Tomato on toast and other marital tales

My hubby has a few idiosyncrasies (Let’s face it, don’t we all!)

For someone who is extremely adaptable and loves to learn new skills, Let’s just say he likes certain things done a particular way. 

Take his favourite supper – tomato on toast – for example.

Every one I know cuts tomatoes like this.

Image by Wilfred Wong on Unsplash

But in his world, everyone should cut tomatoes like this (and those who don’t obviously just don’t know the right way yet.)

Then there’s the toast itself. It has to be buttered right away. And I mean immediately. If the toaster pops and you run to the drawer to grab a knife, you’ve missed the window. 

Im proud to say I’ve finally mastered the technique. At the first whisper of the pop, you pounce on the toast like it’s your prey and lather it with butter before it has the chance to lie thick on top. Soaked in my friends, it must be soaked in.

And here’s the ultimate toast test. Once buttered, Does that bread bend? If not, and it breaks in half, you’re doomed to witness a crestfallen expression and a drawn breath of disappointment. If it pleases his majesty, there’s a beaming smile and a sigh of satisfaction. 

Every time Bill asks me to make him tomato on toast, I have a wee chuckle to myself. I used to get exasperated; I’d take toast whatever way it comes. But ten years of marriage has changed that. We all have the little things that mean a lot when people do them for us. The things that make us feel cherished, valued and important. 

Image by Elly Johnson on Unsplash

Maybe you’re like me and an unexpected home-made meal or an extra hour in bed means the world. 

Perhaps it’s a bowl of steaming hot porridge made with love each morning. 

It could be someone offering to pay for your lunch. 

Or a friend thoughtfully remembering about that job interview and asking how it went. 

A word of encouragement and support when you do something out of your comfort zone might be your greatest gift. 

Why not ask your family, your friends and your spouse what little things make them feel the most loved? And when you find out, commit to doing those things for a week? You might just see that person come all the more alive when they feel cherished by you. 

I know I’ll be making tomato on toast Bill’s way for many more years to come. Just because sometimes the little things really are the big things.

To love and to cherish, from this day forward. 

H x

Image by Jamie Street on Unsplash

She was gone before I knew it

Many of you parents will be familiar with those groggy mornings after a rough night with the kids. Some days go like a blur don’t they? Days when the fog of sheer exhaustion wraps itself around you like a thick duvet.

One such morning not long ago, Bill and I were lying there slowly coming out of our night’s stupor when – 

‘Sound the Eden alarm!!’

Daddy sat bolt upright.

‘She’s escaped! She went after a bird. I told her not to!’

Daddy was off like a rocket. Somehow Eden had managed to find the front door keys and was down the street when he caught her. Only that Zoë, the ever responsible sister, reported for duty, who knows how far she would have got. 

She was gone before we knew it. 

Image by Tom Parsons on Unsplash

Time is a bit like that, isn’t it?

Who could have imagined we would now be in our 8th week of lockdown? 

It’s hard to take in that our little escapee will be three in a couple of weeks. 

Many parents can’t believe it when they are getting their children ready to go to P1. Or sending them off to their first formal. Or walking their daughter down the aisle.

One thing my girls love to do is dance. The other day they dressed up as princesses and we pranced about to ‘Cinderella’ by Steven Curtis Chapman. The chorus goes like this:

“So I will dance with Cinderella, while she is here in my arms. ‘Cause I know something the prince never knew. Oh, I will dance with Cinderella, I don’t wanna miss even one song. ‘Cause all too soon the clock will strike midnight… and she’ll be gone.”

‘Cinderella’ was written about Steven’s daughters, to remind him to appreciate each moment he had with his girls before they grew up.

And have to admit, it breaks me every time I hear it. Most especially because Maria, one of his precious little girls, is now in heaven. He’s now looking forward to the day he’ll dance with her again. 

How many of us could have known that right now we wouldn’t be allow to hug our parents for three months? Or have dinner with our friends? Or visit our loved ones in care homes?

