Saturday, 11 June 2016

Dear Stranger on the Waterloo Train- please feel free to share this letter, perhaps we can find the stranger (published with permission from my daughter)

                                                                                             11 June 2016
Dear Stranger on the Waterloo Train,

I see you look up from your paper and notice my daughter and I. You are careful not to catch my eye. I see your eyes fall on my daughter’s self-harm scars. It is a hot day, she is wearing a short sleeve t-shirt and her scars are out in the open. I see how uncomfortable they make you feel. I don't blame you, I totally understand that you find the scars confusing. I see your eyes flick up to my face and wonder what kind of mother I am. I see you considering if I might be cold and uncaring or perhaps she cut her arms because life at home was so difficult. That is ok, I don't mind your thoughts as long as you don't voice them to me. It makes sense that you would wonder if we are a dysfunctional family, that you would think we don't love her enough. Her scars are such an outward symbol of her inner pain and you are right- our job as parents is to protect our children and stop them from harming themselves. Perhaps you would prefer her to hide the pain away and not make it so visible?

I want you to know, dear Stranger on the Waterloo Train that we did our very best to try and help her get free from the monster that ran wild in her head. We really did. We quit our jobs, we tried to keep our eyes on her 24 hours a day, we took her to hospital for stitches and for appointments- sometimes we dragged her kicking and screaming because we knew what she needed when she didn’t. I want you to know that I often slept on the floor in her room so I could be close to her, that I cried silent tears there, on that floor. I want you to know how strong I pretended to be every time I had to bandage her arms after the monster in her head had helped her find a way around us so she could harm herself.

Dear Stranger on the Waterloo Train, I see you look up from your paper and notice my daughter and I. I wish you could look past the scars and see her strength, see how she fights the monster in her head everyday just to stay alive. I want you to notice that she is on a train and not curled up in her bed wanting to die anymore. I want you to see her scars and try to understand how an illness that people perceive as is all in your head can also leave scars on your body.

And Dear Stranger on the Waterloo Train, I don’t mind if you judge me as a mother but I beg you, never judge my baby girl, she is braver than those scars look. I pray that you may never have to stand here where I stand.

Much love,

The Mother of the Bravest Girl on the Waterloo Train

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Fight Song Matilda style!

My 13 year old and I went to watch Matilda the musical this evening and it was amazing. I mean, it was amazing. Matilda sings the song ‘Naughty’ in the midst of a really awful scene, her father rejecting her, calling her names. Her mother no better. These are some of the words from that song:

‘Just because you find that life's not fair it
Doesn't mean that you just have to grin and bear it
If you always take it on the chin and wear it
Nothing will change.

Even if you're little, you can do a lot, you
Mustn't let a little thing like, 'little' stop you
If you sit around and let them get on top,
you might as well be saying
You think that it's okay
And that's not right!’

Can I just put it out there for you to hear, I tell you no lie when I say that in the last few years I have yelled many times: ‘That’s not fair!’ Life just isn’t fair sometimes. Your kids get sick, very sick like mine did. Or you lose your job, your marriage struggles, your boss is a bully, you get depression, chronic pain…I could go on but you know what life can throw at you sometimes.

When the tough comes and it does, we have a choice to make. Do I take it on the chin and bear it or do I sit up and say, ‘That’s not right!’ If I just sit and moan that it is unfair my life has been turned upside down by illness, then Matilda says I am just saying that it is ok. IT IS NEVER OK!! Yes I am shouting. I tell you why I am shouting. At some point, after a bit of thumb sucking and allowing other people to pat you on the back and say, ‘There, there..’, you have a choice to make. Stand up and fight for what is rightfully yours to have or sit and let it get on top of you. Health is yours to have, freedom, trust, love, a steady job….

They told me that her case was complex, that her prognosis for recovery was poor because her anorexia had comorbids that made her difficult to treat. So, I dusted myself off, sucked my thumb one last time and went to war. Because ‘That’s not right!’ And even if I am little, I can do a lot, I mustn’t let a little thing like ‘little’ stop me…. We will win this battle and you will win yours if you choose to go to war for what is rightfully yours! This, my friends, is my Fight Song….

