Tag Archives: family

An experimental week in the sun

Last week there was no blog because we were marooned on a desert island with no wifi.

This is nearly true.

We were actually not marooned, but booked in to an apartment, on a desert island. And there was wifi but you had to pay for it and we’re a bit stingy so we didn’t.

Despairing over the state of our little boy’s skin over the Christmas break, we remembered that his eczema had almost vanished one week over the summer when it was really hot. ‘Sunshine!’ we cried. ‘Sunshine is the answer!’ And then sat down to work out how to get him some sunshine (and get us all some relief) in 2017. We had an amazing British summer last year but there was no predicting how summer 2017 would pan out, and frankly, it only lasts 3 months anyway. We needed a strategy. Operation sunshine was born.

We’ve really tried to take all our holidays in the UK for the past few years, both for environmental and logistical reasons. It’s easier to drive baby-related kit in a car around the country than try to lug it on planes and trains around the world. And we’ve had lovely holidays, often with friends and family – in Cornwall (mostly), Devon, Cambridgeshire, and even over to Northern Ireland. We’ve usually stayed with friends or rented houses, because then you can relax in the evening instead of sitting in a dark room watching your children sleep. We haven’t camped yet, mostly because I can’t imagine trying to persuade small children to go to sleep in a tent in broad daylight, but we have just bought one in anticipation of this summer…

But. The sunshine called and promised to help Jesse’s skin. And so we found a super cheap deal and flew to the Canary Islands for a week, hoping like mad for an end to the scratching.

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(I should confess here my incredible geographical ignorance in relation to the Canaries. Did you know they’re off the west coast of Africa? And that Tenerife and Lanzarote are Canary Islands? Of course you probably did, but this was news to me.)

Ordinarily I’m the only one in the family who cares for sunshine. The boys are both super-fair, need factor 50 smothered all over them, and burn in no time. Jubes has yet to reveal her feelings about hot weather. But, for me at least, it was just amazing to feel the sun on my skin in January. Just indescribably amazing. (Why oh why do I live in such a cold, wet country?)

We had a self-catering apartment, in a big hotel complex with several swimming pools. And we were a stone’s throw from the town and the beach. Which was all extremely convenient and nice. So everyday we would just circulate around various play parks, the pool and the beach. Except Jubes basically just wanted to eat all the sand, all the time, so then I stopped taking her to the beach. We had ice-cream. I drank coffee. I read an excellent novel during her midday nap (when not sleeping myself). (It was Ian McEwan’s Nutshell if you are interested). We cooked a week’s worth of food on two small hobs and a microwave, using the most basic of supplies from the mini-mart (pasta, anyone?).

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The kids were very happy. They adored swimming and being outside and getting to do fun things every day with both of us. Jesse loved being in a ‘holiday house’ on our own ‘holiday island’. His personal highlight was probably the ‘real’ pirate ship he discovered and explored with daddy on our last day.

And did the sunshine save Jesse’s skin? Yes and no. The heat out there was dry rather than the humid British heat that had sorted him out in the summer. Parts of his body did really well, but then a combination of dust mite allergies and prickly heat meant his head and neck suffered. Which meant lots of broken nights of scratching, and so he and I didn’t sleep so well. Sunshine definitely served as a balm to my spirits in the day time, but there were several trips to the pharmacy for creams and medicines that we ran out of or suddenly needed. And holidays with small children really aren’t very much like grown-up holidays.

We had a lovely week, and it was great for us as a family in lots of ways. But it wasn’t the panacea we had hoped for, and I felt more than a little defeated on our return. Which was probably intensified by sleep deprivation. Now Jesse is back in his own room (with the anti-allergy bedding and humidifier and lack of soft furnishings) his skin is settling again, and we’re back in our familiar routines, with friends around to support us. I don’t think January package holidays will make an another appearance in family life. So we’ll chalk that one up to experience, and I will be grateful that I got to see some sunshine before June.

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And we’re back…

I realise I’m a bit late to the party, but happy 2017 friends! You might have noticed that I disappeared for a while there – my whole website disappeared for nearly a month! I was alerted by loyal reader Fran just before Christmas and thought, ‘oh no!’ and also ‘ah well, I’m not going to sort that out over the holiday’, and so I ignored it until I got back. And then it was a bit more complicated than I thought to get up and running again. I’m sorry if you missed me. I even wondered if maybe the fates had ordained the end of my blogging days, but here I am back again. Turns out I still want to be here after all.

So how has the year started for you?

