Sorry I could not find the words.

“Did I break it? Did I break where the baby would grow?”

I immediately reassured Bean that no, she did not break where a baby would grow. I also immediately regretted the reason she had clambered onto my lap, from the back seat of the car, to ask the question with wide worried eyes.

I am sorry for how I cried my exhalation of feelings to Bean.

Just a few weeks earlier, while being interviewed about the importance of blood donation (register to be a UK blood donor here), I had stumbled over my answer when asked when and how I would explain what happened in the days after she was born to Bean. I have never lied about what happened when speaking to her, but so far I not been full in the truth (described here). Questions so far responded to with the minimum of detail; omitting anything that may be upsetting to her, while simultaneously protecting myself from my feelings. I skipped over the truth and changed the subject when asked when she will have a brother or sister, I suppose hoping that maybe one day she will.

I stumbled when interviewed, as beyond knowing that I would sit down with Bean when I felt she was old enough to understand, I knew neither how I would know when that was nor exactly what I would say. But however I had envisaged even the smallest inkling of what I would say, it was not how I said it.

Instead of Bean asking when she would have a sibling, her current go-to wondering when faced with a hint of boredom, she asked;

“Why don’t I have a brother or sister? I really want a brother or sister. Like my friends do”.

Bean’s question was entirely reasonable. Most of her friends do have a brother or sister. And maybe she has sensed the incompleteness of my answers when the subject has previously arisen, with the sixth sense children seem to be particularly adept at engaging with.

I pulled over in the car, abandoning our plan to search for new home furniture treasure in the local charity warehouse, and blurted out all the words I had not wanted to say.

Tears immediately pooled in my lower eyelids, welling up out of nowhere and spilling out in large blobs down my face. They continued to fall in spite of my quickened blinking and fingers pressed to my eyes. The words I had wanted to keep in fell out of my mouth as uncontrollably as my tears, while I explained another baby could not grow because there was no home for them to grow in. How the home for a baby became poorly shortly after Bean was born, and how it was taken away because it was bleeding. Words continued to waterfall out, words I wish could inhale back in and save for a measured and calm delivery.

Bean’s concern as to whether what happened was her fault was everything I had wanted to avoid. My tears did nothing to convince her that my lack of being able to have another child was a small price to have paid to be here to see her grow.

I looked my silenced six-year-old in her eyes, which appeared unblinking, as she tried to squeeze her ever-growing limbs into the small space on my lap in the car. I told her how much I love her, and how I would do the whole thing again in the knowledge of exactly what would happen to have my baby be her. Knowing it meant there was never another baby. Because she is more important to me than any other possibility of growing another human.

Bean hugged me and looked at me closely, taking in the emotions exposing me as not only her Mother but also a human unable to always protect her from my feelings. Bean showed me I should not have hesitated to have been fuller with the truth in the recent past.

I am not sure any amount of planning what I was going to say would have protected Bean, or I, from my tears. I could have said it better, and I will build more carefully on what was said today, but my honesty was always going to bring upset. And I cannot be a buffer for all upset Bean may be exposed to.

What I should have done is to have been honest sooner, taking her questions as the lead she was ready for the beginnings of a greater depth of explanation. This perhaps would have avoided the spilling of emotions I had buried with each previous question asked, and been better for both of us.

Bean now knows I would give her the sibling she wants if I could, and I will listen to her feelings without slamming the brakes on the conversation to avoid upset. Some of my feelings overlap her feelings, and I should have trusted her ability to process more than I had judged she could.

I will now always find a way to be honest with Bean about experiences so intrinsically linked to her being. She deserves my honesty. I’m sorry I said it how I did, but mostly I am sorry I didn’t offer her the explanation she needed sooner.

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Free to love again.

Do you draw a line in the sand of your normal? Do you turn to a blank page with emerging, as yet indistinguishable, words waiting to reveal themselves?

Or, do you glean comfort in the knowledge that days as you have known them for as long as you can remember are lived for the people you make the compromises for?

Relationships need time, effort, and the ability to endure the days that are at best not so glamorous and at worst really tough to get through. I don’t know anyone who would say a relationship once you have a child is easy and I don’t think the towel should be thrown in lightly. Love can sometimes be far from fairy tale, but I do think there needs to be the love.

The older Bean gets the more of an insight I get to relationships not always being as they may seem from a rose tinted distance. You walk closer to the painting by Monet, and realise what you thought was a flower from the other side of the room could actually be anything. Conversations with friends sometimes becoming the relationship insight version of when you walk past a lit lounge on a dark evening and the curtains haven’t been drawn yet. You can’t help but look, and you are sometimes a little bit surprised.

