“Everybody plays their part”…on being a bridesmaid.

You realise when you are good at something when you are repeatedly asked to do it. By this understanding I am apparently good at making roast dinners, brewing cups of strong tea, giving “see-saws” on my leg to small children and being a bridesmaid. I have been asked to be a bridesmaid four times, well not quite four times.

The first time I was a best woman for one of my oldest school friends. We met on our first day of school, he was five and I was four. We are still friends now but on the opposite sides of the world. I was honoured to stand by his side as he said “I do” more than ten years ago.

I even wore a suit to be “best man”.

The second time (and this is my “quite”) I was asked and was nearly a bridesmaid for my best mate from Newcastle, but an amazing and wonderful thing happened and they had to move the wedding forward and I couldn’t make it back to the UK. Was worth it though as they now have the most gorgeous six year old son running around!

I was there in spirit.

So two times asked so far and I was over the moon. I had always wanted to be a bridesmaid when I was a kid, mainly for the fingerless lace gloves that were in fashion at the time, and the puffy peach silky sleeves, but it never happened. But here I was an adult and married myself, so I guess technically a maid of honour, and was fast becoming a professional bridesmaid!

The last two times were here in New Zealand and both weddings were absolutely beautiful and amazing. There is something about weddings in New Zealand. Summer weddings tend to be late afternoon because of the heat and the whole event merges seamlessly. Guests are invited to the whole “day”, very different to most weddings I attended in the UK and the wine is always flowing. We have been lucky with weather and of course there is often stunning scenery. Five years ago the wedding was in a park and the reception by the beach, and this past December we celebrated the whole day in a vineyard. Glorious.

So why have I become a good candidate for a bridesmaid? I hope that the first reason is that I’m a good friend. I suspect that another main reason is that I am good at organising!

Weddings with friends are so different to weddings with family. The funny thing here is that living in New Zealand has meant that my friends have very much become my family, and it’s no coincidence that a lot of the wedding parties (bridesmaids, ushers etc…) were immigrants to New Zealand too.

This December.

Weddings with friends are weddings that you really, really want to be at. They are weddings that become a huge party, a grand celebration not just of the love between husband and wife, but the love between friends. Very often you have been on that journey of them falling in love together with their partner; I know this was very much the case for me. It was a privilege to be asked to be a part of their special days, it was even more of a privilege to be part of their love stories.

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December 2010. I was seven months pregnant.

So the organising? It is a necessity if you are going to be a bridesmaid. Being a teacher by profession comes in handy at times like this. In both recent weddings the bride and both bridesmaids in each case were teachers. We’re a close bunch. We flock together us teachers.

It is no coincidence that hen dos were organised and ran smoothly (no vomiting, arrests or broken bones – maybe a few unexplained bruises and sore heads); extended families were entertained and welcomed; dresses and accessories were collected; playlists were written and executed. This was organisation at is pinnacle, and most teachers love to organise!

So, I look around me and wonder if it will happen again. I think that’s us all married now and most of us have started families. The wedding era is drawing to a close. No more girls’ nights in searching Pinterest and drinking wine. No more watching “Bridesmaids” for ideas. No more stacks of glossy magazines.

It makes me sad, but it makes me happy that I could be a part of something so special (nearly) four times. And now we must promise to keep that bond. Life will often be busy and take us away from our friends, but we must always make the effort to spend time with each other. We don’t need the excuse of a big day to plan to meet up. We don’t need any excuse we are just best friends and that is good enough.

Richard, Claire, Jo and Shawna: Thank you for trusting me to stand by your side as you got married. Thank you for valuing me as a friend to ask me. I love you all.

 

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“It’s complicated but understand me…” a realisation I had this morning.

I never intended this blog to document any kind of self discovery or path to change. In fact, if you remember my first blog post you will know that part of my previous issue with blogging is that I didn’t have a theme or a focus. And it was with that clearly in mind that I began to blog again.

But reading back on posts from the past few months it is clear that I like to be nostalgic: I have an excellent memory for the small details – how prickly the naughty mat was on my first day of infant school – and random facts – Peter Andre’s banana overdose (believe me, this actually came up in conversation with a friend on Monday). It is also clear that I am looking to change, to improve, to understand myself better. I can tell you straight out now that writing and blogging is certainly helping in that regard.

