35 pieces of thankfulness for my 35 years…

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Tomorrow I turn 35. While it is the age, I have been informed, that my fertility apparently drops off the proverbial cliff (poetic!), researchers have also said that it is the age at which women peak – becoming more confident and happier.

A few years ago I wrote this post on my birthday, reflecting on the lessons my then 32 years had taught me.

This year, I’m doing something similar except, instead of lessons learned, I am reminding myself of the many wonderful things in life and all that I am thankful for as my confident, happier 35 year old self!

1. I am thankful for the gift of a blank slate and being able to start over at any time. Nothing in this life is permanent – this is both a positive and a negative. While I cherish the wonderful moments while they last, I also know that the difficult moments will pass.

2. I am thankful for laughter. Anyone who knows me knows how much I love to laugh and that you often hear my laughter before you see me. I will never stop laughing loud and long – it is good for the soul.

3. I am thankful for my freedom.

4. I am thankful for my softness and my compassion. Seeing the good in people, even after all I have been through, is a gift.

5. I am thankful for forgiveness. For being forgiven and for my own ability to forgive. Grudges and anger are so brutal and damaging to your soul. It is important to find closure and to let go of these things when the time is right.

6. I am thankful for my health. From being a baby who needed surgery, to a child with continual ENT problems including hearing issues, to gaining too much weight in my late teens and being generally unhealthy, I am now a healthy, strong women in my thirties who is fit and healthy enough to have summited the highest freestanding mountain in Africa. My physical strength and health is a gift.

7. I am thankful for a career that I love. Teaching is one of the most emotive, exhaustive careers, especially working with the youngest children. But the joy I gain every day from seeing how children grow and learn and change so rapidly and being a part of that adventure. I love it.

8. I am thankful for my mum. I was raised by a selfless, superhero warrior woman who loves us all so fiercely. She is the epitome of care, support and love and our family are kept strong because of her influence and her incredible heart.
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9. I am thankful for my dad. In a world where it is becoming increasingly difficult to find the truly good men amongst the misogyny and the patriarchy, I was raised by a man who demonstrates that there are good, kind, gentle, honest, trustworthy men who will lift you up, support everything you do, and love his wife and family so loyally and wonderfully. The older I get and the more I encounter men from his generation, the more thankful I am for him and his influence.

10. I am thankful for my sisters. There is a lot to be said for siblings and cousins. They know you. They know you from before the time you even really knew yourself. You have a million shared moments, share experiences, shared emotions. They stand by you, they are effortless support due to how much you have shared. I have two wonderful younger sisters and I love them to the ends of the earth. They are a part of my soul.

11. I am thankful for loyal, fearless friendships. Living in places all over the world for long periods of time, I always run the risk of becoming isolated. I am thankful for loyal friends who have been in my life for a long time, people I have met on my travels who have become part of my heart, and my friends who become family within my own little corner of the world at any time.

12. I am thankful for grandparents who came from a generation of survivors. Each of my grandparents lived through WWII in the UK and my Papa was stationed with RAF Ground Crew in Burma for much of the conflict. It is hard to imagine what it was like for them all during this time of fighting, rationing, ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’, the Blitz. This survival instinct, resilience and grit is something that has been passed down through the generations now and I feel that my own resilience and grit is partially down to their influence.

13. I am thankful for the kindness of strangers. There have been countless times that someone has helped when I have needed it or I have witnessed helpers in different situations. From helping me carry heavy suitcases up staircases in the London Underground to sending a donation to help strangers in a difficult time, it’s a beautiful thing to witness kindness in all it’s forms.

14. I am thankful for opportunities to perform and be creative through singing and acting. In school I was in every orchestra, choir and band you could think of but, in my 20s I stepped back from it all. Thankfully, in my 30s, I have picked it all up again and it is the creative outlet that I need in the midst of a busy career.

15. I am thankful for the gift of being a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on. To be trusted by someone to the level that they share their deepest stories and fears and dreams is an honour.

16. I am thankful for second chances – first impressions of people and situations are not always accurate.

17. I am thankful for my own space. My little house is my haven, leaky roof and occasional mouse included! It provides me with shelter, running water, a comfortable and cosy place to sleep, a place to host friends and cook meals. Plus it is filled with all kinds of knick-knacks and special things that remind me of all that I love.

18. I am thankful for guilty pleasures: listening to that band you love on repeat, watching cheesy movies, eating peanut butter from the jar with a spoon, giant cheese platters with chilli jam, binge-watching entire seasons of television in one weekend.

