer and get it done, and I was tired, bone tired.

So I was given a leave pass. I threw on some comfy clothes, grabbed my headphones and music and drove to a nearby favoured beach-walking destination. I felt very free and excited about the prospect of a good, long walk with just my thoughts for company. I marvelled at the ‘want’ for this – as someone who sees exercise as a necessity rather than an enjoyable past-time, I was pretty amazed by my desire to pound the pavement. I walked hard for about an hour, took the occasional photograph on the walk back, and generally left feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the madness of kids and home again.
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But now – today – it’s a different story. It’s early morning and I’m sitting in the kitchen listening to my daughter sing. She’s singing about made-up things, fairy wings and Barbie dolls, pink happiness. It is so honest and beautiful it’s making me weep. How could I have wished time away from this little angel and wanted more for myself? How could I ever intentionally miss these special and innocent moments, the same ones I often wish I could save, bottle and trickle out over time like drops of expensive perfume – tantalising and so wonderfully connected to memory. It will all be gone too soon; I feel ashamed for ever wanting to actually ‘get away’ – this makes me weep more.

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There are a few relevant points to this story. They’re nothing new, but worth reiteration.

Point 1: Everyone needs time to recharge their batteries. People in a ‘happy place’ are usually more tolerant, patient and able to cope with life’s little challenges. And if you’re a Mum – by looking after yourself you become more equipped and better at looking after others. Note: this last point is supported by medical advice. Yes, it’s true – my doctor told me to take a little time out for myself, everyday, to (and I quote) “ensure you don’t officially lose-it”. Point taken.

Point 2: Wanting to be on your own, with your own thoughts, doesn’t make you a bad or selfish person – it makes you human.

Point 3: Motherhood is simultaneously the best and the scariest roller-coaster ride you’ll ever be on. Here’s why this analogy works – you just hang on and try and enjoy the ride; it’s impossible to ensure the safety of all your passengers but you can try; you’ll always worry about whether the wheels are on the track; there are highs, there are lows, either way, it’s a memorable ride; it’s dangerous, thrilling and unpredictable – need I go on?

What have I learned? I try not to feel guilty for wanting time alone. Instead, I remind myself to be thankful for all the time I’m not.