We welcomed 2017 from the north coast of Ireland where we were happily huddled with old friends, sipping some fizz and eating some tasty homemade food. I’m pretty sure everyone’s highlight of the evening was the moment they discovered my back catalogue of raps from the early 1990s (Betty Boo’s Doin’ the Do being my personal favourite). We made it down onto the blustery beach at Portstewart on New Year’s Day, and lasted about two minutes before scurrying off to the cafe. My favourite way to mark the new year is to hole up somewhere near the sea with great friends, and walk and eat and chat…and we haven’t really done that since the kiddos arrived, so this New Year was a real treat.

New Year's Day on the blustery strand

New Year’s Day on the blustery strand

 

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Jesse was seriously impressed by the Giant’s Causeway

And then we came back to Luton and hit the ground running with our new rhythm and schedule. With more than a little trepidation we sent Jesse out to Forest School in sub zero temperatures and he had the time of his life. I started my new job (woohoo!) and feel really excited by what’s on my plate. Andy is back at work and has quite a lot of gigs coming up in the next few months (you can check here to see if the When Faith Gets Shaken Tour is coming near you). And Jubilee, our intrepid little girl, has just turned 1. Which has given me another reason to reflect back over the last year.

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I was nervous at the outset of 2016. I was desperate to meet our little girl and yet I had found the first year of Jesse’s life so hard. And here I was (we were) embarking on another year of newborn-ness, but with a toddler in tow too. I wasn’t sure how well I would cope, and what, exactly, we would do every day. But, do you know what, it was a happy year. It was tiring, and sometimes a bit boring, but mostly it was fine. And our littlest has elbowed and giggled her way further into our hearts every day.

And here we are in a new season. 2016 was a year of bedding down and inwards. We didn’t feel isolated, because an amazing community swarmed around us this past year and kept us afloat; but it was a safe community, made up of people a lot like us. They were mostly our age or our colour or our religion (or all of the above). Which isn’t at all representative of the diversity of this beautiful town. We moved here on purpose, not just for an easy life, and I feel a hunger to be more engaged with the fabric of the town, and with people who aren’t like me. And if the political landscape of the year has taught us anything, or driven anything home to me, it’s the urgent need for us to be building relationships across racial, socio-economic and religious divides. With people who aren’t like us. So I guess that’s a kind of resolution for the year – or maybe more of an intention. My new job will bring me into relationship with some of those people, and some other ideas we are brewing might do that too. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.

Plus, we are finally going to have the neighbours round. Why do we take so long to do the easiest things?

I realise that I’ve kind of missed the wave of blogs about resolutions and words and health blitzes, but as you can probably tell, I’m still trying to jump on the bandwagon. I have an unquenchable passion for making plans, and what’s more, I managed to squeeze a whole hour without the kiddos into our time away in Ireland (thanks to Andy) in order to think about the new year. I wrote a list of 17 goals for 2017, but really they were the not-so-serious or life-changing things like stop writing in biro in my journal (thanks mum and dad for the fountain pen), start running again (maybe when it gets warmer) and get my nose re-pierced.

I also finally decided to give up shopping on amazon because their ethical credentials are just so terrible, and they dodge so much tax. And frankly, internet shopping is sometimes just an unhealthy mood-booster for me.

But there are also some deeper themes that I want to pursue this year, things that have emerged from my reflections on the direction of my life, or challenges I want to embrace more fully. If I were to do the whole ‘one word’ challenge (where you pick one word as kind of theme for your year) it would be intention. I read Present Over Perfect back in December and it made so much sense to me, in a very timely way. It reinforced some things I’d been thinking about choosing what I do with my time, rather than just cramming too much in. I underlined this bit:

This is actually my life, and it doesn’t matter a bit if it would be lovely for someone else to live. What does matter: does it feel congruent with how God made me and called me?

The fact is that in this season of having two small children, there are limits on what both Andy and I can do with our time. Working full-time, having lots of quality time with the kids, volunteering, studying, doing stuff at church, creating, keeping a beautiful home, they just don’t all fit. So I’m focusing down, and it has taken some time to really decide what is most important. Right now, for me, there is part-time work, and there is time with the kids, and there is some creating time. And the desire for all of them to take me outside my safe and cosy places. Then there isn’t really room for much else. And I want to be more careful than I have been in my previous 36 years about other things rushing in.

So 2017 is going to be a year of activity, but thoughtful, intentional activity which will means saying some big nos (I’ve already had to say one, which I hated) so I can say some big yeses.

Anyone else trying to say some more meaningful yeses to the important things?

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On choosing change (and the end of maternity leave)

If you can picture Dick Van Dyke dressed as a chimney sweep, bring to mind his terrible cockney accent and remember the tune of ‘Chim Chim Cheree’ then you can bring to life the words I’ve had floating round my head today. (If you can’t, brace yourself for some slightly random song lyrics from Mary Poppins):

Winds in the east, there’s a mist comin’ in
Like somethin’ is brewin’ and ’bout to begin.
Can’t put me finger on what lies in store,
But I feel what’s to happen all happened before.

