Category: motherhood


Creative Soulful Motherhood

Hi ūüôā If you’ve landed here and would like to check out what I’m up to these days, head over to my latest creation:¬†Wild Motherhood, a portal for creative, soulful mothers with free resources, sliding scale coaching services, and a new blog! I’m writing about subjects like being an introverted mother, the wildness inside us all, and the messy imperfection of life as a single mother creative. There’s also more information on there about my writing workshops for mothers, including Wild Motherhood workshops which combine yoga, writing and sharing circles. You can find excerpts from my upcoming book, ‘Wild Motherhood: Keeping the Creative and Soul Fires Burning‘ and join the Wild Motherhood Tribe. As a taster of the book, I am giving away a free E-book, ‘Creative Fuel for Wild Mothers’, which you can get your hands on over here.

If you want to know more about my published writing and copywriting/content creation services, check out my main writer website. 

Hope to see you there!

Creative tips for mothers

Free E-book for Creative Mothers

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ImageNavigating the transition from school term to holidays is never easy, and I am grateful right now for my two hours in a cafe while Jude is at the low cost Women’s Centre creche. As many of you know, I finally made the decision to go with my gut and keep Jude out of school for at least this next year and home educate. The root of this decision lies back in his babyhood when I began to read about the philosophy around home education and the problems with schooling. So the impact of suddenly seeing the shape of my life without 15 hours of nursery per week is, to say the least, quite startling.

I often find that once a decision is made, the other side – the path not taken – seems to stand out in bold relief. I know that if I had made the decision to send him to school, I would be seeing all the flaws of that path in minute detail, so I can rest in the middle here, taking it all with a pinch of salt.

A few things have come to pass and to end lately. The vision of my son at school, joining the ranks of the vast majority of our society – there is a kind of loss and grief in that, even though I feel right about the choice; the end of a significant relationship; my decision to not take my place on the Creative Writing MA to start in October after all. Instead of the massive undertaking and financial commitment of a 2 year degree I am doing manageable little bits and pieces that nourish my writer self: such as the Sark ‘WINS’ course, which I started a month ago and am absolutely loving!

Sark is one of the most insightful and inspiring writers I’ve ever had the luck to come across. I loved her book ‘Succulent Juicy Woman’ and have aspired to be one ever since. Her program for writers, WINS, has in the space of a few weeks transformed me from a chronic writing procrastinator to someone who is doing something to do with writing almost every single day. I hope this keeps up! I know that if I get stuck there is abundant support to get unstuck again.

I have some interviews lined up with amazing creative and soulful mothers for my non-fiction project, and have already gratefully received some written material answering my questions from those who are not able to do face to face interviews. I am going to send a proposal to an agent who I have a connection with through an author friend. I am so excited about this project!

My son and I have spent 2 weeks camping this summer so far, one week at Midsummer Camp in June and one at Dance Camp East in late July – a week blessed with the most stupendous unexpected sunshine. We met lovely people, re-encountered lovely souls we’d camped with before, and generally unwound ourselves into the space of blue sky and the simplicity of cooking over a fire.

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But I noticed something different this year: the camps don’t feel like the be-all and end-all of my life, as they did the last two years – the first two years in which I discovered them. It may sound sad to say that only a couple of weeks out of a whole year would have such an impact, but they did. I was woken up to a way of living that resonated deeply with me: a way of being in community in freedom and mutual respect that I recognised with my bones. I came home from them absolutely overflowing with love and openness.

This time, though, I found myself almost impatient with the seeming irrelevance of the camps to my everyday life: after all, living on my own with my son barely resembles a situation of sharing cooking, childcare and songs with 30 other people. It’s as if there seemed no point in surrendering into an experience that, beautiful as it is, is not going to last and cannot be translated into my life in Brighton. Some kind of cynicism or disappointment had taken root in me, to my sadness. This didn’t stop me from enjoying the experience as best I could while there: I discovered some wonderful new things, like Taize meditative singing, which had me in tears every time, and circle dancing, and loved singing my way through a 60’s and 70’s songbook with a guitarist in my circle, and performing ‘I’m Alive’ with a small acapella group in the cabaret at Dance Camp East.