12936523_10153544879737285_8001037695768210300_n19. I am thankful for my travels. We live in a beautiful world but not everyone goes out there so see it. Get on that plane/train/bus/bike/boat. Watch the different landscapes roll by the window. Lie on different grass in a different place and watch the stars. See how people laugh with each other the same way all over the world.

20. I am thankful for opportunities to tell people how you feel about them. Life is too short and, even if the outcome isn’t what you planned, it’s better to have no words left unspoken than to wish you had when you had the chance.

21. I am thankful for the chance to close the door to things that happened in the past. Your past does not predict your future, it is simply the path that led you to this point.

22. I am thankful for photographs and mementos of people, places and memories I love. They remind me that my life has been filled with love.

23. In the same way as I am thankful for second chances, I am also thankful for burned bridges and being able to say goodbye to toxic people in my life. Give yourself permission to let go of anything or anyone that drags you down.

24. I am thankful for technology that allows me to stay in contact and see my family and friends on my computer screen in real-time. It eases the guilt of living so far from them knowing that I can be in contact with them within moments if we need to be.

25. I am thankful for being brought up in a house filled with music and dancing. It started my endless love affair and obsession with all kinds of music, filled playlist after playlist, motivated me to study music and learn instruments, prompted non-stop downloading of songs and spending all my money on gig tickets and festival tickets, and fuelled a lot of dancing until the wee small hours with my friends.

26. I am grateful for learning how to admire someone else’s beauty without questioning my own. Women are taught continuously to compare themselves to the botoxed, filtered, airbrushed images that are surrounding them all day long. It took me a long time to become comfortable and happy with the face I see in the mirror. It takes daily reminding and constant work to be okay with that reflection but I am finally there.

27. In a strange way, I am thankful for my brokenness. I will never look at my scars and flaws as anything less than a crucial part of my story. They are a part of what makes me who I am and I am more interesting and wonderful because of them. Shattered glass lets more light in.

28. I am thankful for reunions. Reunions with family. Reunions with friends. Arms that can’t hug enough, eyes that can’t open wide enough to take in all the changes, stories that tumble out of each other’s mouths in desperation to catch up on time lost, smiles of joy and tears of happiness.

29. I am thankful for being able to reinvent myself. From choosing the next crazy hair colour to moving to a new adventure, I embrace and often dive into change.

30. I am thankful for my understanding of my own mental health and my ability to cope with and recognise the times when I am not doing so well, and the strategies I know will help to pull me back out of dark places. Sometimes I need help to do so, and other times it comes down to self-care.

31. I am thankful for mighty women who inspire me, both within my own life and in the wider world. Warrior women with fire in their hearts for change, equality, and breaking glass ceilings.

32. I am thankful for the writing of Neil Gaiman. My love of fantasy and science fiction has helped me find an escape when I have needed it and, no matter how many other authors I will read, I return to Gaiman every time. His writing creates worlds that fascinate, inspire and help to explain parts of the human condition in a way I have never seen.

33. I am thankful for poetry and the power that poets have to give words to emotions that we haven’t found.

34. I am thankful for one more birthday. One more year on this crazy, beautiful planet. The gift of 365 more days.

35. I am thankful that I am not where I thought I would be at 35 and that my life path has been so much stranger and beautiful than I had planned. Life is full of surprises and, if everything had worked out exactly how I had imagined, I’m not sure I would be the same person that I am today. If the next 35 years are just as crazy and beautiful, I will be just as happy.

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It’s time. {On the invisibility cloak…}

It’s time.

It’s time to talk about all of this…. this strange twilight zone that we seem to be living in. This endless confronting news cycle. This overwhelming media assault. This strange counter-argument that keeps creeping in, seemingly to justify or give some explanation for the wreckage that has been left behind by this patriarchal society that has dominated for centuries.

Yes, I’m angry. I’m absolutely furious. I’ve been so angry that it has taken me weeks to actually write this all down.

Christine Blasey Ford is sworn in before testifying the Senate Judiciary Committee in the Dirksen Senate Office Building at the Capitol Hill in WashingtonIn the midst of my desperate self-preservation,  I have read and digested much of the news cycle. Dr Christine Blasey Ford’s devastating and measured testimony followed by Brett Kavanaugh’s angry, rage-filled rebuttal. His subsequent confirmation to the Supreme Court in spite of such doubts about his character. Bill Cosby’s conviction and resultant sentencing for his crimes against women. Harvey Weinstein’s trial. Take it back even to Larry Nasser’s trial.  And then, closer to home, the removal of access to basic contraception within the country that I live. Young women being expelled from school should they fall pregnant in a country that does not advocate even basic sexual education. An assault on sexual and reproductive rights that already has devastated and will continue to devastate many. Victim and former gymnast Aly Raisman speaks at the sentencing hearing for Larry Nassar, (R) a former team USA Gymnastics doctor who pleaded guilty in November 2017 to sexual assault charges, in Lansing

Where do I start? Where do I stop? The whole horrific cycle has gone on for years. Yes, we say #metoo and #timesup. But is it even making a difference? With every victory we are faced with more revelations of just how much damage has been done and continues to be done around the world, from the most powerful, developed nations in the world to developing nations.

