Making space for everyday magic

I’ve written before about  avoiding time on our own, just the girls and I. Given the choice I’ll want an activity/play date/trip to anchor the day. I’m not sure where that comes from. Because every time we’re home alone, so long as we spend time together, quietly remarkable things seem to happen.

This morning it was play dough. We emptied the pots, shapes, cutters, rollers onto the table. We were instantly absorbed. All of us.

H spent a lot of time squishing dough into shapes and making them all go ‘woof’.

Ro has spent the last few days counting EVERYTHING. So she started cutting up dough into blueberries and counting in groups of five, up to thirty. Then she started shaping letters to make words: “How do you spell ‘tickle’?”.

I got my 80’s vibe on and re-lived my fimo days, making roses, then horses to join H’s dogs.

None of this seems particularly noteworthy. But the beauty of all being sat round the table, in harmony, doing our own thing as equals, sharing tools, showing each other when we’d made something we were particularly excited about. Enjoying each other’s company.

play dough cake
bonus birthday cake

It was a magical hour. And not that it needs saying, but all that learning too, without a single thing being forced. Just giving time and attention to each other.

And when I was making our lunch, they both told me not to look, and made me a very special birthday cake (note the blueberries!).


How to Get Through a Fear of Driving

I’m squaring up to this now, after 18 years. I’m sick of how it makes me feel about myself. Plus it’s stopping me doing things with the girls – going to the seaside, swimming pool, visiting friends. And a joy of home edding is soaking up all that fun whenever you feel like it.

Disclosure up front: this is a work in progress. There’s a way to go, but I do think I’ve swung to the ‘can drive reluctantly’ bit of the pendulum and away from ‘shit-scared’. (For a brief history of how to nurture a fear so it dictates your life, here’s a fun read). Anyway, I need a bit of accountability in my life. So here are my top road-tested tips for the licenced-terrified:

  1. Get in the car and find your Goldilocks
    I’ve recently read about the Goldilocks Effect re education. It holds that children (people) best learn in circumstances that are ‘just right’ for them, and that these tend to be circumstances that dance on the edge of their comfort zone and matter to them. In my experience, this is spot on. I wasn’t going to deal with my driving thing until I really cared about it. Then there were steps to take that were just right for me – I needed to tune into how hard to push myself: not letting myself off the hook, not inducing instant panic. Seriously, just sitting in the driver’s seat was a big step for me at first. If this is you, I’d say spend some time behind the wheel, turn the engine on, drive up the road if that feels ok. Do what you can to get just beyond what’s comfortable and see that it’s ALL OK.
  2. Do something every week, or more. Don’t stop
    A bit like the bear hunt, there’s no getting round this, there’s only going through it. Your hands may get so slimy you can’t hold onto the wheel, but get on it. Even if it’s driving to the end of your street and back. Keep going. Squelch, squelch, squelch. It gets easier and you will do a happy dance every time the scary things become not-so-scary things.
  3. Find some practice routes (with incentives)
    Over to a friend’s for cake, to the local shopping centre, to an evening class you couldn’t go to otherwise. Pick some and get familiar with driving on routes that you come to know well. You’ll have different mini-challenges each time anyway: the traffic, rain, giving way to an ambulance, watching out for cyclists/drunks/badgers/zombies.
  4. Be gentle with yourself
    You will make mistakes. This is OK. Other people are making mistakes all the time and not beating themselves up about it. You don’t need to either – focus on the 100 things you did right instead. And, I keep trying to remind myself, making mistakes is one of the best ways to learn. Having said that, if you’re feeling dangerous, see below…
  5. Book refresher lessons (and don’t be scared to ditch your instructor if they’re rubbish).
    I’d had such a gap in my driving that I didn’t know where the brake was. Time to call in the professionals. The first one was neat, prim, held all the answers and told me she could fix me given a goodly amount of time. We didn’t get on. I fired her. The second one made me feel like I could do anything. She was funny, calm, treated me like any other normal person. She told me she didn’t want to take any more of my money after our second lesson – how’s that for integrity?
  6. Filter out whatever it is you worry everyone’s thinking 
    One of my biggest problems was embarrassment at holding other people up or looking stupid in front of them. I’m hardly a Margaret Thatcher fan, but there’s a fab (probably fictional) quote from ‘The Iron Lady’ when she’s teaching Carol to drive:  “The only thing you should remember is that everyone else is reckless or inept. Usually both.” Point is they don’t have to have power over you, they are no better than you (as people at least, and probably not as drivers either). And if they notice any mistakes you make, it’ll be off their radar by the time the song’s finished.
  7. Learn to relax
    I struggled with this when it comes to driving – I’ve got so much from meditative breathing and mindfulness recently. But one of my biggest difficulties when driving was coping with the masses of stimulation. I wanted to feel pepped up, aware of everything that’s going on, not focussed internally. My familiar techniques didn’t seem right. What’s helped is deeper breathing to keep me out of panic mode along with positive self-talk. Cheesy confession: I say out loud ‘I am a calm, confident, competent driver’ every single time I’m driving. It helps. I also had some reflexology. It was as an intentional act of self-care. A very soothing experience. I did my first solo drive the next day.