But I wonder if the community is simply evolving more slowly here, but happening in its own subtle way nonetheless. Several people I know through the single parenting community in Brighton have supported me recently with both practical and emotional issues – mostly online or via text, but it helped tremendously. Another single mom is looking at setting up some single parent houseshares, and I am dabbling with the idea. I am loving the home education community already, and am so grateful for things like the forest school at Stanmer Park which is like a mini-recreation of camp life for me, once a week, where Jude can make a stick man to celebrate Lammas and also run around with a sword with other boys. I also love my various women’s circles, which nourish me and connect me to my femininity, and am so excited about the collaborations in the form of yoga and creativity workshops I am brewing with other talented women. And it seems that various acquaintances are setting up new social events and gatherings almost every week.

Dance Camp has also renewed my determination to learn guitar. In the style of Sark’s micro-movements, (where you take actions that last no longer than 5 minutes, to move you steadily towards your goal), I have taken my guitar out of the cupboard and put it in the living room, looked at tuners online and peered in the window of a music shop.

I encourage you all to look at the little steps you can take towards your dreams, and see how these little seeds take root and flower. I am hoping that the roots of community and music will slowly spread right underneath the foundations of my life here in Brighton. Who knows where they will come up to light and flower next.

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(Jon Steel).

I’m having one of those smooth flowing days that seems to often come after dancing the 5 Rhythms¬†movement meditation practice- and I was lucky enough to make it two classes this week, Saturday in London and Wednesday in Brighton. Somehow surrendering into each rhythm of the dance and following my own changing moments lays a pathway for going deeper into my creative work and also for relating to others in a fresh way.

Funnily enough the effects seem to have nothing to do with how much fun my dance was – at both classes I struggled with self consciousness, inertia, crippling self-judgment, and many other shades in between (interspersed by moments of beautiful connection with both self and other). I guess it’s just about being with all those different states and not running from them, and feeling the river that runs underneath them all. After two years of doing the 5 Rhythms practice regularly I can feel like a complete beginner on the dancefloor all over again, just as when I show up to the blank page, or to a day of mothering, I can feel totally clueless. I start over, and from somewhere the impulses come, and as the facilitator on the inquiry group I’m in says, ‘I happen’, it just happens, life happens.

In my continued effort to get my work more ‘out there’ as a way of motivating and encouraging myself, and feeling part of a community of writers, I’ve had some pleasing results in the past couple of weeks. My flash fiction piece, ‘The Idea of An Aeroplane’ appeared in Flash Flood Journal, a¬†flash-fiction journal created by writers and edited by a team of volunteer editors on behalf of National Flash-Fiction Day 2012. A¬†75 word version of this piece has appeared on ‘Paragraph Planet’¬†on¬†May 27th, where the challenge is to make an impact with exactly 75 words.¬†I am also working on a guest blog proposal for the American natural parenting¬†Mothering Magazine, as a follow on from my article on ‘Wild Motherhood’ in¬†Wild Sister Magazine¬†(April issue). Watch this space!

Writing in an unlined moleskine notebook for the first time is bringing out some lively pieces I look forward to developing, which I think would have struggled to break out of my usual traditional lined notebook. The suddenly sunny weather has meant more longhand writing rather than being hunched over a laptop. I am still laboriously reading through my novel and just itching to write some scenes when I am familiar with the plot again; I’m also 2/3 of the way through a children’s story and nearly finished editing 18 poems for submission to the Mslexia poetry pamphlet competition. I am delving deeper into the subject matter of spirituality, creativity and motherhood for my future non-fiction book by compiling a list of possible interviewees – there are so many juicy women to interview! – and looking at other books and blog posts on the subject. I came across this one, which condenses a lot of wisdom in one place.

I particularly loved this quote from Gangaji, from her question and answer session printed in ‘You Are That’:¬†What is inherently free is who you are. Who you are does not¬†become¬†free. It¬†is¬†free. In recognizing this, there is the natural ability to¬†respond. Before that,¬†responsibility¬†is a concept of duty or of something to be shouldered. It may be tempered with love and care, but it is also something to be born. Therefore, your child becomes an objectification, a separation between you and that which you really are. (emphasis added).This is a deadly joke! You are this very child. Recognize this and you are not searching around for personal freedom. Then nothing can be an intrusion.’

This has certainly been my experience lately. As I have been exploring the work of Byron Katie to investigate thoughts that cause me pain and suffering and finding the truth underlying them, I have been astonished at the changes in my experience of parenting Jude. It is literally like having a narrow beam of light being expanded into the sun. When I look at him I feel I am seeing him properly sometimes for the first time, without the barriers created by needing to control him so that my own desires can be met, and the separation melts away to make space for a new way of enjoying being with him. Where every moment I can be led into greater joy and playfulness. So, much material for my book, coming from real life experience!

