How do I love thee?

wedding glassesToday is my wedding anniversary. As we have a double anniversary – we got married on the anniversary of becoming a couple – today is my 4th wedding anniversary, but the 15th anniversary of us getting together. Rather like James I of England, VI of Scotland. It’s great for lots of reasons – it minimises the chances of one of us forgetting the date, it means we can choose which traditional set of gifts is most appropriate, and it makes one really special day for us as a couple. Wikipedia tells me that the traditional gift for 4th wedding anniversaries is fruit or flowers, and for 15th is crystal. To be honest, I’d be more than happy to take the flowers, although won’t be best pleased if my anniversary present turns out to be a bag of apples.

Anyway, whatever the gift schedule, I’m feeling very lucky to celebrate being part of such a life-enhancing partnership for fifteen years, and in this romantic/soppy (delete as appropriate) mood am going to blog fifteen reasons why I love my husband.

1) Because he has been the most constant presence through my entire adult life. The first person I want to celebrate the good times with, and the first person I need a hug from when things aren’t going well.

2) Because together we have created our precious daughter, not to mention a certain rather large baby bump, and there is no bond closer than knowing that he is the only other person in the world who loves our children as much as I do.

3) Because he is a brilliant dad, and watching him with Anna warms my heart like nothing else.

4) Because we make each other laugh.

5) Because together we have supported each other through the loss of four grandparents and a parent, three miscarriages, five house moves and one redundancy.

6) Because together we have celebrated matriculation, graduation, first jobs, promotions, two book publications, first home, two twenty-firsts, two thirtieths, fifteen Christmases, fifteen Valentine’s,  our engagement, our wedding, becoming homeowners, becoming parents.

7) Because when I’m over-tired, over-stressed or over-hormonal he runs me a deep hot bubble-bath, lights some candles and pours me a glass of wine.

8) Because he’s just as likely to tell me I look pretty when I’m curled up on the sofa in PJs and no make-up as he is when I’m all dressed up in full slap and high heels ready to go out. Which, in current circumstances, is just as well.

9) Because he genuinely respects and appreciates what I do in being Anna’s main carer and keeping our house running. Not running like clockwork, or on oiled wheels, or any of those other analogies implying unparalleled domestic bliss, but just about ticking over. I don’t think either of us ever expected we’d end up operating in such stereotypical gender roles, but it works because we see ourselves as a team, both bringing equally important things to the family, and recognise our current roles as what works now rather than how things will immutably be forever.

10) Because he has been the most ardent supporter of, and cheerleader for, my writing, believing in me long before I had a publishing contract, and remaining convinced, despite any evidence to the contrary, that I will be heading the bestseller lists before long.

11) Because he’s fab at romantic gestures. Whether that’s a bowl of Rice Krispies in bed (the only thing I can face when I have morning sickness) or whisking me away for a surprise weekend in Rome with a down-on-one-knee proposal in roof-top bar thrown in for good measure.

12) Because he is my favourite person to spend time with. Be that time eating gourmet food in a boutique hotel, snuggling on our sofa with a takeaway or hanging round a freezing cold playground trying to summon up enthusiastic smiles as Anna demonstrates (again) the different ways of going down a slide, things are always more fun when he’s there.

13) Because when he passes someone begging for money, even if he doesn’t give (sadly not really always possible living in London) he invariably makes eye contact, smiles and exchanges a few words, rather than hurrying past embarrassedly. And he helps old ladies with heavy bags and mums with prams and gives up his seat on the tube/bus and holds doors open.

14) Because he’s the exact, dictionary definition opposite of apathetic. He is enthusiastic, deeply interested in the world, and cares passionately about trying to make it a better place.

15) Because when I tell him that the Cath Kidston sale started yesterday and I purchased a new dress and a new bag he is going to be thrilled for me that I have obtained quality goods at such bargainous prices. And very possibly encourage me to check whether there’s anything more that I might like. Ahem.

Seeing red

As I may have mentioned before, I don’t really seem to do blooming pregnancies. I’ve heard mythical stories of thick, lustrous hair and glowing skin, but have no personal experience of them. My skin is spotty, my hair limp and my tummy, in the words of my daughter is ‘absolutely enormous’. I actually quite relish the enormous tummy – it’s not like it was flat to start with, so it’s quite liberating to be able to stick it out with pride for a change. The other changes are less pleasing.

It’s quite hard to know how to play pregnancy style and beauty. On one hand I have minus levels of energy and suspect that I’m going to look awful whatever I do, so I may as well give up entirely, scrag my hair back into a ponytail, abandon make-up and wear pyjamas whenever possible. On the other hand, I seem to remember that things get even worse in this respect after the birth, as in addition to the hormonal spots and greasy hair you actually start to lose your hair in handfuls, and your beautiful baby bump becomes a seriously saggy stomach. Oh yes, and there’s a layer of sick over everything anyway. So, if now might actually be the best I look in months, perhaps I should maximise it.

Well, I’m trying. I bought some new posh make-up – after gleaning advice from wise friends as to what exactly ‘BB’ and ‘CC’ creams are – and I’m actually taking five minutes every morning to apply it. I think it works. Not that I look amazing when it’s on, but the other morning when I’d run out of time and went without it, several parents at the school gates asked me with great anxiety if I was ok, because clearly sans make-up I look like I’m going to expire any moment. My daily make-up is now Clinique CC cream, Benefit erase paste concealer, Clinique Chubby Stick cream blusher and No.7 mascara. An accumulation of advantage points gleaned through buying nit treatments is a wonderful thing. I also took advantage of the current Boots offer to find the perfect lipstick for your skin tone, discovered that I am a ‘Cool Vanilla’, and bought what I hope will be the perfect red lipstick, although it hasn’t been out of the tube yet.

