A Life Less Lived

Like a lot of teachers l tend to mark my life in the number of weeks before the next break. 6 weeks to go before Christmas. 2 weeks to go before half term. 4 weeks to go before the end of the year. It is the same with a child – always looking for the next development, the next tooth, the crawling, the walking. Before you know it a year has passed.

But yesterday l was brought up short, quite literally.

I was listening to a Women’s Hour podcast from Radio 4 as l ran last night. It was an interview with a lady whose daughter had passed away from colon cancer on Christmas Day. aged only 36 and leaving behind twin 5 year old boys and a husband. The story was so poignant that l had to walk as l wiped away the tears. I couldn’t ever imagine leaving my family behind, not seeing The Boy grow up. The thought of it makes my stomach twist.

Later, when l returned from my run, l had a phone-call with my Dad. My stepmother was diagnosed with stomach cancer and ovarian cancer in December, and is supposed to be mid-way through chemotherapy. I was expecting to hear how the last session went, but instead the phrase “palliative care until the end of her life” echoed through the room.

As l sank into a whirlwind of negative “What If” thoughts, berating myself for wishing my life away and not mentally recording each day for posterity, l was reminded of something someone said at my Granny’s funeral: Life is for Living. I realised, then, that the reason l count the days and weeks is because those are the times l spend making memories with the people l love the most, because l get excited about new adventures, because every day is full of new experiences and l look forward to that.

I just hope these is never a time when someone tells me that the days l count are numbered.

Leaving the baby behind.

This may sound controversial, but sometimes leaving the baby behind is just brilliant.

Last weekend, for the first time in almost 7 months, l left The Boy behind. Intentionally, l might add, and at home in the capable hands of his daddy. It was a tearful moment as l waved goodbye from the window of the taxi, but by the time l had reached the airport (and had consumed a large Chai Tea Latte and a chocolate muffin) l was feeling better. In fact, excited about the prospect of a couple of days alone, exploring the temples of Siem Reap, a place that has been on my bucket list for years. I was not so excited, however, about the half marathon darkly looming on the horizon as well.

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I had thought l would spend the weekend worrying about, and missing The Boy and The Husband. I did up to a point, but l also relished some alone time, space to think, to explore, to sleep, to spend time with friends. To just be.

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And the half marathon? I managed that too, in the fastest time since l began running 10 years ago. Which made me pretty damn proud of myself.

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Lining up at the start

Sweaty but still smiling

Sweaty but still smiling

Then l got to go home to my two favourite boys, and to be honest, their smiles and hugs as l walked (hobbled) through the door meant more to me than any medal.

I wish it could be Christmas everyday

Christmas Day has always been one of my favourite days of year. I have spent most of my Christmases in the UK with my family, following much the same traditions as the year before. Wake up early, open stockings (at 37 l still get ridiculously excited about this), go for a swim in the sea (yes, the actual sea), warm up with a nip of brandy and a hot bath, change into Christmas outfits, eat dinner, open presents, play games and them one by one fall asleep in front in the television. Even with divorces, remarriages, partners, friends and the odd additional pet, most years remain comfortingly the same. Apart from the last four.

2010 – Myself and The Husband, then boyfriend, had been through a horrific breakup a couple of months earlier. He had moved to China. I was still very much an emotional mess. This Christmas l just remember being a black hole of tears with sad songs on repeat and, really, not much else.

2011 – Myself and The Husband, then boyfriend, had just got back together. However, my mum had been unexpectedly diagnosed with lung cancer a week before, and was due to have a lung removed two weeks after Christmas Day. It was a quiet and sombre day despite our best efforts. No-one swam. No-one really ate dinner. The atmosphere was pretty bleak.

2012 – Having just moved to Bangkok, myself and The Husband, then fiancee, decided that we would take the holiday we had talked of for years. We went to Japan. It was amazing, and we spent Christmas in Tokyo, one of my all time favourite cities. We woke up in a tiny hotel room, opened the few presents we had managed to squeeze into our backpacks, went for Christmas Dinner in a British Pub, took a walk in the park and watched ‘Cross of Iron’ (not my choice) on the laptop until we could Skype the family. We ate take-out sushi from the 7-Eleven for dinner with a can of Asahi from a vending machine. Probably the strangest non-Christmas/Christmas either of us have ever had.