Whilst chatting with a couple of friends on Twitter the other day about blogging we were discussing what direction one of their new blogs should go in. I piped in with how if I were a hipster I would simply say I didn’t want to be pigeon holed, but as I’m nowhere near being a hipster I’m actually rather random. But that’s the thing I’ve noticed; It’s not that random at all. The elements of my thoughts, ramblings and life I’ve mentioned here have begun to cross pollinate and affect one another. This is a good thing.

At yoga this morning while perfecting my down dog and salute to the sun, the yoga teacher (as they often do) said in her smooth, calming voice the usual platitudes you expect from yoga. I can see how for some people yoga is a spiritual experience, but for me it is about relaxation and fitness. Her voice does chill me out however. I cringe a little when she tells you to “ground your feet on the earth” instead of “floor”, but yoga does the trick for me, it does what I want it to do.

This morning however she said something that resonated with me during the relaxation phase:

“You are already perfect. Your inner self is perfect.”

Of course she said this at the moment when I am meant to be emptying my mind of the outside world, and of course my mind then starts racing at a hundred miles an hour.

You see, I think she’s got a point. Our inner self is perfect.

When you hold a newborn baby in your arms and look into their eyes, you know they are perfect. The are born perfect. They are a fresh slate, free from any imperfections. It is over time that we react to our surroundings, to what people say to us, to what we say to them and build a facade or boundaries around ourselves.

Get to the grand old age of thirty eight or so and we have had plenty of experiences to react to, but somewhere inside and under all that crap is your inner self, and that is still perfect. It made sense to me. I hope it’s making sense to you.

I’m not just talking negative experiences here, I’m talking about life and all it holds. The negativity comes in when we lose sight of our inner self, of what we used to be. And this is where I come back to my blog and why it’s doing me the world of good regardless of who is or isn’t reading it. Through reflection, reminiscing and challenging myself for the future I am on the search of perfection. A perfection that is already there.

Maybe through reflection we can find that perfection once again. I think you certainly need positivity to do so.

 

“Shut my eyes I feel alive…” A update on my fitness progress.

A week has passed since I made my good intentions clear and to be honest it has gone better than I thought.

On Tuesday I took the girls to a trampoline park. We normally go with a friend and her children but this week my friend suggested we jumped with them. I hesitated at first but then thought, why not? On a previous visit we had witnessed a grandma bouncing bra free (that must have hurt!) so I prepared well with sports bra and two Lycra tops and a tena lady (we’ve decided they should hold an exercise class for mothers there called ‘Boobs and Bladders’!) and headed off for our pre booked 10am session. 

As it is the school holidays here it was a lot busier than normal but it’s never too packed. We all bounced for the whole hour. A few stops here and there when kids fell over their own feet or got hit by bouncing balls, but we jumped until our hearts were content. It was great fun and it certainly got the heart going.

   
On Wednesday I was kid free as they were both at kindy. This is one of the days I’m trying to get into more of a routine (by end of February it will be Monday, Wednesday and Friday). I dropped them off at 9 and headed to the gym for a 9.30 yoga class. Yoga at the gym is never a relaxing affair. It’s about pushing yourself and I did. I really enjoyed it and I was surprised at how flexible I still am. One of the advantages of being short I think.

Yesterday was Saturday so the Mr wasn’t at work so I went to a 9.30 flex class; weights, squats, lunges and abs to music. The instructor was a 66 year old man who knew how to kick out arses. Never judge an instructor before a class! He asked if I’d done this before and I was honest and said I used to do it a long time before. This was one of my regular classes pre kids. 

I was pleasantly surprised with my fitness. I didn’t take it easy on myself but enjoyed the whole hour.

The main thing I’ve learnt this week is that looking after two preschool children, running around doing errands and housework for the past five years has maintained a certain level of fitness. I’m not starting completely from scratch. I’ve a long way to go yet but I’ve started.

Here’s to this continuing!

“Super heavy elements, upgrade me”…my two year plan, part two.

So general response to part one was quite simply “don’t grow up”! There may be some sense in that although bills to pay, mouths to feed etc…so I will continue to give my career some thought. Only yesterday a former colleague asked me when I was going back to work. Hell, my kids ask me when I’m going back to work. I think they want to get rid of me.