(Ooooh, can you feel those tingles? Mary Poppins is on her way!!)

The seasons are a’changing. It’s true of national and international politics (about which I will make no comment here), it’s true in our garden, but it’s also true in our little family. Maternity leave has come to an end and the rhythms of our life are shifting. The shape of what’s coming is still unclear, but I feel excited; hopeful. I have been doing a lot of thinking in the past year, and especially the past months (you might have noticed the lack of blogs…), about what I want to do in the future. I thought I might have a roadmap by now, but it hasn’t arrived.

I find myself without a set timetable, or a fixed job (yet), but I have intention. I have thought about what matters most. I have thought about what I don’t want to do. I have found things I want to explore further. I have some strong instincts and I am learning to trust them, rather than needing exact plans. Just a few weeks ago I felt in turmoil over it all, but some convictions are settling.

If the idea of my maternity leave ending has confused you, since I announced in my last blog that I had quit my job, then let me explain. I am not going back to Tearfund or to my old job. But I am not staying in my maternity leave rhythms of full-time childcare. It’s maybe an artificial decision since I am still at home, but for me it is an important one. We decided on 9 months of maternity leave, and so I am moving into a different headspace. Jubilee has begun to settle with the childminder some of the week (very happily), and I have (the extraordinary gift of) some child-free space in the week.

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I could tell you that I have mixed feelings about the end of maternity leave, but that’s not really true. I have loved having so much time (in fact, all the time) with our little girl. I am deeply grateful for this country’s maternity policies and the situation of our family that mean I could have nine months with some income whilst staying at home every day with our kids. But I am also really happy to be able to start to work a few days a week outside the home, and share the care of the kids more with Andy and our lovely childminder. I am more alive and fulfilled when I have something else to do in my week away from my children. And I am happier when I come back to them (which they love).

I once had a slightly eccentric colleague who thought that married women shouldn’t work outside of the home because they flood the labour market when there are men out there who need the money more (the implication being that married women can live off their husband’s earnings). I have all kinds of problems with that philosophy, but the main one is this – it assumes that the only reason people work is for money, for economic survival. I think work (both inside and outside of the home) is so, so much more than that. It is a way to find purpose, meaning and fulfilment, it is a way to contribute to the wider culture and society, to serve and to show our love for the world, to express the people that we are. I believe that the work we do raising our kids is all of that, too. Work confers dignity on people – I’ve seen it in many corners of the world. When we believe we have something to offer, and can thereby support ourselves and our families, we feel worth something (and I don’t just mean as a capitalist unit). I know it isn’t always all of that, and I  undoubtedly have an idealised and privileged view. But it’s how I feel.

I believe that raising children is an extraordinary privilege. I also think it can be a brilliant life rhythm – when we (as women, at least) are of childbearing age, we also are at a point of life when we have the energy to change the world! (Or at least, we have some energy!) We could get ahead! And get stuff done! And then these tiny people arrive who demand every ounce of our energy. We have to switch gear and focus, and invest so much in the next generation. Having children upsets career paths and slows us down. But painful as that sometimes has felt for me (not that I even have a ‘career path’), I think it can also be a healthy life rhythm, and not just for mothers – if other members of the family also get involved. Andy’s life has certainly taken on a different, slower rhythm since Jesse arrived.

I believe in the work of raising kids, and I also believe it’s ok to want to be doing other things too. I want to go out into the world again and do some work beyond my family. Raising children is definitely the hardest job I have ever had, and I’m grateful that I can share that work with others (mostly Andy), and make some space for something else. If I have the choice, and I do, then there are other ways that I want to contribute to the world at the same time. There’s always a lot of chat about needing to go back to work after maternity leave for financial reasons. Maybe as women we feel we need to apologise for not being with our children full-time. (Did you see that BBC pilot, Motherland? Remember the impossibly perfect super-mum who says to the working mum demurely – “I don’t know how you do it, I just love my children too much”). Probably financial pressures do push a lot of women back into work sooner than they might otherwise choose. But I think returning to work can also be a positive choice, for a woman and for the whole family. It certainly feels that way for me, and (I think) for the other three members of the family.

In my next blog I’ll talk about what I’m actually going to do! And what I’m exploring too…but in the meantime I would love to hear about your experiences of maternity leave ending, or how you think about balancing family and work…

 

 

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Summer in the foothills of parenting

I’ve been waiting for a moment of divine inspiration and philosophical insight to begin writing but it has finally dawned on me that it could be a long wait. So here is another missive from the beautiful foothills of parenthood.

