Walking with the moon

A creative living in the real world…

Red carpets. And toilet brushes. October 20, 2014

Filed under: Community,Family,Parenting — hannahoakland @ 1:44 pm

Yesterday Wes left for London in the morning. Off to work. Again. At the weekend. Again. To build something. Not even he knew what.

Thankfully, there were church services. One in the morning. And another in the afternoon. In different churches. Both with children’s groups. So that I could get twenty minutes respite from little hands and whinging voices and Joel’s cries of “I want my Mummy.” Whilst he’s sitting on my lap. Seriously. This is a thing now.

I actually felt pretty smug. Not only was I leaving the house. Twice. But I was walking. Outside. In the fresh air. Taking the children to groups that would aid their spiritual development. Getting something that resembled time-out for myself. Looking at leaves and rivers and geese, and embracing the changing seasons in a child-friendly manner. Mother of the year? Possibly.

And then.

Then my children did what they do best. Remind me who I really am. By wiping the smug right off my face.

The morning service was in a church that we don’t usually attend. Unless it’s for toddler group. After two years of Monday morning play and biscuits, Elvie and Joel see it as a second home. And fair game for their schemes.

To her immense credit, she almost got away with it. It was only the glint from under her sleeve whilst she did up her shoes that gave her away. A bracelet. Four strings of beads in various shades of pink and purple and blue. That she hadn’t been wearing that morning.

Apparently she’d ‘found it’ in Sunday club.

As a dutiful mother, I removed it from her arm and returned it to the kind woman who had inadvertently funded her jewellery habit. I apologised profusely and expressed my hopes that it would be reunited with its rightful owner. Sunday club lady looked more than a little bemused during the whole conversation.

Only when I eventually shut up talking did she tell me that actually, she’d given it to Elvie. In fact, Elvie had chosen it. As her present. For her birthday.


Her birthday.

In August.

Can’t fault her cunning. That’s for sure.

It transpires, after some drawn-out post-event analysis, that she’d desperately wanted to look inside the Sunday club present box. So she pretended it was her birthday. Naturally.

They sang to her, and she told them all about her cake. She celebrated turning 4 all over again. And came home with a bracelet. Which they let her keep. Mostly because they couldn’t stop laughing long enough to take it away.

Clearly, my day as a parent could only get better. Until the post-afternoon-church-service tea break when Joel came running up, brandishing a dirty toilet brush like a sword. Followed by a couple of older girls shouting, “He’s been licking that!”

It was not my finest hour. Not my finest day.

You can only imagine my delight when Wes texted me that evening. As we ate our beans on toast. Whilst I watched Joel like a hawk for any signs of imminent vomiting.

Just a little text. To tell me that the mystery job had turned out to be building a stage for Brad Pitt’s ‘Fury’ premiere in Leicester Square. As evidenced by the photographs he showed me this morning.

Red carpets. Limousines. Bright lights.

Brad Pitt. Shia LeBeouf. Etc.

Soaking in the chilly glamour of a London-glitterati-in-October night. Whilst I dealt with a four year-old con artist and a toddler with decidedly bad taste in snacks.

Little treasures.


Yes, I know that all this nonsense about celebrity is just smoke and mirrors. Yes, I understand that parenting is probably a more constructive use of time than months spent pretending to be a 1940’s tank driver. Yes, showbusiness is a very odd, superficial land. I don’t even want to watch the film.

But still. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit jealous. A little bit. And the rest.

My only consolation is that Joel has a stomach of steel, and there was no faecal-matter-induced-vomiting. We’re totally winning.

I think.

In your face, Brad.


Blood, sweat and tears. October 2, 2014

Filed under: Community,Depression,School — hannahoakland @ 12:49 pm

Parenting is hard work. Almost always. We’re all in agreement there.

I can handle hard work. Just about. I’ve learnt that I’ll pay for every single minute I dare to stay awake after 9pm. I’ve learnt that the toilet always stays open. And that nine times out of ten it hasn’t been flushed. I’ve learnt that sometimes, the price I pay for going upstairs to hide the Christmas presents is a toddler helping himself to the last Cornetto from the freezer.

Above all I’ve learnt that we don’t do clean. Ever.

2014-07-06 14.53.31

It’s ok. This much I can cope with. Most of the time.