Friday, 13 May 2016


I want to start writing down ‘our’ story. The ‘once upon a time’ but ‘not a fairy-tale at all’ story of how my little girl got taken hostage by anorexia, the battle scars we all acquired trying to set her free. But writing it down makes me relive moments I want to forget, so I procrastinate and hoover the floor instead. To make things more difficult for me, according to the personality tests we did in the women’s group at church, my personality type finds starting projects exciting but finishing them boring. This is slightly true of me…. Ok, don’t all shout at once, it is very true of me. I have many, many half sewn skirts and blouses in my sewing box, some half painted pillow cases I started in December for the new sofa. When I was pregnant with my eldest I started knitting her a beautiful, pastel jumper. It is in a box in the loft, one sleeve and half of a front panel, still on the knitting needles. She is turning 16 in September. … even finishing this small post is tough- I can see the hoover out of the corner of my eye…

I recently helped a friend move some of her late father’s belongings into storage, a painful process of realising an entire lifetime of living can amount to a few boxes of china cups and paintings. I don’t want my future grandchildren sifting through my life and finding half-finished projects that made no difference to the world, that didn’t change one thing for anybody in pain. Half-finished projects that couldn’t keep a baby warm, despite all my dreams and great intentions. A half written account of how God’s grace brought us through the battle and how the scars we have can help others….

So, when you see me, ask me if I have been hoovering or putting words to paper. Don’t be disappointed if I tell you how clean the floor is though.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Self confessed 'helicopter parent'

My teenage daughter is always late for school. No, that is not fair, she was on time today so ‘always’ would be an exaggeration. ‘Mostly’ late for school is a better word… And I am a proper, self-confessed ‘helicopter mother’. If you don’t know about helicopter parenting then let me explain, we hover and wait for things not to go as planned. It doesn’t take long, they are teenagers after all. Then we jump in and rescue the child from impending doom. We go home and make a cup of tea and pat ourselves on the back, saving our children from life is hard work.

Disasters come in all shapes: Late for school? don’t worry just jump into my car and I will break every road traffic law to get you to school on time. Lost your English literature book? Again? I am on Amazon ordering you a new copy before you even finished that smoothie I just made you. Forgot your PE kit? Don’t fret, I will drop it off at the school office. Last time I dropped the PE kit, I apologised to the lady at reception, ‘I know I should just let her suffer the consequences but…’ She cut me off, face stern, ‘I have given up telling you parents to stop saving your children.’

Now, don’t you judge me, I am not stupid… I am aware that they will not learn to take the stupid PE kit to school if they know I will run after them with it when they do. I know…  I share with you because I made myself laugh today whilst weaving in and out of traffic, trying to get to school before the pink slips get handed out. I nearly got hit by a number of cars and buses on the way, not due to my driving…I don’t think it was due to my driving… My thought with every near miss was not, ‘Gosh, I am glad no damage was caused to the cars or people.’ No, no my friend, my thought was, ‘Gosh, glad I didn’t need to stop and get out of the car.’ Why? Because I had jumped into the car in my PJ’s and flip flops, hair unbrushed and dirty. I had brushed my teeth, that that was a relief. So, I was grateful that I was not in a collision so that I didn’t have to been seen out on the road looking like I had slept on that road.

We spoke about finding our identity in Jesus last night in our women’s group and not in the superficial, in the way we dress and what we look like. Perhaps I still need to work more on where I find my identity because what I looked like really mattered to me this morning. God doesn’t care about my PJ’s, he cares about my heart.

Now, please excuse me, I have a helicopter to polish and prepare for take off, the lunch box that was left on the kitchen counter needs to be flown to school…  

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Fretting and being a mum...

I had moment today, not one of the ‘lock myself in the closet and scream’ moments. A rare moment when God pulls back a little of the wrapping paper and I get a glimpse of the gift He has for me, for my girls, my family.

I would be a gold medallist in the sport of fretting over my kids. Most of my brain cells are on a loop, day and night, calculating and mapping, worrying about my 2 girls. I worry that we are giving them too much freedom and then I worry we are holding them too close. I worry about the friends they make and then I fret that they might be lonely. I could go on and list more but you would get bored with the trivial nature of my thought patterns. I guess the moment I held my screaming new born in my arms, I inherently believed that I was going to make a royal mess of this parenting thing, I mean, I could hardly look after myself.

