Strengths and Weaknesses

I have always been a ‘strong person’.

I have always seen this as a positive quality.

Recently I find myself questioning what this actually means. Am I really that strong? Is it really such a positive trait?

Physically, I am definitely strong. I ride a cargo bike, often loaded with two not-so-small children and all the stuff which seems to be required when leaving the house with two children. Not to mention that the three year old is currently refusing to go anywhere on the bike unless she is carrying several stones from the driveway.

But physical strength is not really what I mean by a strong person.

I have a strong character. I have a good idea of what I am and what I am not. On the whole, I am happy with who I am. The things I do, I do for myself and my family. I don’t do things ‘for show’. My husband has a similar outlook which made for a wonderful wedding day. We kept all the bits of a wedding which we liked and skipped all the bits that we didn’t. It was very much ‘our day’ and we both loved it.

But strength of character isn’t entirely it either.

I am a strong person because I am balanced and stable and not easily overwhelmed by emotions and that means I can be emotionally strong for others.

I think that is a big part of what people mean when they describe me as ‘strong’.

But it’s not true.

But it’s not real.

But I am not even sure it is possible.

The same as everyone, I am balanced and stable sometimes and unbalanced and chaotic others. I do get overwhelmed by emotions. I get overwhelmed by my emotions. I get overwhelmed by the emotions of others that I love, especially my children.

But I don’t often show it.

I have mentioned my parents’ divorce before.  It was a time of huge emotions. Huge emotions for me. Huge emotions for the people I loved the most. The kind of huge emotions which can leave you struggling to see anything positive in life.

It was the time when I learned to be emotionally strong for others.

It was the time when I learnt to detach myself from my own emotions in order to deal with other peoples’.

More than twenty years later, I am realising that this is not a positive quality.

More than twenty years later, I am realising that I still have not re-connected with my own emotions.

I realise that I have not just detached myself from the emotions I felt more than twenty years ago. I have perfected the art of squashing any emotions which threaten to overwhelm me.

I think about this now because I think about my children.

I think about their emotional life.

Young childrens’ emotions are so out in the open. They haven’t yet learnt to worry about how their displays of emotion impact on others. They feel extremes of emotions over the most seemingly trivial issues. They display every emotion they have.

As a stay at home mum I deal with my childrens’ emotions all the time. As frustrating as that can be, I love that they wear their hearts on their sleeves. It means that I can know every part of them. It means that I can really connect with them.

But can they really connect with me?

Should I show my emotions to them like they show their emotions to me?

My immediate answer is no. I know how it feels to see your mum crying and trust me, it feels horrible.

But does that mean I should never cry in front of my children? If so then I have failed.

Like any mother, I do not want to see my children in distress. But we cannot protect our children from everything and they will inevitably feel distress in their lives. So I want them to learn how to cope through distress.

I want my children to know that it is ok to feel whatever they are feeling. I want them to know that they do not have to control their emotions, they just have to control how they act on those feelings. I want them to know that I will do what I can to help them when they do not like how they are feeling.

I tell them this now. Usually along the lines of “It is ok to feel angry, it is not ok to hit your sister/brother”. I show them by accepting their anger and giving them a cuddle (on the days when I get it right).

So maybe it is ok to cry in front of our children. To cry and to tell them “I feel sad”. To show them that the world doesn’t end when we feel sad. To show them what a difference they can make to somebody who feels sad with the healing power of a cuddle.

Cyclists of the World Unite! Or at least be friendly

My husband and I recently took part in a local sportive.

How times have changed…

In the past (before children), we would have entered the longest route. The night before the ride we would have made sure we got enough sleep. We would have arrived early so we could start early. After the ride, we would have gone home to eat a big dinner and put our feet up on the sofa for a well earned rest.

Now, we enter the shortest route. We don’t often get out for longer than an hour so it’s hard to train for long distance. The night before the ride we were amazed to only get up once at silly o’ clock to fulfill an absurd request from a small person. We set off early to drop the children at their Granny and Grandad’s house for the day, then headed off in a rush to make sure we didn’t miss the last start time. After the ride, we picked up the children and went home to eat a big dinner, put the children to bed (repeatedly) and bake a three-tier birthday cake for the following day.

But we were cycling.

We were cycling together.

We used to cycle together every weekend. Sometimes during the week too. It was something we probably took for granted.

Since having children we do still find time to cycle, but very rarely together. We were chatting about this recently and both agreed that, when we can get babysitting, we would probably rather go for a cycle than go for dinner.

I’m not sure what this says about us apart from the fact that we are most definitely confirmed cyclists.

It was great to be part of a fairly big event with lots of cyclists on the road. It reminded me that we are part of a community of a kind. The sportive was run brilliantly and we had a fantastic day.

There was just one negative.

About five miles in I had a mechanical. Fortunately, I also had my mechanic (husband). It only took 10 minutes or so to fix so it wasn’t really a big deal.