Image by Alexander Popov on Unsplash

Time goes so fast sometimes it takes our breath away. But it doesn’t have to pass by unnoticed or unsavored. 

  • Slow down today
  • Take a deep breath 
  • Take time to dance (even if you’re bad at it like me!) 
  • Hold your kids a little tighter
  • Soak in every beaming smile and ripple of laughter
  • Give your husband or wife a lingering hug in the hall 
  • Ask your friend how they are doing
  • Post a letter to your loved one

This isn’t some cheesy plea to cherish every minute. We all know that is totally unrealistic. 

It’s more of a reminder to myself to slow it down on those dark, grey, foggy days and capture those memories in full colour rather than blurred motion. 

Intercept the escaping toddler of time. Treasure the important moments in a place where they won’t ever be lost. Because all too soon, this time will be over.

H x

Image of Groomsport, Northern Ireland by Suzanne Hanna

The moment when there wasn’t room

We’ve all heard the expression, ‘too many cooks spoil the broth,’ right?

Zoë broke my heart one afternoon. Two of her wee friends had decided that she wasn’t worth including that day.

‘Lucy and Emily* said I was boring,’ she told me, in a defiant tone, but with eyes that searched for reassurance, and her upper lip still quivering with rejection.

It felt like someone was stabbing my heart (I’m sure all you parents have been there!), but I tried to keep my response lighthearted.

‘Well, what do you think? Were they right? 
‘No, because I’m not boring.’
‘Ah. Well that’s that sorted then! It didn’t feel nice, but you know it’s not true, right? So you don’t need to worry about it anymore.’

That seemed to satisfy her, and off she bounded, her happy self again. But she still relives that moment every so often, with the same sadness filling her expression as she remembers. 

The moment when there wasn’t room.

Image by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Have you ever felt or been told there wasn’t room for you? That people didn’t know what to do with you? That no one noticed you? That no one thought you were worth inviting?

Zoë’s wonderful teacher has a great rule for her class that I think we could all do with living by. 

‘We are all friends here. We don’t have to play together, but there’s space for everyone to play.’

There’s space for everyone to play. 

What a great rule for all of life’s classrooms: our families, our communities, our churches, our organisations and our workplaces. 

What if there was always room?

  • Room to develop
  • Room to grow
  • Room to celebrate each other’s strengths
  • Room to allow for mistakes and weaknesses
  • Room to be real without being judged

I often dream of a world where there’s always room. Where there’s always space to play. 

Image by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

A world where another person’s beauty and talent does not mean an absence or lessening of your own. 

A world where no one feels threatened, belittled, compared, left out, or rejected. 

A world where everyone is friends; not in a claustrophobic, possessive way, but in the sense of a willingness to welcome others into the space we inhabit.

That world we will see someday in full colour. Jesus said, ‘In my father’s house, there are many rooms.’ There’ll be room in heaven for all of us to live, laugh, love, worship and serve. 

But for now, let’s look around. 

  • Who can we give space to grow?
  • Who can we encourage?
  • Who can we invite in?
  • Who can we include?
  • Who can we celebrate?

I know I’m an idealist. But maybe it’s realistic to hope to witness fewer moments in this life where there isn’t room. 

H x

*The names used above are substitutes for the real ones.

Image by Luke Porter on Unsplash

The dinosaur in my freezer: dealing with panic in a pandemic

Today I found a dinosaur in my freezer.

We’d left the freezer to defrost (for the first time in about two years – no joke!)

When I opened the door there it was, staring back at me.

It looked totally out of place.

Well, in a toddler’s mind, a freezer was the perfect world for it to live in. But I knew it didn’t belong there. Not that I’m a palaeontologist or anything, but you’d never logically associate dinosaurs with thriving in icy conditions, would you?

Some people think the ice age killed off the dinosaurs, some say it was Noah’s flood, and others think that they just died out over time. Whatever option you choose, it was an environmental change that made living conditions impossible.

I don’t know about you, but at the moment I feel a bit like that dinosaur in my freezer.

