Walking with the moon

A creative living in the real world…

Plastic Skittles January 3, 2015

Filed under: Elvie,Parenting — hannahoakland @ 9:39 pm

Stories. Every family has them. The kind that are told over and over again until they become legend. Until you’re no longer sure whether you actually remember the event, or just its repeated retelling.

My family has plenty. The time my sister got her knee stuck in the railing at Alton Towers. The episode of carsickness where we discovered that Quality Street tins are not, in fact, watertight. The night my dad forgot to pick me up from Girls Brigade. Or my Grandad’s runaway milkfloat. Which, incidentally, is easily done. Who needs handbrakes anyway?

We have lots of stories. Running jokes. Sweet little anecdotes, without an ounce of malice in them. But there’s one that has always bothered me. That gets retold on a regular basis, and confuses me every time. Whilst stoking my already well fueled fires of utter-misunderstoodness.

It happened one night when I was four or five. And particularly strong-willed. My parents had, evidently, reached the limits of their patience, and my dad decided it was time to instil a little obedience into me.

Family legend has it that he put up a set of plastic skittles in my room and sat on the floor, demanding that I bring him the blue one. And then the red one. And then the green one. Over and over again. Until I did as I was told. Whilst I begged him to let me go to sleep, and Mum cried on the stairs.

I’ve never understood it. Why my Mum stood by and let it happen. Why my parents were so determined to crush my blossoming, charming independent spirit. Why I didn’t call Childline, when I had their number memorised for just such emergencies.

I’ve never understood it. Until tonight.

When, for the fourth day this week, Elvie has refused to listen to a single word we say. Pushed every button we possess, and introduced a few new ones for good measure. Chatted back, hit, screamed and generally behaved like the spoilt brat we have tried our utmost to prevent her becoming.

We can hold it together. Just about. When we’re both around.

Until it gets to bedtime. Bath done, pyjamas on, story read, prayers recited, lights off. And then, just as you reach the bottom of the stairs, there’s a little click. And her light’s back on. Like clockwork.

Really annoying clockwork.

And so begins a battle. Which continues until about 10pm. Based on the evidence so far. There’s always the possibility she’ll make it to midnight eventually.

There is absolutely no reasoning with her. None at all. All you’ll get for your efforts is a hands-on-hips, smart-arse retort. Or the promise that she’ll never listen to anything you say ever again unless you let her stay up forever. All delivered at a volume that threatens to wake the rest of the street, let alone her brother.

We’ve tried softball. We’ve tried hardball. We’ve tried threatening to lock her in her room and tie her to her bed. And yes, I know you’re not supposed to give children idle threats, but I can promise you that in the heat of the moment, there was nothing idle about it.

We are, for want of a better word, buggered.

Outsmarted by a four year old with blonde curls, a will of iron and pyjamas depicting a woodland creatures sleepover.


I have absolutely no answers. Neither does the internet.

The current plan revolves around telling her that, as long as she’s quiet and stays in her room, she can stay awake as long as she likes. In the desperate hope that, with the element of challenge removed, she’ll just give up and go to bed.

That has been the plan for just over an hour. She’s still reading. Light on.

As I said, I have absolutely no answers.

I do however, have a new and profound level of solidarity with my parents. As well as the surreal experience of watching as-near-as-I’ll-ever-get-to myself as a small child.

And a sudden, burning desire for a set of plastic skittles.


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.


7 things we’ve learnt at school. October 13, 2014

Filed under: Elvie,Family,Parenting,School — hannahoakland @ 3:42 pm

Elvie has been at school for a month now. Crazy. It’s been one whole month since Joel butted into this otherwise classic ‘first day of school’ photo. Little monkey.

2014-09-10 10.28.57

A month that’s seen more than it’s fair share of hairbrush related tantrums, 9am sighs of relief and reading folders full of pilfered stationary.

It’s been quite the adjustment. Elvie is learning a lot. As are we all. And so, flush with the spirit of continued, lifelong education, I thought I’d share my findings.

You, my friends, are welcome.

1. Hairslides are communal.

At nursery it was a miracle if Elvie ever wore a hairslide at all. Now she wears them everyday, due to a cunning combination of peer pressure, Frozen bribery (see 2.) and the ever-present threat of nits. She even brings them home. (The hairslides, not the nits. So far.)

