Wednesday, 25 February 2015

A generous Lent

For Lent, I used to give up something that would eventually make me feel better about me - maybe chocolate, or drinking, or something else with health-and-thin-inducing benefits.

Then Tearfund started 'the carbon fast' and I began giving up something a bit more worthwhile, something that might benefit others or the environment - my car for a week to save the fuel and pollution, perhaps, or my favourite fruit that was so far out of season that it took several aeroplanes to bring it to my local supermarket. (The carbon fast is brilliant, and whilst it's not their current Lent-push, the Tearfund resources are still available if you fancied an eco-flavoured Lent this or next year - you can find them here.)

This year, I'm not giving up anything though. I'm taking up something: a generous spirit. I came across the 40 Acts challenge via an old uni friend's Facebook page - and I'm so glad she posted about it. Every day, an email with a short thought and a challenge comes my way. Whether it's to be more generous with my time for others, to the environment, with my material possessions, or my thoughts and cares that day, it's really helping me to think about being a more generous person in every way.

Yesterday, I was challenged to be more generous with my thanks, and I realised how a simple thank you can be a huge encouragement when you feel overlooked or ground down. Today, I'm being encouraged to hold onto my things more lightly, perhaps to strip away belongings that I just don't need and give them to others, or to give away something I really love to someone who will value it as much or more.

I wonder what it would be like in my local area if all of us were trying to be actively generous to each other? The recycling box that has blown down the street might find it's way home, the park might be litter-free, there might be relationships growing in more places down the street, less dog mess around, more meals or flowers dropped off at doors with a smile. The local tip would have less sofas chucked in it, and the housing estate across the way would look as homely inside as our road does.

If I was more generous with my time and my care for those around me, I might have known that my neighbour had been in hospital for two weeks and made an effort when she got home to offer to help with cleaning, shopping, or just some company.

I'm not an ungenerous person. But I have realised that I am generous to the people I love. I give my time to the causes I care about most, or offer help where I want to give it. I am generous where being generous is easy. And this challenge, for me, is about changing my mindset around generosity - we are told to love our neighbour as ourselves, and that everyone is our neighbour. That means it's time for me to be generous where it's inconvenient, or to give my time to someone that I'd perhaps rather avoid.

So this Lent, I'm asking God to prompt me each day to be generous in the way that He is, to give my time, efforts, love and kindness to the people, things and situations that are on His heart, regardless of whether I like them or not. And it's really hard.

It's so much harder than giving up chocolate that I can't help but think that this is the way that God has always wanted me to observe Lent.

If you're interested, it's not too late to sign up to 40 acts - go to :)

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

The land they claim

There is something that the elusive 'They' didn't tell me about motherhood. That, from the moment your child comes along, they take a flag with their name on, carve a rough boundary line around a chunk of your heart, and a corresponding chunk of your brain, and stake their claim.

Staking their claim in the brilliant / guilty pleasure
which is 'Far and Away'.
Having spoken to other mums, they have felt this too, some to the extent that they can't find space for themselves in their heads anymore, some quietly panicking that they'll never 'switch off' again. Someone said to me the other day that this claim staking is making them wonder whether there's literally enough space in their heads for the three children originally planned. I can see that. Whilst the heart space is a slight concern, it's the head space that really concerns me.

I think I used to be a vaguely intelligent person. I have a first degree and a small handful of good jobs well done to confirm it. And please don't get me wrong, I am not saying for one moment that having a child has turned me into a stupid, unambitious zombie (a description of mothers that a 'Stylist' magazine poll on motherhood aired to the masses a few weeks ago - as just one viewpoint, I should quickly explain before I unwittingly begin a war on Stylist by mums everywhere). But I do doubt how well I would do back in my old working world again, and I'm not entirely sure that it's all about 'baby brain'.

Initially, in pregnancy, I hated the baby brain and did truely feel like I was losing myself. My good memory, recall, vocabulary, all gone in a flutter of little fingers and toes. I still forget stuff now, 11 months into motherhood, but I don't think it's baby brain in the sense that it was. I just think my brain can't run at full capacity anymore on the things it used to. It has to run an additional programme all the time, sometimes as the main piece of software, but always in the background, and it uses memory. It's taking up space. My additional programme? Mini-Peel 1.0.
This could well be an  accurate picture of Mini-Peel 1.0. Really.

Whether it's running calculations on the time until another nappy change or how much calcium has been had today, or more sophisticated algorithms like what kind of schooling we want her to have or how to make sure she understand her emotions as she develops... It's always on. Always. And it makes all other brain activities - not harder... Just less important. It makes my other brain activities lack the conviction,  the ballsey 110%-or-nothing attitude that meant they got accomplished really well. Because there's just not 110% there to give them now.

I said at the start that it's something that's shocked me about motherhood. There may be daddies out there who have had their chunks of brain staked too, but I don't think it's as widespread. My husband is the most supportive partner and the best dad I could ever have imagined. His heart is firmly in the sticky grip of our little'un and he dotes on her. He also is happy to admit that when he shuts the door to the house and leaves for work, that's it until he's home. He is daddy no longer unless his phone rings and it's me on the line. He is himself, doing a good job at work, with clients, in meetings, with his team, wherever he is. His heart may have been staked at the moment she was born, but his head is firmly his own when he chooses it to be.

And thank goodness! One of us has to earn the pennies and I'm not convinced he'd do as well at work if he was worrying about what to do the first time our one-day teenage daughter brings a pimpley youth home and announces she's in love. Or how we'll manage things if she ever gets bullied. Or hooked on drugs. Or retreats into herself and shuts us out. These are all things that Mini-Peel 1.0 is running at this moment in my head and I am hugely thankful that my husband can get through his day without its myriad distractions.

I'm shocked by it, this incessant whirring of my mind around my little girl, but I'm not resentful of it. I've chosen to make this my full time job for now, and in my last full time job, I would start early, stay late, check emails at all hours, and often dream about work. In some ways, it was always whirring away in the background, so it makes sense that my new job has me doing the same - plus a bit extra, given it involves the life of a real little person.

In some ways I'm grateful for it, Mini-Peel 1.0, because it keeps me from succumbing to the selfish urges I get - to just ignore her whinging for a moment so I can have a few more moments in the shower, to roll over and go back to sleep when she wakes at night. If you're a parent, you'll know these. Either that or I'm a really bad person. The background programme kicks me into remembering how important it is not to do what I want in these scenarios - and then sometimes terrifies me by reeling off a stat or psychological finding of the potential impact of me doing that selfish thing, because I read too much, retain odd things, and chances are there's a reason not to do pretty much everything in the parenting spectrum backed up by someone or other at some point along the line.

So, I'm glad that my little'un has staked her claim in my heart, and in my head, for now. It's a good thing. Until I start to wonder if that claim will one day be the reason she complains that she has an overprotective mother and it's damaging her ability to be truely independent. Or tells her flatmates that I have empty nest syndrome and am driving her away with my constant calling... But there goes Mini-Peel 1.0 again, and quite frankly, those are concerns for Future Me to deal with.