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I’m liking the summer. I’m a lot happier when the sun shines, and while the complexions of the other members of family mean I’m unlikely to get to spend much time in some serious heat in the next decade or so, I’ll take the gentle British sunshine any day over the rain. We were in Ireland recently and it rained every day (although all the hardcore natives wore their shorts and t-shirts, regardless). It does make everything over there insanely green, but I had an extra skip in my step when we landed back in Luton in the blazing sunshine.

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Can you believe we have a seven month old now? She’s trying out food and making a big, joyous mess. It’s fair to say her meals get a lot less attention than Jesse’s did at this stage, but that’s the joy of baby-led weaning. She just tries loads of stuff that we eat and I don’t have to make any purees. My old boss used to say many wise things but the one I remember most clearly was that “we’re all as lazy as we dare to be”, and this is a case in point. Lazy weaning. Not that baby-led weaning isn’t a bona fide and respectable strategy, but it especially appeals to me because of the lower level of effort involved. One of its promised benefits is a toddler who isn’t fussy with food but is much more used to a variety of flavours and textures from the start. I am under no illusions about these kinds of grand promises, however, since our toddler is still pretty darn fussy. We do weaning this way because I’m convinced it’s a healthy, happy way to go, and it saves me a heap of effort. Although there is a lot of mess. (Any creativity which I can muster up is largely thanks to the brilliant new website some friends have set up called Baby Loves Veg – check it out!).

We have just come back from two weeks away (during which our fussy toddler ate a bare minimum for survival). I wouldn’t quite call them holiday weeks because Andy was working to some degree for both weeks, singing, speaking and hosting at a couple of Christian festivals. And the word holiday suggests some kind of rest when, as parents, you’re actually still doing all the parenting stuff, just in a different place and probably with less equipment. Looking after kids in our own home is always easier than doing it elsewhere. I know some parents who avoid going away with their small children as the hassle just isn’t worth it (and conversely, I am in awe of Mel Wiggins who just went to Florence with a 5 year old and a 4 month old). Believe me, I really got that this summer. Flying with kids and all that stuff. Sharing a room with a baby and toddler while trying to stop them waking each other up all night. Persuading Jesse to eat unfamiliar food and not destroy someone else’s house. Spending evenings camped outside the bedroom door with a book. It was, at moments, gruelling. (I may have ended up one night holed up in the bath drinking red wine out of a sippy cup. Ahem). But then at other moments it was brilliant. And worth it.

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Jesse loved both weeks. The first week he loved the tents (not that we were in one…) and caravans, the kids groups he went to, the community, the muddy puddles. And the second week he adored having his grandparents available 24/7, and staying in a castle, seeing his cousins and having access to a whole room of toys. Jubilee rolled with it all and was happy as long as I was there (she even spent a few mornings happily playing in a creche). They both slept fitfully, and struggled at different moments. But we had so much love, practical help and prayer that it still felt like a good call to be there. And I just love seeing our kids learn to feel at home in a wider community, learn to trust others and be in new places. Even if we need a break afterwards,

And now we’re home. And I get to spend at least some of each night in our bed while the kids sleep in other rooms. I get to cook our food again (the carbs in Northern Ireland were so intense that I actually started dreaming about salads, which is a new thing for me). It’s nice to be in our own space.

Life is small right now. We’ve dug in because just looking after the four of us is exhausting. No-one is sleeping through the night, and the emotional toil of watching Jesse struggle and scratch and cry out at night with his eczema is worse than the more predictable teething cries of the little one. We’re trying all kinds of things to help him get better – seaweed and aloe and oatmeal and laundry eggs and water softeners (potentially) and so much cream we could just slide from room to room without taking any actual steps. It’s trial and error, life is gloriously normal one minute and agonising the next. But every day there are beautiful moments. Mostly, I feel peaceful and contented (and tired), which is not something I really expected from this year, so I’m savouring the feeling for however long it lasts!

 

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These are the days of…

Well, as the weeks go by it seems I have less time to write rather than more. Hello sleep regressions and early teething. I rack my brains for something interesting to write about but I can’t seem to pull it out of the daily practicalities. But then I remembered a post I wrote earlier this year, about a book called Simply Tuesday, and how it talked about the importance of marking and naming each phase of life, and so I decided to write something about the very humdrum, beautiful dimensions of my life in May 2016.

These are the days of small things. Of small people and small ambitions. These are the days of endless plates of pasta for the wee man who won’t eat much else. Except pizza. And cheese. And endless handfuls of grapes. These are the days of fighting an endless battle against his eczema with creams and medicines that he hates, of dressing him in vests and babygrows to limit his scratching. The days when we don’t take him swimming and might not get to put him in shorts for the summer.

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These are the days of new words multiplying on his tongue every day. Of hearing him call everyone ‘guys’, most amusingly when telling the bath water to listen to him and stop running away down the plughole. These are the days of cuddles and stickers and dens and putting out pretend fires every day with the help of the entire cast of Fireman Sam. Of big emotions and amazing comebacks.

