Edward Explores: A Happy Birthday

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In last month’s post readers were told that Edward likes birthdays. His favourite birthday is his own, which he celebrated recently. It was decided that such a special day deserved its own post in this occasional series.

A reminder, Edward Explores is written for fellow teddy bear appreciators. If you are here purely for the books you may wish to come back tomorrow.

As Edward’s birthday is such an important occasion there was champagne and cake. Edward shares the date with Chief Bearer who had requested chocolate brownies be made. Robin, a bear adopted from the wonderful Flump Bear Care, helped Edward check their quality. After several sizable tastings they declared the brownies excellent.

edward birthday pic 1Birthdays also benefit from a delicious meal out, preferably in the company of favourite people. Edward was happy to be taken to one of his favourite restaurants. Naturally, he dressed for the occasion.

Deciding what to eat can be a challenge when there are so many tasty options to choose from. Edward decided to try: bread and butter pudding with custard, warm chocolate brownie with ice cream, and chocolate chip banana bread with ice cream. 

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After carefully considered (and repeated) tasting he opted for the brownie. It was that sort of day.

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Bears will normally be in bed by 8 o’clock but birthdays can require a later night, especially when they have involved so much rich food. Thus Edward had a recovery lie in the next day. He enjoyed a healthy breakfast incorporating the last of the brownies.

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Freshly energized and determined not to waste what time was still available, Edward decided that, as a thank you for his birthday dinner, he would make chocolate truffles for his bearers and friends. These were much appreciated.

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Since his birthday, Edward has been on another adventure, one requiring a train journey! As it has been such an exciting month there will be a second post to tell his readers all about it. He is very happy to be out and about again. 

Random Musings: On loving and letting go

Seventeen years ago today I gave birth to my elder son. His birth was a very civilised affair. My labour got going in the morning, not too early, so the neighbour who had offered to take my daughter could be summoned without getting her out of bed. It was the weekend so my husband was available to drive me to the hospital. I was admitted, walked around a little, and then pushed my son out just before lunch with no more histrionics than are absolutely necessary to birth a child. He was a healthy, 8lb boy. Once we were cleaned up there was no reason to stay in the hospital so we went home to introduce him to his sister. That afternoon the football team my husband supported won the FA Cup. It was a good day. In so many people’s eyes that was our family complete; a girl and a boy, less than sixteen months apart in age.

Unlike his sister, my second child was an easy baby to care for. Determined to get it right this time I managed to breast feed him for his first year. He would sleep between feeds, or lie within sight of me without grizzling. He seemed settled and happy. There was no jealousy from my daughter. She took the new addition to our family in her stride.

These two children have always been close. When one wished to try a new sport or club the other would go along too. Thus they played football, learned to ride, became Scouts, joined the hockey club, trained at judo together. They were active, intelligent and eager to learn. Early on they developed a strong sense of fair play and became frustrated at the injustices meted out by the adults charged with their care. School was a trial, not for the work which they found so easy and repetitive it often bored them, but for the culture of favouritism.

I wished for my son to enter school early but was denied. When his teachers complained that he did not concentrate in class I pointed out that he always knew the answers to their questions and perhaps needed to be stretched more. They labelled me a difficult mother. Perhaps I am.

The other mothers regarded my son as undisciplined and blamed me. His energy and constant questions appeared to them as rude, unacceptable behaviour. He would stand up for himself against the bullies, their mothers blaming him for aggression although he never went to far. He bruised egos rather than limbs.

Our family unit folded into itself and I shouldered the criticisms as nagging guilt, sure that I was doing what was right for my children but concerned that society would quash their potential with demands for conformity. We had fun, so much fun, but only when alone.

At four years old my son could swim a length of the pool and ride a two wheeled bike. At eight years old we bought him hiking boots and climbed a mountain. He and his sister would storm ahead, eager to meet the next challenge. My husband took them in hand while I lagged behind with their little brother, just as willing but, due to his lesser age and size, never quite as able.

