Monday, 22 August 2016

Paying it Forward

It's nearly time to go home.

After three weeks of sand, surfing, cliff walks and beach barbeques, it's back to reality on Friday.

It'll be a flurry of washing, ironing, buying new school shoes, dental check ups, hair cuts, and all the other minutiae of getting three children back to school in a presentable state after weeks of being feral.

As I've been mentally packing away our holiday in a little memory box labelled 'Cornwall 2016', I've been thinking about what holidays are for.

In the drinking days I was pretty clear on this point: holidays are a reward.

After months of being good - working hard, bringing up children, doing all the endless chores, here are a few weeks of the year which are pay back time. Time to let your hair down, go wild, time to indulge - 'me time'.

And all of that is important. But I took it to extremes. Because, as ever, 'rewarding myself' meant never applying the brakes.

The minute I, or anyone else, even thought about criticizing my behaviour, I'd reply But I'm on holiday!

This meant that by the time I got home I'd have gained a stone in weight, I'd be held together by toxins and mentally and physically exhausted. In need of a good holiday, in fact.

The following few weeks would then be all about payback. I'd go on another fad diet (only raw food, or no carbs, or nothing after 5pm).

I'd try (yet again) to keep a lid on the drinking (not drinking during the week, or only drinking beer, or not drinking at home).

I'd vow to be a better person.

Then, after a few months of trying, and failing, to do all of the above, I'd need another good holiday to REWARD MYSELF.

Repeat, ad infinitum.

I see holidays - like everything else - differently now.

Now I see that it's actually about paying it forward.

This last year has taught me that we really have no idea what's around the next corner - particularly as we get older, so having reserves in the bank is crucial.

After three weeks by the sea I've caught up on sleep, fresh air and exercise.

Three weeks of carrying surf boards up and down the hill every day from our cottage to the beach has made me feel fitter than I've been for ages.

Three weeks of spending pretty much every minute with the three children means I feel like I've got to know them all, in this current phase of their lives, fairly inside out.

Three weeks with the husband might not have completely rekindled the fires of young love, but we have at least warmed the embers.

So I feel like I'm all set up.

Set up to weather the endless battles over homework, the squabbling over household chores, and the inevitable next big challenge that life will throw at me.

And these weeks of being immersed in nature - huge skies, crashing waves, towering rock faces - have made me feel ready to appreciate the energy and buzz (and reliable wifi) of the city.

Instead of going home dreading the next few months, and ticking off the days until I can go away again, I'm going home thinking BRING IT ON.

I'm ready.

Love SM x

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Nina is not OK

I didn't drink dangerously as a teenager.

Don't get me wrong - I loved drinking. I loved the buzz it gave me at parties, the way it made me feel more. More beautiful, more interesting, more naughty.

I loved sharing a bottle of carefully chosen wine over dinner with a date, or while setting the world to rights late at night with a girlfriend.

But I didn't like the feeling of being really drunk - feeling sick or out of control. So, when I'd had a few glasses I just.... stopped. Simples.

It wasn't until my mid thirties that my drinking started to morph from 'social' to 'hazardous'. Because by then I could drink a whole bottle of vino without feeling particularly drunk.

And by the time I hit my mid forties I was drinking a bottle of wine every single day. More sometimes. (Often).

Knowing what I know now about alcohol addiction, I worry about my children, and how they'll cope when they start playing with booze.

So, when I read a review of a new young adult novel by Shappi Khorsandi called Nina is not OK, I knew I had to buy it.

Nina is seventeen and, like all her friends, loves to party, and to drink. But she has no off switch.

Nina is gorgeous, funny and clever. She has a five year old sister who she loves passionately, and desperately wants to protect. And yet, after a few drinks she changes. Her eyes go dead, and it's as if Nina has left the building.

Every time she gets drunk and does something awful she swears she'll never touch booze again, but by about 5pm the next day her resolve falters.

Drinking makes her life increasingly unmanageable, but the more difficult it becomes, the more she relies on the booze to deal with all the emotions it's unleashed.

Sound familiar?

Then combine all that with the hormones, insecurity and recklessness that come with being a teenager, and chuck in an omnipresent and judgemental social media, and you end up with an incredibly disturbing (but scarily believable) tale.

Please read it.

And if you have a teenage daughter, then rather than sitting her down for one of those 'talks' about the dangers of drugs and alcohol that they dread as much as we do, just give her a copy of Shappi's novel.

It's a far better cautionary tale than either you or I could ever tell, and you won't have to endure all the eye rolling.

Love SM x

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

What Happens Next?

I came across this expression yesterday, and I think it may become my new life mantra:

It's not about what happened, it's what happens next.

When I had the Big Job in advertising I spent an awful lot of time dealing with other people's cock ups.

The commonly applied methodology at the time was the witch hunt. 

This involved interviewing all involved parties, deciding who was at fault, then hanging them out to dry so that everyone else could declare themselves totally blameless and move on.

I found the whole thing horribly distasteful and soul destroying.

My alternative approach was to ignore all the bleatings about who was to blame for the latest disaster, and instead to focus on what on earth we were going to do to fix it and, crucially, make sure it didn't happen again.

The same philosophy applies to children, who often have a horribly over developed sense of injustice.

After four weeks of summer holidays, my three are constantly fighting with each other.

We'll have moments, sometimes a whole hour, of happy co-operation over building a sandcastle, then world war three breaks out and I'm surrounded by children telling me (in minute detail, and simultaneously) who did what to whom.

So next time I'm going to say to them all, very calmly, "it's not about what happened, it's what happens next."

It's all about how you fix the sandcastle, how you apologise to the lady who now has sand in her picnic (without making a joke about putting the sand into sandwich) and how you get to be friends again.

(I have to confess, this may not work. They'll probably look at me with incredulity and go back to hitting each other with spades. But worth a go...)

And this mantra is crucial for us, my friends.

How much time have you wasted trying to work out what happened? How did I go from being a 'normal drinker' to an addict? Is it my genes? Is it hormonal? Am I just overreacting? What about the time I've wasted, the relationships I've neglected or destroyed?

The truth is, it's not about what happened, it's what happens next.

You're at a crossroads, and you can spend the next few months, or years, agonising about where you are and what got you here, or you can focus on the future, and make sure that you use the whole experience to become stronger, wiser and happier.

So, ask yourself: What happens next?

Love SM x