2013 – I was almost 4 months pregnant, so myself and The Husband decided to stay put in Thailand. We had my brother and another good friend from China come and stay. We tried to create as traditional a Christmas as possible. We all had stockings to open in the morning, took a Christmas swim in our swimming pool (a tad warmer that the sea), drank Bucks fizz, then headed for a buffet lunch at one of the posh hotels in the city. Bloated (l blamed my bulge on the growing baby, not the mountains of Christmas pudding), we played games into the evening, when we all passed out on the sofa watching a film. It was perfect.

Fast forward to 2014. We are taking The Boy back to the UK for two weeks, to experience the Christmas I had when growing up. We have, however, already introduced him to the joys of decorating a tree, thinking he would love the twinkling lights and sparkly baubles. In truth, he prefers the plug socket underneath.

This decoration was promptly thrown up on.

This decoration was promptly thrown up on.

Not happy about the antlers. Or the selfie.

Not happy about the antlers. Or the selfie.

This is taking up valuable crawling space.

This is taking up valuable crawling space.

What do you expect me to do with this?

What do you expect me to do with this?

Okay, l got this.

Okay, l got this.

Rocking around the tree. Dad style.

Rocking around the tree. Dad style.

After the baby had gone to bed.

After the baby had gone to bed.

Advent Calendars tomorrow, yippee! Happy Advent one and all.

 

My Hero

In the first 20 days of December l will be running a total of 100 kilometres in honour of my hero: my Granny.

She would have turned 100 on the 20th December, but sadly passed away in May. She never met her three great grandsons (including The Boy) who were born in March and May respectively. She did, however, live to see me married and settled and of that l am so grateful.

At her funeral, I did my best to put into words why she was my hero, but emotion and jet lag made me stumble, my words unclear. So now, in a blog she will never read, I hope to do her justice.

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 Granny had several sayings, most of which have stuck with me throughout my childhood and into adult life. She was fond of saying, “Life has its ups and downs, but without the downs, you will never appreciate the ups”. She went through more than most in her life, but was unfailingly positive in every circumstance, looking at every day as a thing to enjoy and appreciate. She gave me advice on many things: not to marry until l was in my thirties, to use moisturiser twice every day, to push every door until one opened, to follow my dreams. I have followed most of this advice and am happily married, have good skin, and have had a fulfilling life full of adventure.

As a child she taught me to sew, to embroider, to cross stitch, to make clothes (she trained as a tailor), to go to fabric shops and know which ones to choose. She had drawers full of scraps of fabric, wool, lace, threads and sewing implements which used to drive my Grandad crazy. I was allowed to delve into these at any time, explore the colours and textures, and encouraged to just create something. Likewise, my Granny was rarely without some sort of needlework until arthritis took its toll on her hands. I now have a study that is also packed with various materials, am rarely without some creative project on the go, and have a career teaching Art. I can only hope that my students are as inspired by me as l was by my hero.

In my late teens l went through a stage of rebellion. I shaved my head, refused to talk to my parents, went out until all hours, got a tattoo and piercings and whilst l thought l was being utterly unique, l now realise l was a  typical teenager. My parents tore their hair out. My Granny just made me cups of tea and listened to my woes, gently offering me an alternative point of view, but always accepting who l was. She was like this with everyone. We often joked that all of her friends were slightly mad, but the fact is that Granny could see past oddities in behaviour to the person underneath, and was capable of loving everyone for who they were.

Her terrible cooking, her love of shopping, her amazing driving skills, her outstanding musical ability, her strong will, her perseverance, her love of life, her smile: there are so many things that made my Granny the person she was.As it approaches what would have been her centenary, l feel sad that my son will never know the voice of, or feel the warmth of his great Granny’s love, but l do sincerely hope that one day he has his own hero. Someone who will make him want to be a better person, to look at every day as an adventure, and to always be true to himself.

Santa Baby

You are young (say, under 30), your friends have started reproducing, and it is Christmas. Your mantlepiece starts filling with cards adorned with various offspring dressed as Santa Claus, a Christmas Pudding, a Wise Man, or just in a festive jumper smiling broadly for the camera. “Oh no,” you think scornfully, “poor children, surely that will scar them for life”. Then you become a parent. One day, with nothing better to do, you find yourself putting your child in an empty cardboard box for fun. They like it. A lightbulb pings in your head. Christmas is coming…..

Here are the outtakes:

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