On any given day, there is only a 50% correlation between the hairslides she starts the day with and the ones that come home. Which are normally newer ones. Shinier ones. ‘Donated’. Apparently. By any number of friends. Who, presumably, have the ones she started off with.

Honestly, I don’t mind all that much. Mostly because it feels like we’re winning. It’s the mum who keeps buying the sparkly butterfly clips that I feel sorry for.

2. The Elsa plait.

My outlook on hairstyling has always been somewhat relaxed. Meaning that Elvie usually looks like this.

2014-05-03 14.49.41

Apparently that’s not uniform-compatible. Although it’s very cute.

Needless to say, the sudden requirement for sensible, actually-brushed hair did not go down well. With anyone. Especially not at 8am. We had screams, and shouts and possibly even a few punches. All over a stupid ponytail.

I was losing the will to live. Fast.

Until – my masterstroke. The ‘Elsa’ plait. Which consists of dragging her hair into a braid on one side of her head, and securing it with as many rogue hairclips as possible. In the vaguest of nods to the Ice Queen herself. It worked. And it still works. To the extent that Elvie walks into school every morning wondering if her friends will recognise her, or if they’ll think Elsa has “really come to our class.”

It’s the simple things.

3. Mean Girls start young.

Elvie is 4. Only just. Already the girls are mean. Every day brings a different child who isn’t speaking to her anymore. Or another run-in with the main culprit, one of the older girls in the class who “won’t be my friend unless we’re wearing the same thing.”

Nobody should have to watch their baby girl pulling her polo shirt down over her skirt so that “perhaps she won’t see the bow.”

I knew this would happen. Goodness knows I’ve been on the rough end of it enough times myself. I just didn’t expect it to start so early. At least she’s talking. We’re having plenty of chats about what makes a good friend. And why we don’t need to play with the nasties.

Urrrgggghhh. Thankfully she has lots of little boy-friends as well. For balance. And mud throwing. That’s more like it.

4. Timetables are a test. For parents.

Honestly. That early in the morning I’m lucky if I remember to take both children out of the door. Let alone bring some tinned food for the harvest festival. Or a water bottle. Or the sight words we were supposed to look at last night.

PE kit on a Wednesday. Unless it’s the alternate Wednesday, when they’re cooking. Wellies on a Thursday. For school in the woods. Raincoats. Warm coats. Weather appropriate socks.

Name labels in everything. School dinners booked before 9am. Parents evening slips to be returned. Assemblies to attend.

There’s probably an app to deal with all of this. But I bet you can’t get it on a Windows phone.

5. The marital status of your teacher is important.

At least, it is to Elvie.

Who marched up to her teacher, hands on hips, and asked “So, is there a Mr Hook?” Leaving me to profusely apologise for my four-year-old-Jane-Austen-matriarch.

Thankfully the actually-not-married-yet teacher thought it was hilarious. At least, that’s what she said.

6. School rules are easily misinterpreted.

For the first week of school, Elvie came home every day with eyes aglow, telling tales of the creative corner. Where she could find paper, pens, glue, scissors and all sorts of wonders. Available for her to use at any time. Whenever she liked. All under the banner of ‘please help yourself.’

Which is nothing short of heaven for my girl. Who has everything rationed at home. Partly for the sake of the trees. And partly to avoid too many incidents like this.


Seriously. Those arms.

It took me an entire week of siphoning lollipop sticks, reams of paper, glue pots and exercise books out of her reading folder to realise that the banner should perhaps be rewritten. To say ‘please help yourself, while you’re at school, to things you’re actually going to use in lesson time. If you want to use it at home, buy it.’

Yes, it would be a much longer sign. But it would halve their stationary budget.

7. Vanish* will save your life.

Or at least your sanity.

I have my suspicions that the school uniform industry is at least partly funded by the sales of laundry products. There is no other reason on earth that anyone would put a four year old in a white polo shirt and give them bolognese for lunch.

Unless it’s all part of a masterplan to reduce mothers to neurotic, paranoid wrecks who buy replacement clothing every week.

In which case, pink spraygun of power, I salute you. You and your stain-removing, mama-empowering skills.

Thank you. We are eternally grateful.

And only a little exhausted. Turns out school is tiring. Not just for the children.

Anyone for wine?


(*other stain removers are available. Whatever.)