But sometimes there are days that tip it over. Days when your husband is away, your friend suffers a desperate health crisis, your four year old puts your toddler in A & E, the buggy gets a flat tyre on your way home from the hospital and your phone has decided to stop receiving text messages. Just for fun.

Blood, sweat and tears. Literally. All in one afternoon.

Those are the evenings that I spend on the sofa, huddled in a blanket and clutching the ice cream tub as though my life depends on it. Those are the evenings when I wonder whether I’m getting it all wrong. Those are the evenings when I feel alone.

That’s when I miss the good old days. The ones I’m too young to actually remember. The ones where everyone’s kids played outside together all day and only came home at dinnertime. Where everyone lived next door to their mum and their aunty, and their gran.

Where there were always enough hands to deal with an emergency. Always enough wisdom to guide you through. Where mobile phones hadn’t even been invented.

Facebook isn’t quite the same.

Don’t get me wrong. I have amazing friends. Friends who drove us to the hospital. Friends who came round the next day with a spare inner tube to fix the buggy. Maybe even friends who texted me. Not that I’ll ever know. Stupid phone.

It’s just that most days I don’t feel wise enough by myself. I need people on hand to tell me what to do. I want answers. Good, solid, definitely-correct answers. To a million different questions.

When exactly should my four year old schoolgirl stop wearing pull-ups at night? And how much sleep will I lose because of it?

Is it ok that Joel hasn’t even thought about potty training? And that he knows the theme tune to almost every Cbeebies show going?

How much should they actually be eating? And does any of it really need to be vegetables?

It’s not that I want my entire family and friends on my street. Nice as that may be.

All I really want is confidence in my own decisions. Which may take some time. But there’s hope.

Last weekend was rotten. Too many doctors. Not enough functioning tyres. And a large period of time when I felt like I had no control over anything. It’s taken a while for me to recover. Unlike Joel, who was back to his usual self by the time we left the hospital. It’s easier to fix a dislocated elbow than you’d think.

It happened. These things do. Quite frequently, in our house. Five days later, I can look back and say actually, we did ok. We got to the hospital. We got home. We ate dinner. Even if it was beans on toast. Everyone went to bed in one piece. Nobody lost their temper.  No (lasting) harm done.

It was horrid. But we survived. Without an emotional breakdown. Or calling Wes home. That level of success, small as it is, would have been unthinkable even a year ago. We’re getting there.

Perhaps it’s only the blood-sweat-and-tears days that show us what we can do. That make the pull-ups and vegetables seem a little less important. Perhaps the only way to build my confidence is to bash my way through the hard days, over and over again.

With a bit of help from my friends.

Especially Ben and Jerry.


Charity begins at nursery. July 11, 2014

Filed under: Community,Elvie,Faith,Nursery,Operation Slow — hannahoakland @ 2:23 pm

Elvie has gone to nursery in football kit today. I say football kit. I mean shorts and a t-shirt.

Seriously. She’s three years old, and football kits are expensive. Not to mention that if the football’s ever on the telly, she settles down with a gleeful cry of “ooh, rugby!”

Nonetheless, the note from nursery said that the children needed to wear football kits today, for a kickabout with the Royals mascots. And that we should pay £1 for the privilege. Of not wearing uniform. Which the nursery children don’t wear anyway. It’s all a little farcical.

I do need to buy Elvie’s uniform. Ready for September. I’m considering only buying one outfit. Given the number of times she has to turn up wearing football kit / something spotty / a visual representation of her favourite haiku, I don’t think we’ll get much wear out of the little grey tunics.

Still, I mustn’t complain. Because they’re raising money. For charity. More specifically, on this occasion, “to help Africa.” That’s a direct quote from the nursery.

Brilliant. It’s always good to know exactly where your money’s going.

On closer investigation, it turns out that they’re aiming to build a school in Kenya. At least that’s what it said on the packets of the ‘football’ cakes the children baked on Wednesday. Which we paid 50p to take home.

I hope we see some pictures of this school. Otherwise I’ll be very suspicious when the dinnerlady gets a shiny new car.

Teaching children about charity is brilliant. In theory, I love it. In practice, if I’m honest, I find it really hard.

I’ve sponsored a girl in Kenya for the last twelve years, through Compassion, who are fantastic. But I’ve done it by default. The money comes out of my account on a direct debit and I never have to think about it. Easy. I’m great at that.