Suddenly people are telling us that the environment we’ve always lived in, laughed in and loved in is now hostile and threatening. Everything feels a bit surreal at the moment; it’s as if we’ve been been plunged into the pages of some apocalyptic novel.

The truth is, if I hadn’t rescued that poor little guy from the cold and ice, he would have been frozen solid. And it got me thinking, what positive actions are needed in the midst of this pandemic? What steps can we take to stop the surrounding panic from paralysing us?

If you’ve ever had a panic attack, or been with someone who’s having one, you’ll know of a technique called ‘grounding.’ Put simply, it’s focusing on what is right in front of you – on what you can see, hear, taste, smell and touch – to draw back from multiple potential futures and experience more deeply what’s happening in the present.

Image by D. Tsellobenok on Unsplash

So here’s some useful questions to ask yourself when you begin to feel fear frosting you over at this time:

#1 What can I see?

If you’re anything like me, you’re spending a lot of your time these days worrying about the safety of those you love.

When I find myself worrying about others, instead of allowing myself to catastrophize or go down a rabbit hole of anxious thoughts, I’ve found it really helpful to connect with them in some way. Whether it be in conversation or in writing, I tell them how much I love them and are thankful for them. Either that, or I say a prayer of thanks for the warmth and richness they bring to my life.

This has a double benefit; not only does it bless the person you encourage, but it brings you back into the present and allows you to experience the joy of knowing them in that moment.

The same goes for nature. Its beauty is all around us. It hasn’t gone away, and it won’t anytime soon. Stop and take a look at what you can see and experience the wonder again. Be thankful for what you see.

#2 What do I know?

There’s a lot of uncertainty as to what’s ahead. What will happen with schools? How will businesses survive? How will we worship together again? When can I hug my mum?

Let me say that projections and predictions will not help you any, they will just feed your fears. Limit how many news reports you watch or read, and focus each day on what you do know!

  • As a Christian, I do know God is always close and that He has promised never to leave me.
  • I know I have friends and family who love me.
  • I know that right now I have breath in my lungs and my heart is beating.
  • I know I have a new day to fill with love, life, learning and laughter.

Yes, I might not know what tomorrow will bring. But I do have today. I have people who love me, and I have a God who walks with me this very moment, in every moment.

Image by Derek Sears on Unsplash

#3 What can I do?

There’s a lot of things about this situation that we can’t control.

We have no way of knowing how the virus will spread and who will be affected by it. We can’t prevent widespread loss of jobs, relationships or life. We can’t go wherever we want or see who we normally see.

But why not focus on the things we can do?

  • We can follow the government guidelines
  • We can eat as much nutritional food as possible to boost immunity
  • We can do exercise to help our mood
  • We can limit our screen time
  • We can finish that little project we’ve been meaning to do for ages
  • We can connect with family and friends
  • We can talk to our neighbours
  • We can collect for our local food bank
  • We can reach out to those who are isolated and let them know we care.

We have the gift of time. Let’s focus on what we can do with it.

Focus on what you can see, right now

Focus on what you do know, each day

Focus on what you can do, in this time.

Don’t let fear freeze you solid. Instead, let the gifts you have right in front of you thaw your heart and open the door of your life to thankfulness and gratitude.

H x

Image by Markus Lederer on Unsplash

A Four Year Old’s Guide to Confidence

It’s incredible what life can do to your confidence, isn’t it?

How many of you remember the hurtful comments said to you at school as if it was yesterday? I’ll never forget being attention being drawn to my lanky legs, pale complexion, lack of trendy clothes, weird accent or total absence of sporting ability. 

As an adult, every time someone laughs or draws attention to a weakness of mine in a group of people, I feel the same twinge inside. 

Perhaps like me, although you’ve learned to laugh it off, you still can’t help but feel small and self conscious inwardly. 

Sometimes I wish I could be four again, or seven, or even ten. 

My mum and dad will tell you that at four years of age I was fearless – the epitome of confidence.