Playing on swings. Writing books. And other difficult tasks. September 17, 2014

Filed under: Adventures,Depression,Elvie,Joel,Parenting,Survival Guide — hannahoakland @ 10:42 am

Earlier this month, Joel turned two.

Two years old. Already. Finally. It’s confusing. I think we all deserve medals.

To celebrate, we took both children to the park. Followed by pizza with the family. I know. There ain’t no party like a toddlers party.

In fairness, we took them to a good park. Full of wooden play equipment, natural building materials and opportunities for risk-taking. We even ate marshmallows. It was quite the treat.

Joel had a wonderful time. Running up hills and flinging himself down slides. Bouncing on the trampoline and greeting every new child with a shout of “Hello, friend.” He’s delicious.

Elvie was struggling. Partly because it wasn’t her birthday. So she wasn’t allowed to open the presents. Partly because it hadn’t been her idea to go to the park. And partly because, after the Great Bear Hunt of 2014, she hadn’t been allowed to take her special night-time teddy with her.

All in all, she was less than impressed. Which she made very clear. I would have heard her screams even if I’d stayed at home.

The swings were the final straw. I was pushing her, like the dutiful mother I am. Except that I was pushing her ‘too high’, or ‘too slowly’, or ‘too wonky.’ Continually. For about ten minutes. At which point, considering that I didn’t even want to  push her in the first place, I decided that I’d had enough abuse for one playtime and left her to it.

I muttered something about how she should try to use her legs, and sat down to imagine that I had, in fact, stayed at home and was curled up in bed with a cup of tea.

Oh, how she screamed.

Wes took Joel to play in a tunnel, and I was left with a human tantrum. Of nuclear proportions.

I had a lot of sweet, kind, empathetic smiles from other parents. Whilst I watched their children swinging. By themselves. Using their legs. On reflection, there probably would have been better times to point that out. Suffice to say, the screaming continued.

Eventually, something inside me broke. As it usually does. When I get beyond the point of anger and frustration and annoyance, and remember that actually, Elvie is my daughter. In every possible way.

That underneath the screaming is usually a fear that she can’t quite put her finger on yet. Like I said, she’s my daughter. In every possible way.

It took a long time. A lot of gasping, and snot, and false starts followed by more raging tears. But we got there in the end.

She was scared.

Not of the swings. But of the swinging. The new challenge. The risk.

Scared of getting it wrong.

My sweet four year old was so scared of not being able to swing properly that she had spent half an hour screaming at the top of her lungs. And come perilously close to spending the rest of the afternoon in the buggy.

My wild, crazy little girl. Who, when given the materials to make a bear-ear headband and an outfit for her teddy, created this.


A tiara and a fairy skirt. For herself.

She’s never been one to play exactly by the rules. She’s an incredible negotiator already.

And yet.

She is driven by an insatiable urge for perfection. By a desperate fear of not being good enough. By the preference for self-sabotage over embarrassment.

Just like her mother.

We had a long chat that afternoon. Sitting on the grassy slope, looking at the swings. A chat about being brave. And taking risks. About right-or-wrong not being the most important issue. About trying. And learning. And making mistakes. And trying all over again.

She got on the swing. Eventually. All on her own. She tried to move herself. To use her legs. And when she couldn’t, I pushed her. This time, she didn’t whinge. So much.

We’ve had a lot of these conversations lately. Me and my girl. I’ve tried to praise her for trying. Rather than succeeding. To not jump on her if something goes wrong. To let her help. Even when it makes the process painfully, tooth-pullingly slow.

We’re working on it.

Which makes yesterday even more ironic. When, after a day of painting playhouses, reviewing and renewing prescriptions, and fraught school runs, I found myself weeping into a bowl of Phish Food. Because I wanted to write a book. But I couldn’t bring myself to start.

Because I’m scared. Scared of getting it wrong.

Because of my own insatiable urge for perfection and my own desperate fear of not being good enough. Because of the voices in my head that tell me I’m deluded. Because I’d almost rather end up sad and bitter than try and fail.


Last night I heard my own words parrotted right back at me. Not by Elvie, thankfully. That would have been a bit too much. Besides, she would have wanted my ice cream.

By Wes. Who sat with me and hugged me, and told me in no uncertain terms to stop fannying around and get on with it.

