If eating was an Olympic sport I’d win gold several times over. I’ve never been sporty, I’ve never had the coordination skills. I was always the last to be picked in netball at school, seeing a ball hurtling at me as something to dodge. My spatial awareness is awful, which probably explains why at almost 40, I still haven’t got my driving license.
That said, I do find watching women’s athletics quite thrilling. There’s a certain pleasure that comes from wearing your slobbiest tracksuit bottoms and hoody watching supreme female athletes throw themselves at various tortuous obstacles. OK. I’m just a bit envious of their taut, goddess bodies but there’s some entertainment observing their scowls when they don’t quite meet their expectations. Women, no matter how supremely skilled, how much they are admired, are so hard on themselves.
It’s the same as motherhood. We’ll always second guess ourselves, always compare ourselves to the ‘perfect’ Insta mum. It’s mostly bull. As a mum who uses social media in her career, I do hope I offer a real side of motherhood. While I follow beautiful accounts, I know they’re not real. They are carefully thought out, composed, editing software used. Motherhood is really difficult. It’s not all chubby pink-cheeked babies grinning in their pristine outfits. Every day is a marathon. Every day is beset with hurdles, sprints to stop your toddler from getting in the washing machine, hauling laundry up and down the stairs. Wiping up poo, regurgitated food, wiping streaming noses and big, heavy tears.
Every day is your eyes on the prize, getting your baby or toddler to bed and putting your feet up with your reward, a hot cuppa and chocolate bar or a big glass of red wine. That’s your medal, for getting through another day of motherhood relatively unscathed, ready to face another race the next day. Yes, mammas, it takes hard work, it takes grit, it takes patience, it takes determination. You know though, you’ll get there in the end. You’ll cross the line knowing you’ve given it your absolute best.
There will be so much to savour along the way. Watching your child totter into their first day of school, their double-digit birthday, their formal or even going to university. Parenthood is for the long haul. It’s a marathon and the only way you’re going to get through it is with fierce discipline and blinkered vision.
Keep going mamma, you’re a winner, every day. Oh, and you did awesome Katarina Johnson-Thompson. Enjoy basking in your glory. You deserve it.
Having a baby changes everything, including your most important relationships. Such a seismic event will make many of those relationships stronger, and sometimes, weaker. Yes, becoming a mum can be a really lonely, isolating time but if you have a supportive, loving tribe around you, you will flourish.
Being a mother is so overwhelming. Other mums understand the daily struggle. You don’t have to put on a front. Your mum friends won’t judge you if you haven’t managed to shower that day, brush your hair, or your house is upside down. Your mum friends are the first people you’ll turn to with feverish questions about any strange spots on your baby’s skin, the non-stop wailing, weird coloured poop. It’s a massive comfort to know that your best friends have your back when you’re feeling crap.
This September, I’ve been championing Mummy Social, an app that supports and encourages mums to be brave and get social with other local mums. Sadly, maternal loneliness takes a lot of us by surprise and Mummy Social wants all mums to know they are not alone. It can do you and your little one(s) – or not so little one(s) the world of good to get outside into the daylight and meet other mums who are on the motherhood journey too. Coffee is the holy grail when you’re a sleep-deprived mum.
I’m very lucky to have close friends who are also amazing mums. It does feel like you’re on this incredible, crazy journey together. I recently had a cinema date with a close mummy friend, minus the cinema. We ended up chatting for hours over wine and it was brilliant fun. It’s so important to feel that connection with another human being and sharing motherhood makes it all the more special. It’s quite surreal to watch your mini-me playing with your good friend’s mini-me.
It might be the end of September but it is definitely not the end of getting social! Mums supporting mums make the journey of motherhood a happier, healthier, easier and less lonely one. Maternal loneliness is real, it is all too common and we need to keep talking about it and do our bit to help.
As author Douglas Pagels says: “A friend is one of the nicest things you can have and one of the nicest things you can be.” Amen to that.
Download the Mummy Social app and if it’s something you’d like to get involved with, drop them a DM!
