There were things left me feeling ashamed, like how I didn’t stand up for myself

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When my first son was 10 months old I went to see my boss to discuss my options for returning to work. I never once believed that my request to work part time would be turned down. And that’s not because I’m arrogant but because the organisation I work for is a forward-thinking institution with family-friendly policies. Added to which, other women in my department who had been on maternity leave had always returned to their old positions, worked part time or in job shares, their grade and salary and career path in tact.

So when my boss told me that this was not case for me I was totally unprepared.

I suggested a job share, but apparently, my job required ‘continuity and consistency’, I offered to make sure my hours were spread out across the week, but my offer was rejected. I wondered if my boss didn’t like me, if she was unhappy with my performance, but I had always had glowing PDRs, my direct reports and I had great rapport and respect for each other. And I got on really well with colleagues from other departments.

I was incredulous. And devastated. And I couldn’t believe the hypocrisy of it. The two women who made this decision, my boss, worked compacted hours (5 days in 4) and Director, worked part time hours which were always changing. These two women had successful careers at our organisation partly thanks to the fact that they had both benefitted from the flexible working policies. (Let’s not even mention the fact that the stream of work which made my job unsuitable for being part time, became redundant not long after this).

I could have appealed their decision. But I was scared. If I lost, I would be out of a job. And what would happen if I won the appeal, would my working environment become toxic? And I was weak and I was desperate. Because although I knew that I loved my son, I had realised quite early on in motherhood that I was not cut out to be a stay at home mum. I have unending amounts of admiration for those who can do it, but me? I just about managed a year of it. In order for me to function happily and healthily I needed something else for my mind to be working on, and I needed the company and conversation of other adults. And because of this need, and the fear that I might not have a job to go to, I didn’t fight for my rights, I didn’t fight for myself.

Instead I let them demote me.

And that decision has had such a negative impact on me.

Ok, so those of you who work in HR or employment law, or have had to ‘pick up the slack’ when a woman has gone on maternity leave will say that it was my manager’s right to make that decision. That I shouldn’t have my cake and eat it too. That I’m lucky to have a job. But I took a big cut in my pay, and most damaging of all, I took a huge cut in my already low self-esteem. Something that, six years later, I still haven’t recovered from.

So why am I bringing this up all these years later? Why am I moaning about something I didn’t have the guts to change? Well, it’s because I’ve been thinking a lot lately about so many things, about sisterhood and about fairness and about people being created equal. These glittering ideals that I’d always felt so strongly about, had faith in. I’ve never been one for organised religion, when people ask I say I’m more spiritual, my faith lies in people, in humanity. But right now, my faith is wavering, it’s being slowly picked at with the tiniest needles. The marks may not be visible to the naked eye, but the effect is cumulative and creates a tsunami of doubt in my mind.

It’s a hard lesson to learn but I’m only now seeing that when it comes to your professional life, you can only rely on yourself. No one else is going to push you to achieve lofty ambitions, no one will hand you a promotion on a plate, and no one will stick up for you when things don’t quite go your way. You have to be your own superhero. You have to be confident and tell people about your great work, and you have to fight for promotions. When I finally find my cape and my self-esteem, I guess just need to keep reminding myself of this.

The Year in Books | Jan 2017

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This year, I’m joining Laura from Circle of Pines again for her excellent reading project The Year in Books (#theyearinbooks). It’s a kind of reading group but instead of everyone reading the same book at the same time, you aim to read at least one book a month. You can then tell others about it via your blog, Pinterest, Instagram or Twitter using #theyearinbooks. And once a month you can join a friendly bunch of fellow bibliophiles chatting about books on the Twitter chat that Laura hosts. There’s no pressure and no judging and you’ll probably have a TBR pile for your TBR pile!

For January, Milk and Honey by @rupikaur_ was my choice to kickstart the new year. It was brilliant and brutal, honest and open. If you like poetry, do give it a go, I read it in one sitting.