With part one still in progress, I will tell you about part two of the two year plan today. Now, if you are a mother, or even not, you will know that you change in so many ways when you have a child. You are not the centre of your world anymore. You come bottom of the list of priorities. It’s natural, but here I am with a chance to turn this around. Two years to do something about my health and my fitness. My nutrition is pretty good. Of course I could cut back on wine and chocolate, but I am a mother to two young kids and occasionally you need these, like, really need them. I am not one for diets. I cook from scratch most nights and consider the nutritional value of the food I feed my family. I’m no angel and of course there are takeaways every now and again, but that is because I am a) realistic about food and life and b) think that a little bit of everything in moderation does you no harm. Food to me is a pleasure. I love to cook and to eat. I love to try new things. I don’t just eat to survive, it gives me joy.

What I need to do is up the exercise and get into a routine. Pre children we used to set our alarms for 5am and go to the gym before work every day of the week. Sometimes we would go after work too. I “ran” (I hate that word, whatever happened to jog – why do people never jog these days?) two half marathons. I boxed for fitness with a private trainer, I went to yoga and pilates to relax. I was a pretty active person, but then life happened and the exercise, the routine and I got pushed to the bottom of the list.

So where am I at with the plan now? I have a pass for ten gym visits. I’m going to use those and see how I feel about a gym membership again. This has worked for me in the past. Tonight I have downloaded the timetable to see what classes I can do three times a week. If I can get this routine started and make a habit of it I know I can make it work.

What do I want to achieve? Quite simply, a healthier me. I want to feel better in my own skin. I don’t know what I weigh and to be honest it doesn’t bother me: There are no scales in our house. I know that my body shape has changed since giving birth to two beautiful daughters; my body is pretty damn amazing for being able to do that. I want to feel healthier, sleep better and have more energy. Essentially that will make me a better me, and a better role model for my girls.

I’ll update you on my progress here. If you’ve got any tips or ideas please feel free to comment. I’d love to hear from you.

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“You can have it all”…my two year plan, part one.

What do I want to be when I grow up?

I can clearly remember answering this question when I was about six years old. The answer was simple, a teacher. As time passed a few other alternatives got thrown into the mix: a travel agent (I liked filling in forms), an air hostess (so I could travel), an RAF communications officer (So they would support me through University – isn’t that awful of me?), but at the end of the day I always came back to a teacher.

I absolutely loved school and was inspired my own teachers. I knew that it was what I wanted to be and that was the career I pursued right from the start.

I began my teaching career in the North East of England and quickly got some responsibility when I moved to my second job after only three years of teaching. It wasn’t much but I was a new head of department for a new, and small, Media Studies department. Small because I was in charge of me, and only me, but everyone has to start somewhere, don’t they? Let me clarify, it was my job to set up the new course for the following year so there was plenty to do. The vast majority of my job was as an English teacher though and this is truly where my heart is in teaching.

Teaching opened doors for me in New Zealand. I interviewed for my job over the phone on the eve of my wedding, and thankfully got it…that may have put a bit of a damper on my big day if I hadn’t!

The school I taught at in Auckland was one of the best in the country and it offered me so many opportunities. They supported my professional development in so many ways and I am so grateful. I went to courses here in New Zealand; I was a representative at a conference in Singapore; I was part of an action research group and presented my research to an international audience of my peers in Philadelphia. I was offered these opportunities and grabbed them with both hands. I am a hard worker, and I tell you now, this was hard work, but it is so rewarding and so important.

Over time responsibility came along in promotions both within the department and the house system. It was a busy job without these responsibilities, but now it was even busier. Evenings and weekends were spent prepping lessons and marking (you can imagine the marking of a senior English teacher). There were extra curricular activities. I would routinely spend one night a week at debating until 10pm at night, and sometimes there were events at weekends.

Let me stop now and say I am not complaining. Not complaining in the least. I loved my job. Really loved it. I loved the people I work with (some of them are still my best friends), loved the subject I taught and most importantly, I loved the students I taught but my life has changed. It has changed a lot, and here is where the problem lies.

My husband and I always agreed that if we had a family that I would be a stay at home mum until they were both at school. Well now we have two children and that is where the two year plan comes from. In two years they will both be at school full time.

I don’t know if I can be a teacher anymore.

I am the kind of person that gives their all. I am worried that I can’t have it all. Something will have to give and that will not be my family, so that leaves my students not having the best teacher in me in front of them in the classroom. It’s a conundrum. I want to have it all.

I know that people manage to do this every day. But I need to work out if I can do it and I have two years to consider it. The alternative? That’s the issue; I need to work out what else I can be if I’m not going to be a teacher.