So here I am. Procrastinating a little, admittedly.

But I’ve looked up publishers. And literary agents. And submission guidelines. I’ve made a reading list. And, so far, stayed off Pinterest.

I am beyond terrified. If you try to talk to me about it, I might throw up on your feet. Sorry. In advance.

It will all be worth it in the end. I hope.

Either way, I’ve heard it’s the trying that counts.

Meet you at the swings?


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.


Feasting and Famine. And everything in between. February 18, 2014

Filed under: Depression,Faith,Marriage,Parenting — hannahoakland @ 10:30 pm

I’m an all-or-nothing kind of person. Which can be annoying.

It means that 10 minutes after watching ‘The Great British Sewing Bee,’ I’m wondering how best to find time in my busy schedule to hand-make my children’s wardrobes. Rather than actually just finishing Elvie’s curtains.

It means that I want to blog every day. Maybe three times a day. That I get frustrated when I only have the time and energy to do it once a week. If I’m lucky.

It means that I buy a new lipstick and then don’t wear it. Because I don’t have a new look, career and personality to go with it.

It’s an exhausting way to live. But I can cope. Provided that everything else in my life is on an even keel.


Our family is not easily described as normal. 9-5 is not something we’re familiar with. Wes is self employed, so he goes where the work is, when it’s available. Often he’ll turn up at a venue with no idea what he’s going to be working on. Those are usually the days I get a call to let me know Emma Thompson is in the next room for a press conference. Or that he’s just built a stage for the Jersey Boys.

He loves his work. He’s brilliant at it. And it definitely has it’s advantages. I’m lucky to be married to someone who can make you a table in half an hour, or throw together a garden bench for a party. He’s just built the most beautiful cabin bed for Elvie’s room. We have piles of timber, paint and perfume just waiting to be used – all salvaged from various jobs.

There’s just one problem. For me at least. That even keel I was after. It’s not much good for that.

Turns out I’m not the only part of this family that’s all-or-nothing.

There can be months in the year when there is so much work that we pass like ships in the night. Usually the middle of the night. Clutching a vomiting baby, or a crying child, or a packet of paracetamol. Times when we’d forget the sound of each other’s voice if it weren’t for all the answerphone messages. Wondering where the remote went, or whether he made it to Birmingham, or why I still haven’t returned his call and is everything actually ok?

Those times are great for making money. And stressful in every other possible way.

And then there are the slow times. When there are weeks with no work. No money coming in. Water bills, and a mortgage to pay and hoping that more work comes in before the money from the busy times runs out.

Now is one of those times.

I would so dearly love to be reasonable about it all. To adopt the same approach Wes has. The approach that says we’ve been doing this for years and it always balances out, so let’s just calm down.

I find that really hard.

When times are busy, I’m stressed because I have the children by myself for weeks on end and I’m losing my mind and I just need a break and how come work is so much more important than me?

When times are quiet, I’m stressed because the money is going to run out and what if we never get any more work and maybe I should just set up my own business selling jam because that’s the only logical solution.


Normally, I can cope. Just about. In as much as I only melt down once a week. Maybe twice.

At the moment, it feels as though everything is all-or-nothing. I know. Ironic.

Elvie, who is normally so independent that you’re lucky to get a cuddle, has decided she can’t sleep unless she’s in our bed. All night.

Which is adorable, obviously. Except that I really need my childfree space. And I resent having to share a bed all night with a snoring, wriggling three year old. Who likes to kick the duvet halfway down the bed, and ninja-whack you in the face with her elbows. While you’re sleeping.

We’ve managed to start around a hundred home improvement projects in the last month. Elvie’s room is half-finished. Unsurprisingly, given the scale of the mural she requested.


We’re halfway through creating the photo wall in the kitchen. The paints and curtain rail for our bedroom are loitering at the end of our bed. And the garden looks like a earthquake has ripped through the middle of a building site.

It’s no wonder that I have been obsessively tidying shelves. In a desperate attempt to have control over something. Anything. Even if it is just a few inanimate objects.

It all feels a bit like chaos. Which, as you may have gathered, is not something my brain enjoys. At all.

In the midst of all the soupy, swirling fogginess in my brain, one phrase has been going round and round and round. ‘I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.’ It’s from the Bible. Philippians 4:11 to be precise. Don’t be too impressed by my knowledge. I may have had assistance from Google.