I’m not so good at the kind of giving that actually costs me something. Time, or thought, or money. Or the effort of remembering to take £1 to the school gate.

For a long time I’ve suffered from a scarcity complex. Living in a place of ‘not enough.’ Not enough time. Not enough energy. And definitely not enough money.

On one level, it’s true. I’m raising our little family of four on whatever Wes brings home. Which, as a self-employed craftsman, varies wildly from month to month. It’s easy to panic. To fret about the mortgage, or the water bill, or the cost of school uniform.

And when I fret, I go inwards. Every single time. Grabbing hold of every single penny I can hold in my hands. Squirreling away anything that’s spare. Stockpiling any freebies that I set my eyes on. Ignoring anyone else that might need help.

It’s not a good look.

The ironic thing is, all this grabbing and stockpiling and fixing my eyes on us, actually makes the feeling of scarcity worse. It makes me feel less secure and more as though we’re going to go under at any minute.

The reality is that we’ve always survived. We’re frugal and creative and fairly easily pleased. And we have a net around us. A support net of friends and family. Who tell us constantly that we’ll never go hungry. Or homeless. No matter how bad things get.

I’ve been trying, consciously, to change my mindset. I don’t think all this scarcity and insecurity is helping my depression, and it certainly sucks all the joy out of everyday life.

I’m taking small steps. Perhaps that’s a little generous. I’m taking baby steps.

When we had a clearout, I put all our unwanted things on Freecycle. Instead of trying to sell them, in the desperate hope that they’d make enough money to justify the effort I was making.

I’ve made endless, mostly enforced, contributions to the nursery charity collections. And not been too grumpy about it.

I’ve decided that I genuinely like getting rid of belongings. It makes me feel lighter, less encumbered. Like I can breathe more easily. And there’s less stuff to tidy up. Bonus.

I’m not so good at giving away money. That still hurts. We have a jar of loose change in our dining room, and I’ve often thought how good it would be to give that money away. I’ve never managed it.

Until this week.

Over dinner on Wednesday, we were discussing the Kenyan school, and why they needed help to build it. Elvie was fascinated by the idea of people who couldn’t afford to eat. Or put a roof over their heads. Of children without parents. Children just like her. Who happened to have been born somewhere else. And were suffering because of it.

My parents are in Tanzania at the moment, visiting a charity that they run. Providing care and education and sponsorship for orphans in remote villages. Children who have been abandoned by their communities. Children who need our help.

I explained this to Elvie. Told her where Grandma and Grandad are. What they’re doing. How those children are being looked after.

She’s a deep thinker, my Elvie. She listened, and listened, and then thought for a while. And this is what she said;

“Mummy, we could give them some of our money that we use for bus rides or food…what about all the money in the change jar? We could give them that. To help build their house.”

Needless to say, there were tears in my eyes. Tears of pride for my beautiful three year old. Who runs rings around us all for most of the time, and then shows her soft little heart, and her wonderful compassion. And a few tears of embarrassment. That it had taken this child to show me what I should have done weeks earlier.

I told her how proud I was of her. That we’d count the money and give it to her grandparents. That it would be used to build a house for the orphans.

That met with her approval. On the condition that she could draw pictures and send them to every single one of the children. To let them know that we love them.

With that, wise words over, she proceeded to wedge a baked bean between each toe on her foot, admire her handiwork, then take each one out. And eat them. That’s my girl.


Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to collect the bean monster herself from nursery.

And take another 50p for a picture of her with the mascots.

I’ll try not to be grumpy about it. I promise.


The Honest Mum’s Club. May 15, 2014

Filed under: Community,Parenting,Survival Guide — hannahoakland @ 1:08 pm

Mothers are an advertiser’s dream. Perpetually paranoid, convinced that we’re doing it wrong. That our days aren’t filled and varied and educational enough. That we work too much or too little. That we’re eating the wrong foods.

That our children will be the ones who cost the NHS millions in therapy. Or end up as college drop-outs with rock-bottom self esteem and a nasty narcotics habit.

No? Perhaps it’s just me.

I doubt it.

There must be a few of us at least. Otherwise the marketing gurus are seriously misplacing their money.

You can’t breathe these days for ‘must-have’ gadgets, or educational apps. For tutors to help your children achieve their academic potential, and forest schools for when it all gets too much. Cookbooks full of family-friendly’ recipes that leave me wondering whether mine are the only children who won’t eat kale or pine nuts, or anything made of potato. Clothes that wouldn’t last a minute on either of my mud-monsters. Let alone the fact that they cost the same as our weekly shop.