I used to chase wild boars out of our garden with not a thought for dangerous they were. I would collect locusts, frogs and spiders and hide them in my suitcase at boarding school. My poor sister got a toad planted on her pillow one night. I navigated the daily risk of accidentally stepping on a snake with total nonchalance and ease.

Image by Philip Veater on Unsplash

I also hadn’t a care for what people thought; sometimes to the utter embarrassment of my parents, who were absolutely mortified when I told a man in the supermarket who had a ponytail that I thought his hair was ‘disgusting’ (Cringe!) 

My mind was overflowing with ideas, and always full of faith that I could carry them out. I went on a flight alone at the age of seven, and had no qualms about bussing it all round the country as early as ten years old. I wrote letters of complaint to local officials and was the first person in our family to buy a suitcase with wheels, and to purchase and use a mobile phone. 

Zoë reminds me so much of me as a little girl. The first time we took her to the beach, she ran straight into the water. No fear whatsoever. She’s learned how to hold a pencil, write letters, play tunes on the piano, pretty much all by herself. She’s confident in who God made her, and she’ll try anything. 

Isn’t it sad though, that by the time we are adults, many of us are better at dwelling on our imperfections than our potential?

One day around a year ago, I got up and looked in the mirror. I did not like what I saw… Dark circles, freckles, wrinkles, jeans too tight. I’m ashamed to say I was feeling sorry for myself. Fast forward to getting Zoë dressed for the day; I told her she looked lovely in her wee outfit, and she beamed and said, ‘Yes, I am beautiful, because God MADE me beautiful.’ 

Just last week, a similar thing happened. I’d spent the whole day recording and wincing at every dodgy note as I listened to it afterwards, then Zoë watches herself belting out a nursery rhyme on video and says, ‘Wow, I really can sing so well mummy. God has given me a great voice.’

When a four year old says this, it doesn’t sound like conceit or pride. So what happens between the age of four and fourteen? What comes about between the ages of fourteen and forty?

Some people seem to have escaped the confidence hit. My husband has an inspirational amount of it! From tiling floors to fixing cars, he’s tried it all with a can do attitude. Why? He knows that God has made him a certain way, and he embraces it to the nth degree. I learn from him everyday that confidence and arrogance are not the same thing. Confidence is a feeling of trust in someone or something. Arrogance, on the other hand, is being full of self-importance and having a feeling of superiority over others.

How can we teach our kids to keep their confidence into adulthood without them becoming arrogant? 

Maybe we should teach them not how to have confidence in themselves, but in the competence of the One who made them. If you know that God himself is your Creator, then you know he has made you well and designed you with a particular purpose in mind. 

As Albert Einstein put it, ‘if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.’ We so often dwell on what’s missing in us, instead of what God has put into us. 

You are fearfully and wonderfully made. For a purpose. Never forget it. A squirrel is made to climb trees, and a fish is made to swim. You can’t be and do everything, and neither should you.

So the next time someone points out a weakness in you, if it’s true, acknowledge it. But don’t let it affect your confidence. You were made with a purpose in mind. Trust that the One who made you did a perfect job. 

And walk it out like a four year old!

H x

Image by Gaetano Cessati on Unsplash

Three chimps and a turtle: What’s your stress animal?

Three chimps and a turtle live in our house. 

Not literally, of course [though wouldn’t that be fun!]

I’m talking about my family and our stress styles.

Eden is our adorable wee turtle. Today, she was upset by an altercation she’d had with Zoë. She ran off to the playroom, hid under a blanket and point blank refused to come out. When I finally persuaded her to emerge, she just cuddled me in silence for what seemed like a VERY long time. When she was ready, she hopped down and off she went. Not a word said. 

You see, if you’re a turtle and you’re put under stress … your first instinct is to hide. When you’re threatened, your natural impulse is to withdraw from the situation altogether. Faced with confrontation, you bury your head in your shell for a while until you’re ready to come out. If you’re a turtle, instead of talking about how you feel, you’ll have a tendency to internalise emotions in your body. For you, stress might manifest in physical, rather than emotional symptoms; headaches, digestive issues, palpitations and so on. 