Inspirational input wise, I’m into short fiction at the moment. Maybe it’s the short attention span and reading time afforded by motherhood, but I find it much easier to pick up something I can finish reading in half an hour. I’m currently on ‘Don’t Know a Good Thing‘, a collection of stories by women writers edited by Kate Pullinger which is just mouth- and eye-wateringly good. Not a single story in it so far that doesn’t move me, confront me, or make me want to put pen to paper. Any good novel recommendations welcome though – I need something to grab me from early on!

Jude is starting ‘preparation for school’ mornings at his new school tomorrow morning. It’s hard to take in he is at this stage already. Two more months of nursery and then long summer days! I’m looking forward to our adventures, and in particular circle camping, dancing on the land and celebrating the summer solstice at Midsummer Camp in two weeks time. Bye for now, and enjoy the sunshine :). Thanks for reading!

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As Brighton comes alive with its annual Arts Festival, I feel pleasantly isolated from all the activity up at the top of Muesli Mountain – the affectionate name for Hanover, the hilly area with its many coloured houses where I live. I’m enjoying a hiatus from mothering for 4 days, and though missing my son already it is so delicious to be able to follow my own curves of movement through space and time. To sit typing all day under a duvet, have only three dishes to wash up instead of about twenty, and to go dancing and see friends whenever I like. When I have childfree time my tendency can be to swallow all my creative time in social interaction, to make up for the snatched and interrupted conversations that are a feature of life with a small child. But I have managed this time to carve out some proper writing time, and plan to stick to it!

My ally in this is a simple new lists/time management method I’ve come up with. Nothing revolutionary, but I’ll share it anyway in case it helps. I’ve discovered that I need my goals for the week to be incredibly specific, or only vagueness and procrastination tend to result. For example, I used to have a goal of, say, five hours of writing a week. When regularly nothing more than one or two hours of writing occurred, I tried being more specific: ‘Working on short stories, poems and non fiction project for 5 total hours’. Nah. No difference. So now, I’ve literally broken it down to this degree: 1/2 an hour editing a poem for a booklet competition. 2 hours re-reading my novel with a view to finishing it. 45 minutes on a pitch to a magazine (oops, yet to get to that one!).

And so far, it’s working. I’m doing it for all areas of my life, too. In neat columns on a piece of paper on my wall, where I can cross things off. Instead of ‘clean flat’, it’s the nitty gritty of ‘hoover hallways’, etc. What this new list system has illuminated is the sheer amount of life admin and Breastfeeding Counsellor related admin tasks I have to do each week. And how these tasks tend to dominate and take over, leaving little breathing room for my writing. So again, I’m becoming strict about my time by designating particular days to each task – I will not book anything on a Monday unless absolutely unavoidable, as that will be my writing day. I will leave Thursdays mostly free too, with space for an artist’s date (which will be going to the Royal Pavilion Museum & Gallery today). Three weeks of this system and I am feeling pleased with the result. I’ve submitted flash fiction pieces to two websites, come up with a few new freelance article ideas and summaries, written up some interview questions for a non-fiction project, and done a lot of de-cluttering and filing which frees up space in my head and my physical surroundings. I’ve also got a new weekly yoga client starting next week. Most satisfying!

I’m also trying out a variation on a method a friend told me about, to deal with procrastination. I note down every action I take within a block of time that I’ve designated to work of some kind. That way I can see how many times I’ve gone onto Facebook and done other non-work-related tasks, and having to write it down makes me more accountable and more likely to skip it. I also like this quote from The Organic Sister, an inspirational and empowering life coach, as a way of dealing with avoidance tactics: ‘Is this feeding my soul? Feeding my greater vision and purpose in this world? Is this feeding the souls of others?’

Last time I told you about applying for a place on the Creative Writing MA at Westdean College. Well, I am pleased to tell you (although if you are one of my loyal readers you probably already know!) that I have been given a place on the course, and am to start, part time, in October. I am so excited about having 17 hours a week to devote to my creative writing. I know that the structure and input from talented writers will do so much for my knowledge about this craft, and I will finally be giving the necessary space for what I believe is one of my main purposes in life. In the meantime, my research for grants to fund my studies continues!

Here is a poem I wrote a while ago, which emerged from a writing exercise with my good friend and writing buddy Lou Ice. We like to meet at Marwood”s in the Laines, a great atmospheric coffee shop with comfy couches and interesting roof views at the top, and write for two hours. Lately I’ve been writing poems on the theme of Brighton, my home for 8 years, and in this one I gave some attention to a species of Brightonian that is often despised but which fascinates me – Seagulls.