And for the smaller of the two, these are the days of gurgles and early grabs, of smiles and dark hair turning blond. These are the days when we never know whether to expect long stable sleeps or waking every hour. When my little finger is the only dummy she’ll take and settle with. When white noise permeates our waking and sleeping.

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These are the days of being in the house and sitting on the deck and gazing at the broken fence and overgrown garden beyond. There are afternoons to bask in the sunshine and chase toddlers down with sunscreen and hats, and hold crying babies and try to fork platefuls of dinner into your mouth while calming and bouncing them.

These are the days of contentment one moment and drudgery the next. The days of a unique and short season with its inimitable but unpredictable rhythm which ends I don’t know where. The days that end with lying on the sofa because it’s already nearly time to feed her again.

These are the days of romcoms on netflix, even the ones I never thought I’d watch.  Of The Mentalist and The Good Wife. Of podcasts that always get drowned out by shouts and screams from small people. These are the days of spending nap time tidying up but never getting anything really tidy. Of baking just to have something to show for myself at the end of the day.  Of writing lists and menu plans to make myself feel I am achieving things. Of a weekly outing on my own to a yoga class where I am the youngest participant and I never talk to anyone.

These are the days of solidarity with other parents who share our small rhythms. Of playdates and improvised picnics. Of endless singing of nursery rhymes and doing actions, even after the kids are in bed, because it’s the only music in my head. Of blind panic in the school holidays when all the toddler groups stop too. These are the days when I walk the toddler up the hill to the childminder with his sister in the sling, and he insists that I carry him too, and so I waddle up the road with a child on each hip. The days when we plead with him to share his toys and to stay in bed at night and to eat something and to get in the car and to wear a hat and to take his medicine and to hold hands when we cross the road. And the days when sometimes we don’t bother (that’s not to say we let him run into traffic).

These are the days of longing for purpose in the world beyond my children (not that there isn’t full and deep purpose to be found in nurturing our kids) and an afternoon that doesn’t involve carrying a baby everywhere. These are the days of feeling spent and like there is so much I am failing to do. Of wondering when I’ll find the energy to talk to the neighbours or even get hold of a compost bin. Days that feel small and never-ending. And then there are days of blissful gratitude for these two most indescribably beautiful kids who are greedy for my attention.

These are the days that will be gone before I know it.

 

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The new normal

In the past four months we’ve moved house, moved city, seen our boy turn two and added a whole new person to our family (which also means I’m on maternity leave). ‘Normal’, for us, has had a facelift.

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We’ve moved from a community where our way of living was really deliberate. We knew why we wanted to be there, we made space and time for our neighbours, we wanted to be in the inner-city and make it a good place to stay. And now we’ve moved away, to a town, and we’re not sure what to be deliberate about. Except the two very demanding small people in our house. So whatever ‘normal’ looks like right now feels very time-bound, and it’s hard to see the shape of things beyond.

Today’s ‘normal’ has extreme highs and lows. These early weeks of a having a baby are full of blissful snoozy snuggles, but also the insane frustration of not being able to put the baby down to do anything useful like, say, pack away the shopping or use the toilet, without accusatory screams ensuing. The sling sometimes works as a way round this, when I’m organised enough to have tied it on, but often it just means resigning myself to being pinioned under a baby for large chunks of the day. And on my days when I’m just with the baby, that’s ok. Who wouldn’t want to hang out with her?

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And on the days with both kiddos, there are even moments when I sigh with deep contentment and satisfaction. We’re ok! We’re doing this! These kids are beautiful! Everyone’s happy! Seconds later, of course, everyone is crying and overtired and I feel entirely inadequate and how many hours is it till Andy gets back? Jubilee is strapped into her car seat and we’re about to go but Jesse has just done a poo and doesn’t want me to change him so now both of them are screaming and no-one is happy and how hard can it be just to get out of the house for one appointment?

There are no evenings in this new normal. There are only hours spent camped out on the landing, putting Jesse back in his bed, and hours spent downstairs bouncing and soothing and feeding the baby.

 

It’s hilarious to me how only months ago, looking after a toddler seemed like a really demanding job, and now it seems comparatively easy. Just one kid? And he doesn’t have to be carried everywhere and fed through the night? What a dream!

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The new normal also has a different geography. No longer are there a zillion coffee shops, main stream supermarkets and world-class (free) cultural landmarks on my doorstep. The new geography requires use of the car. If I’m going to walk into town I need to factor in the reality of pushing a double buggy back up a big hill on the way home, so I often think twice. I don’t know the lie of the land so well. We’re less spoilt for consumer opportunities, but the countryside is so close and we can go on walks!