I’m very passionate about shining a light on the wonderful homegrown entrepreneurs and creatives we have in Northern Ireland. This week, I’m featuring Kate & Moon, a unique children & nursery decor brand run by talented Belfast-based couple Sarah Wright (32) and Paul Anthony (36). I recently ordered a Humpback Whale Plush Toy (below) which has taken pride of place in Sonny’s nursery. I was so pleased with the quality and thrilled to be able to find somewhere local that I can buy adorable toys, cushions, shelves, and blankets. Needless to say, Mr Whale is incredibly soft and cuddly and will be Sonny’s BFF for a very long time – and mine.
Having a whale of a time…
A one-stop shop for all things nursery.
Sarah is a teacher by trade, and Paul is a computer programmer. Paul looks after the website and the technical side of things while Sarah, in her own words “takes care of pretty much everything else”. She says: “We decided to set up an online business in May this year. Paul has always been a whizz kid on the computer while I love finding beautiful products and of course, shopping! So, we decided to join forces and build something online together. We aim to build a brand that focuses on curating beautiful products for new and existing mums, and make Kate & Moon a one-stop-shop for all things nursery decor.
The importance of the personal touch.
“As we are based in Northern Ireland we can get goods quicker to local customers than online retailers. Plus, we find, when you order online, you often have no idea of who the seller is, or what the quality of the product is going to be like. We pride ourselves on ensuring that when you receive your purchase, it is beautifully packaged. We want our customers to relish the experience of ordering right through to receiving. We think a personal touch is so important. Knowing who is behind a business always helps too.”
Kate & Moon is enjoying an influx of customers through social media and visual platforms such as Instagram. Sarah says: “We have a loyal network of local women who also helped us get started. The Mummy & Me Market were so helpful. The business community in Northern Ireland for women is wonderful, and we couldn’t be more grateful to those people who have helped us get things off the ground. In the run-up to Christmas and the new year, we also plan on doing a few other local markets.”
You can follow Kate & Moon’s journey on Instagram (@kateandmoon) and see when wonderful new items are added. So, what are you waiting for? Show some love and give Kate & Moon a visit and support our amazing local entrepreneurs. This business is set to soar.
I’m on the red-eye shift as I cradle my nine-week-old son with one arm as he sleepily gulps his warm milk, pausing at times to make appreciative sighs before hungrily going back for more. With his ravenous appetite sated (for at least two hours I hope), he melts back into my now aching arm, drifting off to a satisfying slumber. I gaze in a trance-like state at his pink, perfect face, happy that he’s content before realising that I need to burp him. I gently sit my squirming baby on my lap with his back as straight as he’ll allow and proceed to rub and pat until I hear the glorious sound of a burp. He grimaces and squeals, deeply irritated at not being able to allowed to remain asleep. But he’s totally reliant on me to help him with his bodily functions until he’s old enough to burp and fart for himself.
I wrote this almost a year to the day ago. It seems crazy, starting a blog when your baby is just nine-weeks-old and yet, it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. I spent most of my twenties and thirties aimless, wanting more but not doing more. It’s the definition of madness to keep doing the same thing and expecting different results. Life gets in the way, you think, you get a job that pays the bills but it’s soul-destroying. You’re terrified of change. I’ve always wanted to start a blog and a long time ago I did. I published my first blog, excited to put my voice out there. I’ve always loved writing and I knew I was good at it. I got a horrible message straight away. I have my suspicions who it was but it was enough to knock me off course. Why would anyone want to read about what I had to say? I had no self- belief, my self-esteem had been battered by jobs, by men. I kept getting the same results.
Nothing changes if nothing changes. It’s beautifully simple. Life is simple, it is us that makes it complicated. Losing my job earlier this year has been the best thing to ever happen me. Once I got over the initial terror of not having a monthly income, I quite liked having days to myself – especially as a first-time mum – and no, they’re not really days to yourself. Getting to grips with being a new parent is tough. Your life is flipped upside down. You are exhausted, thrilled, frustrated, hopeless, happy, sad. It’s utterly life-changing and you know your life has changed for the better. Becoming a mum has changed me, from my core. I don’t sweat the small stuff, I hate drama and negativity. I spend my days enjoying life, enjoying Sonny’s many expressions, his funny sounds, holding him tight, kissing his soft pink cheek (that smells so good). Yes, he is annoying too. My living room constantly looks like I’ve been ransacked. Sonny delights in emptying drawers, cupboards, the bins. He screams and cries and it’s so, so hard. But there are also moments when you think your heart will burst.