It’s one of those phrases. The kind where I’m pretty sure that if I ever met the guy who said it, I’d want to punch him in the face. Along with whoever tried to convince the world that your ‘school days are the best days of your life’. Seriously. We can all be grateful that’s not true.

It’s always seemed a little smug. So, you’ve learned to be content whatever happens. Great. Good for you. Now not only is my brain suffering from it’s own private hurricane, but I can feel guilty for not having the answers.

Not that I make snap judgements. At all.

It’s only today that I wondered if it’s possible there was more to it. Whether I had, in fact, been a little harsh. Jumped up and bitten a little too early, to project all my own problems onto some poor writer who has been dead for a couple of thousand years and will never be able to fight back.

Today, I read the whole passage. Turns out Google really does know everything. It’s Philippians 4:11-13 and it goes like this:

…I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or want.

I know. So far, so smug. But wait for it…

I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

There it is. Right there.

Turns out he didn’t have all the answers. It’s possible he wasn’t even trying to be smug. Perhaps he was, genuinely, just trying to help.

I know, beyond a doubt, that finding contentment in every situation would change my life. Whether there’s work coming in or not. However many small children end up sleeping on my pillow. Whatever state the garden / kitchen wall / house is in.

I break my back trying to control everything.

Maybe, just maybe, it’s time to step back. Breathe a few deep breaths. Hand it over to someone bigger and wiser than me. Wait for him to give me strength. Instead of trying to find it myself through organising sock drawers and bookshelves.

I’m not sure how it works. But I need to try. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

Who knows, maybe I’ll even finish those curtains.


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.


Night terrors and trading standards. October 2, 2013

Filed under: Elvie,Parenting — hannahoakland @ 12:57 pm

There are many parenting phrases that could come to serious blows under the Trades Descriptions Act. ‘Family fun time’ at the swimming pool for instance. Which should actually be known as ‘sitting waist deep in water for an hour while your daughter screams because someone splashed her in the face.’

Morning sickness is another term I take issue with. Apparently midwives have never been under so much pressure – I’m willing to bet that if we called it ’24-hours-a-day-unless-you’re-asleep-sickness,’ the pregnancy rate would drop a little.

Even ‘toddler groups’ are misnamed – giving the impression that they’re put on for the children who attend, rather than the caffeine, sleep and conversation deprived mothers who cling to them for dear life. So much of the language around parenting is softened, or sweetened. As if we’re not quite able to handle the truth.

There are, as always, a few glaring exceptions.

My current favourite: night terrors.


There’s not a lot of softening or sweetening going on there. Nobody’s getting shielded from that particular brand of nasty. Which leads me to believe that whoever named it had a child who experienced it for themselves. One of the 1-6% of children that are affected. It’s an elite little club. Unfortunately, Elvie has joined it.

In the past, we have come downstairs after dealing with a nightmare, having calmed her back to sleep, and commiserated over her terrible night terrors. Ignorance is bliss. Turns out, nightmares are just nightmares. Unpleasant, and very distressing for Elvie at the time, but nothing compared to this.

It’s hard to describe what it feels like to hear your child screaming in her bed, rush in to help her and find a scene from a horror movie. Where she’s screaming your name, but can’t tell that you’re right there in front of her. When she’s dripping with sweat and completely hysterical. Eyes wide open, but looking straight through you. Flinching away if you touch her. And screaming, always screaming. At whatever imaginary threat she’s dealing with on that particular night.

Eventually she’ll stop. Of her own accord. Just stop completely, and pass out in her bed. Occasionally she’ll even open her eyes, smile and ask for a ‘tuck in’, as if nothing has happened. She doesn’t remember any of it. Not in the night, or in the morning. Which is good. I’m pretty sure she’d never go to bed otherwise.

It’s just me that’s completely traumatised by the heartbreaking sound of my daughter screaming for me and pushing me away at the same time. By the knowledge that there’s absolutely nothing I can do to stop it. And, as happened last night, by a terrified screaming baby who had been rudely awakened by his sister and decided to take all his fear and anger out on me.