The other three members of our household, on the other hand, are always a little too ready to vocalise our opinion in an animated fashion. 

The first day Bill and I met, we had an argument.

You could say it was love at first fight. 

I strongly disagreed with a theological viewpoint he held. And clearly that passion had a major wooing effect, because he just had to get my number to apologise. We’ve been arguing ever since, but we are more in love than we’ve ever been. 

When Zoë came along, though, it seems we met our match. Two strong-willed adults versus one of her, and yet somehow the four year old often still seems to win. She could ‘buy and sell ye,’ as they say here in Northern Ireland. Her determination is fiery, her passion is impressive, and her negotiation skills are something else altogether. 

You see, if you’re a chimp, stress or conflict brings out the inner monkey in you

You gesticulate 

You give off

You have extreme emotions

You can become a bit defensive and moody

You might even screech when something annoys you! 

The reality is that during this time of lockdown, all of us are under prolonged stress. It’s having a major impact on all of us, whether we want to recognise it or not. Work pressures, financial uncertainties, missing loved ones and constraints on our freedoms will at times feel like too much to bear. 

How are you responding to the stress?

Some of us will internalise it, process it inwardly, and get uncomfortably quiet. Others need to vent, complain and moan dramatically every now again.

Both are completely normal. 

But here’s the deal. 

Those of us who are chimps need to take a leaf out of the turtle’s book every now and then. When I feel ready to snap at whoever is unfortunate enough to come my direction next, maybe I should try hiding under a blanket for a while instead. It might just calm me down. 

Same goes for the turtles. Believe it or not, sometimes it is actually good to talk about how you feel. Why not emerge from the safety of your shell every now and then and share that heavy load you’ve been carrying around? ‘Cause sometimes your shell can also become your burden. 

What’s your stress animal? And how can you tame it to serve you better during this time?

H. x

Strong Girls Club: Becoming your own kind of Brave

I love the Pixar movie ‘Brave’, and most especially its main character. ‘Merida,’ a Scottish highland royal, is a spunky princess with a fiery spirit. She questions everything and she resists restrictions of every kind. Yet as the plot unfolds, Merida discovers what real bravery is, and owns it in a way that’s true to her story. Along the way, she realises that – contrary to what she first thought – courage is not escaping the realities of her life but rather facing them head on – learning compromise and contentment on the journey. 

The women I see all around me are all kinds of brave. All kinds of strong. All kinds of courageous.

  • Bravely longing 

Im thinking first of those who quietly carry the weighty burden of unfulfilled longings. 

… a soul mate to live life with 

… a child of your own

… a friend to open your heart to

… a body free of pain

For now, it seems like all around you people are celebrating their attainment of what seems so far out of your reach. 

Some of you sob silently in the car, in the shower, after every wedding, social occasion, a dedication service you attend. Longing yawns at your soul like an ever widening chasm that you can’t escape. 

You want to hide away. But the majority of the time you don’t. You attend that engagement party, wedding, baby shower, choosing to shower your friends with gifts, meals and love.

Even in the depths of deep longing, you continue to cultivate contentment and grow in gratitude. 

You are your own gracious and generous kind of brave, even when you don’t feel it. 

  • Bravely Misunderstood  

I’m thinking here of those of you who are ambitious, gifted in leadership, and career-minded. You have been painted as hard-nosed, cold, detached, or as having a hidden agenda. You’re the threat in the boardroom, the butt of chauvinistic jokes, the brunt-bearer of laddish humour. You laugh it off as you smart inside. You hold it together there and then and cry your tears later. 

It hurts, but it won’t stop you striving for excellence, growing in your gifts and getting those promotions. 

You are your own delightfully determined kind of brave, even when you don’t feel it. 

  • Bravely Battling 

We’ve all heard the phrase, ‘Everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about.’ The fact is, some of you are fighting private battles we will never ever know about. 