Seagulls

above the city,

the steeples pitching light

against the cerulean sky,

the sky that makes me feel

like a balloon ready to burst,

that gathers

our summer memories and

lets them loose,

above the city,

the seagulls preen and call,

their steely eyes

capturing it all as they sit

on the roof of the flats above

Hardy’s Original Sweet Shop

in the Laines –

I see one seagull spread his wings, then

re-settle back on the roof,

thinking better of it.

His mate is nestled nearby,

head tucked under a wing,

possibly asleep.

Their secret life is conducted above us all.

The sky is their habitat,

while ours is the grey street,

looking down at our feet.

They see the piping

reaching from top to bottom of the

building with its curlicue brickwork

like the gingerbread house

in Hansel and Gretel,

the makeshift curtain

only half covering the window.

The gull’s mate

is asleep now,

the other still turns his head

like a weather vane,

perhaps observing the mildewed wall face

and the un-used red chimney tops,

the shops that used to be fishermen’s cottages,

and they don’t mind the grey,

because they have the blue,

the white passing clouds

and the sun so close they could dare it.

pic by Dayawanti D'Sa

Happy New Year everyone! This is the first New Year in a while that I’ve really connected with a sense of fresh possibility and excitement – a feeling that I can break through old barriers. I don’t know whether that’s due to finally being more settled in my environment – last January I was still in-between homes – and therefore able to look outwards and onwards again, or because of the Solar Eclipse and recent Jupiter-Uranus conjunction bringing positive expansion, or because we are so close to 2012 and all that that means for our development as humans – but it feels so good!

Last year I had big dreams for myself: solid goals, like living in community, being in a loving relationship, and having completed my novel by the end of 2010. It’s wonderful to dream big but it can also put a lot of pressure on us. It would be easy to be depressed about the way those goals haven’t quite materialised, but when I look at it honestly I wasn’t consistently applying effort in those directions – I kept getting sidetracked from what I was trying to manifest, and letting life pull me every which way. It’s been an emotionally turbulent year, but I’ve come out a lot wiser. So this year I’ve decided to approach New Year’s intentions in a different way: making intentions that are totally down to me. And, just as importantly, are measurable in small steps.

My lifelong friend and fellow writer Rin Simpson blogged about approaching New Year’s Resolutions month by month – sitting down at the beginning of each month and writing down your goals for that month, rather than losing momentum halfway through the new year. I like that a lot. It’s really quite simple: I want to take small enjoyable actions, one at a time, that are related to my big dreams for myself, and that gradually narrow the gap between where I’m standing now and where I want to be. Most importantly, I want to enjoy where I am right now as much as possible: spiritually, emotionally and physically!

Something I found very helpful to do was mindmap around my ideal working day and my ideal home – I confess, I have a digital ‘vision board’ of my ideal partner too, and have a list of qualities I’m looking for in a partner that are constantly refined ūüėČ These mindmaps – which I plan to collage around too, because visual representations are so good at activating manifestation – were so effective at getting me fired up about my life, that it was easy to come up with concrete steps. So, here are some examples of my New Years steps:

To energise my dream of being a successful poet, novelist and short story writer, I’ve decided to, each¬† month, schedule in nine hours a week to write, and aim for one poetry/short story/article submission per month, as well as a poetry performance where possible.

To move me closer towards my dream of reaching lots of people with the empowering tools of Kundalini Yoga and the power of writing and journalling, I’d like to facilitate one Kundalini Yoga or writing workshop per month – my upcoming New Years Yoga workshop on 8th Jan will focus on New Year intentions and bringing in positive energy to 2011, and I’m very excited about teaching it!¬† I’ve also decided to keep my determination and focus and see one thing through at a time – e.g. commit to teaching a class for three months, putting my all into it, before trying something else.

    I have plans to take a ‘ready, fire, aim’ approach this year and start finally using the¬† skills and knowledge I have to reach out to people – for example, I am planning some workshops to help give new mothers basic tools such as breathing and meditation that can be practiced in amongst the chaos. For so long it’s as if I’ve been waiting for someone to give me permission to teach what I know, and I suddenly realised that it can start now!

    pic by Dayawanti D'Sa

    To work on my goal of becoming more organised and efficient, I’m going to do one ‘sort out’ project each month – e.g. file bank statements, throw out old papers I don’t need etc. I’ve been doing this regularly lately and it’s great how much energy it releases, leaving me free to create new things in my life.