I’m not sure that parenting has ever been so well-marketed. So riddled with guilt and fear, and expectations. The list of new baby ‘essentials’ is growing longer by the day. No wonder so many people delay parenthood. Or just abandon the idea altogether.

It’s all nonsense. In my humble opinion, anyway. Every mother – whether they’re pregnant, a new mum or seasoned pro needs only one thing in order to survive.


Real, honest, there-through-thick-and-thin friends. Preferably the kind who are already raising children themselves. They tend not to be so horrified when the topic of ‘how-close-the-baby-came-to-being-thrown-out-of-the-window-at-3am’ comes up.

Last night I went to a bead party. With a room full of exactly these kind of friends. I may just be the luckiest woman alive.

A bead party is not like a Tupperware party. Or an Avon party. Or an Ann Summers party. Except that the man of the house had to leave the room as soon as he arrived home because “we just have a couple more boob stories to tell.” Told you. These girls are great.

They’re a tradition at our church. Bead parties, not boob stories.

It’s kind of like a baby shower. But better. And with less presents. All the mothers get together for an evening, to show their support for the mum-to-be. There are poems and prayers and wise words. Birth stories involving cupboards and french ambulance drivers, and nameless on-call-birth-partners who left their phones on silent while they drank wine and watched the telly, only to miss the entire event. And, last night at least, a lot of sugar.

Each mama brings a bead with her, and throughout the evening they’re threaded onto a piece of elastic. So that the new mummy has a bracelet. Something physical. Tangible. To wear in labour and those hazy early days. To bite on, or run through her fingers, or silence anyone who tells her the baby will arrive ‘when it’s ready.’

To remind her that she is not alone.

Those bracelets crop up in almost everyone’s birthing pictures.


The bracelets are precious. Beyond words. No doubt about that. But what really makes these evenings wonderful are the friendships.

Last night was no exception. 9 of us, sitting in a kitchen, eating ice cream sundaes.

I’d had a hell of a day. Week, actually.With my unruly three year old. One girl arrived off the back of three sleep-deprived teething nights. Another, 4 months pregnant and existing on a diet of tinned caramel and super noodles, was just amazed to be able to clean her teeth without vomiting.

We all came with baggage. Some of us almost didn’t make it at all thanks to the confusing lane structure of one of Reading’s roundabouts. But we were there. We laughed. We cried. We ate way too much sugar for that time of night. We hunted imaginary cats who may or may not have broken in through the back door. And, through it all, we were real.

Real can be hard to find these days. But when you find it, you hold on tight.

These girls have been my lifeline over the last year. My place of safety. Where it doesn’t matter that I have no answers. Or that I’m wearing the same clothes for the fourth day running. Or that my children have just styled their hair with peanut butter. Because they understand.

These girls hold my secrets. When I told them I was terrified of having a boy, they understood. When I told them I was depressed, they cried with me and held my hands and listened. They know, they care, and they don’t judge. It’s incredible.

We know how dark and lonely motherhood can be, and we also know it’s delights. We’ve seen each other at our best and at our worst.

We’ve cried together over miscarriages and broken hearts. We’ve cared for each other’s children. We’ve cooked meals for each other after babies have been born. Most of the clothes our little ones wear have done the rounds at least twice.

Some of us have real life sisters. Some of us don’t. Some of our sisters live on the other side of the world. But here, in this muddle of baby bumps, leaky boobs, caramel junkies and bone-tired eyes, there is another kind of sisterhood. And it is breathtakingly beautiful.

I call it the Honest Mum’s Club. And I am beyond privileged to be a part of it.

Nobody should have to go through motherhood alone. We’re not designed for it. Community. Sisterhood. Honesty. That, right there, is what every mother needs.

Every new mother who can barely see through her sleep deprived eyes. Every mum of six who can’t figure out how to split herself so many ways. All the homeschoolers. All the chairwomen of the board. All the Annabel Karmel devotees. All the chips-and-beans mamas.

You don’t need another gadget. You don’t need a new routine. Or a tutor. Or a fancy app.

All you need is friends. Real, honest friends.

And perhaps another ice cream sundae.