I’ve also booked an appointment to have my hair cut and coloured tomorrow. And, shock horror, I’m thinking of changing my hair colour. For some women this is almost a monthly event, and they think nothing of going from blonde to brunette to red and back again. I am emphatically not one of these women. My hair started off naturally blonde, turned mousy brown in my late teens, and has been restored back to it’s ‘natural’ colour by careful application of subtle blonde highlights ever since. But  I know that post-baby I won’t have the time for three-hour sessions in the hairdressers, and so was planning on asking her to tone the highlights down so that the inevitable regrowth is less obvious. Then a little voice whispered that now might be the time to experiment – I could really do with a lift, and if I hate it then I can just revert back to my natural light brown. Can’t I? I’m far more nervous than the scale of the decision probably justifies, but I think I might just do it. And as a seven months pregnant redhead then at least people will definitely see me coming…

Wish me luck!

Framing rainbows

If this was the secret diary of Helen Louise Chandler aged thirty-three and three quarters, then I would definitely indulge in a moan. A long moan. A self-pitying, woeful, poor-little-me extravaganza. However, I must remember three things. One – it isn’t secret, it’s a public blog. Two – I’m half Yorkshire by blood, and we just don’t do moaning on that scale. Three – I’m unbelievably bloody lucky.

A week or so a go my best friend posted a link on her Facebook page to this Huffington Post blog by Charlotte Kitley, commenting that it was incredibly sad, but she was glad she’d read it. Now, I generally try and avoid ‘incredibly sad’ like the plague, as sometimes I think that the only way to get through life without a nervous breakdown is in a Pollyannaish bubble of my own creation. Certainly I feel that there is so much sadness in the world that deliberately seeking it out in books or films is perverse. I realise that’s not a good excuse for having refused to watch the news all the way through since 2009, but bear with me. However, if Jenny says something is worth reading then it generally is, and so I followed the link, and am intensely glad I did.

For those of you who haven’t yet read it, this is the final blog post, published posthumously, of a young woman dying of cancer. It is achingly sad and poignant, but also one of the most joyous and life-affirming things I have ever read. It resonated especially strongly with me, as I think it would with any parent of young children, because the terror of leaving your children – ever, but especially before they are grown – renders the fear and consciousness of your own mortality almost unbearably acute. Amazingly, though, Charlotte’s post isn’t self-pitying or angry or bitter – all the things we perhaps instinctively feel we would be in the same circumstances. She does not ‘go gently into that good night’, but her rage at the dying of the light is not destructive, but a massively positive rallying call for us all to make the most of every second of our lives, however long or short they may be. The blog has now gone viral, as obviously I am not the only person with whom it strikes a deep emotional chord.

I’ve been feeling sorry for myself because I’m having a difficult pregnancy. And, by difficult, I don’t mean – like one of my friends – that I’m confined to hospital until the baby is developed enough to deliver. Or that, like another friend, I’ve had intense morning sickness for the whole nine months, leaving me weighing less at 42 weeks pregnant than I did when I conceived. I just mean that my energy levels are non-existent, the smallest exertion can leave me shattered, I’ve got near-permanent heartburn, I get dizzy when I stand up too quickly, my emotions are on a roller-coaster, I get nasty headaches and my brain feels like it’s filled with a thick grey sludge which makes trying to write feel almost impossible. I feel frustrated with myself, because at this stage in my pregnancy with Anna I was working full-time in a pretty demanding job; working ten hour days with an hour’s commute each way left me tired, obviously, but it was a manageable tired. Whereas this time round, even the school run can leave me in tears of exhaustion. I’m also frustrated because my pregnancy, my baby, is so wanted and longed for and I am so mindful of how lucky I am to be at this point and of how many women would kill to be suffering from pregnancy-induced tiredness, and yet instead of radiantly blooming and thanking my lucky stars, I’m languishing round like a piece of limp lettuce.

After reading Charlotte’s piece I have been making a more concerted effort to think positive and count my blessings. It doesn’t really matter if the washing machine is leaking (again), or the cats have gone AWOL when I need to take them to the vets, or my daughter has a tantrum over her school reading book. I have been trying to follow the advice I give to Anna and take a deep breath and count to ten when something annoys me. To not nitpick at my husband and daughter for leaving their shoes in the wrong place or failing to load the dishwasher correctly. To relish the fact that my body is growing a new life, and that tiredness is a price well worth paying for that privilege. To take the time to appreciate tiny delights as they happen rather than worrying about the bigger picture and what is or isn’t happening tomorrow, next week, next month, next year. Easier said than done, as those who know me will confirm that I am both a planner and a worrier, but the perspective granted by Charlotte’s bravery and honesty helps a lot.

I can’t put it better than Charlotte  herself does

“Take [life] by both hands, grab it, shake it and believe in every second of it. Adore your children. You have literally no idea how blessed you are to shout at them in the morning to hurry up and clean their teeth.

Embrace your loved one and if they cannot embrace you back, find someone who will. Everyone deserves to love and be loved in return. Don’t settle for less. Find a job you enjoy, but don’t become a slave to it. You will not have ‘I wish I’d worked more’ on your headstone. Dance, laugh and eat with your friends. True, honest, strong friendships are an utter blessing… Surround yourself with beautiful things. Life has a lot of grey and sadness – look for that rainbow and frame it. There is beauty in everything, sometimes you just have to look a little harder to see it.”