In that 10 minutes, maybe 50 cyclists passed us. 2 slowed down and called to see if we needed any help.

Only 2.

We didn’t need any help so that was fine.

Except, it really wasn’t fine.

Not to my mind.

If I see another cyclist stopped by the side of the road, I always slow down to ask if they are alright. Always. Not just if they are on their own. Not just if they are on a road bike. Not just if their bike is clearly broken in some way. Always.

I do this because I would like to help. When I see another cyclist, I see somebody I have something in common with. It doesn’t matter how fast they are cycling, or how far they are cycling, or what bike they are cycling. They are cycling.

Most of the time, folk do what we did; smile and shout “we’re / I’m fine” and wave you on. This is fortunate because my good intentions are about where my helpfulness ends. I can fix a puncture, but so can most other people. Beyond that, I’m not really much help. As my husband will attest, I am better at breaking bikes than fixing them.

But it’s the thought that counts and I hang on to that.

It’s being part of a community that counts. And communities support their members to the best of their abilities.

Is it me, or are fewer cyclists offering support to each other these days?

Are fewer cyclists smiling and waving when they pass each other?

Or am I just getting old?

Cyclists, we are already a minority. Some days it feels like every other road user hates us. Let’s back each other up.

When you see another cyclist, see somebody you have a connection with. Connections are important. Connections with other people make life worth living. They are what make us human.

Smile and wave folks. Smile and wave.

 

 

Do you want to build a snowman?

It was a standing joke in my family when I was younger. How my Dad sulked the year it snowed and none of us would come out and build a snowman with him. I can’t remember how old my siblings and I were but we considered ourselves too old for such pastimes. My Dad must have considered himself to old for such pastimes too – unless he had his children with him to give him the excuse.

Two events in my life have made me think about this recently.

Firstly, My son turned five. My daughter is about to turn three.

I am loving the age my children are at now. They are that bit more independent so I get at least one cup of coffee a day that I don’t have to reheat. They are not at school yet and as a stay at home mum I get plenty of time with them. The youngest is out of nappies. Most nights, when we go to bed, we sleep until at least 6am without interruption.

I loved my children as babies but I don’t miss the days of night-feeds and explosive nappies and tiny people who can’t tell you just what it is they want.

Still, sometimes I think I am still just coming to terms with being a parent while they are growing so fast. There are some things that are over and I will never have them again. No more cots, no more baby sensory, no more spoon feeding, no more jumperoo taking up half the living room.

There will come a point when there will be no more cargo bike. The children are getting so big and heavy and Danny can pedal his own bike now. The plan is to move on to a tandem type bike. I am really excited about a tandem, but I think I will cry the day we sell the cargo bike.

The second event that made me think, was a family week in the sunshine. A brilliant week and the kids had a ball. We spent the mornings at the beach and the afternoons at the pool.

This was the first holiday when hubby and I got a fair bit of time relaxing. At the pool, the kids played happily in the shallow pool with armbands on while we sat and watched them. We did play with them some of the time, but they didn’t always want us to. They were quite happy.

I’m not complaining about any of this. Like I said, I am loving the age my children are at now.

But it makes me think.

Did I make the most of it?

Will I one day look back with regret?

Sometimes I worry that I will look back and wonder if I spent my children’s early years trying to ‘get stuff done’. If I was impatient and grumpy. If I should have left the laundry in the basket and gone to blow bubbles in the garden. If I should have ignored the mess and gone to build lego. If I should have skipped the cycle ride and gone swimming as a family.

I don’t subscribe to the ‘cherish every moment’ approach to parenting. It would be hard for anyone to cherish the moment on our recent holiday when both children lay on the floor screaming blue murder because they both wanted to go out of the lift first.

But still. Did I make the most of it?

What will my children remember when they look back on their childhoods?

What will they think of me?

Sometimes motherhood feels like one guilt trip after another.

I really don’t think I will look back with regret.

I do blow bubbles in the garden. I love nothing better than watching them leap around trying to catch them all. Sometimes I think our house must be identifiable for miles around by the veritable cloud of bubbles drifting above it.

I do build lego. I had forgotten just how much fun lego can be. The three of us have collaborated on some amazing fantastical creations and I couldn’t say who had the most fun.

I do take them swimming sometimes. True, not very often and hubby takes them most weekends while I cycle. Hubby lets them splash him and pretend to dunk him under the water. Hubby does tricks and lets them ride on his back while he swims. Hubby is great fun to go swimming with. Hubby is brilliant with them and they love their time with him… without me there. And I am a better Mummy after my cycle.

I am sometimes impatient and grumpy. I do sometimes fob them off because I have jobs that need to be done. I am human and life is busy.

I do my best and that is the best I can do.

I wonder if my Dad thinks the same.

I wonder how he felt that day we all refused to build a snowman with him.