Initially I thought she was just having a really bad dream. Anyone would. But now, after four separate episodes, I’m beginning to realise that this is actually ‘a thing.’ Late-night googling has confirmed it. She’s absolutely textbook. The eyes-open, not seeing. The sweating, The screaming. The sitting up and shouting. The not wanting to be touched. The suddenly going back off to sleep again. We’re in the land of night terrors and, even when it’s only once a fortnight, it’s not much fun.

The internet informs me that there’s a strong genetic link between night terrors and other sleep disorders. As usual, it’s probably my fault. Although I never had night terrors as such, I was a definite sleepwalker as a child – I’ve grown up listening to stories of the times I would wander, eyes wide open, into my parents room “looking for the light.”. During my student years there was one morning when I woke up wearing a different set of clothes than the ones I’d gone to bed in. I hadn’t even been drinking.

It would seem that there’s nothing we can do. Other than turn on the light, talk reassuringly, make sure she doesn’t fall out of bed, and wait for the storm to pass. Which is awful. I like to have a plan. Something I can do. Some way I can make it better. Waiting it out doesn’t feel very proactive. But it’s all I can do.

Apparently she’ll grow out of it as she gets older. Which is a relief. Until then, we’ll just have to deal with them as they happen. It won’t make a funny story, but at least I’ll be able to tell her I was there with her. Even when she couldn’t tell.


Letter to Joel – Hello Toddler! September 6, 2013

Filed under: Joel,Parenting — hannahoakland @ 8:10 pm

My beautiful boy,

Happy birthday! Yes, I know, I’m a few days late. Things have been a little crazy round here.

Let’s start at the beginning. I was really scared of having a boy. I wasn’t sure I’d know what to do with you. How to entertain you. What you’d like. Turns out I shouldn’t have worried. You are the sweetest, happiest, least complicated baby there has ever been. Complete strangers fall in love with you every time we go out. It’s that smile. And that laugh. And those eyes.


You are such a handsome boy. I know I’m biased, but really. We’re going to need some good chats when you grow up. Otherwise there will be a whole trail of misty-eyed girls following you around. I promise you, it won’t be as fun as it sounds.

I don’t think I was prepared for how much of a “proper little boy” you would be. You would happily spend the entire day climbing up and down stairs, or eating mud in the garden. Nothing makes you happier than following a ball around, or turning a wheel. I can’t tell you what it does to my heart to see a basket of cars, diggers and fire engines in the corner of the lounge. Turns out I love having a boy.

And you love your mama. There is nothing quite like that first smile of the morning. Or your big chubby arms squashed round my neck for a cuddle. The sound of your little voice calling “ma-ma.” Delicious. You were poorly last week. Really poorly. The only thing that got me through the sleep deprivation, the worry and the screaming was knowing that every night, too sad and uncomfortable to sleep by yourself, you would be curled up on me. Your arm across my body and your head nestled in my shoulder, fitting so perfectly that I’m convinced that’s what it was designed for.

It’s a good job you are cute, because my word you’re cheeky. There’s a look in your eye that means nothing but mischief. And we see it a lot. When you climb up the stairs, run straight into the bathroom and turn on the taps in the bath, check that we’re watching, and then cackle with glee. Your laugh is just as dirty as your sister’s.

It is such a joy to watch you with Elvie. You’ve adored her from the minute you were born. Before you could move around, you would follow her everywhere with hero-worshipping eyes. Even when she tipped you out of your bouncy chair, or bit you so hard she left tooth marks. You’ve always been forgiving.

Now that you can walk around, you do it together. Holding hands. Sometimes I think my heart might explode. Yes you pull her hair, and steal her drinks, and throw all her clothes in the bath, but you two are going to be great friends. I can’t wait to watch that develop.

You, my boy, are developing so fast I can hardly keep up. Walking, pointing, eating, playing. It’s all going on. You’ve even started talking. Which is an absolute delight. Just today you learnt three new words – ‘uh oh’, ‘apple’ and, of course, ‘car.’ At lunch time you even tried to copy Elvie’s singing. Seriously, you’re killing me.

It breaks my heart that you’re not, strictly speaking, my little baby anymore. That you’ve officially entered the world of toddlerdom. Let’s be honest, in reality, even when you’re two foot taller than me, you’ll still be my baby. I think it’s best we get that clear now.

Happy birthday my boy. The first of many. Here’s to that, and here’s to you.

I love you. Very very much.