Whether it’s hormonal issues, digestive problems, anxiety, depression, abuse, or traumatic childhood memories … you drag yourself up and out, go to work, smile, serve others or tend to little ones’ needs. You do your best work. Every single day. Even on the days when your best is simply lying in bed, crippled with pain.

Even those days.

You are your own tenaciously tender kind of brave, even when you don’t feel it. 

  • Bravely exhausted 

Some of you caregivers are living bravely in the midst of your exhaustion. Whether it’s looking after multiple babies and toddlers, partners with depression, parents with dementia, or children with complex needs; you pour yourself out day on day, year on year, for the dignity and flourishing of others – often with very little support or respite.

You are bravely exhausted. But you’re effervescently courageous, even when you don’t feel it. 

The women I see all around me are all kinds of brave. 

Courage comes in all shapes and sizes. It looks different for every person. But it always involves facing facts, summoning strength to persevere, having the humility to make changes, and cultivating a sweet spirit along the way. 

Let’s remember, though, that bravery is not something that needs to happen alone. 

If you are experiencing complex challenges in life, you may feel invisible to the world. But you are not. You are seen by God. And you are cared for by so many. 

Reach out. 

Join a ‘strong girls club’ near you today. Reach out to other courageous women you see around you. Because when you are your own kind of brave before others, they will catch your courage, and they will pass it on.

Be your own kind of brave, but don’t be brave alone. 

 H x

When Good Enough is Perfectly Good Enough

The first twenty months of my firstborn’s life lulled the self-confessed perfectionist in me into a false sense of security.

After a relatively textbook labour (still grim, mind you – what birth isn’t?) I was so grateful to meet my little Zoë – a little rainbow baby after the loss of our first child through ectopic pregnancy. Zoë’s name means ‘the life God gives,’ and I felt so privileged to have been given this little gift that I determined I would work as hard as I possibly could to give her the best start in life.

Many of those early days and long nights were spent lounged on the sofa feeding, watching Netflix series as my selfless hubby brought me countless glasses of water and plates of food. I cuddled my baby as often as I could; sang nursery rhymes to her every every morning; taught her colours, words and letters with great enthusiasm; took endless photographs; and tenaciously noted down every milestone reached.

Don’t get me wrong, it definitely wasn’t some kind of Mother Earth Eutopia. I had lip-curling moments of pain, months of sleep deprivation and plenty of times when I felt down or overwhelmed. But all in all, I really enjoyed those first months of being a mum, and I thought, ‘maybe I really am up to this challenge.’

[Image by Melissa Askew on Unsplash]

Then our precious little Eden came along, and instead of the peaceful paradise her name would suggest, all too soon my life descended into the chaos of motherhood I had heard about from others.

An unfortunate chain of events began when I became ill with a chest infection after labour, followed by a full year of sickness within the family. There were hospital stays, collapses from physical exhaustion, and weeks of isolation – all undergirded by a horrible sense of guilt that I just didn’t have the energy to lavish the same one-on-one attention upon Eden that I had been able to give first time around.

Feeding on demand alongside an equally demanding toddler pushed my already struggling body to its absolute limit. Then came several months of high anxiety; fears of what would happen when the next illness came along, horrible premonitions of tragedy, topped off by a real loss of confidence.

For the first time ever, I felt completely incapable of holding all my responsibilities together. I struggled when things didn’t go to plan and I had to rearrange and cancel appointments. It had been a long time since I felt I was truly doing a great job.

Over the period of a few months – with lots of prayer and encouragement from loving family, friends and mentors – I came to realise something totally life-changing: ‘good enough’ is actually perfectly good enough. Because while I was constantly worrying about how I was ‘doing’ at parenthood, I was missing the moments right in front of me to be savoured, treasured and enjoyed.

[Image by Drew Coffman on Unsplash]

Now, I am so thankful that things are different. Not perfect at all, mind you, but rather perfectly good enough.