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A huge part of our London landscape was church. We loved our church family in Camberwell. We felt so at home there, so loved and inspired, so woven into the fabric of what was happening there. It was a wrench to leave. And we’re not sure where we belong yet in Luton, church-wise. Finding a church family is a big deal for us, and there’s no perfect fit. Every family has its own mess and imperfections, but we really believe in being part of the conversation, learning to love and be loved by others, and to work out how to follow God together. So we’re looking around for a home.

And what about work? When I went back to work after my last maternity leave I was a happier person again. Getting to spend half my week doing a grown-up job and having uninterrupted grown-up conversations – PLUS a commute during which I could read books – felt like a gift. I loved the mix of days with Jesse and days at work. But right now, I’m good with the days at home. We have the little man at a childminder he loves for two days of the week, so for a couple of days it’s just me and the little lady. Andy freelances from home a couple days a week and it makes a big difference having him there for back-up. The days don’t feel monotonous, like I feared.

Now is fine. Now I am sleeping more than I anticipated. Now I have more friends than I expected and more support than I dared hope for. Now I am enjoying my kids more than I realised I would. Now I have a little space to dream. Now I am learning to not be on top of all the practicalities. Now we get through the tough days. Now won’t last very long so I’m trying to dive deep into the moments of joy.  In the blink of an eye it will change. It will be different in a month, in two, in three, in six. Jubilee won’t need to be carried around so much, she’ll be more awake and will interact with the world more. She’ll vomit on me less. She’ll be less fragile, she’ll interact with her brother more and they’ll play together. Sometime, she’ll sleep whole nights of sleep. Before I know it she’ll be eating meals and moving around on her own.

We’ll work out what else to be deliberate about as the weeks and months pass. And part of that will be working out what to blog about. I’m writing less often (you probably noticed!), and more about our small family life right now, whereas I set this up originally to explore our experiments with living simply in the inner-city – where we no longer live! I’m pretty sure I want to keep writing, but I’ll be thinking some more about the kinds of things I’m want to write about (and what I won’t write about anymore).

I’d also love to hear about the kinds of posts you like to read, and those that are less interesting to you. Write a comment or email me at jennyflannagan at gmail.com.

 

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Life with two kiddos

We have reached the first milestone of the little lady’s life – six weeks – so I figured it was a good moment to take a breath and write something about how life is going.

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Newsflash: We’re still alive! And miracuously we are more than just surviving. I am enjoying life. When I thought ahead to life with two kids, to my days being full of nappies and toys and playgroups and naps, and my nights being broken, I was more than a little afraid. I was bracing myself for a struggle. I had all kinds of tactics and mantras ready to get myself through. But I forgot the bit about a gorgeous new human being joining our family and all the joy that would bring. Somehow I hadn’t anticipated the flood of love for these two tiny people that would carry me (and us) through. (I don’t think it’s just the hormones). I am crazily grateful for my incredible, kind, resourceful husband and our amazing kids.

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Ok, our house is in permanent toy chaos (the laundry chaos ebbs and flows), but I feel calmer, so much calmer than last time, and I’ve been trying to figure out why. It helps that our life is already structured around caring for a small person and so the shift in our family routine doesn’t feel so enormous. Then there’s the fact that Jubilee was born fairly healthy and has had no major health scares since. Feeding was tough at the start, but we’ve emerged into a place of calm and stability, and it’s nothing like the emotionally traumatic experience we had first time round. Sure, sleep is broken, but I know it’s not forever, and right now we can cope with it (she says, ignoring the horror stories that surround her from friends with slightly older babies…). Without the background of grief and fear and emotional exhaustion, I’ve felt able to enjoy these past few weeks, and enjoy this beautiful, irresistable new baby, much more than last time. And that has been an indescribable relief and gift.

Another part of the puzzle is the incredible tide of practical help we’ve had from the people of Luton. We’ve been here just three months, but a group of local friends organised a food rota for us that meant we were still getting dinners brought to us every other night, a month after Jubilee was born! (and you know, there were some pretty amazing meals too – one night we had rabbit stew!!). We are taking ALL the help we can get right now and not feeling at all guilty (actually Andy is better at that last part than me). Our friends (some of them old, some of them new) have come and cleaned our house, brought fresh flowers, filled our fridge and freezer with good food, put together furniture, done DIY, organised our kitchen cupboads, plumbed in our washing machine, brought homemade salted caramel and oreo cheesecake, had us round for dinner, chauffeured us to and from the hospital, soothed our sick and overwrought  toddler to sleep in his hospital cot when we were wrecked, done our grocery shopping, gone out on emergency shopping trips for nipple guards and breast pads, babysat Jesse while we escaped for some downtime, built train tracks with him whilst we napped upstairs, installed waterproof roofing on our garden cabin, and kept us sane. And I’ve probably forgotten plenty other things. Seriously, we have been so well loved and cared for, it’s hard to even imagine the state we’d be in without this amazing crew.