Life. And other amazing things. March 31, 2014

Filed under: Community,Depression — hannahoakland @ 1:53 pm

Hectic. That just about sums up my life, and the state of my brain over the last ten days.

Family birthdays, friends-who-might-as-well-be-family birthdays, a christening, a Mother’s day and one ridiculous Friday where I would have had to take a selfie whilst running a three-legged race in crazy socks and no make-up to fulfil all my charity obligations in one hit.

My head has a nasty tendency to take all these things too seriously. To the point where actually, I just end up blocking them out.

Yes, I donated to Sport Relief after watching Davina put the rest of us to shame. Yes, I managed to make birthday dinner and a crumble despite being interrupted no less than four times for toilet related incidents. Yes, I found a Mother’s Day present for my mum.

But I’ve spent most of the week with a fuzzy head. Going over and around all the birthdays I’ve completely forgotten to acknowledge, the lovely messages I’ve not replied to and all the charities I’ve entirely ignored. Whilst being eternally grateful that all Wes wanted for his birthday was money. Hooray for husbands who need nail guns.

I get myself into a right old state. Life is hard. I know.

On Thursday we headed to the Children’s Centre for some space. Where the little ones could play in ball pools and dolls houses, and builders trays filled with ice, water and zoo animals. And I could step back, watch them and breathe.

Eventually we ended up in the garden. As always.


Digging in the mud. Barefoot and filthy and eating mud. (The children, at least.)

It was quiet out there. Too cold and miserable for the sensible parents. We had it to ourselves for a while. Until we were joined by another lady and her two year old girl.

She’s shy, this lady. I couldn’t even tell you her name. But she smiles. A lot. Sometimes we talk. Usually about how beautiful her daughter is, or how much Joel has grown.

Originally, she’s from Afghanistan. She wears a burka over her clothes, no matter how hot it gets. Until Thursday that was all I knew about her. Not any more.

The conversation started the same way they always do. We’ve not seen each other for a few months, so she was stunned by Joel’s running about, and I was smitten all over again with her delicious little girl.

We talked about how tall the children were getting, and she joked that her nephews always ask her why she’s shrinking. Apparently she has 16 nephews, and 6 nieces.

My surprise must have shown on my face because she laughed as she told me that back home, they always have big families. Just in case. Because nobody ever feels safe.

After that, it was as if a switch had been flipped. She talked. And talked. Non-stop for at least ten minutes. Here is what I know now.

Afghanistan is hell. Her sister lost four of her children in a day because of the war. She herself suffered numerous miscarriages and stillbirths due to the stress and this little girl, born in the safety of England, is the only child that survived.

One morning she poured herself a cup of tea, and never got to drink it. Because she was running for her life. To Pakistan. With absolutely nothing. Starting over, eventually getting back to Afghanistan and having to do exactly the same thing all over again a few years later.

She can’t stand sirens, even 6 years after leaving the warzone. Her husband has to touch her shoulder every time she hears one, and remind her that they’re safe now. She’s constantly amazed at how quiet our skies are. No bombs. No missiles. No ominous planes.

Her parents and brothers are still out there. She calls them every day. And she’s scared. Scared of what might happen to them while she’s so far away. Scared of not being able to do anything. Guilty for being safe.

I just stood, listening. Stunned. As this all came out, so matter-of-fact. Not asking for sympathy. Not looking for help. Just telling her story. And what a story it is.

It felt so incongruous. All these terrible stories, spilling out into the garden while Elvie made mud pies. Whilst this beautiful little girl ran around, shouting to Joel, “come baby, come on baby.” Listening to the squeals of delight as they chased each other down the slide. Not a care in the world. Not a plane in the sky.

How do you respond to that? In the end, all I could do was tell her that she’s amazing. She smiled, and shook her head.

“No,” she said. “Life is amazing.”

Seriously. There are no words.

She’s right. Of course. The quiet ones usually are.

There will always be sirens. There will always be planes. But from now on, whenever I hear one, I’ll think of her and remember that I am incredibly blessed.

Yes, I’m disorganised. Yes, I’ve forgotten more birthdays this month that I can count. Yes, I’ve buried my head in the sand. But what a ridiculous privilege, to be kept awake at night by missed postal deadlines and insufficient wrapping paper. Rather than fear, loss and bombing raids.

I am safe. I am loved. I am free.

Life is amazing. And we are very lucky indeed.