    And motherhood of course is not exempt from self-improvement – far from it. I have re-committed to being very clear on my intentions each day, to connect with Jude and put our connection and loving relationship at the forefront of my consciousness when I’m with him. I find when I am clear in my mind about my intentions, I can re-steer my wayward thoughts and actions back towards them more quickly and easily.

    To keep me connected to the spirit that sustains me through all of these things, keeping my focus on the internal rather than the ever-changing external – Yogi Bhajan taught that ‘all things come to those who are stable’ – I want to read, watch or listen to one inspiring thing every single day. It’s amazing what a difference it makes when I take the time to connect with the wisdom of teachers and writers such as Yogi Bhajan, Wayne Dyer, Abraham-Hicks and others who remind me of the greater purpose of my life beyond the roles that I carry out and the actions that I take. It eases stress and uplifts me out of the often narrow focus that can result from chasing after things.

      On that note, here are some quotes I’ve found on my web trawls recently that I found inspiring and uplifting, that deal with creating and manifesting in one’s life:

      Walking with faith tends to turn out better than just having a “concrete” plan. A flexible planwith faith creates miracles! ~Mastin Kipp TDL

      Recognize that you have the courage within you to fulfill the purpose of your birth. Summon forth the power of your inner courage and live the life of your dreams. ~Gurumayi Chidvilasananda

      Life is a handful of short stories, pretending to be a novel.-~~Anonymous
      If we fill our short stories with love a beautiful novel has the opportunity to transpire!~~~Margery@Angelhealingwaters

      Finally, I leave you with an affirmation I like: “I am open to beneficial change’ (vs ‘I wanna stay the way I am!’) (from ‘Simplify, Simplify, Simplify’ on Facebook). Really, all we can do is be open to the flow of change in our lives, and co-operate with it rather than running away. Bring on 2011!

      One of the biggest gaps I experience in life is between how connected I want to feel – and how connected I feel moment to moment, in reality. Connected to what?

      Life, myself, the Universe, God(dess), whatever – to me it doesn’t matter so much what you call it, it’s the feeling I recognise: joy, contentment, openness, and inspiration. Where my energy is flowing and it feels good. Feeling motivated but not compelled to do things – feeling that I am okay no matter what.

      Sometimes I feel really ground down by the seeming mundanity of my life, and the endless repetition of tasks that stay-at-home motherhood involves can feel anything but spiritual and connected. Recently I wrote a guest post for Authentic Parenting about this seeming contradiction. The last couple of weeks, though, something has shifted in my ability to connect with that connected state of being.

      I sometimes spend more energy trying to escape motherhood, than actually enjoying it; using a lot of the mental space I could be using for being present and feeling calm and joyful in the moment, to orchestrate my next ‘fix’ of something completely non-mother-related, like a spoken word event or a spiritual course. Or looking at friends’ status updates on Facebook too much, to feel like I am part of the real world – filling my mind with often irrelevant distractions.

      Because of my fear of isolation,¬†I spent most of Jude’s babyhood rushing frantically around from one activity to another, and it exhausted me. Nowadays our life has a slower pace because Jude often prefers to be at home. Amidst the moments of boredom I’ve started to feel relieved, and to experience that simple contentment of being where I am, with Jude, and knowing him well rather than having a childcare worker share his most significant moments.

      I definitely still find cultural and spiritual events inspiring and valuable, but I’m becoming more realistic about my life as a single mother and not trying so hard to squeeze everything in.

      I couldn’t organise a babysitter for two arts/cultural events I wanted to go to recently. But instead of feeling deprived, I was surprised to find I felt totally accepting – almost relieved to be able to let go of that pressure to do and be all things, and just read a book in the evening when Jude went to sleep. This has been far more nourishing for me lately.¬†Also, it meant I had more energy the next day to be with my son and join him in his enthusiasm for life.

      I’m realising how much energy it takes to be with other people and do task-orientated activities, especially when I am with a high-energy preschooler most of the time, and how much alone time I truly need to recharge.

      I think the shift I’ve experienced in feeling more connected has a lot to do with¬†being kinder to myself about how much energy it really takes to mother in a present, aware way, and allowing myself more rest and relaxation.

      This requires¬†not believing those less than kind thoughts¬†that insist I use my only two or three hours ‘off’ each day to do goal-orientated tasks. The work of Byron Katie has helped me enormously with this. It’s a radical re-conditioning, but worth it to feel that gap getting smaller.