At some point in his teens my elder son’s intelligence overtook mine. How difficult it must be for a child to discover that a parent is not the font of knowledge they have previously appeared to be. I wonder if he felt tricked.

These days I watch my son through the filter he has erected between us. When he chooses I am allowed a glimpse of his world. I see that he has friends, that school has worked him out and can now offer him the opportunity to learn. At home he teaches himself through the resources available on line.

I remain a disappointment to him. Despite having been accepted into university to study Maths I cannot answer his queries on a subject whose challenges he adores. Despite having worked in the IT industry for a decade I cannot teach him to code. He does not understand why I spend my days as I do when he sees that there is so much to learn. He does not understand that my learning is of a more nuanced nature.

I know that the teenage years can be challenging for both parent and child. I ponder if this is nature’s way of enabling independence, making it easier for both to let go. I recognise that I am lucky in so many ways. My son does not indulge in nefarious activities. He enjoys sports, the company of like-minded friends, academic pursuits.

I miss the regard he once had for me. My sadness is selfish. I want for myself, to be a part of his world. He is doing just fine on his own.

As we celebrate this birthday I remember the little boy who once took me by the hand and showed me his world. I hope that, in time, he will allow me to share in a part of it again.

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Progress

Did I mention that I had a busy week coming up? Having reached the half way mark I feel that I am on top of things, but only just. I have worked my way through the mind storm that blew up over the weekend, which I wrote about on Monday, and moved on. My husband is treading carefully around me. He recognises that I was hurt; I feel loved.

Yesterday was his birthday so we had a family celebration. It would seem that age is inversely proportional to the volume of presents received, but a cake was baked, champagne drunk and we had an enjoyable evening out at a local pub restaurant. It is becoming increasingly rare for my whole family to choose to spend time together which made this special.

Since the weekend I have been thinking about how just a few words can be misinterpreted causing unintentional pain. My daughter put on a new dress for our evening out and looked fabulous. It skimmed her figure perfectly, defining her waist. I commented that it made her look slim, which she immediately took to mean that she normally looks the opposite. It seems that I made a mistake mentioning size.

Are we particularly sensitive about the things that matter to us, or about the things that society values? I was hurt by the suggestion that I was wasting my time writing, despite the activity being of benefit to me and thereby also to my family (a happy momma is an aid to all). My daughter, despite being slim, healthy and beautiful, frets over her size, probably because it is discussed by her peers who see it as important.

However much we recognise what matters and what is superficial, it can be hard to live within a society that is critical of our choices. I wonder if this is one of the reasons why I find it so hard to cope with social gatherings; my way of thinking goes against the conditioning of so many.

My mother worries about my weight because, to her, how a woman looks will determine her standing in society. If I question her views then she takes this as a personal slight, a criticism of how she is. I know that she loves me whatever I look like, but the superficial is important to her and she will never be able to comprehend how little it matters to me. I say little because even I cannot dismiss it entirely. I can tell myself that it does not matter, but struggle to shrug off the influences I have lived with throughout my life.

Yesterday I attended a Parent / Teacher evening at my children’s school. My youngest is choosing the subjects that he will study for his GCSEs so it was important that I attend. I thought long and hard about what I should wear, how I should present myself. I did not wish to embarrass my son when so many of his classmates would be present, and I wished to appear competent and interested in front of his teachers. On this occasion, how I looked mattered.

I sometimes think that I would like to live in a small cottage in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by beautiful countryside but no other people. I could indulge in long walks, write to my heart’s content, and not worry about how I was perceived by anyone else.

Real life is, of course, not so straightforward. I wish to be with my husband and children, and they gain pleasure from the company of others. When I do get together with my friends for walks I benefit from their company. I am not an island.

I have progressed enough to understand my need to cultivate a greater acceptance of how others think and feel. I rail against what I see as attempts to change me. What I need to be working on is accepting that others choose to grant importance to how they are perceived; these differences need not be seen as criticism of my choices. Just as my mother cannot comprehend how looks matter so little to me, so I must not judge others harshly for caring about such things. What difference does it make to my life if they value how they are coiffed and costumed?