You can’t help but wonder whether you could live the compromise that has been brought to your attention.

I have spent a lot of weekends wishing I had that person. The one who means I can share the driving, cooking, and homework supervision. Someone to exist with. Nothing out of the ordinary; shared experiences and the occasional willing ear for my waffle. Maybe coffee made in the morning and an extra ten minutes in bed. I have spent weekends wishing I were in the house with the light on before the curtains were left open in the evening.

I haven’t had that person for a while now.  Had I been asked when Bean was born how I wanted things to pan out, single-parenting would not have been my answer. I would have put up with a lot of lacklustre not-quite-love for a long time, thinking it was for the best because I was doing the right thing.

Fortunately, it was not a decision I needed to grapple with. I did not have to pretend I was in love with someone for the sake of Bean, because I never had to make that choice. It was done for me. A closed door after dinner and the song playing on the stereo rendered a listening no go for a significant period of time.

But you come out the other side. Your door closing song comes on the radio, and you find yourself singing along having not given a thought to the memories it was tied up with.

You realise not only are you okay, but you are happy things played out as they did.

So, is living the status quo when you are not really feeling it anymore the best thing to do? Things tick over, you make some compromises, everything stays the same for your child; you are doing the right thing.

You do not do much together anymore, you do not hug when you get into bed, you are not even sure if you are ever really listened to. But the fridge is full, the house is warm, and someone old enough to drink gin with you when you are done with work for the week is there. You might have thought about seeing someone else and hoping you don’t get caught, but you are present for the day to day, exactly where you should be. You get to go to sleep knowing you are doing the right thing.

Would I want Bean to do the right thing? To be selfless and stay in a relationship dwindling in love because she believed it was the best for her child?

Or would I consider there was a case for the veiled selflessness of her being truly happy deep in her soul, and being brave enough to have faith the happiness of her child would follow in the footsteps of her truth to herself?

I would want her to be the blank page with the potential if what she had chosen were not as she hoped it would be. Life is short and I would not want her decision to be guided by social pressure as to what is the perceived best way to bring up a child.

I want Bean to be free, happy, and open to love from those who she wants and want her back. Confident and self-assured enough to draw that line in the sand if necessary.

It has taken a while to see it, but I am so happy to be free to love again. Available to be with someone not because I think I need them, but because I want them.

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All our children, all our futures.

An open letter to those with the power to speak for our young people and incite change.

I am writing to ask for your help in protecting the education of our young people.

The National Audit Office predicts a real-terms funding reduction of 8% per-pupil when comparing 2014-15 and 2019-20, as a result of what will essentially be flat funding. Schools will need to find £3 billion in savings to counteract this cost pressure, which will prove to be a huge task and undoubtedly lead to compromises that affect the quality of education provision.

I do not want the leaders who are there to inspire and oversee the education of my child having to decide which teaching assistants they can no longer afford to keep. Teaching assistants who have looked after my five year old when she has felt poorly, providing the pastoral care necessary to guide children through the bigger picture of their day and enabling the teacher to fulfil their role.

I do not want time that could be spent developing services for our children being spent wondering just how many more children can be taught in one classroom by one teacher, in a space not fit to accommodate yet more pupils. Spend by schools on teaching staff fell from 56% to 51% of total spend between 2011 and 2015; surely this cannot continue to fall while simultaneously providing educational excellence everywhere?

I do not want the extra-curricular activities that enrich and bring happiness to my child’s day to be a thing of the past. Activities that help to make school a positive place to be in the minds of our children. Activities that help them bond with others, push them outside their comfort zone, help to keep them healthy, and build their confidence.

I do not want there to be fewer GCSE and A-Level options available to my child when she is in secondary school. Our young people deserve the opportunity to pursue a variety of subjects, specific to their individual interests and strengths. We are not all the same and our different passions should have the opportunity to grow, bringing diversity to the communities we live in.

I do want inspirational people to have the capacity and continued want to ensure young people have the opportunities  they deserve. A love of learning will stay with our children.  I do not want the best teachers with the most passion and ability to instil this to leave; tired and exasperated with an ever squeezed system.

There is not an unlimited availability of money. But if anything is worth spending money on it is the education of future generations. They will grow to be the adults who look after us when we are sick, write the books we love, build the houses we live in, and hopefully do a better job of tackling wider issues than many people are currently managing.

This is not simply an issue for parents, or children, or government. This is an issue for everyone; we will all be affected by the quality of education provided to young people. It is their welfare, happiness, achievements, and tenacity that will shape the future.