      “Every city has its own internal logic” – Angela Carter, “The Kiss”.

      I knew my city from the first time I saw it. Strange that it is ‘mine’, now, when I was born in Cape Town, but there’s something different about a city that you have chosen to live in. And Cape Town seems increasingly distant and abstract to me now, after six years in my adopted country.

      I first ‘met’ Brighton in June 1998, on a gap year holiday to England filled with pubs, pool and boys. It was only for one summer’s day, but it reminded me very much of the seafront in my home city, and I felt instantly at home. I saw it in an idealistic way, and Brighton stayed in my head for long after that.

      I spent longer in Brighton during November 2003, when I came up for my best friend’s wedding. The unaccustomed cold didn’t put me off: I was in love with the place, taking photographs of the beautiful University buildings, the Pier, even the pebbles on the beach, to show eagerly to my then boyfriend when I returned home (I was trying to convince him to join me when I moved to England).

      Brighton is both more and less innocent than Cape Town with its laundromats and rastafarians competing on street corners with glue-sniffing little boys offering to clean your windscreen. When I first moved to Brighton I thought it was a haven compared to the perpetual threat I felt in my home city. The lurching Big Issue sellers with their cheeky or frozen smiles depending on how much hope is left in them, and the clink of change in Londoners’ pockets as they walked past beggars under Trafalgar Street bridge – all seemed harmless in comparison. All I really saw were the lights and bonhomie of the North Laines, the way people could wear any hairstyle or costume without it attracting ridicule – unlike in conformist Cape Town – and the sunshine glinting off the pebbles on the beach which were still a novelty then.

      In Cape Town there was no way I’d walk through the centre of town at night without a man at my side – so when I first came here the freedom was intoxicating. I walked everywhere without fear. Recently, though, I’ve been noticing the underbelly of Brighton a lot more.

      Maybe it’s having a child, and an awareness of what I don’t want him exposed to – but the gap between the ‘ideal place to live in’ and the place I actually live in, seems to have become ever wider. Every time I walk down Western Road or North Street there seems to be a fight going on – even in the daytime – and I have to positively gird myself up to face London Road and the Level with the perennial alcoholics at midday.

      It’s also the sheer unstoppable force of the city – the way there’s always something stimulating happening, and finding peace in the face of that can be challenging. I feel like I’ve become hooked on it, though, because everytime I consider moving somewhere quieter – like Totnes in Devon, a recent bee-in-my-bonnet, I feel paralysed with fear of boredom, and something missing.

      I know that the sheer amount of choice I have on a day-to-day basis in this city is something to be tremendously grateful for. There are centres where we can connect with others in similar circumstances, have access to communal organic allottment gardening free of charge, many different parks to choose from, some of them beautiful, and of course the unchangeable sea – having grown up by the sea, I’ll always have a bit of an attachment to it.

      I know that my long term dream is to live communally and close to nature. In the meantime, though, and until I find the right people to do that with, I’m faced with the question of where’s best for a growing boy and his mother? How do we meet both of our needs? It’s clear that Jude loves the city and thrives on the excitement. He’s not yet noticed the things that make me cringe. And I have to sit in the gap and know that sometimes peace has to be cultivated regardless of my surroundings. After all, as meditation teachers say, wherever you go, there you are.

      Lately I’ve managed to touch that, but it was only when I decided that I could and eventually would leave Brighton, despite my love for it – that like a relationship with a lover, you don’t have to wait till it’s all falling apart to see the sense in moving on – it was only then that I started to feel the peace even walking down the busy streets with the shouting teenage mothers and the clamouring shoppers. Only then did I start to re-discover all the things I once loved about Brighton, and still do. It had to be a special place to become my adopted city, and often what I hear in people’s voices when they criticise the place, is a cynicism I don’t want a part of – a lack of appreciation for what we have here.

      Sometimes it is about accepting that nowhere is going to be perfect. Obvious as it sounds, this is something I really struggle with! For now, it’s about just taking baby steps towards my vision – and right now, that looks like it may be moving to a smaller town or village in Sussex, where Jude can still easily see his father and I can still see my friends here.

      It’s not perfect – it’s not rural idyll, and I would be giving up a lot, and facing the uncertainty of having to build up a network of friends all over again. But I’m reminded of the huge risk I took moving countries six and a half years ago, and how I have never truly looked back since. In the meantime, I’m hunkering down for winter and aiming to enjoy this city as much as I can while I am still here.