Today there is a cold, thick fog oppressing the countryside around my home. Tempting though it is to stay snug and warm inside, I will venture out to the gym. I will feel better for a little exercise, especially after last night’s delicious but indulgent meal. Improving my health will take time and work. At least this week I feel that I have taken a few small steps towards improving my mental well being.

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Le Failfish turns seventeen

My daughter has a nickname, Failfish. It came into being several years ago during one of the convoluted conversations that teenagers have with their friends, where they all end up thinking something is the funniest thing ever and afterwards cannot explain why. Or that is how it was sort of explained to me. I can’t say I that I really understand either how it came about or why it stuck, why she wanted it to stick. As they get older there is more and more going on in her life that I am not party to or do not understand. I think this is what happens as kids grow up.

It is not totally accurate to describe it as a nickname as I have not heard her friends call her by it, but she does sometimes use the name to refer to herself. I am puzzled because I cannot see how it can suit her. My daughter does not fail. She is one of the most driven people that I know.

Today is her birthday. In the wee small hours of the morning, seventeen years ago, my husband drove me to our local community hospital where we expected to welcome our first child into the world. On arrival the friendly midwife examined me, called an ambulance, and I was whisked off to a large city hospital some miles away. My husband was not allowed to travel with me. It was the most upsetting part of the birth process.

He caught up with us in the delivery suite and was present for our daughter’s birth, just before sunrise. The look on his face as he held his first child in his arms for the first time is one of my most precious memories. There couldn’t have been a more proud daddy. He has been a wonderful daddy to all three of our children.

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That tiny baby, who had to be monitored through her first thirty-six hours due to temperature and breathing difficulties, is now healthy, active and taller than me. Apparently we look alike but she has my husband’s willowy frame rather than my dumpy one. She also has his brains but my determination. It is quite a combination.

I like to think that we are reasonably close as mother and daughter. Being the eldest, she has always been the child to lead and her brothers have willingly followed. It has made my life a lot easier bringing them up that she could generally be reasoned with even if we did not always agree over the best course of action.

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Motherhood defined me for so many years, yet it is only one stage of the life I have lead. My daughter is starting to get this, to recognise that there is a person underneath the being who always has and always will care for her. I value her empathy and willingness to offer support and encouragement when our beloved boys find my foibles frustrating.

It is not just the well being of her mother that she looks out for though. As the eldest child she has always been the leader, the explorer. She has the ability to calm and bring under control the family storms that brew from time to time.

It is fascinating, as a parent, to watch a child develop and grow. My daughter has never been a follower, choosing her friends wisely but forging her own path. As her taste in clothes and music have developed, as she has chosen how she wishes to present herself to the world, it has been noticeable that she has not copied those around her. The look may not be unique to her but it is unusual amongst those she chooses to be with. She has never been a clone.

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And all of this delights me. The scientist who wishes to be a doctor also writes prolifically. Her penchant for rock and metal music, for Dr Martin boots and black eyeliner, does not preclude her from donning khaki’s and walking boots and heading into the hills with her tent and a few friends. She has never limited herself by the ideas that others may have of her.

I am immensely proud of all three of my children. Today though, on her birthday, I am thinking in particular of the child who turned me into a mother. I have always encouraged my children to think for themselves, to be themselves (everyone else is already taken), to ask questions and to stand up for what is right. My daughter is also loyal, loving and caring.

As for that nickname? I must ask her why she put the male article before it. Perhaps it is just another way in which she refuses to be defined by convention. Perhaps she uses it in an ironic way, against the hipsters who once used it and moved on.

For all her independence my daughter is not a rebel. She understands the need to conform in certain situations, to be community minded and a giving member of society. What defines her though is her determination to be the best that she can possibly be in whatever interest she chooses to pursue. For all her teenage procrastination she gets things done. This mother could not ask for a better daughter.

