Illustration, Mindset, Parenting

Moving forwards … And reflecting too.

I’m trying to determine what week or month of lockdown we are now in. In truth, I’m not sure where we are … It’s basically three months since the lockdown began, in fact, are we even still in ‘official’ lockdown?

In my last post we were trying to decide whether or not to send Sidney back to school. We decided against. Too risky for our setup we felt. And in the last 24hours we have decided to cancel our holiday to North Wales too. No matter what cleaning protocol the holiday cottage hosts have, how much would we be able to relax, and what would be open? I feel not a lot. Better stay at home and stay safe.

However, where does that leave us? At the moment, I am having daily conversations with myself about staying safe at home in our bubble, but also, acknowledging that we must put ourselves back into the outside world at some point.

We support our local high street as much as possible, and the children are diligently putting their masks on and trying not to touch things in shops when we pop in. But there’s the other part of me that just wants to order things we need online, and just wipe down the parcel when it arrives, or leave it on top of the cupboard in quarantine for a few days.

I went to see my lovely osteopath this week. That felt a little scary on the way, and I considered cancelling. But I was mightily glad I went. I felt very safe the whole time I was there, and I felt much better when I came away. And with the announcement of hair salons opening from July, I will be waiting out to hear my phone ring from Shelly, who has been cutting my hair for the last 15 years. I can’t wait. Even though that may feel a little scary too.

So changes are happening. All be it, small, tentative ones. I think thats all I can manage if I’m honest. My work has lulled this week for the first time since lockdown began, and it’s given me some time to think through some confusing mental and emotional blocks. I have some real confidence problems in calling myself an illustrator, and I’m not sure why. I think because I work with so many talented illustrators, whose work always seem effortless (though I’m sure its not!), I can’t seem to place myself alongside them.

However, I am working on an image at the moment, which I intend to enter into a local open art exhibition in a couple of week’s time. That’s a big step for me. The theme is ‘reflection’ and a drawing I made of the children a few weeks ago is what I feel sums up what I want to reflect: There have been many ups and downs to this time. Extreme stress and anxiety. Loneliness, resentment, tiredness and overwhelm.

But this has also been a time for personal and emotional growth. Watching the friendship between Sidney and Harriet really grow has been a joy. Of course they argue, but they have become much closer too, and help each other and comfort each other in the most loving way. I am incredibly proud of how we have all survived this time. We bake every week (we never used to), we dress up and hang bunting on birthdays (we didn’t bother doing that before), we make treasure hunts and go on adventure walks from our doorstep. We have grown loads of flowers from seeds, and had to buy lots of new pots to put them in.

This has been an incredibly difficult time, and there has been much sadness and grief for many. When I started writing this post, I was feeling very sad, but now I can also see the growth and the opportunity … As together, we move forwards, just a little bit, and reflect a bit too.

Mindset, Parenting

“Working Mum”: A term never more relevant

Our family, like so, so many are currently on a never-ending treadmill of lockdown working and homeschooling, washing the shopping and snack-providing, stress and anxiety management, and then also the normal stuff too … Like, washing clothes, hoovering as much as can be tolerated and trying to avoid standing on Lego pieces and Hot-Wheels.

There is also a new thing in our house, iPad management. That one is tough – having always been very anti-children-on-tablets in our house. Oh, we also caved and decided to add Disney+ to our arsenal, although I actually think I am the main winner there …

Anyway, I haven’t written a post on here since before the lockdown. A few reasons, partly because I have been feeling my way with everything. I avoided the news for a few weeks as it was just too much, I took social media breaks and also took time to get into the new normal of us all, Noel, me, Sidney and Harriet all being home, altogether, all of the time.

What I want to talk about in this post is how this pandemic and lockdown is becoming more and more politicised as each day goes on. I try to read news that is as unbiased as I can find it, although you will find me naturally migrating towards the left in my choice of sources.

However, this week one thing seems to have absolutely everyone’s backs up, in a way I can only compare to the pressure of breast-feeding vs. bottle-feeding, is whether or not our children should go back to school in June, and then, which children it should be.

Sidney is 5, in Reception, and therefore eligible to go back to school should it be open, and should he be offered a place. I’ll be honest here, there is so much of me that really wants to get him back to school. He gets bored and frustrated at home, and he misses his friends very much. I suspect that at best, he would only be able to go for a couple of days a week (his school is one of the biggest in Shropshire), and depending on the R rating, he may only go for a few weeks before the summer holidays anyway.