      It looks like autumn is here, teetering on the edge of summer like a surfer poised to take a wave. It brings with it a gust of feelings, memories and images – but many of them, strangely, are to do with summers past. And even though I am now the veteran of six winters in England, I feel the same terror of the sudden stripping away of warmth as the sun deserts us.

      Its visit is so fleeting compared to the seemingly endless summers of my South African childhood and early twenties : I have memories of churning up mud with ecstatic feet beside sprinklers on the lawn, of eating peaches in the pool, dripping juice onto the sizzling tiles, and melting Smarties while paging through Archie comics – all under a mind-blanking curve of lucid blue sky.

      Back then, it seemed easier to relax into the natural gaps in life. I think my addiction to ‘busy-ness’ began at university – the sheer workload of a Psychology degree combined with trying to have a social life. Yesterday morning I sat on the seafront while Jude was at creche, and what seemed like a million to-do lists were cascading through my head. Aware that this was probably one of the last days of good weather, I wished I could just listen to the waves and let myself float with them.

      But I’ve been facing a big decision, which was churning around in my mind: whether to continue working an 81-hour week looking after Jude (i.e. unpaid childcare) and studies, or to take the plunge and convert sixteen of those hours into ‘official’ work – i.e. what the government recognises as taxable income.

      Even though I would be doing things I love for money – teaching yoga and writing freelance – because I don’t want Jude to be in significant amounts of non-parental childcare, it would mean giving up some of my already very limited fiction-writing time and ‘dreaming time’ and cramming work into every single gap in my life. Like so many decisions, it’s hard because both options involve gains and sacrifices – so it’s a real process of sifting through my values and defining which ones are non-compromisable.

      If I choose the working route, I’ll have more money, of course, and the freedom that brings. And the satisfaction of sharing my gifts with the world. But I’ll also lose the freedom to rest when I need to during my child-free time – and to be available for spontaneous things like contemplating waves, or going for an Artist’s Date.

      These may seem like indulgences, but it is the very space to breathe that allows the rest of our life to exist, whole: the same way that music could not exist without spaces between notes.

      In my last post I wrote about the stress that creeps in – as it would if you were working an 80 hour week at anything – simply because of the lack of space and, crucially, silence. In ‘Finding Sanctuary’, Abbot Christopher Jamison says some compelling things about the downside of being too busy – how it denies the soul’s yearning for silence and is a sickness our society perpetuates to keep us consuming more and more.

      Even I, who consider myself a very un-materialistic person, fall into this trap because of the powerful messages that equate working (as defined by the government) with self esteem and money with security, happiness and freedom. Let’s be honest: ‘single mother on benefits’ isn’t a label that inspires pride.

      But I’ve been encouraged of late to see that some of the gaps I’ve written about here are starting to be filled in a very satisfying way – and not through me ‘trying’ to do anything. Community, for instance. I’ve been bumping into my neighbours in the park and having good conversations, and in fact there’s an event called ‘Hanover Zocalo’ happening in my neighbourhood this weekend where people put their chairs outside and hang out with the neighbours.

      Then there’s nature – another of my core values: I’ve been spending more time in locations like Stanmer Park, picking blackberries with Jude – which he loves – and even in ‘ordinary’ Queenspark up the road, Jude has been enjoying playing ‘Pooh sticks’ in the (admittedly smelly) stream and ‘fishing’ with a stick. It’s been so heartening to see him enjoying nature, trying to climb trees, wanting to explore, when I was starting to fear he’d always prefer urban concrete playground environments.

      So…I guess real life is in the gaps, sometimes. The unscheduled connections and synchronistic meetings, the times you let go of what’s been planned to follow an instinct – to walk into a gallery to have a closer look at a bewitching painting. It’s often only when I allow gaps to exist without compulsively filling them, that a solution to a problem will¬†appear. Those gaps, I think, cannot have a price put on them.

      Nothing to Prove

      Have you ever noticed a gap between how others see you and how you see yourself – or what you’re doing in life? It can go either way- negative or positive. As a parent I’ve experienced both.

      Yesterday over tea and brownies a friend, who has her own business, told me how she’s got to the point where she ‘doesn’t have anything to prove in life’, and is happy to just follow her desires – and right now that it is to have a baby.

      I must admit I felt envious. I wished I could feel no need to ‘succeed’, to achieve anything. My entire motherhood journey so far has been peppered with frustration at not being able to fully explore my creative interests and develop my career which was just starting at the point when I became pregnant (even though I really wanted a baby).