I, as a voter and someone who cares about the future, am asking you to please use your position to be the voice of all those you represent to ensure we are not victims of statements that are not transparent in painting the entire picture. ‘Funding remaining the same’ is not good enough in the face of growth to the system, rising costs, and charges introduced by the government.

I will continue to use my voice to speak for those too young to fully articulate their wants for the future.

I hope you do the same.

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The light from our scars.

Trauma often results in a scar; sometimes a scar that can be seen, sometimes one that cannot. Whether it be visible to all, hidden from the view of questions, or live within our minds, we wear our experiences in our future. A story from our past we would rather not be reminded of.

My caesarean section scar shares a home with a scar that took away my potential for growing another baby (Singular; adjective, just one person or thing.). A scar I should be proud of as the way Bean came into the world, a mark that should be looked at with only warmth and happiness, tarnished by the single-use nature of my uterus. The scar that tells the story of how Bean survived being born, when she almost certainly would not have otherwise, for a long time made me recoil when I looked at it.

Unable to separate the two reasons for the slightly wiggly, pale and shiny line across my lower abdomen; a deep residing sadness for so long prevailed over the success story of that scar in my feelings toward it.

It is not a scar that gives away anymore than the way my child was born, and I have never needed to explain it. My scar brings no surprises, no invitation of an explanation beyond perhaps a cursory nod to the obvious. But to me it has always bought a fleeting moment of upset when forgotten and then noticed in the bath.

Had I felt sadness at Bean not having been born naturally then my scar would hold a different story, even in the absence of the retelling of its coming to being two days after its creation. Every scar holding a story as individual as the person bearing it, with many sealing in far more trauma than my own. My experience could have been so much worse, but even so the sinking feeling when looking at my scar felt like it would never really begin to fade.

But then I stumbled across kintsugi; the art of repairing broken pottery in a way that brings attention to the imperfection. The cracks are not smoothed over and hidden, but instead the eye of the magpie in us is drawn to the flaw by a gold, silver or platinum fill. There is light where there was trauma; the story of the pottery laid bare and beautiful.

Kintsugi helped me to see my scar differently.

It goes beyond Cohen’s wonderful forgetting of the perfect offering, and his recognition that it is the crack in everything that lets the light in. The shiny highlighting through the art of kintsugi ensures the imperfect offering emanates light; a positive projection from a negative experience.

Kintsugi showed me of the light that already shines from my scar, placing negative memories firmly in the dark. The negatives will not be banished by the light, but I will focus on the kintsugi I see in Bean daily, and the fortune of the presence I have to see it. The latter reason for my scar no longer solely a negative in the perception of my mind.

Be proud you are here to see the light of your scar, whatever your golden kintsugi glow overshadowing the difficult time from which it was born may be.

Look for the kintsugi in the stories that make others who they are, and see their light.

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So much more than biscuits.

You are sat waiting to give blood.

Perhaps you started work early this morning so you could leave in time to go to your appointment. Maybe you arranged for your young child to have their dinner with a friend so you can be there. Or maybe you have them with you; well prepped to be on their best behaviour, with the promise of a sticker and a biscuit. You most likely live a busy life and have plenty of other things you could be doing instead of donating your blood.

It might be that you regularly donate and think little of the time you put aside to do so anymore. You may be retired. You may have had nothing planned anyway. You might like seeing the familiar faces of donors who are there every time you go. But it doesn’t matter if it was easy for you to be here, because for this part of your day you have chosen to donate blood over anything else you could be doing.

However you came to be sat there, thank you.

It is the altruistic act of these people who donate blood that undoubtedly avoided an abrupt and premature end to my life.

In the absence of blood donors, I would have grown up in a small seaside town surrounded by family and friends, been a sister, and finished school. I would have had boyfriends, studied at University, gone travelling, and done my fair share of stupid things. I would have worked in a hospital, got engaged, and grown Bean inside me for nine months. I would have had the privilege of meeting her for a short time. I would have fed Bean, she would have held my finger with a prehensile grip, and I would have looked at her for no reason other than I could not stop looking at her. I would have held her as I walked the short distance round the ward with her in my arms once.

But then nothing. I would have been a past tense; remaining in my mid-twenties while everything and everyone else I knew continued to be.

I do not have the words to express my gratitude to the 28 people who at some point in time shortly before I needed blood and platelets, chose to spend their time helping someone they had never met.