Letter to Elvie – Now you are 3! August 8, 2013

Filed under: Elvie,Parenting — hannahoakland @ 8:27 pm

My darling girl,

Happy Birthday – 3 years old today! Not that you know it yet. We’re saving the celebrations until Saturday, when Daddy gets home from Birmingham. I don’t think you’ll notice. Or mind. You certainly didn’t last year.

I wanted to let you know how incredible we think you are. This year has been hard on you. Since your last birthday you’ve had to deal with a new brother, a new house, new friends, and a Mummy with depression. There was definitely a time when you lost your spark. That beautiful, inexplicable joy that makes you who you are. You’ve struggled, and that’s ok. We all have. It’s been a hard twelve months. But you have done so well. Amazingly well. And I look at you now, so grown up and beautiful and full of mischief and I know that I have my little girl back. Older, wiser and a little bit less naive. But back, and bonkers. I love it.

There are so many things that I love about you. Your imagination being one of them. There are times when I wish I wasn’t called to your bed in the middle of the night to sort out “teenagers on your pillow” or “pebbles with teeth”. Sometimes even you can’t control it. But in the daytime, it is the source of endless joy. To hear you playing, or be invited to take part in your latest imaginary scenario is an indescribable privilege. Every character has a back story, and every tale you’ve ever heard makes its way back into your games. Yesterday you spent the day carrying around a beaker of squash, which you called ‘baby Clara’. You even pushed it down the road in your buggy. I wish I could record everything you say, just for one day. In twenty years time you’ll be, to use your own word, “astonished.”

You are so determined to be your own person. I love that. There’s no changing your mind once you’ve made a decision. Except, occasionally, if we offer you sweets. You’re fairly powerless against that tactic. But for the most part you set your course and you steer it by yourself, regardless of anyone else’s opinion. Or health and safety. At the moment, the only place you want to read your books is perched on top of the cupboard, having climbed up on your Duplo box to get there. This afternoon, on the roundabout in town, you moved from the motorbike to the pirate ship to the bus. While the ride was moving. In spite of the shouts from me, and the lady in charge.


You’re unstoppable. I really hope that lasts. That you’ll be strong enough to resist the temptations of peer pressure when you get older.

I love your exuberance. There’s no other word for it. The part of you that throws off all your clothes as soon as you see a paddling pool. Wherever you are. That sticks two fingers up at social norms and runs around with no shoes on. Just like your Daddy.

I could watch you dance all day; the joy on your face as you give in to the music – be it real or in your head – and spin around like a whirlwind. Nothing makes me happier than to see you running in the park or in the garden. Singing and throwing your arms around. That’s what makes you really come alive.

That and your drawing. When you grow up, you want to be an artist. You’re in with a good shout. As our eldest, you’re our measuring stick – if you’re drawing fully fledged people, with hair and crowns and outfits and shoes and handbags, holding hands and driving buses, then we assume it’s normal. Turns out it’s not. You’re exceptional. We’re saving every drawing you do. We joke that it’s our retirement plan, and that we’ll auction them all off when you’re a famous artist. Really, we want to show you how much we value your skills and your passions. One day we’ll show you the boxes of childhood drawings sitting in the loft. And hopefully you’ll realise that we’re behind you. Every step of the way. Whatever your dreams.

You are a dreamer. That’s for sure. You’d happily spend all day with your head in a book, creating new stories for the characters that you know and love. Your brain wanders off to some incredible places, and always comes back with questions…”why do whales float?,” “why can’t I see God?,” “how will I discover if there is no world?” I’ve had to resort to Google more than once. Who knew our eyebrows were designed to keep the rain out of our eyes! You keep us on our toes, all day everyday. It’s exhausting, but it’s wonderful. When I was pregnant with you, I told Grandma that I didn’t want a boring baby – I wanted someone with character. You are that. And more. Several times a day I just stand back and look at you – amazed by the amount of character and wisdom and humour packed into your little three year old face.

You have a gorgeous face. Stunning. People stop me in the street to tell me how beautiful you are. I hope you know that. I plan to tell you every day. I know people say that I shouldn’t talk about it. That I should pretend the whole beauty thing doesn’t exist. But clearly, it already exists for you. So we’ll take it one step at a time, together.

Because you are beautiful. Inside and out. And I’m so proud to be your mama.

Happy birthday baby girl.