      My friend’s remark got me thinking: what about achievement as a mother? What about the never-complete, but always ongoing, success of a child who is happy and open to life?

      Recently I’ve had a lot of compliments on my son: he’s independent, he’s secure, even-tempered, ‘fearless’, confident and trusting of people, and he knows what he wants (which could be taken either way I suppose).

      I never know quite how to take these remarks. He’s his own person, after all – he came into the world with his own character, which responds to what goes on around him, but he was definitely, quintessentially Jude from the beginning. In fact, a friend of mine even coined the term ‘Jude-ness’ – as in, he’s really growing into his ‘Jude-ness’.

      As an ‘attachment parenting’ mother – the title makes me wince a little, with my dislike for leaping under any banner – I’ve put myself in the line of fire of much criticism. I’ve been accused of spoiling my son; being responsible for his ‘clingy’ behaviour because I respond to his requests for cuddles and breastfeeding; creating a rod for my own back with a child that will never leave my bed; and ‘trying to protect my son from the outside world forever’ – this is my favourite one, from a family member ūüėČ

      The worm seems to have turned. At just under three my son is a sensitive, articulate, very confident and empathic (for his age!) child who knows what he wants – and is fun to be with. He now plays independently for long periods of time and his breastfeeding has (with some help from me!) decreased to two times a day in a smooth transition. He happily goes to creche two mornings a week and is able to be left regularly with trusted friends and family.

      And of course I can never know this for sure, but I do think that had his dependency needs been denied and ignored, or only erratically responded to, we would perhaps be seeing a very different picture.

      Attachment parenting ‘guru’ Dr William Sears writes about ‘shutdown syndrome’, where babies who are left in their cots a lot and not carried around or picked up when they cry, become withdrawn, apathetic, and unresponsive, and even lose weight, failing to thrive. In terms of the more long term picture, in his ‘Attachment Parenting’ book he includes an account from parents who remark how easy their three year old is to discipline, thanks to the strong bond that has been formed through attachment parenting.

      Reading that recently, something resonated with me: I realised how what seemed to be a never ending cycle of meeting the needs of a baby and young toddler – the¬†sleep deprivation from feeding through the night, the sore muscles from wearing a sling almost all the time (yes, even an ‘ergonomic’ one), feeling ‘tied’ to being with him most of the time so that he could feed and go to sleep; being unable to leave him with anyone until he was far past the age that children are ‘supposed’ to be able to do so – has had a lot to do with Jude now feeling safe to come out into the world and show us all he’s got.

      And more experienced mothers – yes, I know things could change at any time, but I’m still waiting for the onslaught of the ‘terrible twos’ with him. His strong relationship with me and his ability to communicate and express his feelings verbally, while I validate and allow them, seems to iron out most difficulties very quickly. Things really changed when he turned two – he suddenly seemed to realise that he could relate to and trust the world outside his immediate circle, and this change was sudden and remarkable.

      I suppose this is where the ‘rewards’ of parenting come in. So much of the time it seems like a task without end, like a process without a finished result. For the first time I’m seeing that I can enjoy the person my son is becoming, and feel proud of the work I’ve done. Yes, he has brought many of these qualities with him, and at the same time they would not be able to flourish fully without nurturing and sensitivity in his environment.

      And that’s where the gap comes in…parenting is different to a completed writing project or a ‘job well done’. It’s more challenging to internalise the appreciation and feel proud of the work I’ve put in as a parent. Why is that? There’s definitely a sense in which parents (mostly mothers, if they’re doing the primary care, and even if they’re not) are given the blame for children who have behavioural problems or in some way don’t ‘turn out well’, yet there are never headlines about what a wonderful mother a Nobel Prize winner is.

      Partly, though, it’s a human condition, I think. I have friends who I think are the most amazing human beings and mothers – full of love and empathy and deep respect for their children, who I just sit in awe of when I witness their parenting and their being – who regularly knock themselves, and no matter what I say, I can see that deep down, they can’t quite take it in. I think the best we can do is keep supporting each other and reflecting back to each other what we can see, and hopefully the truth will slowly drip in.

      But back to my friend who’s let go of the need to prove: I would love to get to the point where I truly feel I have nothing to prove, even to myself. I definitely need feedback from others in order to feel that I am on the right track, although my authentic parenting journey has helped me more than anything else to start trusting my own instincts of what is right. I’m grateful to my friend for her reminder that life is a continuously unfolding journey of creation, and that there is no end point. In the meantime, I’m going to try and take in the vantage point from where I am, right now: and it’s really quite good.