Without them I would never have taken Bean home from hospital, never pushed her in buggy or played her my favourite songs. I would not have heard her laugh, or even seen a true responsive smile from her. There would have been no witnessing her walking for the first time, spurred on by the cheese she so wanted awaiting her on the sofa, and later no running on a sandy French beach together.

I would not have been there when she spoke, swam, or rode her bike for the first time. I would not have heard the little voice from the bush at the bottom of the garden exclaim she was okay having mastered pedalling with no stabilisers but with very little knowledge of braking. There would have been no holding her hand in the playground on her first day of school, no explaining the one break-time snack per child rule or that you keep your shoes on in school despite going indoors. No first school nativity and no hearing about her day before bed.

Bean would have done all of these things in my absence, but I am so fortunate to have be a part of it. The magnitude of thanks for that having been made possible will never fade. In fact, it grows with new experiences and milestones.

I am sure you will have your own reason for donating blood if you can and choose to do so. Perhaps you vowed to donate after a loved one suffered a trauma, or a friend was diagnosed with cancer. Maybe your baby needed blood when they were born prematurely and you want to be able to provide for someone else going through what you did. It might be you donate simply because it being a kind thing to do is enough of a reason.

I sometimes wonder about the people whose blood saved me; the quirks that make them who they are, what their reasons for donating were, and if they thought much about where that particular donation would go. I would like to think a part of them knows the difference they made.

Thank you to the people who mean I am here to write this, and also to anyone that can who chooses to give blood or platelets. Whoever you are and whatever your reason for donating, it really can make a lifetime of difference.

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Day tripper.

A three day weekend. The Holy Grail of weekends. What to do? How best to make the most of 72 hours of freedom from school and work?

The day before these three gorgeously empty days on the way home from school (planning not being my forte), I casually suggest travelling to Paris to Bean. I am picturing strong coffee, Seine side strolling, the Eiffel tower and feasting in a Parisian patisserie.

Bean bursts my continental bubble, throwing her arms round me and gleefully declaring ‘Oh thank you Mummy! I can’t wait to go to Disneyland tomorrow! Thank you, thank you!’. EuroMicky had not played a staring role in my chic city break imaginings.

Immediately regretting thoughts passing my lips I back-tracked. I mumbled something about the croissants in Paris being better than meeting a giant mouse to a wide-eyed and expectant five year old, who was definitely not buying it.

An evening searching last minute trips to Paris quickly told me I need not have worried about the activities once we arrived, because it was way off budget. My suggestion on the walk home quickly unfurled as entirely off piste from the achievable. At least for this weekend.

Au revoir to utilising my recently revised French verb conjugations. Au revoir breton top I had mentally packed. Au revoir Paris.

I scrolled down the list of city break options, but to no avail. I moved further and further from the original idea, until Paris was a little dot in the distance and I was searching youth hostels in the UK. It was at this point I stepped away from the futile search telling myself the original idea had merely been postponed. Postponed indefinitely.

This was how Bean and I ended up in my brother-in-laws van making our way down to West Wittering. The VW van has been, as far as I was aware, in the process of conversion to camper for quite a while now. So when we found ourselves climbing into the back of what to all intents and purpose is a work van with an extra row of seats and some Hawaiian flowers dangling optimistically over the dashboard it wasn’t quite what I had in mind. Bean however thought it was amazing; ‘I LOVE the van!’ was proclaimed repeatedly as she beamed from ear to ear.

We threw what looked to be all our worldly belongings behind us, prepared for everything from glorious sunshine to a monsoon (see Wanderlust. for recent weather). Bucket, spade, ball, poi, wagon (although I cannot claim that as my item of child entertaining genius), picnic; it was all there. We set off on our slightly protracted journey. We turned back to pick up a friend, needed to stop for three year old Cousin Ollie to pee within the first five minutes of travelling in the planned direction (and then typically not need to actually pee when we pulled over), and took a detour for coffee. By the time we slid the van door open and hopped out for said coffee I was ready for gin. We had travelled ten miles and were already being asked if we were there yet.

Latte in hand I handed in my resignation on the position of Chief Entertainer and took up immediate residence in the front of the van. Aunt Flo turned out to be far better qualified for the role, with it soon transpiring the ability to transform your child and niece into unicorns via the medium of Snapchat is the essential position attribute.

A few hundred mythical creatures later and we arrived at our beautiful sandy destination. Wagon piled high we searched for our spot on the sand. Bean promptly unveiled the kite she had spoken at length to Aunt Flo about and proceeded to leap around on the beach like a puppy.