Boobies. November 13, 2013

Filed under: Community,Parenting — hannahoakland @ 2:50 pm

It would seem that the government have done it again. If by ‘it’ you mean ’cause-uproar-and-outrage’. Which is, in our house at least, what ‘it’ usually means. Seriously, you should meet my children.

Their current offence? Breastfeeding vouchers. That’s right. Money for boobs. I’m not sure when Hugh Heffner became a cabinet minister, but clearly he’s having an impact.

More accurately, they’re offering 200 of your English pounds, in shopping vouchers. £120 if you breastfeed for 6 weeks, and then another £80 if you hit the 6 month mark.

The mummy blogging world is up in arms. Twitter is exploding (virtually, of course.) There are cries of ‘bribery’ and ‘disgrace’ and ‘bollocks.’ Which strikes me as anatomically ironic, given the subject matter.

Stay with me here, but I don’t think it’s that clear cut.

I should point out to start with that I’m not a fan of this government in general. I don’t know anyone who is. Unless you count the government themselves, and a few of their private school friends.

I certainly didn’t vote for them. Strictly speaking, nobody did.

I remember watching the news in bed, heavily pregnant, a few days after the election. Wes went to make a cup of tea. On his way downstairs, Gordon Brown was prime minister. When he came back, Cameron was walking into No. 10 with an air of bafflement. A distinct look of “you’re not quite sure how I managed this? Me neither.”

I’ve watched friends in the NHS cut their hours, quit or leave the country because of the stress they were under. I know several teachers on the verge of nervous breakdowns. I’ve watched our children’s centre lose some of it’s most valuable staff. Women who have been surrogate family for so many of us. Who we are much poorer without.

All that without even mentioning the way that Gove is single-handedly suffocating creativity and the arts for an entire generation of children. That’s a whole week of blog posts just waiting to happen.

To my mind, the whole lot of them seem like overprivileged children. Sitting in their bejewelled fort, looking down at the rest of us. Trying to figure out where the next pot of money is coming from. Like Robin Hood with amnesia.

And then. Then they come out with breastfeeding vouchers. Cue the chaos.

I’m all for breastfeeding. Not necessarily for the bonding process – I’ve been bitten too many times to have fond memories of those sweet, blissed out feeds the leaflets talk so much about.

It just makes practical sense. It’s free, it’s tailored to the baby’s needs, it’s always the right temperature and it comes with hormones that send you straight back to sleep after night feeds. Winning.

I’ve had a mixed experience of breastfeeding. I fed Elvie for a year. Mostly out of guilt and an unswerving determination to be ‘perfect’. She thrived, but I was drained. Physically and emotionally.


With Joel, it was different. I fed through his tongue tie. Through the night he coughed up blood because of how damaged my nipples were. Through the support of the brilliant breastfeeding clinic. Until he hit 3 months. And he was feeding for 3 or 4 hours solidly every evening.

My body couldn’t cope. And neither could my mind. So he had a bottle at night time. He drank it with a look that said he couldn’t believe we’d been depriving him of this powdered joy. By 6 months he was fully formula fed. And he’s done brilliantly.


I certainly wouldn’t have got the full £200 for him.

Clearly there are massive, glaring issues with this mammary masterplan. Policing it being the most obvious. Will you be forced to breastfeed in front of a council worker, to prove you still can? Or will they demand before and after photos, and just refuse to pay anyone whose boobs are still where they used to be?

There are a lot of women commenting, quite rightly, that it will increase the guilt for mothers who aren’t able to breastfeed. But it’s possible that they’re missing the point. If you were already breastfeeding, or trying to, you’re probably not the target audience.

I was feeding Joel at the children’s centre one afternoon, when a friend came over, slightly shocked. To use her exact words, “you don’t see British people breastfeeding around here. Not young ones anyway.”

I’m sure there are areas of the country where breastfeeding is commonplace and accepted and you can whip your boobs out at a moments notice without anyone raising an eyebrow. That’s brilliant. But there are places where that just doesn’t happen. Where people stay under a virtual house arrest because they’re too embarrassed to feed their baby in public. Where a young breastfeeding mother is quite the novelty.

Perhaps the vouchers are bribery. They’ll definitely be an administrative headache and in all likelihood they’ll quietly disappear into the void of policies-that-didn’t-quite-work.