Even today I heard a story that horrified me by what can only be described as a cultural ‘invisibility cloak’ where a sexual crime perpetrated by a minor on another child was ‘dealt with’ by a family paying off another family…. No counselling sought for either child. No investigation into how or why this happened. No recognition of any trauma. Just ‘dealt with’ and swept away with the rest of the daily news.

My heart truly hurts in this knowledge. In the knowledge of the psychological damage that exists for the children and the fact that I live in a country where there is one social worker per region……an insurmountable caseload. A country where rape cases are dealt with in the same way, with the same ‘invisibility cloak’.

assaultledeIt makes me wonder about the strength or breadth of this cloak. This protective, invisibility cloak that exists that protects perpetrators, hides the truths and covers up so much under a guise of appearances, explaining away, it’s in the past, ‘harmless fun’, ‘banter’, ‘boys will be boys’…. while women are desperately trying to break glass ceilings, there is an invisibility cloak that we can’t even get near.

The cloak crosses nations and borders. For every President who talks about grabbing a woman’s pussy, there is a rapists family paying off a family in order to ‘keep it quiet’ and stop any scandal. For every sexually abusive coach, there is a 5 year old child bride being married off to a 60 year old. The cloak protects in different guises. But it is there. It is real and it is dangerous.

This invisibility cloak dupes a jury into seeing the underwear of a rape victim as valid evidence of ‘asking for it’ in a trial. This invisibility cloak confirms a sexual predator to the US Supreme Court. This invisibility cloak convinces communities to ‘keep it quiet’ and avoid a scandal. This invisibility cloak covers up years of misogyny, abuse of power and victim blaming.

It’s time. This invisibility cloak can no longer be invisible. It’s real. It’s dangerous and it must be torn apart.

margaret-atwood-1-1I am thankful for the rising of women….this wave of powerful women who are trying to tear this cloak apart. From Eve Ensler to Ilhan Omar. From Maxine Waters to Nadia Murad. From Malala Yousafzai to Kat Banyard to Minna Salami…. look up these names if you don’t know them and look further.

Misogyny is the dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women.

Feminism is the belief in the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.

On loving fiercely…

“A mother’s love for her child is like nothing else in the world. It knows no law, no pity, it dates all things and crushes down remorselessly all that stands in its path.”

―Agatha Christie, “The Last Séance”

On UK Mother’s Day last weekend, I posted a photo collage of my beautiful Mama on Facebook with this caption:  29025929_10155383164987285_1739070496427314569_nHow lucky I am to have been raised by this incredible woman. Every good thing in me comes from her: my strength, my courage, my humour, my determination, my fiestyness, and the way I love. She gave me wings to fly and is the roots of my tree to return to. Thank you, Mum, for loving us so fiercely and unconditionally.

It got me thinking about fierce love. Love that comes from someone who: unconditionally wants what is best for you; believes in you completely and without limits; has stood by you through rough times; fights for you, even when you have no idea that you need to be fought for; knows the worst of you and still waits for you with open arms; puts you first always; sacrifices for you; lets you be who you want to be without hampering you; gives you complete honesty enveloped in love.

In my Mama’s case, carried me in her womb for 9 months, fed me for hours on end when my cleft palate would not allow food to go down my throat, waited outside an operating theatre for long hours while I, as an 18 month old baby, underwent major reconstructive surgery to repair my non-existent palate, nursed me through recovery, sat through years of speech therapy with me, advocated for me in school when I was having hearing issues and falling behind, fought to give me and my sisters every opportunity that we could have in school, when I wanted to spread my wings – she let me and gave me a safe and secure place to come home to, and when I finally shared with her what had happened on one of the worst nights of my life, she responded only with love. Fierce love. Unending love.

I am thankful – so thankful – to have been brought up by a mother who continues to love so fiercely.

“Mothers, I believe, intoxicate us. We idolize them and take them for granted. We hate them and blame them and exalt them more thoroughly than anyone else in our lives. We sift through the evidence of their love, reassure ourselves of their affection and its biological genesis. We can steal and lie and leave and they will love us.”

―Megan Mayhew Bergman, Birds of a Lesser Paradise: Stories