The ‘kite’ was not as Aunt Flo had envisaged from the exaggerated description of an excited Bean, consisting of a translucent plastic butterfly that was all of 10cm wide on a long piece of string. But Bean was happy, Cousin Ollie was happy, in fact everyone was pretty happy.

The sun shone, the tide rolled out leaving warm shallow lagoons perfect for leaping in, and all was well in the world. Somewhat surprisingly where small children are concerned, all remained well for the rest of the day. Sandcastles with moats were constructed, the picnic food was enjoyed (predominantly in deconstructed and sand covered form), and waves were jumped over. Fun was had with people we love.

Bean and Cousin Ollie returned home sun-kissed, good tired, happy, and hopefully with lasting memories they had made together. The sort of memories that stick out in my mind from my own childhood as warm, fun, and a sort of sunny yellow shade in colour.

A day out that had cost little, involved next to no planning and been simple in its pleasures was a great day. The people and the place, despite not being Paris, had made it the best that particular day could be.

Here’s to simple pleasures, spur of the moment day trips, and lovely people.

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Wanderlust.

It feels like it rains with disproportionate frequency at 3pm, and yesterday afternoon (despite it being mid-June) was no exception. My old car had stoically made it through a suddenly flooded village on the way home from work and I did my usual mad dash round to school in the pouring rain. I waited with wellies and a mac ready for Bean in the playground as the deluge continued and thunder rolled overhead, cursing the British summer and vowing to move somewhere sunnier.

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By the time Bean appeared at her classroom door I was mentally strolling barefoot on a beach in the south of France, contemplating where to purchase that particularly pretty shade of blue for my imaginary window shutters.

Another roll of thunder and Bean rummaging in my pockets for snacks snapped me out of my daydream, and we set off for home as the clouds relentlessly drenched us. Bean scooted off happily, stopping only to leap in particularly large puddles. I trudged behind like an overladen donkey who had mislaid their ticket for the ark.

It never ceases to amaze me just how much stuff Bean is required to have to spend little more than six hours in school some days. This, in combination with the UK’s nod to a monsoon season, got me thinking about travelling. The humidity of the day and afternoon storm defining of that school run reminded me of backpacking more than ten years ago. It reminded me of the pairs of flip flops, which had been respectfully left outside a restaurant, floating quickly down a makeshift road as heavy rain predictably broke the afternoon heat in Thailand.

I considered whether I had packed lighter for that summer in South East Asia than for PE day at school. Bean seems to constantly accumulate more ‘essential’ school items. I conversely had successfully honed down the content of my backpack throughout the course of my trip, beginning with the redundancy of the foul smelling travel towel that prior to setting off had seemed like a good idea [why does no one tell you how awful those things smell when they get wet before you set off backpacking?].

Then, in the midst of my travel reminiscing, set to the backing track of Jack Johnson and Morcheeba on repeat in my mind (as I am sure is the case for anyone who was in Thailand around the same time), it hit me.

What if Bean one day goes travelling and does some of the things my 19 year old self did?

What if she falls asleep drunk on a beach and has her camera and money stolen? What if she takes a sleeping tablet from a stranger on a platform before getting on a train travelling south to Malaysia? What if she gets a tattoo done by someone she has just met using a sharpened bamboo stick dipped in a pot of ink? What if she treks in Taman Negara with no guide and no sense of direction? What if she is not concerned by the numerous holes next to the door frame of her ridiculously cheap hostel room where the lock previously resided?

What if she is having so much fun she blindly ignores everything I hope to teach her before she packs her bags in search of an adventure?

The penny drops that I can’t teach Bean everything. One day she will fly and explore independently, and most likely have her own summer of making at times inadequately judged decisions. At some point in the future she will put herself on a plane and be free; responsible for her own decisions far away from my advice.

Bean will have her own summer of having one of the best times of her life. Her own summer of meeting new people; people she will bond with and learn from and see new things with. New foods, new cultures, new places, and a slightly altered perspective. The wonder of seeing what feels like a totally different sun setting in the sky.

These are not things I can teach her fully. I can show her the possibilities, but I can’t make her feel them. They are things she will experience and learn for herself. They are things I want her to feel and experience for herself.

The thought of Bean one day forging her own path in a distant place may have initially had me wondering how to best to disguise myself and stowaway in her luggage but, with a little more reflection, I hope she does seek adventure. I hope she will be happy and free and take leaps of faith into the unknown, even if it does come with the caveat of some likely reckless abandon.

Maybe we will have some adventures of our own before she decides to fly solo. What better reason than the instilling of some wanderlust to try and fulfil my recent dreaming of a van, some time, and the realisation of some of my postponed travel plans?

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