My mother was only just 21 when she gave birth to me. Pregnant out of wedlock, in apartheid South Africa. Getting pregnant when you weren’t married was nearly as bad as murder. My father’s family begrudgingly accepted my mother into their fold, mind you only after the vows were exchanged. She always carried the shadow of the shame, the stain of sex before marriage. Can I just point out now that the product of that shame was me, little old me. I know that my mother worried about us, all the time. The family pointed out to her often that she was too strict, that she was too this, too that. I remember her crying often about how she could never be enough. She suffered from post-natal depression, she got ill, hospital ill. She struggled to manage her strong emotions, living with her was like living in the eye of a tornado, you knew you were ok but if the wind changed even the slightest, then chaos erupted.

But she loved me. She loved, loved, loved, loved me and my brother and my sister.

What was my moment then? It was this. As my mother sat nursing me in the hot, humid South African air and dreamed of who I might become, she could not have seen me walking in the cool, spring air in England 42 years later. She could not have seen that I would know love and peace so strong that it takes my breath away.

I am not sure she understood that God had my life all mapped out before she even met my father. Oh, God knew about the bad choices I would make and still make, the roads that became really long and rocky because of them. He knew the tears, the pain we would endure as a family. He knew I would cry, holding onto my daughter as she suffered, raging against her own illness. It is mystery to me how God always works things for the good of those that love him. And how He always carries me through.

My moment? I suddenly understood that my life is so much more than my mother could have dreamt, filled with so much joy despite the hard times- all her anxiety about getting it right and about my poor choices was wasted time and energy- I was held by the One that created me, held every moment. And so are my girls. I shouldn’t waste another moment trying to worry things better for them. The One that created them has it covered.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Mothering perfectly...

The tent catches the breeze and billows out as we grab hold of the edges, filled with strength as it pulls at our hands. Hammering the tent pegs into the soil, the scent of the earth fills the warm air. And my child laughs. The sound fills my ear canals, the middle ear sending vibrations along the nerves into my cortex. And then my soul billows like the tent, the breeze of her laughter filling me up, the joy of it so sweet, so precious. My eyes brim with tears as she runs across the field, the dog trotting beside her. Not sadness but a deep sense of gratitude for the moment.

I recall the professional telling me that perfect mothers do not exist. He hands me a tissue as I cry tears of regret, of fear. Being enough was all I could be, perfection was a lie I had been fed. Now, sitting around the campfire, the flames staining our skin with an orange glow, the night velvet around us, I understand that I have spent too long being deceived. For 15 years I have carried with me a conviction, a constant regret, a piercing fear that I would get it wrong. That my precious girls would be damaged by my inequities. So many moments lost, forever tainted with the cold feeling of ‘not good enough’.
If I could time travel, I would go back 15 years and sit beside myself on the hospital bed. My body aching from giving birth, my belly empty, exhausted but unable to sleep as I watch my newborn girl, swaddled, exquisite. I would wrap my arms around this new mother and I would whisper in my ear, ‘You will do well, you will not be perfect but you will be enough.’ Perhaps I would go and sit beside the mother again, on the kitchen floor as I cry tears of frustration, my strong willed, intelligent toddler refusing to do as she is asked. I would hand myself a cup of tea and whisper, ‘Breath. You are not perfect but you are enough. God has healed you, he has taken the anger and resentment, washed them from your innermost being.’ If I could time travel.
My girl and I lie on the beach, the sun baking on our shoulders, the dog panting at our side. We collect little pebbles and shells. They will fill the miniature glass pots we have just emptied of jam onto warm scones. Each stone represents the tiny steps we have taken towards this moment. We could not carry her as the anorexia consumed her, we could only walk beside her, guide her. This moment. I look up at the blue sky, I hear the waves, their rhythm a worship song. And I am filled with a deep gratitude. Now I know that I am enough. God is the only perfect parent. I whisper to my girl, ‘Do you know how loved you are?’ She smiles and my soul swells. She does.   