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I know it’s early days, but they are good early days and I’m grateful. This season has shot me right back into living one day at a time, and my planning horizons have shrunk back to about a 36 hour limit. So I’m not worrying about next week (actually I’m rejoicing as my in-laws are arriving) or next month, I’m just thinking about the night and the next day, and I reckon they’ll be just fine. As Elise Blaha Cripe, another blogger and new mother of two wrote recently:

I know that this is all just phases. I know these phases are so extremely short. I know that there is magic coming tomorrow and the day after that. More importantly, I know that TODAY is magic.

Before we had Jubilee, I had friends tell me that things would be much easier the second time around, and others tell me that the hardest transition ever is going from one to two kids. Six weeks in, the first of those predictions feels most accurate, so whatever else is coming I am thanking the cosmos (well, more specifically I am THANKING GOD) for these past weeks and our beautiful kiddos.

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Jubilee

A week ago today, at 14.01 on 14.01.16, our daughter Jubilee Isobel Hope was born. And she is wonderful.

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She arrived by scheduled cesarian three days before her due date. It wasn’t what we had hoped and planned for, but in the end it felt like the right choice and we were so grateful for the calm and the straightforwardness of the delivery compared with my first labour. It’s not so fun recovering from major surgery, but at least I’ve done that bit before.

Having her in my arms is a complete joy, and we are absolutely in love with all 4kg of her. She has a smooth, silky crop of dark hair – my genes have finally made it to the surface – and an unmistakable resemblance to pictures of me as a baby.

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She had a bumpy first 24 hours, and feeding has been a struggle again, but nothing like the anguished ordeal of Jesse’s first days and weeks. I feel overwhelmed with love and gratitude for our beautiful children; we are absolutely loving being a family of four and I am actively enjoying this special, crazy newborn time. Jesse greets his new sister each day with awed cries of ‘beebee’ and ‘wow’, and loves giving her cuddles.

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We chose the name Jubilee for her more than two years ago, when we were pregnant with Jesse (not knowing then whether he would be a boy or a girl). I have never met anyone called Jubilee, so at first it felt a bit ‘out there’ as a name. But we so loved the meaning of the word (not in any sense that relates to the Queen or the royal family). In the Old Testament law the year of Jubilee came around every 49 years and was a year of celebration when slaves and prisoners were freed, debts were cancelled and land was restored to its original owners – it was a time when everyone could experience God’s mercy and goodness in really tangible ways.  Jubilee was both a party and a means of re-establishing social justice. Both of which we love.

Isobel is for my wonderful, big-hearted, kind, resourceful mother, and Hope is, well, another thing we cherish in this world, and hope that she will too.

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So welcome to the world little Jubilee, we are so grateful you have joined the family Flan.

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Holiday missive from Luton

Greetings from misty, wet, bewildering, welcoming Luton. And from the much reduced but still evident chaos of our beautiful new home. We’ve made it. The furniture and boxes are all here. Most things work. We have beds to sleep in (although Jesse has just worked out how to climb out of his – yikes). The boxes in the house have mainly been unpacked (the others have been moved to the man-cave).  Life here is slowly beginning to unfurl.

Jesse outside our new front door

Jesse outside our new front door

Everyone is asking how we’re settling in, and how I’m finding my feet in a new place. It’s just overwhelming, to be honest. It’s been a month now, but a week of that was spent in Ireland, and half of each week I’ve been commuting to work, which now takes two hours each way. I leave in the dark, and arrive back in the dark, and in between there is a lot of waddling. There have been days when I felt like the major achievement of the day was simply reaching the office (but apparently I was also expected to work when I got there). All of which is to say, I don’t feel like there’s been a lot of time to build much of a relationship with the town itself.

I am trying to find my way around, but I have to use sat nav to drive anywhere, including the supermarket. There are no longer Tesco Expresses and mini Waitroses on every corner. I am trying to retain a healthy, pedestrian lifestyle and resist the urge to jump into the car at every opportunity, but we live at the top of a big hill and Andy is pleading with me to give in to the constraints of my current elephantine proportions. I had a day off this week and made it to the cinema alone (joy!) but had to consult google to work out how to find my way from the car park to the screen. I had failed to notice that they were next door to one another.

The logistics are overwhelming, and we are battling with the seemingly endless list of tiny domestic dramas that need to be set right. On good days we remember that this house is a spectacular and beautiful gift and that so much has gone smoothly. On less good days our ineptitude at DIY seems like a cruel joke.