But perhaps they’ll make some women think about breastfeeding. Women who would never have contemplated it before. Women for whom £200 would make a big difference. I’m sure most people would count that a success.

At the very least, it’s an attempt at a positive boob-related story. One that doesn’t involve mothers being shunned or kicked out of restaurants. Or Miley Cyrus.

I know. The vouchers are not the extra health visitors, midwives or breastfeeding clinics that we need. They’re not counsellors or more pro-active antenatal classes. But I don’t think those are options. Not under this government anyway.

My worry is, that if we get up on our high horse about this and batter it into the ground, the government will run scared. And nothing will happen at all.

Perhaps the best thing we can do is to treat the ministers as we would our own children. Tell them it’s a nice idea. That they’re thinking along the right lines. That we’re proud of what they’re trying to achieve. Then hold their hands and gently point them in the direction of a better plan.

It might just work. Especially if we keep some Smarties in our pockets as an incentive.


Not all mental patients have chainsaws. October 7, 2013

Filed under: Community,Depression — hannahoakland @ 1:29 pm

This is me.


I am a mental patient.

I take prescribed medication every single day. I have fortnightly therapy sessions, and a computerised CBT course to keep me busy in between. All to try and calm the noise inside my head. To bring me back to a place where I can function properly. Where I can be happy.

It took a long time for me to admit that there was a problem. Years. Partly because it doesn’t fit neatly with my desire for a perfect life. Partly because I always assumed I’d be able to cope by myself. And partly because it’s just something that nobody ever talks about. It’s a tricky subject to broach.

No wonder.

This morning we went to the newsagents for a loaf of bread. In between manouvering the buggy through the only-just-big-enough door, and trying to stop Elvie scootering into the cakes, I caught sight of the papers. I could just see the top of the Sun’s headline. 1200 KILLED.

I racked my brains. I lost most of my weekend to man flu, chocolate pudding and Strictly, but I’m sure I would have noticed a natural disaster or an act of terrorism. If only because someone posted about it on Facebook. In the time it took me to buy my bread I was none the wiser, so I gave in. As I got closer, I could read the full headline.

1200 KILLED BY MENTAL PATIENTS. In blood red capital letters.

Angry doesn’t quite cover it. My blood was boiling. No wonder we keep these things to ourselves. No wonder we hide away, convinced that we’re monsters. No wonder Asda find it appropriate to sell ‘mental patient’ outfits for Halloween. We’re a cheap target.

It’s always easiest to go for the quiet ones. The ones who don’t stand up for themselves. The ones who have been shamed into silence.

I am assuming that there is some truth behind their story. That over the last ten years, 1200 people have been killed by people suffering from mental illness. That is horrendous. 1200 families ripped apart. 1200 tragedies that could potentially have been avoided. I have no issue with the facts.

My issue is with the reporting. The generalising and the scaremongering. I doubt very much whether anyone has commissioned a study into how many people were killed by cancer patients in the last decade. Or asthmatics. I doubt anyone has been collating data on the crime rate among the diabetic community.

There’s just not the same market for that kind of story. ‘Mental patients’ play into the worst kind of fears. People who can’t control themselves. High on prescription drugs. Dealing with their multiple personalities or depression, all whilst living on your street. Hiding amongst the ‘normal people’. Just waiting to whip out their chainsaws at the first sight of a full moon. Mental illness just doesn’t pull in the same kind of sympathy as other diseases.

It’s true, 1200 people is an awful total. But I would be willing to bet that, over the last decade, far more than 1200 people have taken their own lives as a result of mental illness. Unable to deal with the stigma. The shame. The fear that people will find out. And judge. This idea that somehow, we’re different. Broken. Dangerous.

The truth is, we’re no more broken or dangerous than anybody else. No matter what the publishers would have you believe.

I am a mental patient. But that’s not the sum total of my life. I am also a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister and a friend. I collect recipe books. I am Team Kimberley for the Great British Bake-off and Team Dave for Strictly. I sincerely believe that Barrichello rejoining Formula One would be a bad idea. I can’t wait for it to be cold enough to wear my boots again. I make amazing roast potatoes. I have kept every picture my daughter has ever drawn. Just the thought of Christmas makes me smile.

Nobody can be summed up in one paragraph. Certainly not in one sentence, and absolutely not in two words. ‘Mental patients’ are people too. Real people.