Harriet is almost 3 now, although if it wasn’t for her stature, you might take her for a young woman in her mid-twenties, she is that confident. She also needs to get back to a routine of being in a ‘class’ setting, having to wait her turn and behave without screaming every time someone says “no”.

Here is where is gets tricky. Noel is a type1 diabetic, and so technically on the vulnerable list. He is about as healthy as a diabetic person comes, so all the evidence points to his body being able to cope with coronavirus. But, where does that leave us with getting our children back into the wider world? Of course it makes sense that the longer we keep them at home, the safer we are and the more chance there is of that R number going down.

However. Noel and I are both self-employed and currently working in shifts from 7am till 5pm to work and parent, and then work as much as we can when the children are in bed. Most other families will know how utterly exhausting this is. We both have deadlines and as Noel is newly self-employed he doesn’t qualify for any help from the UK government.

Our reality is hard, and honestly I’m not entirely sure how long we can sustain it. My anxiety levels are back up again, after being really good for the first few months of the year, and I’m frightened. Frightened of what will happen to Noel and I if we keep on this treadmill of work/parent/work/parent/work/parent, and also frightened of what may happen if the children go back to school and nursery if one of them unwittingly brings coronavirus home with them.

When you are making this decision for your family, whatever your decision may be, it may not be the same as another family. And that is OK. I still don’t really know what we should do – I have spent the majority of my head-space thinking it over and over for the last week. Please don’t judge me for a decision I am struggling with. Please don’t share newspaper headlines to try and persuade me in any direction. I am doing my best. I am trying to look at the fact-based evidence, and also hoping that the wider community will continue to be sensible and stay home, and social distance.

Even though we are all in this together, at times it feels as though we are never more alone. Last night we watched the 2015 live-action Cinderella on Disney+ which none of us had seen before. I will leave you with Cinderella’s mantra, “Have courage, be kind”.

About, Mindset, Parenting

Menstrual Cup Mayhem

Using less plastic and creating less waste is something that many of us are very conscious of, and in my own personal quest towards combatting climate change, I have started using a menstrual cup. Oh yes. In this post, I am going to talk about menstrual cups. And periods. Yep. Periods. PERIODS. PERIODS! If thats too much, then I recommend you leave now, and rejoin for my next post, when I go back to talking about mental health or parenting.

Still with me? Well, here we go!

So I have been menstrual cupping for a few months now. I actually bought said menstrual cup about a year ago, but was too scared to use it. Then, after Christmas I bought myself some exceedingly pretty washable pads from Bloom and Nora, and made the decision to go fully cycle-sustainable. Go me!

Now, as we all know, change can be a tricky business. And any lifestyle change takes a little practise, perseverance and usually a few tears. Three periods in (I have a short cycle) and I thought I would message a very dear friend who I haven’t seen or spoken to for several months to tell her my observations. This readers, is a true account of our conversation:

I feel there is not much to add at this point. If you made it to the end without crossing your legs, you have my upmost respect!

And why did I share this conversation? Well, once again we find ourselves not being open and feeling like we shouldn’t talk about the less than glamorous sides of life. Talking about how flippin’ tricky the menstrual cup is, is important and none of the nice eco-packaging or motorway-service-station toilets mention these potential blunders!

The menstrual cup is amazing, but knowing that there are organic, non-plastic tampons from TOM, out there in the world is a happy thing to learn and I wouldn’t have found that out, had I not bared all to my dear, dear friend … Also, my husband is very patient when I tell him of my menstrual cup mis-adventures, but there’s not really that much he can empathise with in these instances.

And finally, I hope if you do use a menstrual cup, or are thinking about using one, this post has some handy-what-not-to-do tips for you! Happy cycles everyone xx

About, Mindset, Parenting

Awesome Amethyst and Brilliant Breathing

As many of you will know, managing and overcoming anxiety is something that is an ongoing project of mine. Last year I took to journalling in a big way, which you can read about in my post, The journals of my mind, and I also completed a course of one-to-one CBT thanks to our wonderful NHS.

Through both of these things, I made progress that has changed my outlook on life. The journalling has taught me to put daily focus on things I am thankful for, things that have made me really happy and also my goals.

Through the course of CBT I unpicked a lifetime of fairly low self-esteem and self-deprecation, and rebuild myself into someone who believes that they are a good mum, and a talented book designer, author and illustrator, and also someone who is allowed to be proud of their achievements. That last one was the biggy.

Although these things had made me emotionally feel much stronger, unfortunately my stresses and anxieties were still there and so instead of attacking my emotional stability, they began to give me strange physical side-affects. Reynauds is one. Reynauds is where your fingers and toes can get very cold, and go whitish yellow in colour. It is painful, and you have to work quite hard to get them back to normal again. I now have to make sure I keep myself very warm all the time.