Yes, I may be a mum who is frequently late to the school gate, muttering muted threats under her breath of ‘… if you don’t … I will …’

Yes, I may often be seen frantically chasing my eldest, pulling her frizzy golden locks into a half-hearted ponytail, with the little one clinging onto my coat tails to avoid being left behind.

Yes, I may often be seen returning, red-faced from a mixture of exertion and embarrassment, as I buzz the door (again) because I’ve forgotten to bring a coat or permission slip in.

Yes – pretending not to notice the smirks of surrounding eyewitnesses – I do wrestle a protesting daughter number 2 back into her car seat, flop into the driver’s position, take a few breaths, let out a dramatic sigh, and trundle off pathetically to a friend’s house for a coffee – to ‘recover’ from the whole debacle.

And yet, I have the absolute privilege to be around everyday for my children, to take them for play dates, and to soak up their shining smiles when they catch sight of me at pick-ups. Understanding that for both of them, just being present and loving consistently is more than ‘good enough’ and so it should, in turn, be ‘perfect’ for me, has changed everything.

And do you know what the most encouraging thing is? This recovering perfectionist is now increasingly able to laugh at herself when things go wrong, embrace the beauty of the moment for what it is, and be thankful in the midst of it.

Can you?

Maybe, just maybe, today you need to hear that you are ‘good enough’, and that – all things considered – you are quite simply ‘perfect’ for the family and friends God has gifted you with.

[Image by John-Mark Smith on Unsplash]

Hemmed in or spaced out? Could lockdown cure our FOMO?

My husband and I often joke that our two girls have had a serious case of FOMO (the fear of missing out) ever since the moment they entered this world. 

Such is their level of dread about being excluded from any kind of action, that for a very long time in our house sleep featured only as an optional extra. 

Up until the age of two and a half, if they did go to sleep, they didn’t stay asleep for long. And even when they did sleep, they still didn’t let you off the hook. Number one sneaked into our bed, only to twitch, flip and kick continually, while number two felt compelled to hold on to my hair and stroke my face. ALL NIGHT. (Always mine, by the way – daddy’s face was too scratchy. That’s why daddy didn’t shave.)

Image by Simon Ratzinger [Unsplash]


All this meant little rest for them, no rest for us. Until four months ago. 

Four glorious months. 

Finally – after five relentless years of broken nights – we are all sleeping! And they are playing so well together. We have some healthy space from one another during the day and overnight.

Space

That’s what’s quarantine has gifted some of us with, hasn’t it? Yes, we’ve had the frustration of confined living. Yes, we are missing family, friends and church dreadfully. Yes, we are worrying about the welfare and safety of our communities and loved ones. Yes, we are grieving for lost livelihoods and mourning over excruciating loss of life.

But while lockdown has hemmed us in, in many ways it has paradoxically also offered us space.

  • Wiggle room in our timetables. 
  • Rest from the rat race
  • Time off the hamster wheel
  • Time to think
  • Time to create
  • Time to dream.

Experts suggest that children now have 12 hours less free time a week than they did only two decades ago. And adults are as bad; we are constantly looking for ways to squeeze more efficiency out of ourselves. 

People are saying the time is going faster year on year. Maybe it’s not. Maybe because of our fear of empty space in our lives, we are constantly plugged in, living life on fast-forward and in the process missing half of it. 

I spent some of my early years at boarding school in the west African jungle. 

Sounds exciting, right? Not really. 

Well, it depends on your definition. 

Did I go to ballet, or speech and drama, or hockey club, or zoo trips? No, I didn’t. 

But did I spend hours playing in a treehouse, nestled high up in a beautiful flame tree that blossomed a fiery red in the dry season? Yes, I did. 

Flame tree at my boarding school in Ivory Coast

Did I curl up in a hammock in the shade of the baking noonday sun and devour one Nancy Drew mystery and Babysitters club novel after another? Yes, I did.

Did I cuddle chickens and make worm soup and chase pigs out of my garden with a broom held high over my head? Yes, I did.