We’re already facing huge challenges every day. We’re already being as brave as we can be. And too many of us are disappearing out of sight, Unable to tell our friends or family. Sometimes unable to face it ourselves.

It’s time to start telling stories built on trust and hope and empathy. Rather than building on people’s fears and prejudices. Focusing on the things that bring us together. Not what makes us different. Time to celebrate people’s achievements. Not demonise their problems. That’s the only way things will get better.

It might not sell many papers. I’m ok with that. Mind you, I am mental.


Growing. July 3, 2013

Filed under: Community,Depression,Parenting — hannahoakland @ 9:14 pm

Three unusual things happened to me this morning:

1. I made a quiche.

2. I had my photograph taken for the local paper.

3. I realised that I am much prouder than I thought.

More on that later…

Six months ago, we moved house. We’re loving it. It’s the first house we’ve ever owned and it’s wonderful. Both children have their own room, the kitchen is pocket sized but beautiful, and there’s a garden big enough for Wes to build a workshop in. We finally have space to breathe. All told, we’re very happy. Depression aside, obviously.

The icing on the cake for me is the local facilities. A school, nursery and childrens centre in the next road. A thriving community centre. Allotments. Local toddler groups, every day of the week. Several parks. Wide roads. Lots of trees. Health visitors, speech therapists, educational psychologists, playworkers – everyone you could possibly need. On tap. Projects everywhere for the children to get involved in. All of which are invaluable when Wes goes away.

As my wise mother pointed out, when all those services are clustered together so closely, there’s usually a reason. And there is. When we were moving, our only concern was the area. It’s not had the best reputation. Our house is ex-council, and there are tower blocks, dispersal orders and a few intimidating dogs. More than one person raised their eyebrows when we told them our choice. On moving day, I asked Wes whether we had just condemned our children to a life of drugs and crime. Thankfully we have friends in the know – and a policeman assured us that most of the reputation was old news.

I don’t mind the idea of a dodgy neighbourhood. Admittedly, I mind it more now that there are children to think of. But I like to think they’ll become more rounded, less judgmental individuals if they grow up with all sorts.

I moved in with high hopes for the positive influence I would be able to have on the area. The great witness I would be. The people I would befriend and the lives I would change. And then I got depressed. And I discovered that actually, the community I barely knew would befriend me and change me. The elderly neighbour would remind me when it was bin day, and look after my tomato plants when we went on holiday. New friends would lend us camping equipment, and drop round unannounced with bags of clothes for Joel. Mums would invite me round for play dates, talk to me about meaningful things, and compare blogs. I thought that I was moving in to save the area when really, the area is saving me.

I’m so grateful. But it’s a huge knock to my pride. I’m very British – I don’t like asking for help. And I certainly don’t like people assuming that I need it. Which brings me back to this morning, and the quiche and the photographer.

We’re part of a Food4Families project at the childrens centre. Learning to grow fruit and vegetables at the allotment, and now learning what to cook with them. Hence the carrot and courgette quiche. I was fully on board with the allotment part – I have a huge desire to grow things, and no idea how to do it. I’m learning a lot. And the children love it.


(Yes, he’s eating dirt. That’s how we roll.)

The only problem was that I felt guilty all the time. Guilty for using their funding when I wasn’t somebody that needed help. It took me several weeks to notice that I was exactly their target market. Unemployed, no idea about gardening and no money. That was a knock. I’ve been part of these funding programmes so many times – but I’ve always been on the other side. Delivering the project. Changing people’s lives. It’s interesting to see it from the other end. At least, I reasoned, I was learning something new on the allotment.

The cooking aspect I was less convinced by. I’m not a bad cook. I certainly watch enough cooking television to be an expert. Part of me went into this morning’s session thinking I would end up helping the tutor. That I was turning up to make sure they met their quota. Doing them a favour. After all, nobody need ever know. And then the photographer turned up.

My heart sank a little bit. Everyone who saw the paper would know. Know that I was ‘one of those people’. The kind who need help, rather than give it. The one on the end of the funding. I’m prouder than I thought.

The last six months have taught me a lot. People are a lot less different than you think. No matter where you live, everyone is trying to look after their families. Most people are nicer than you expect them to be. Everyone wants someone to talk to. Most people are kind. Everyone needs help sometimes. Even me. I’m growing. And I think I’m even smiling in the photograph.