Blogging for me is therapy. It’s a chance to sit down when Sonny is in bed and write about how I’m feeling. It has also opened up my world so much. I’ve been so lucky to meet some incredible, energetic and positive people. I’ve met blogger, author of Mumboss and beautiful mamma of two boys, Vicki Psarias aka Honest Mum. I’ve worked with some amazing baby brands such as Baby & More, Babease, Beaux Baby Boutique, and Kate & Moon. I got to experience the new Center Parcs in Longford with my family. I’ve blogged about first aid, sleep training and lately, meditation and self-care. So many opportunities are still coming my way and it’s all thanks to my blog.
Becoming a mum is undoubtedly the best thing to ever happen me. It’s so fulfilling, shaping a new life. It’s so joyful, seeing your son collapse in giggles because of you. If you are still reading, I am so happy for your company and I hope you will continue to follow my journey as my baby becomes a little boy. Maybe I can even inspire you to start writing or to think outside the box that you have created. Life is short, why would you want to spend it pleasing people, or working for the cash machine? I’m so grateful and lucky that I’m where I’m at. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. No, life is not perfect, I am not perfect – I’m human after all. But, it’s pretty close.
If you had three minutes to talk about how you were going to look after yourself for the next few weeks, what would you say? Would you run over the three minutes or would you run out of things to say after 30 seconds – as I did? When it comes to showing kindness, we rarely offer it to ourselves. We should talk to ourselves like a best friend, because, you are your best friend.
There are three steps to self-compassion. The first is to acknowledge your suffering – it’s what unites us the most. The second is to know that you are not alone, it’s known as our ‘common humanity’. There are 8 billion people in the world and just 15 emotions – an incredible statistic, isn’t it? The third is to give kindness. It is, as enthusiastic teacher Bridgeen Rea-Kaya of Immeasurable Minds, Belfast says, “always the appropriate response”.
Self-compassion is the first step toward compassion for others.
As well as a range of yoga classes for all ages and levels, Namaste Yoga Centre offers mindfulness meditation and workshops like the one I attended. I wasn’t dressed for yoga, I had been stuffing my face at a bloggers buffet beforehand so was bursting out of my skinny jeans. I slipped off my ankle boots, picked up a yoga mat and sat cross-legged on the floor. This wasn’t the most comfortable position, and we were invited to get chairs by Bridgeen Rea-Kaya, who is the perfect advertisement for mindfulness. She glows and has a warm, bright smile that puts you at instant ease. To begin, everyone had to introduce themselves and give a reason for why they were attending. Many of the answers were similar to mine, with some quite new to meditation and others wanting to deepen their practice.
Kindness is always the appropriate response.
Next, we lay on our mats for a body scan. We were invited to use pillows or blankets – which I made a beeline for. The point of a body scan is for you to focus on different parts of your body and develop a mindful awareness of your bodily sensations and thus relieve tension. She told us to watch out for sensations such as tingling and tightness. I know I carry all of my tension around my neck and shoulders. A body scan trains you to ‘just be’ with pleasant and unpleasant sensations. I didn’t feel anything too out of the ordinary but it was really nice to lie back, listen to a soothing voice and not be disturbed by a screeching one-year-old who is having a face-off with the cat.
In between mindful breathing and a few activities, Bridgeen read poems, one by Mary Oliver called Grasshopper was particularly special. I love poetry and studied English at university. I wrote a poem when I was 15 which won an award. I’ve always been a thinker, not the academic type, but someone consumed by thoughts, largely negative. That is changing.
Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
The best thing for tension is moving about. You know the Taylor Swift song ‘Shake it Off’, well, it’s the perfect example of a mindfulness song. So, we all started, quite literally, shaking it off, although sadly not to the pop princess. Usually, I’d need a few glasses of wine before considering dancing, so I went for it, secretly hoping not to bump into anyone in the class ever again. The next thing I knew, we were running around the room giving each other high fives. It was a bit awkward and strange, I’ll admit, but it certainly got us all giggling, albeit nervous ones.
The final exercise was picking a partner and sitting on the floor shoulder to shoulder. We were instructed to tell the stranger next to us things we were going to do to look after ourselves for the next month. Three minutes is a long time. I rattled on about stuff like going for walks, meditating, having lunch with friends, doing yoga (a white lie), but I ran out of things to say. My female partner sat and listened, as she was instructed to. I felt my cheeks burn, I didn’t know what else to say. Still, she remained silent which unnerved me all the more. Eventually, sensing my awkwardness, she said that she wanted to give me as much time as possible to just talk about how I was going to look after myself. How little time we spend thinking about ourselves. When it was her turn, she spoke at ease about all the wonderful things she was going to do. My job was just to listen but I found myself biting my tongue when I felt compelled to interject with “oh, that sounds nice”, or “I’d love to do that”. The exercise taught me about the magic of listening, of making a person feel important, and of being, truly in the moment.
To be happy, we must practice gratitude. The brain has a built-in negativity bias that causes us to focus on bad things. This may have helped our ancestors avoid being eaten by a mammoth, but in this modern age, it isn’t helpful. We need to rewire our brains to focus on the positive. Yes, life is busy and stressful but, with mindful practice, you can change it. Of course you will feel fed up from time to time but the important thing is to respond with kindness. I’d absolutely recommend this workshop, it’s so important to love yourself – and shake it off.
Are you done? Are you done building your house? It’s been around for a while, it may have a little structural damage, some rooms a little shabby, perhaps some furniture that’s no longer used, but it’s still standing. You live in it, it’s home but you feel sometimes you need to shake things up, rewire, redecorate, renovate, make it a place that makes you happy and fulfilled. I’m talking about houses in a metaphorical sense of course. I’m talking about the house that takes us through life – our skeleton, skin, and bones. Mine is probably more than halfway through its lifetime. I’ve not been kind to it. It’s been filled with mental litter, some spaces are in desperate need of a makeover, others are dark and dusty with no natural light. I’ve welcomed in strangers but didn’t have the strength to make them leave. Others have left their footprint, and I’m happy to call them life long friends. But, I’ve certainly not used my house to its fullest potential, it has weathered a lot of storms, dramatically affecting its worth. I’ve spent too long feeling sorry for it, its value never recognised.
So, in the interests of increasing its value, I’ve started meditating. I have over the years tried it and gave up, not able to quiet my busy, hamster on a wheel mind. A very good friend has suggested more than once that I should try it. I’ve found a meditation I like and it’s having quite a profound effect. I’m less anxious, less irritable, more relaxed, more in the moment. A family member has said that since having Sonny, I’m more present. I’m done living in the past, I’ve made peace with it. I’m so excited about the future, I feel like a new day is dawning. It’s all down to my son, everything I do is because of him, and for him. The world owes me nothing, I owe the world.
As I continue to work on my house, make it a calm, happy place, make it a place I want to live in, I have begun building another. I want that house to be structurally sound, to be wired correctly, to be a place of sanctuary. I want my darling son to know that even when there are storms, he can weather them because he is resilient, like his mum. Building a house is not easy, it’s stressful, it’s expensive, it’s frustrating and sometimes you want to give up. But, you know that eventually, you can look at your house in admiration, proud of what you have achieved and content that you’ve done everything in your power to make it a happy home. I will learn from the mistakes I’ve made in my own house. We are architects of our own fate.
They say life begins at 40. Now I know the true meaning of that. Am I done? I’m just getting started.