What else can I be when I grow up?

improve communication in relationships from charlie brown's teacher

“Welcome to the future of your world”…how we construct the life we present.

While talking to a close friend over the Christmas holidays we both laughed at how the world we present on social media can be so different from the life we are actually living. And when I say laugh, I mean laugh hysterically.

Let me give you some context; we have known each other over thirteen years. In the days before social media we worked together and lived around the corner from each other, close enough to borrow a cup of sugar, that close. We knew what each other’s lives were like because we were living our lives alongside each other. She knew what I looked like first thing in the morning as she would pick me up for work. I knew what her Sunday dinner looked like because she cooked for me. She knew what my cocktail looked like on a night out in town because she was matching me drink for drink. I knew what her attempts at gardening looked like because I saw her hanging baskets when I knocked on her door. There was no Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or Snapchat. We knew what the good in our lives looked like, and the bad.

Then we both took leaps of faith and left the UK at the same time to teach in different countries. No regrets from either of us, I think I can safely say, but my point is we were no longer living in each other’s pockets and the internet became our international way of keeping in touch; mainly emails at first, then Bebo (anyone remember that?) and then of course Facebook came along.

Our discussion over Christmas was mainly focused on Facebook and the way we choose how we want to present our lives to other people. We make a decision what to post and what to say and in our minds how we want our audience to perceive our lives.

 

A “look at my amazing view” pic

The audience; here is a crucial point in this discussion. For me my Facebook audience is made up of family, close friends, former work colleagues and old university and school friends. These are people who you only want to see the best of your life. You post the photos of your children smiling and laughing. You post the statuses showing off where you are, what shows and films you are seeing. You share your location when you are on a beautiful beach, in a fancy bar or on a picturesque holiday. It’s human nature. You want them to know your successes and to think you are doing well.

 

A “I have happy children” pic

Well, the reason my friend and I were laughing so much discussing this is that we were, for the first time since we left the UK ten years ago, living together for four weeks. And not just us, we had multiplied! Now we were both married and had two children each, so that was eight of us living together for a month.

Our Facebook timelines did not show the toddler tantrums, the messy meal times, the refusals to go to bed. They did not show the bags under our eyes in the mornings after being woken three times in the night. They did not show porridge smeared on the backs of our pyjama pants where we had sat in the remainder of chaos after breakfast time. I’m quick to say, we KNEW all about this because of course we chat about it on Whatsapp or iMessage regularly, but we hadn’t SEEN it. But we didn’t KNOW about it from the manufactured lives we make for social media.

 

The reality: child falls asleep in Farmers while wearing wellies in the summer as she refuses to wear shoes

 

The reality: not sure how much porridge is in her tummy but there is a lot everywhere else

When I was considering writing this blog post I said to myself, “right, the next bad, normal day I have I will take some pictures to document it.” Today was kind of one of those days. I check my photostream. Only one or two photos. The reason? It’s thoroughly depressing to record the tantrums, the whining, the mess. You think to yourself, “Nobody wants to see that!” The other reason is that when you’re having a tough day you don’t have the time or energy to stop and take a photo. Today I felt like I was fighting fires with children bickering on a rainy day and me suffering from sleep deprivation. The last thing on my mind was to reach for my phone and take a photo of the chaos.

 

The reality: “Get dressed” means take your pyjamas off in kitchen and refuse to wear clothes for an hour.

I am of an age where I can remember life without social media. It is a huge part of my life but I know what it was like before it. I can look at photos on social media with a critical eye and question why someone may have posted that particular shot, cropped it that way, added that filter. I know because I do it myself. There is a generation behind me however who know no different. The culture of sharing their lives is somewhat innate and it raises too many for questions for me to pose or answer here. And before you think this is one of those posts that is going to slam millennials, you’re wrong. I’m merely expressing a curiosity as to why we feel a need to do this and what it means for the future. How do we ensure that people do have the ability to read between the lines of what is presented to them on social media?

 

The reality: bed hair first thing in the morning, bags under my eyes.

So if Facebook for me is my idealised life then Instagram is my coffee table glossy book life (complete with an index of hashtags), Twitter is my stream of consciousness and Snapchat is the god awful truth, after all it disappears after ten seconds never to be seen again (unless someone screen shots it!). These are the versions of my life online. I am glad my best friend got to see my real life for a month. It was no surprise to her.

 

Cropped and filtered for instagram but the smiles are real; that’s friendship.