I don’t think I’m ever going to call it quits with this fear. I’d hoped I could dedicate summer to it, and bang, done. But that doesn’t seem to be how it goes for driving and me. So rather than be ashamed, I’m (trying to be) grateful for the opportunity to push myself, every day, if I want to. Some people have to climb mountains for that.

Surprise potatoes and first solo bike ride

We’ve let our garden do its own thing this summer, mostly.

The lawn’s turned to meadow, which is great apart from the cat-toilet aspect. The raised beds were wildly sown back in May and all sorts of veg have gone into battle for resources. The bamboo canes have littered the garden and been turned into (sometimes treacherous) dens.

den building in action
den building in action

We’ve tended to fill summer seeing lots of people (Ro loves playing and I can’t quite quell the whisper that she’ll be lonely when many of her friends go to school). But today H was totally zoned out with a cold, so it was just us.

It was great.

We made pancakes, then improvised fairy cakes with the leftover banana. We were going to do some painting but it was sunny so we headed outside instead.

The veg beds have been ignored through several camping trips (most of them have been rainy, so the veg has looked after itself – silver linings). We set to harvest and got the last of the broad beans. And rootling around in the soil came across some potatoes.

This was something of a surprise as we’d not planted any. But – we’d used our own compost and I’m lazy at riddling out the big bits. The girls loved the magic of it. They loved feeling around in the soil, spotting potato pebbles. They loved pulling the bean pods off the tired stems. And they loved cooking them for our lunch (then ignoring them in favour of cheese sandwiches.)

beans and potatoes
Harvest remnants

In the afternoon, H just wanted sleepy, milky cuddles. Rich was at home so he took Ro out on her pedal bike, at her request. She’s had it a couple of months, tried it out, wobbled and not been in the mood to persevere. But this time, all hopped-up on having daddy to herself, she totally got it. Her look of  joy when she demo-ed her new skills made me want to explode.

How to Develop a Fear of Driving

This started out as a ‘how I’m tackling it’ sort of post, but I realised there’s quite a lot to say on developing fears that change (diminish) your life. So the conquering bit will come next…

Most people take driving for granted. I’m writing this for the handful of people who totally *get* the terror of manouvering a hunk of metal at high speed just inches away from other hunks of metal. Those people who feel so overwhelmed behind the wheel that they talk themselves into a cold sweat just sitting there. This is for you (though you driver-pros: you might identify with some of this if you’ve got your own personal demons… public speaking, heights, whatever).

SO. I passed my driving test half my lifetime ago. It was after a year of eager-to-please driving lessons because I was 18 and it was the thing to do. I never cracked it. I felt like I fluked the test, then went to live in Hong Kong, then York and forgot about the whole deal.

Then everyone got older, stopped being students and started driving. And slowly, slowly, slowly I started to feel less like a grown up and more steeped in shame that I just couldn’t do it. I tried a couple of times, driving round car parks. Nearly crashed into Sainsbury’s trolley park in first gear through nerves. I learned that I couldn’t drive. And I really didn’t want to, or need to, but I didn’t like myself either. Driving was what grown ups did and I didn’t do it.

I spent my twenties trying to brush it off. Richard and I didn’t have a car for ages, which was fine as we lived in a small, walkable city.  I told myself that car non-ownership was an ethical stance, we were happy living without one. (And that would have been great, were it true – rather than being an excuse. An acquaintance of mine once likened cars to guns: “You need to know how to use one, but never want to have to.” Extreme but not even something I could identify with, what with NOT BEING ABLE TO DRIVE.)

When I was pregnant I had refresher lessons, and my instructor was diplomatically but noticeably shocked by how in-pieces I was. Anytime another car came by I would shake and sweat a very distinct ‘about to kill-or-be-killed’ sweat.  I got to 38 weeks pregnant and unconfidently driving on A-roads when we called it quits – he was understandably worried about imminent labour (and, I felt, quite glad to let go of this rather strange client).