I remember the power of the empty space. Because when you don’t have endless entertainment options, you make your own. When you have nothing to miss out on, you don’t feel the need to fill your calendar to bursting. You realise that what you have right in front of you is as magical as anything else. 

Me, 3 years old, in our back garden


Some of us will be struggling with the lack of structure to our lives during lockdown.But what if this empty space could in one offer us an opportunity to take a long, leisurely look at what’s right in front of us? What if with a slow down in pace comes a vision of grace and an attitude of thankfulness? 

What will quarantine teach us here in the Western world? 

It might teach us that margin in our lives is not evidence of missing out but rather a worthy path to chilling out. It might show us that there is creative power to be found in an empty space. It might teach us that quality time and contentment can be found there too. 

It should teach us to respect and cherish those who work tirelessly on the front line, sacrificing their quality of life on a daily basis so that we might keep ours. Their calendar isn’t empty in these times, but fuller than ever. 

Are you feeling hemmed in today? It might help to think of yourself as ‘spaced out’ instead. Because it might sound Irish, but sometimes there’s no gift like an empty present. 

H x

Image by Lina Trochez [Unsplash]

You are not an Octopus

Some of you parents, grandparents or carers might recognise the following scenario:

You sit down with a freshly percolated, steaming hot cup of coffee… and breathe in the delicious scent with satisfaction. You’ve earned this! Do your first delectable dip of chocolate chip cookie, then –

‘Mummmmmyyyyyy! I’m done!’

You fly [almost literally] to the aid of a potty-training two year old who is prone to slide off the toilet prematurely…

CRASH.

Deposit the toddler somewhere ‘safe,’ then dash to the next room, only to find the next sheepish culprit, who looks like she’s just finished a colour run.

‘I’m so sorry mummy, it was an excellent’ [she means accident.]

Accident of excellent proportions, more like.

Image by Senjuti Kundu [Unsplash]

As you begin scrubbing a rainbow of colour from your kitchen chairs, the four year old who spilt the paint suddenly decides she is as thirsty as a camel.

‘Mummy, I’m absolutely parched. I need a drink. I need a drink of water NOW. I’ll die without a drink. I can’t wait for a drink. I just CAN’T. Waiting is so hard.’

Operation clean up suspended. You pour said glass of water with a smi – no, let’s be honest – you do it with gritted teeth.

‘Mummmmyyyyyy. I’m stuck!’

Now it seems the toddler has got herself firmly wedged behind the sofa. Emerge from Operation Rescue red-faced but triumphant: you found Skye from Paw Patrol while you were in there!

Four year old: ‘Mummy, can we make a castle out of toilet rolls, paint it pink and cover it with glitter like -‘

‘ I AM NOT AN OCTOPUS!!!!!!!!!’

Stunned silence. The first there has been all day.

It’s bittersweet, of course. You shouldn’t have raised your voice. But it’s strangely beautiful all the same. You bask in it for the five seconds before the mummy guilt inevitably kicks in.

Then you remember your coffee.

Ah. Stone cold.

Do you ever feel like shouting this at the top of your lungs?

I am not an octopus!

… I am one person

… with one pair of hands.

… I have a limited attention span

… and a finite capacity for interaction.

… My patience is running thin

… and my creativity is running out!’

I simply cannot be enthusiastic teacher, patient parent, happy housecleaner, caring counsellor, faithful friend, fitness fanatic, bonafide baker and insta-influencer ALL IN ONE DAY.’

Life can feel like that sometimes, can’t it? Some moments in ‘lockdown’ have certainly felt like that for me.

Sometimes we need to remind ourselves, and others, that we have limits.

You are not an octopus! You are human. You just have one pair of hands. And sometimes those hands just need to hold a warm cup of coffee in peace and quiet.

Stick on some soothing music and have that cuppa today, if you can – even if it means putting your headphones on and escaping outside for two minutes, while the kids stare wide-eyed through the window at you.

You might just emerge refreshed enough to complete your next mission.

H x

Image by Chad Madden [Unsplash]