New dawn, new day

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But I think the biggest part of my inability to get this blog up and running is that I have convinced myself that there’s no point. That I’m no good. I mean, seriously, in this world of blogging, where blogs actually look good, really good, why would anyone want to read my stuff once, let alone come back again and again?

An abandoned blogpost that I rediscovered today really got me thinking. I spent last year feeling so excited about resurrecting this blog of mine, but I also spent just as much time sabotaging myself. I told myself that there was no place for me in this brave new world of blogging. I’m an old school blogger and I’m about words. I’m just not that great at beautiful pictures and styling and promotion so if I can’t do that, how will I ever be a great blogger?

It got me thinking about a post I’d read earlier in 2016 by Helen @bookishbaker. I read that post and immediately had one of those ‘Oh god YES, me too. Thank f*ck I’m not alone’ moments. Because until I’d read Helen’s post I hadn’t realised there was a name for this, at times, crippling trait. Imposter syndrome.

If you look up the actual definition of Imposter Syndrome, there are many references to high achievers, and while I am not one of those, I often wonder if this syndrome has prevented me from achieving everything I dream of. I am very well acquainted with the nagging voice in my head which tells me ‘you’re going to get found out, everyone will realise you’re not good at anything, that you’re not a nice person’. The voice which often pipes up when I’m starting to feel a little bit brave about reaching for my dreams. The voice which persuades me to shrink myself back down again to the smallest version of myself. The me who is much happier to avoid taking any risks. I remember telling a former counsellor about that voice. Those exact words that it repeats over and over ‘you’re going to get found out’. The thing is, if I told you that I knew someone who was always saying these things to another, constantly belittling and berating them, and chipping away at their self-esteem, you would call them a bully, or worse still a bitch. So why do I think it’s okay to do that to myself? I’m not sure I’ll ever work that one out.

And I turned 40 last year. And rather than gracefully accepting that I’d reached this amazing age, I didn’t take it very well at all. I was struck with an inertia which was fuelled by a ferocious belief that I have just not achieved much in my life. Without wanting to come across all cliched, 2016 was one of my worst years. My depression struck me more times in a year than I can remember, my husband lost his job, my nephew was diagnosed with a genetic disorder, my father was taken seriously ill (much recovered now), Brexit, Trump, deaths of childhood heroes…the world seemed out of kilter.

But here I am, and here’s 2017 sparkling with possibility. This is a new year. A new start. A new chance. So I’m going to try and be brave. I’m going to blog more, spend more time making and enjoy time with my family, and well, just generally try to be more positive. And whenever that weasly voices pipes up, I’m going to tell it to ‘shut up!’.

The Year in Books | May 2016

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Just as I’d hoped, April’s book, The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion was heart-warming and funny.  My last few books were each wonderful in their own way but for April I was after something light and uplifting and with a touch of romance. This definitely ticked all the boxes for me.

Our protagonist Don is a genetics professor and nearing his fortieth birthday. His friends and colleagues seem to suspect that Don is probably somewhere on the autistic spectrum but we’re not entirely sure if he is aware of this himself. Don is hugely intelligent, likes routine and order, and certainly doesn’t like the unexpected. And he devises a system, complete with a pretty stringent questionnaire, to find himself the perfect wife.

As a character, I really warmed to Don, I think because he was different to any other character I’ve come across in some time. His quirks and his difficulties in social situations were so endearing and I found myself rooting for him throughout the book, which I thoroughly enjoyed. If you’re after something a bit different, funny and warm, this is the book for you.

And so to May. I’ve chosen something very different,  A Song for Issy Bradley by Carys Bray. Since I’ve become a mother, I find it really difficult to read about the loss of a child because I just don’t want to think about that ever happening. But I’m drawn to this book because I’ve heard so many good things about it. There are bound to be tears,  so I’ll grab my box of tissues and *deep breath* here it goes…

YOU CAN FIND OUT MORE ABOUT ABOUT #THEYEARINBOOKS AT CIRCLE OF PINES.