Words are my currency so it’s not too often I’m stuck for them. However, I’m struggling to find the right adjectives to describe our three days spent at the newly opened Center Parcs in Longford Forest. We’ve made memories for life and it’s so special to share time as a family in such a magical place. Set in over 400 acres of willowy trees and lush landscapes, Center Parcs offers a wonderful woodland retreat. It has to be seen to be believed. As a permatired mum of a tenacious one-year-old, I’ve been daydreaming about our trip for ages. The danger with that, of course is that nothing can ever possibly measure up to your imagination but in this case, it did. Center Parcs is about a three-hour drive from Belfast, so makes the perfect stay-cay for families, couples and friends.
I was like a giddy kid at Christmas when I saw the Center Parcs sign on the way into the resort. We picked up our wristbands that double as a lock for your accommodation and lockers – what a brilliant idea as I am terrible for misplacing key cards. One of the most exciting things about going away – for me at least – is where you are staying. I love opening the door, running my hand over the crisp white bed linen, admiring the gleaming surfaces of the bathroom and enjoying an invigorating power shower. I was not disappointed, the decor is muted with a relaxing forest scene as a feature wall. We stayed in an Executive Lodge which had ample space for a family of three. There were two bedrooms with en suite bathrooms, one with a bath and the other with a wet room. Our fluffy towels were beautifully rolled up on the bed which was a good size and passed the bounce test – that’s not just me, right? We had the most amazing view from our lovely, inviting lodge. There is nothing better than waking up to birdsong and forty shades of green. Sonny, who has taken a few tentative steps prefer crawling like a clockwork toy as his means of (rather effective) transport. He went about inspecting the lodge, stopping to vigorously tap various surfaces (it’s his thing), and he particularly enjoyed a luxurious bubble bath. The showers are amazing too and ladies, even the hairdryer works like a dream. There is even a vanity mirror with a shelf for makeup. I’d have been quite happy to spend the entire weekend in our lodge but I was also keen to experience the best of what Center Parcs had to offer and give Sonny the best time ever.
Everywhere in the resort is walking distance but you can hire bicycles with trailers for nippers so you can be where you want to be in a matter of minutes. Andrew and I had target archery booked so I could channel my inner Katniss Everdeen and Andrew, his inner Robin Hood. We dropped our little darling off in the amazing creche in the Sports Plaza. He immediately got distracted with a piano mat and didn’t even bother giving us a sideways glance as we wished him an emphatic goodbye. This was somewhat reassuring as we made our way to the Outdoor Activity Centre. I have never tried archery before but I fancied trying something new. We were given excellent instructions and it was time to try our hand at it. When you see archers in the movies, they make it look so effortless, it takes quite a lot of effort but it is very exhilarating when you release the arrow. I hit red on my first go, followed by the arrow missing the target completely. I soon got the hang of it and even managed to hit gold – not quite bullseye but I felt very accomplished. Meanwhile, my hubby, who has a competitive streak, did much better than me and even got a certificate for third place, which is going to take pride of place in his study. There are so many things to do, the difficulty is choosing what. You can try Laser Combat, Aerial Tree Trekking, and Stand-Up Paddle Board Tuition. For little ones, there is a Pirate and Princess Adventure, a Wizard Academy and a Chocolate Chef’s Academy – and so much more.
The weather was balmy too. I almost didn’t pack any sunscreen as the forecast was for heavy rain. The sun shone for the majority of our stay and even if I forgot anything, it wouldn’t matter as there is a brilliant ParcMarket in the village where you can buy groceries, baby essentials and mummy essentials, like wine and chocolate. There are great restaurants to cater for every taste too. I absolutely love that there are Ella’s Kitchen feeding stations in them – with free grub for hungry little infants and toddlers. We dined at Bella Italia which has a delicious array of food including thin and crispy pizzas, lasagne and risotto. It was so tasty and the waiting staff were so friendly. There is a play area for kiddies so you can eat your meal in relative peace. I got all dressed up as I rarely get the chance to anymore. So, I felt pretty damn good. My lovely bubble was burst when I glanced up from my menu and saw another mum wearing exactly the same dress. We studiously avoided each other’s gaze, even though we kept running into each other for the rest of the weekend. Thankfully, we weren’t twinning in The Pancake House the next morning. The pancakes, by the way, were absolutely unreal.