Another side effect has been a monthly, let’s call it, ‘period poo’. I won’t go into the details, but if you are a member of one half of the population you will probably know what I’m talking about. My gut had started reacting to stress and anxiety that I was taking on board.

After doing some research and seeing that both these symptoms could be caused by stress, I made an appointment with a good friend who is an osteopath. My friend couldn’t have been more wonderful. She showed me some breathing techniques so that I breathe from my stomach rather than my diaphragm, and also recommended that amethyst is a crystal known for its protective powers and that some people wear amethyst jewellery as a protective aid against negativity.

After my appointment I got straight onto Etsy, and ordered myself a really pretty amethyst necklace – you can find the one I bought here – and started practising the mindful stomach breathing that my friend had shown me whenever I could. I have also joined a lovely meditative and restorative yoga class, which is absolutely perfect.

Since that appointment the way I feel is markedly different. The me that was constantly rushing and nervous has calmed down a lot. I don’t seem to rush anywhere now, and that has not affected our punctuality at all. In fact, yesterday morning we were all ready for the school-run five minutes early, so I had time to calmly put a wash on!

When the children rile me, I don’t rise up as much and feel het-up for ages afterwards. I either don’t get cross, or I shout and then I’m peaceful again. Inside I feel more comfortable. The combination of amethyst and breathing so far seems to be working. I still get the cold fingers and toes, and I am careful about what I am eating, but I feel physically calmer.

How do those things work? Amethyst is meant to have a very calming energy, which I will be reacting to. And the breathing? Well, in breathing from my stomach, I am dispelling the stress that is being held around my gut through my breathing. And the yoga is just plain relaxing.

When I was younger I used to cry about everything. I think that was my body’s way of releasing stress. Since having children, crying seemed a little self-indulgent, and it is something I had stopped allowing myself to do. I realise now that crying for me is incredibly therapeutic and important, and I am letting myself do this more.

I guess the lesson I am learning through all this, is once again that it is so important that we are open about the ways that we are feeling. We must validate those feelings by dealing with them, whatever they are, because if we don’t there they find new ways to manifest themselves. I am thankful that I have such a wonderful friend to be helping me, I am thankful that I am feeling better – I hope I can keep it up. And I am also thankful that my lovely amethyst necklace looks just about perfect with all of my clothes.

Illustration, Projects, Publishing

Audience participation

Today I spent the morning engaging with my audience, something that I haven’t done for a while. I spent the morning with children in school, reading my book to them, talking to them and showing them original artwork. It was great fun.

When I am concentrating on my work, at my desk in our spare room, focussing on deadlines and which editor or author needs what cover or book interior next I often forget that there are actual children out in the world who are the true focus of my work.

Getting out into the world and talking about myself is not something I love to do. I am quite introverted like that, so I find an outfit that will make feel confident and warm, and get me out of Imposter mode. I also put on my amethyst necklace, which helps me to feel peaceful and protected. With these tools, I can go out and meet my audience.

Today, four classes of children listened beautifully as I read them Reynard the Fox. We talked about the story, and why I wrote it. We discussed how long it can take to make a book, and how long it can take to make the pictures and how I made them.

Children ask the most wonderful questions. Some of my favourites today were around whether my book made me happy, and which pictures made me most happy. Another child asked me which artist inspired me, Eric Ravilious – look him up – his artwork is beautiful.

One of the things that I really love to do when I meet classes of children, is get the original illustrations out for them to see. The illustrations in Reynard the Fox are all A2 monoprints – so they are large and they are colourful. Each illustration is in a protective plastic sleeve, and I get them out and pass them round or put them on tables to look at. You might think I am mad letting a whole class full of children free on a set of original artworks. I probably am, but I think the interaction for all of us with real, tangible objects is vital. This is an opportunity for children to hold and examine pieces of genuine art.

When I decided to make children’s books, one of the biggest draws for me, was that picture books are a child’s first step into the world of literature and fine art – works of art that they can keep and hold and love. I wanted to be a person who introduces that appreciation too – a world of colour and texture and rhythm – just as other authors and illustrators introduced that world to me.

As I get the illustrations out, I can see the children engaging with these great big papers filled with colours and shapes. The more they see, the more they wish to see. How amazing is that! A story that they have just listened to has come to life in their fingertips. They are asking me which ones they can look at and how many more there are.

It is a lovely feeling, and makes me very proud. Thank you children, today you reminded me why it is so good to take some time away from my desk, and to really look and appreciate the art in the world around us.