The Year in Books | April 2016

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First a few words about March’s book The Longest Way Home: One Man’s Quest for the Courage to Settle Down by Andrew McCarthy. Yes that Andrew McCarthy, he of the Brat Pack fame, brooding Kevin from St Elmo’s Fire, swoonsome Blaine from Pretty in Pink. Him. These days, although Andrew still acts and directs he’s made a name for himself as a travel writer and is currently editor-at large for National Geographic Traveller magazine. With credits like that I was bound to be in for a great read, and I can tell you that I was not disappointed.

The Longest Way Home is part travel journal and part memoir and it is wholly honest. McCarthy travels through some very different countries describing his journeys and environments with such skill that at times I felt I was standing right there next to him. He is a natural storyteller.

He is searingly honest about the major relationships in his life – his father, his children, his ex wife and his fiancee. By his own admissions he is avoiding commitment and never feels he can truly give himself to his family, despite really wanting to. This is perfectly illustrated when, in the run up to his wedding, he accepts several successive jobs to far flung countries, leaving the ever-patient D to look after the kids and plan a wedding abroad. I found myself wondering where D found the grace and patience to deal with this and how come she wasn’t falling apart at the seams (perhaps she was?). And yet while to some McCarthy might have come across as self-indulgent and perhaps even selfish, I felt that he was just trying to find the best version of himself. And *spoiler alert* because he was able to to do that, this love story has a happy ending. Thank goodness for that – my heart would’ve broken if I’d found out that McCarthy was really a plonker all along!

So what’s in store for April? Well I’ve had The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion  sitting on my to be read (tbr) pile for some time now. I fancy something a little more light-hearted so I think this will be just the thing.

YOU CAN FIND OUT MORE ABOUT ABOUT #THEYEARINBOOKS AT CIRCLE OF PINES.

Smell the sea and feel the sky

Every Easter our little family makes the journey down to St Ives for a week. Although we’ve only done it for three years it has already become a tradition, a pilgrimage of sorts, that we all love. Luckily for me I have a super organised bezzie mate C who plans everything, researches the houses, books them, does an online Tesco shop to be delivered the evening we arrive. I just have to transfer the money to her and check the shopping list and make sure my rabble get there in one piece.

In previous years we’ve stayed in a house just five minutes walk away from the main beaches and shops, but up a very steep hill. This year C outdid herself and found us a traditional old cottage in the heart of St Ives in Downalong (the house with the blue windows pictured below). The current owners had bought it in a sorry state and managed to bring it back to life having lovingly refurbished it. They named it The Wreck and although this name may speak of its past, it certainly wasn’t the case now. The updates were sympathetic but contemporary and there was plenty of space for our happy rabble of four adults and four kids.

It was certainly a plus point to have a coffee shop/deli a few steps away. And the delectable St Ives Bakery, where the brownies and rocky road are huge and mouth-watering, was just around the corner.

On our first day we just had to visit our favourite eatery, Hub. Located right on the harbour their burgers and pulled pork are succulent and their skin-on fries are delicious. The kids get a fab lolly for pudding as part of the kids’ meal so everyone’s happy. That particular morning we were lucky enough to see the RNLI washing one of their boats right outside the window while we were eating. The little jumps of excitement and thrilled squeals from the mini people were just lovely.Arriving

We were so very lucky with the weather. It felt a tad colder than last year but we were treated to blue skies and perfect white clouds on pretty much every day we were there. As soon as we got to the beach the wetsuits were on and the kids were frolicking in the surf, and it was pretty hard trying to convince them to come out. Even though their hands and feet were freezing they would have stayed in the water all day if they could have. But common sense prevailed so after we dried them off and changed their clothes they were happy to explore the rockpools and waterfall on Porthmeor Beach.image
We always try to make sure that us adults get to have a date night each. with one couple staying in to babysit while the other goes out for a nice meal. This year we decided to try the Rum & Crab Shack and it did not disappoint – delicious food and rum cocktails in a welcoming restaurant overlooking the sea. Just perfect.