It is so difficult to condense our experience into a blog but I can’t not gush about the Aqua Sana spa. It is quite simply the best spa I have ever been too. Andrew, not one to dole out praise too often said it was “amazing”. Aqua Sana is inspired by the natural world and offers 21 hot, cold, herbal and meditative experiences across four zones: the Nordic Forest, Hot Springs, Volcanic Forest, and Treetop Nesting. Oh yea, and there are outdoor hot tubs, rain forest showers and reflexology foot spas. Upon arrival, we were greeted by a smiling lady who offered us a shot of Prosecco or orange juice. You can probably guess which one I chose. We were given luxurious robes and towels and we padded into this paradise of unparalleled relaxation. We bathed in the outside infinity pool and then enjoyed the views of the forest from the hot tub. I’d recommend the waterbeds. You could easily spend an entire day here, or life.
So, more fun stuff. The Subtropical Swimming Paradise is a jewel is Center Parc’s crown. It is Ireland’s largest water park and features an awesome family wave pool and rides for adrenaline junkies. I am a bit of a wuss when it comes to anything which could be deemed adventurous but recently, I’m developing an appetite for things I would not have previously considered. I knew I had to do something and wasn’t brave enough for the Tropical Cyclone – which Andrew tried and loved. I thought the Wild Water Rapids looked quite fun and something I could handle at a push. With Andrew on Sonny duty, I cautiously teetered over to the slide, the frothy waves waiting to engulf me. I ignored the ‘you can’t do this!’ voice, held my breath and pinched my nose, one down, I survived. About five to go. I saw the next slide. I can’t do it. An attendant saw my sorry plight. I really wanted to get out but I couldn’t. Meanwhile, youngsters a quarter of my age greeted me looking slightly bemused and threw themselves down the steep slide. I was half mortified, half terrified, looking like a stranded sea lion. The lovely attendant spoke to a lifeguard who told me I just had to go for it. I had to swallow my fears and swallow some water as it turns out. He offered to hold my hand, I reckoned that was way too pathetic, even for me. I went for it and it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. It was even quite enjoyable. There’s a life lesson in there somewhere. Sonny, meanwhile, adored the water, splashing and kicking, so happy he made lots of high-pitched squeaks. Memories of that sound and his toothy grin will stay with me forever.
On Saturday night, we dined at Rajinda Pradesh. Sonny was pretty zonked from the day’s activities so while he slept in his buggy, our taste buds were treated to mouthwatering Asian cuisine. Some menu highlights are satay-style chicken wings and Malaysian beef rendang. The service was impeccable and the food was superb. We rounded off the night at Huck’s American Bar and Grill with a few gins for me and Guinness for him. Sunday morning dawned and it was time to pack up, or rather, chuck things into bags. I (over)cooked a fry-up in the spotless kitchen, feeling a bit bad for using the gleaming oven. We had a little time before home so we took a rowing boat out on the lake. Sonny was not a fan of his life-jacket, even though he looked utterly adorable in it. Despite Andrew’s protestations that he could row, we hugged the banks for about half the time we were allotted. Thankfully, we were towed out into the middle of the lake and soon we were gliding, Andrew doing all the work while I tried my best to keep Master Sonny calm. Back on dry land, Sonny had a well-earned nap while we had frothy lattes at The Coffee House overlooking the lake. It was nice to reflect on our incredible time, in between batting away wasps. Meanwhile, Sonny enjoyed eating jam directly from the jar. Before hitting the road, we bought Sonny a little memento of his visit – a dragon soft toy from Just Kids.
As we made our way back to our car, my heart hurt a little. I really didn’t want to leave this magical place. I didn’t want to return to reality. But, all good things must come to an end and we made our way back to Belfast. We made some amazing memories which are safely banked. There is nothing better than seeing your little one smile and he did that a lot at Center Parcs. As my hubby said, “We’ll be back.” I will certainly hold him to that. I highly recommend a trip to Center Parcs whether you are a family, couple or bunch of mates. It’s special – you’ll never want to leave.