So it all went quiet again. Another half-hearted attempt during my second pregnancy, this time with a very nervous Richard in the passenger seat. I had a panic attack trying to park at a Homebase car park (we didn’t even want to go to Homebase, it was just an easy drive).

Why did this happen? How did I become so convinced that I was incapable of doing something that other adults took for granted?

  1. I never wanted to drive. I was doing it for all the wrong reasons: because everyone else was, because I felt I should, because I wanted to please people. So I never took charge of the learning process and got comfortable with what *my* needs as a learner were.
  2. I catastrophised. Everytime I sat behind the wheel I pictured everything that could go wrong, and the worst possible outcome. So turning left became a high stakes game of crash and burn and turning right didn’t happen at all. This froze me. Totally unfixable until I was prepared to face it.
  3. I only noticed the bad. If I drove and everything was fine apart from stalling at a hill-start, well, that was a write-off. No matter that I’d negotiated roundabouts, slow moving traffic, gear changes, tractors, the dreaded right-turns onto major roads and parked cars without incident. I’d stalled and therefore I couldn’t drive.
  4. I credited everyone else with absolute competence. It didn’t occur to me that (at least some of the) other drivers might feel uncertain about what they were doing. And that made the gulf enormous: us and them and I was evidently useless and could never become one of ‘them’. More than this, far worse, I began to sub-consciously associate the ability to drive with competence. And my sense of self-worth quietly eroded.
  5. I was terrified about what everyone thought. Making a fool of myself by not overtaking at the right time, or holding up a line of traffic by not spotting the gap to turn into. That mattered. So much. So much that it kept me off the road. Never mind that to them it would’ve been fleeting irritation at worst. And that, really, if they were that unhappy about someone else’s driving they were seriously in need of a new hobby or some meditation or something.
  6. I didn’t do anything about it. At first it because there was no need, and then it was because I was embarrassed and scared. But I let the rot set in and it grew rottener and rottener.

It was so readily done. Half a lifetime of talking myself out of the ability to do something. I’m working on fixing it (coming soon!).

Five things we learned on our camp trip

We spent the last few days camping with friends. It felt like going home. Moments of joy while feeling fully myself among people I care about and admire. We paid very little heed to the clock, and watched the skies and the trees instead. Here are some things we learned.

1. You need (at least) three breakfasts

Brioche and scotch pancakes have become our starter breakfast of choice. Instantly grabbable from the sleeping bag for waking-up munchies. Minimal crumb-age. Sweet and comforting to ease you into the morning, but not too sweet. Great for fueling up while unearthing the crayons and football (Ro and H) or making the first tea of the morning (Rich). I was asleep.

Ro and H follow that up with a roaming menu of ‘cereal with red bits’, apricots, raisins and whatever else they can forage while drawing, waking up our friends, creating caves for midges or playing some version of football.

We then cook sausages (of course).

2. Woody Debris Dams are a thing

Richard told me about this on our walk. When twigs and things get caught up in a stream they form  a natural barrier. It also has a more technical name that doesn’t sound as good (just say ‘wooden debris dam’ aloud for a moment). They are healthy for rivers because they promote biodiversity though creating habitats and establishing a natural flow.

Here’s what one looks like:


3. Take more blankets than you think you need

You can do so much with a blanket. Picnic. Dress up as Elsa or other icon of choice. Mop up a spill or towel yourself dry if you can’t be bothered to find the towel. Layer over roll-mats to create extra insulation and warmth. Layer over sleeping bags/duvets for same. Drape over shoulders for post-dusk hot chocolate/whiskey. Wrap around your feet when it’s 3am and you’ve not slept because your toes are jangling with cold.

4. The mundane is no longer so

So much of camping is about the basics – preparing the next meal (or cup of tea), trying to keep the inside of the tent relatively mud-free and dry. And so the basics take on a magical slow quality of their own. Everyone sat chopping veg together, or the littles harvesting buttercups during a washing up session. Conversations are opened and everything is interesting. Indeed, when I asked Ro about her favourite bits of the trip, up there was “When that man let me watch him clean the toilets.”

5. The optimum number of footballs is one per child

Ro and her friend Ed spent much of the time running around with a football. And fairly frequently, as you might expect with two 4 year olds, a tussle broke out about whose ball it was/whose turn it is/what game was being played. And then the second ball was offered. Cue the end of arguments, around 30 seconds of playing separately followed by some newly invented game bringing them together again. An abundance of footballs, an abundance of play.