One evening, when the roads were quiet, Husb and I managed to walk the cobbled streets, exploring all the little lanes and nooks and crannies. We found sweet little fisherman’s cottages, cosy restaurants, indie shops with homewares, gifts and art, reams of bunting and  beautiful doors aplenty.

On one of the days having discovered that the weather forecast was not great we decided to get on the train for a change. For only a few pounds each we had a train ride with the most spectacular views of St Ives, Carbis Bay and Lelant Saltings. It was a short but sweet ride.

We then all bundled into our cars and headed to Newquay where we had a great time at the Blue Reef Aquarium. It was quite small but it kept us all entertained for the afternoon, the highlight being the tunnel where you could see the sealife swimming around and above you. Oh and how could we forget the superstar of the Aquarium, Omiros the rescued Loggerhead turtle?

image For the rest of the week we were blessed with more of those dreamy blue skies and fluffy white clouds. We spent as much time as we could at the beach, making sure we visited Porthminster, the Harbour and Porthgwidden. As well as another visit to the kids’ favourite, Porthmeor.

There is something about St Ives that I just can’t put my finger on. It could be that ethereal light that artists often seek out, a light that I’ve not seen anywhere else. It could be the beaches or the bluest skies. Whatever it is, I feel so happy there. And so does our whole gang. Some people ask us why we don’t visit other places but when all eight of us are happy to be somewhere, why change?

St Ives, we truly love you.image

The Year in Books | March 2016

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First a few words about February’s book The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon. Laura @circleofpines wanted to try something different for #theyearinbooks for one month and suggested that anyone who was interested could read the same book. I was thrilled to win a copy in the giveaway Laura organised and came over all child-like when the parcel arrived with the beautiful, blue tome inside.

Goats and Sheep is set in the sweltering summer of 1976. Mrs Creasey has gone missing and the residents on The Avenue fear the worst so ten-year-old friends Grace and Tilly decide to investigate. Goats and Sheep was everything I could ask for in a book – intelligent, sympathetic, funny, keenly observed and oh-so-beautifully written. So many times I was transported to that street, I could see the neighbours milling and colluding and I could feel that uncomfortable heat. Oddly enough after my choice for January, this too was a book about secrets. But it was also about friendships, relationships, parents, how people can be quick to judge others, and how those judgements can influence others and ruin lives. And I fell in love with Tilly who was patient, sweet, innocent yet wiser than her years.

Laura organised a one-off #theyearinbooks twitter chat to discuss the book and it was such a treat to have the author join in. Joanna was funny and thoughtful and I could totally imagine sitting in a pub chatting with her (as I often do my fellow #ytheyearinbooks tweeters!). I look forward to reading her follow up but for now I hope she’s just enjoying the excellent reaction her debut is so deservedly getting.

And so to March. Although I’m in total denial, I’ll be turning the big four-oh this year (eeep!). To ease the pain a bit I’m re-visiting songs, albums, films, books from my formative years. I was a massive fan of the Brat Pack and John Hughes films so I was interested to see that both Molly Ringwald and Andrew McCarthy (who I had the most mahoosive crush on) have added another string to their bow, that of published writer. I read Molly’s novel last year and loved it so much so that I’m hoping to re-read it this year. But I have chosen Andrew McCarthy’s, The Longest Way Home: One Man’s Quest for the Courage to Settle Down for my March read. Part travel journal, part memoir, the reviews promise a personal exploration of Andrew’s commitment phobia, his life in showbiz and his relationships via his love of travel. I’m really looking forward to this one.

YOU CAN FIND OUT MORE ABOUT ABOUT #THEYEARINBOOKS AT CIRCLE OF PINES.