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Happy Birthday to me

Today is my birthday. I now have exactly one more year to sort myself out before I reach my first half century. I am not bothered by the ageing process; the adventure of life continues apace and I am learning from all my experiences. I have no wish to be a different age or to relive a time that has gone before. Neither do I harbour any massive regrets for decisions made; I am okay with where I am today apart from a few issues around the edges that only I am capable of dealing with. So that is what I need to do.

For today though, I will do my best to enjoy what I have got. Life has as many special occasions as we choose to celebrate and I will mark this day in a low key but celebratory manner with my family. I was surprised to see that the Google Doodle has been changed in my honour (everyone is seeing those cakes, right?). I rather like that.

I have plans for the next year. One of the issues I have struggled with through spring and summer is how to cope with truculent teenagers. My children are growing up, asserting their independence, and I am not dealing with this as well as I would wish. I need to shift my mindset and allow them to make the mistakes that they will learn from. I need to find my own way again after years of living for them.

I also need to get more comfortable with how I see myself. Three years ago, when I was feeling settled in a sort of comfortable, middle aged, cuddly mama look, I took the decision to home school my youngest son (Why I became an amateur teacher). Over the course of that fabulous year, as I watched my insecure little boy blossom and grow in confidence and ability, I had little time for myself. I was preparing lessons, pouring my heart and soul into his development, and with the remainder of my waking hours making sure that my husband and other two children got enough attention not to feel sidelined. There was no time for me; none at all. I ate, slept and functioned. I put on a huge amount of weight.

When my son returned to mainstream education I decided to deal with my lack of self care. I joined a luxurious gym and made sure that I went out for long walks and cycle rides. I gave myself lots of time for me. By watching what I ate I managed to lose the weight I had gained and a lot more besides. Within nine months I was slimmer and fitter than I had been in twenty-five years. I felt amazing.

I have long passed the window of opportunity to look fabulous, but what I loved about this transformation was the fact that I could put on the clothes that I liked and feel that they suited me. No longer was I trying to hide the bumps and rolls; I could wear close fitting clothes without feeling suffocated or worrying that I resembled the michelin man.

Much as I felt good about the way that I looked, the way that that I felt was cathartic. The improved fitness gave me energy that I hadn’t possessed in more years than I could remember. I was fitting in all of my activities, keeping the house running as it should and not suffering that feeling of everyday exhaustion that had become a fact of life.

I do not know how much of this was down to improved health and how much to the psychological benefits of feeling good about myself. Although my friends and acquaintances were making many complimentary remarks when they saw me, my family did not see the change as either necessary or beneficial. My daughter was not happy with my strict eating habits which worried me; I know that parents must be careful not to instil negative body image issues in their children. My elder son, who had taken to insulting me with the phrase ‘Du bist eine gross und dicke mutter’, was persuaded that this was no longer appropriate which was an achievement, but complements from teenage boys to aged relatives are an expectation too far.

Not that I felt any need for complements; in many ways those I received made me feel uncomfortably exposed. I was happier that my family had accepted me whatever my size and did not see me being larger or smaller as noteworthy. This has been particularly important in dealing with what came next. Having worked so hard to achieve the changes in my body shape I then, very gradually, allowed the weight to return. Not all of it and not so quickly as to be immediately obvious, but an insidious increase of a pound here and a pound there until I am now, once again, trying and failing to hide the rolls of fat under loose clothes.

Well, this won’t do at all. I know that I can do better and fully intend to sort myself out. Just as I gained time for myself when my youngest son went back to school, so I intend to use more of my time for myself when the summer holiday finishes for my teenagers in a couple of weeks time. They have shown me quite plainly that they prefer, nay demand, more space and freedom. I need to start looking at this as, not a rejection, but an opportunity for me to take the same freedom for myself.

Last time I did this it took nine months; this time I give myself a year. By my next birthday I aim to have lost the excess weight that is both physically and mentally dragging me down and to have found whatever it is that I am to become beyond being a mother to my children. I have allowed myself to live my life through others. This is  a deflation of my potential and places unnecessary and unreasonable demands on them. I can be more than that.

I have so much to be thankful for and so much to look forward to. For today though, I will do what I can to make this a happy birthday for me.

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