Friday, 5 June 2015

14 things I want my girls to know about being a friend

Last weekend was a rare moment in time when I was surrounded by some of my oldest friends. On Friday we all squeezed into my house: 6 of my friends and all of our teenage daughters, 8 to be precise. With pen and paper, crisps and sparkling wine in hand, my friend the Creative Consultant showed us how to find our inner creative side. There was laughter and joy as we sat around, the girls in and out onto the trampoline, showing us their work with pride on their faces, us mums surprised at what we could actually draw. I sat and watched the scene with a deep sense of gratitude and love for all the women and nearly women in my house. We are all so different, one a senior teacher, one a trainee counsellor, a brainiac historian, a charity worker, a Jesus follower, an agnostic, an atheist, a single mum, married, divorced…. All of us so different but none of it mattered. We sat and chatted with more than a decade of life in common, our teenagers sitting around us joining in, even the shy ones, the ones with mental health problems and they all felt at home.

Over the last decade we have shared life together, all the pain and joy. We have had babies, made each other meals, cleaned each others houses when we were ill. We have faced cancer together, broken relationships, mental health problems, miscarriages, buying and selling our homes, car accidents, school issues with our kids, weddings and holidays… the list is endless. We have argued with each other, been mad as snakes with each other and sometimes not spoken for months. But we have grown up, forgiven, and rebuilt. We have laughed hysterically, drank 1000’s of cups of tea and even more Prosecco, cared for each others kids, used 100’s of boxes of tissues to wipe away tears, had picnics in the rain and been to tons of kids birthday parties.

I was thinking about what we have modelled to our teenage girls over the last 15 years, what have we taught them about friendship? Our girls will learn through what they observe us doing, how we live our relationships with others.

Here are some of the things that I would like my 2 girls to know being a friend:

#1 To build a true friendship takes risk on your part. You will have to risk inviting people to your house for a cuppa and being turned down. You will have to risk sharing a part of your life story so that they will share theirs. Girls, when you look at the friends your mum has, don’t think that each relationship was an instant success. I bet if you ask her she will say that many people she tried to build friendships rejected her. She will have given time and energy to someone who would walk away. But when the right person comes along, the risk is worth the gain. When you share a painful truth about yourself and your new friend shares hers with you- a friendship born.

#2 I know that it doesn’t feel fair when her house is bigger or her hair is smoother than yours! I promise that if you ask her, she will be thinking that she wished she had your wardrobe or something else. Life never feels fair so enjoy what you have!

#3 Make time for your friends, buy them flowers when they are sad, call them, text them, FB them or Insta- whatever them. No relationship can grow without investment of time.

#4 Be quick to forgive, even the biggest mistakes. We are human and the truth is every human will mess up at some point- even you and I! We will hurt each other without intending to and occasionally with intention. But we are all going to need to be forgiven at some point so as the Frozen song says, ‘Let it Go’. Girls, I want you to see me forgive my friends so that you know deep down that I will forgive you. Plus, I want you to forgive me when I hurt you or forget to buy the right type of biscuits again!

#5 Have a sense of humour but more importantly be able to laugh at yourself.

#6 Learn to listen, really listen to what she says. That means putting down the phone, making eye contact and asking questions. Even when she tells you about her broken heart again! LISTEN!

#7 Your friend will not always agree with you. Sometimes she will tell you that you are wrong and you are being an idiot. That is because sometimes we are just that! And when you don’t agree with her choices remember- you can support her without supporting her choices.

#8 Be ready to drive over in the middle of the night to help or answer the phone to listen to her cry. Then she will do the same for you. We all get our turn to need help.

#9 Accept that you cannot change anyone, you can only change yourself. This has taken me years to learn!! When someone is behaving in a way you do not like, it is not your right to try and change them, in fact you cannot! Do not waste your time. But you can change the way you react to them and how you behave. If you want the dance to change, then you change the steps.
#10 Never change who you are for somebody! Be yourself always. A true friend loves you for who you are.
#11 Be honest but be kind. ‘Does this dress look good on me?’ is the perfect time to practice how to be honest and kind simultaneously.

#12 Don’t gossip about each other. Nothing will teach your future child how to be dishonest more quickly than saying one thing when someone is not there and then another when they are.  

#13 Never ever flirt with your friend’s man! Never!

#14 Lastly, treasure her. Life without friends is lonely and boring!