But what is already amazing is the welcome we have received. So many people have stopped by to help unpack, or assemble flat pack furniture, or bring provisions. We’ve been to a birthday party and a Christmas fair, we’ve been round for family tea and over for coffee, there have been playdates and poker parties (that last bit is all Andy). Yesterday I even thought it would be a good idea to invite another nearly-two year old over to make gingerbread men (which, frankly, was insanely optimistic). In those sociable moments it feels like the easiest and happiest of moves, and in the scheme of things, that matters more than the bewildering logistics of a new place.

Perhaps I expected too much of everyone...

Perhaps I expected too much of everyone…

We even have our first real, family Christmas tree and have rounded up enough decorations to make it look festive, although crawling underneath it to reach the light switch is more than I can manage. Also, Jesse demands that all decorations be hung at the top of the tree, so it’s a little odd looking. We are hosting Christmas this year, mainly due to my size, and are already looking forward to having grandparents around for the whole holiday season – both for the sheer delight it will bring Jesse, and the incredible help it will be to me (and us). I could almost cry with gratitude already.

Thanks for all the encouragement and love and prayers along the way. A new chapter is beginning and we feel very grateful (if also freaking terrified about next year).

(Jesse did eventually let Andy in)

(Jesse did eventually let Andy in)

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We’re leaving London

Here’s a story I never really anticipated writing. After 13 years of living in London – basically my whole grown-up life – we are moving out of town, before the end of the year.

except that now it's goodbye...

except that now it’s goodbye…

If you’ve been reading for a while, or know us outside the world of the blog, you’ll know how much we love this place. This enormous, chaotic, diverse, beautiful city. And more specifically, our little corner of it in the south. We have lived in the same flat since being married, on the same estate, and have tried to put down roots here. We got to know the neighbours and helped relaunch the tenants’ association; we tried to grow veggies on our balcony (not all that successfully); we became part of a local church and threw ourselves into loving and serving this patch of earth. We worked part-time and hung out on the balcony. We lived in a small flat on the third floor and were very happy. We thought we were here to stay.

And then those stairs (and the prospect of another baby) pushed me over the edge and so we started looking for somewhere local on the ground floor. In fact, nearly a year ago I went round to all the local estate agents to ask them to call me if they ever got word of a ground floor flat for sale on our estate (we didn’t even know if three bed flats existed on the ground floor at that point). Then, earlier this year, we had an amazing offer. A wonderful neighbour across the road who we knew from the tenants’ association offered to sell us her lovely ground floor flat.  Only the financial stretch was much bigger than we’d anticipated. We agonised over it. Staying in London is expensive, we know that, and we weren’t dreaming of anything big or fancy. But it brought into focus some other priorities. We work part-time because we want to make space for a certain kind of life. We don’t want to be fenced into working longer weeks and longer hours because we have to pay the mortgage; to see less of our kids as they grow up, and have less energy left to dream and take risks on creative projects. So in the end we walked away.

We circled around the area and viewed a whole host more flats, never seeming to land on the right thing. There was one place we saw that seemed like something close to the perfect thing, and I stood outside and prayed about whether we should go for it. And I heard a clear no.

(It’s not that I had much confidence in that ‘no’, or my own ability to hear any meaningful direction from God at that point, but then it was all I had right then. So we walked away).

It was a confusing and disorienting time. We sporadically googled properties in other parts of the country where we had friends and family, but there never seemed like a strong enough reason to go any further with those searches. We didn’t want to leave.

We decided to take some time to pray. Because that’s a large part of how we make big decisions. Not that we don’t try to think practically and creatively, to talk about what we want for our family and future…but we always come back to the question of where we feel led, where we feel called, if we sense anything pushing or pulling us in a specific direction, anything we might discern as God’s Spirit leading us somewhere.

We asked some friends to pray and to share with us anything they heard, or felt, or thought. And a strange unity of responses came – pictures and stories and suggestions that started to point in one particular and unexpected direction. (A northerly one). Towards a place where Andy had lived before, where there were people we knew and loved, from which we could still reach London. As we look at it now, it makes a lot of practical sense. But in all honesty we never saw it coming.

And so to cut a winding and unexpected story a little bit shorter, we will be moving to Luton before too long.

If you know anything about Luton it’s probably the fact that it has an airport (that hilariously titled hub, ‘London Luton’). Or you might know that it rarely appears on lists of picturesque and desirable places to live in the UK. The airport at least will be good news for all our family in Northern Ireland, and also for Jesse who adores seeing aeroplanes overhead.

I feel a huge mixture of things about the move. There is definitely excitement in there because I love new horizons and adventures, But there is also grief – at leaving our home, our community, basically my entire parenting support network, and perhaps even the life I moved to London in order to create. A very different life materialised, and one that I treasure. But there are also some dreams that were buried here.

There’s more that could be said, that I will try to find ways to communicate. But for now, it’s enough to say that there’s a big change coming.

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