Sunday, 21 January 2018

Cool to Be Kind

The other day I accidentally watched a video online (I'd been watching the Michael McIntyre Brits Abroad clip for probably the fifth time this week and it automatically moved on before I could stop it) about online bullying. Psychologists and charity workers on there were saying that a lot of the problem stems from the fact that it's not cool to be kind. 

And that thought genuinely made me feel sick. 

Hopefully anybody who knows me will know that I am a real advocate of kindness. In fact, last year at a work party somebody, out of the blue, told me that kindness is one of the key features of my personality, and that that is rare. Probably the nicest thing anybody has ever said to or about me, and a comment that I will hold onto and whip out for years to come, every time I'm overcome with self doubt, or embarrassment at something I said in 2009. Telling me that was a huge act of kindness in itself- one that I am eternally grateful for. 

But of course I'm not always kind. 

Quite a lot of the time I'm not, actually. I'm a human being, after all, and quite often can't see past the end of my own nose. But I am never intentionally cruel, and don't think I know many people at all who are. 

I shed a few tears watching this video- for the children suffering, for the parents dealing with devastated kids, for my baby who's no doubt one day going to have to deal with a world where kindness isn't cool but bullying via social media is, and of frustration that this is the world we live in. 

I'm not sure whether kindness was cool when I was at school, but I've never cared about being cool (thankfully, I'd be miserable if I did care) but I have spent a lot of my adult life grateful that I didn't have social media to deal with as a teenager. As if that time isn't difficult enough. 

I'm normally not particularly cynical- but the facts and figures on this video clip of This Morning were hard to argue with, and it terrified me. 

So I thought that I would pay extra attention to the kind things going on around me and share them with you, in an attempt to remind myself (and maybe you, if you need a reminder) that there is kindness around us all the time, and there is absolutely no reason that it should be uncool...

1) Train Adventures

Today I was brave enough to take Squirt on the train alone (and I breastfed her on there- it's not just public kindness I'm convinced should be the norm, oh no) and whilst I was waiting at the station I was immediately relieved to realise that a group of Irish women were waiting for the same train. Now I don't like to stereotype but in my experience of living in Ireland generally I find the Irish to be the kings of kindness. As a nation, they are just about the nicest people in the world. 

Sure enough, as soon as the train pulled in they gathered around me. 

"Would you prefer it if we went on before you, and helped you from there, or after you, and helped you that way? Or a bit of both?" 

Not helping me wasn't even an option. 

On the way home it was snowing. It hadn't been snowing when I left so I was absolutely freezing in my soft coat and inappropriate shoes, and Squirt was snug in her snowsuit, three blankets, foot warmer and rain cover, and so naturally was absolutely furious that she wasn't out in the fun with me. Going anywhere with a screaming baby is never fun, but as I climbed aboard the packed train with her cries immediately filling the carriage I was ready for some classic British tutting. 

Instead what I got was reassuring smiles, and I cannot tell you how appreciated they were. 

2) Other People's Stories

On Friday night my dad and brother came over for dinner. 

What an excellent opportunity to fulfil my new year resolutions, I thought. I can cook for them from scratch (resolution 1: learn to cook), and I'll have to be organised to have it all sorted on time for them to get here after work and immediately eat before the First Aid course we were doing at seven (resolution 2: be more organised). 

(Actually, in the interest of being kind, may I take this moment to promote Daisy First Aid. Jennie came to our flat and ran the relaxed but hugely informative and enjoyable course. And she's so lovely. I was listening but I did also spend a lot of time thinking about how pretty her hair was. Anyway.) 

I chose a recipe specifically because it was one that I could make during the day and heat up when they arrived so that everywhere could be tidy and ready for the course as soon as dinner was finished. I made a list of ingredients on my new handy magnetic post-it note board that lives on the fridge and felt like Mary Berry herself (who I assume is highly organised as well as being an excellent cook) as I peeled it from the top, popped it into my brand new pram organiser and glided into town, incredibly smug. I posted some birthday cards on my way (a week in advance, that's right) and as I headed home I had this beautiful vision of my family around the kitchen table, with a big bowl of salad in the middle and a hot, steaming dish of delicious loveliness beside it. 

I quickly realised that I don't own a big salad bowl. So that image made a swift exit. 

Then I realised that somehow, when I was making the list on my fancy life-changing-fridge-magnet, I had managed to leave off butternut squash. Which was the key ingredient. 

I couldn't go back, because by this point Squirt was screamingand when she gets into that state there really is no ignoring it. So I asked Dale to buy it on his way home from work. No problem. 

Dale got delayed at work by over an hour. Butternut squash is hard to cut, and took way longer than I had planned. We didn't have any saucepans big enough for the amount of pasta the recipe said I needed, and by the time Dale stuck his head round the door to see how I was getting on my hair was scraped back in a 'mum bun' smelling of burnt, I was covered in sweat, flour, and squash pips, the kitchen was covered in macaroni, and I was shouting some choice words at the utensil drawer because that one that drains pasta (pasta drainer? I mean is that actually what it's for?) was nowhere to be found and I f...lipping needed it. 

So I was not quite the glorious hostess I had been going for. 

But it's only January. 

I'll get there. 

Anyway, I saw two of my best friends yesterday and I told them this story, just absolutely gutted that I'm such a failure as a mum and a wife and a hostess when what I was trying to do was so simple. 

They didn't laugh, or overwhelm me with insincere 'oh nooo, you're doing a great job!' They just replied ' too' and told their own stories. And that was so kind. 

One friend was sitting there in her always-immaculate living room with her perfect hair and her home made pesto ready to go with the sea bass that she was cooking. 

The other one is pregnant and glowing, with a bag of snacks and toys for her 1 year old beside her whilst she told us about her new business. 

And even they had stories about feeling incompetent and the ridiculous things they had done. They didn't have to tell them, and if they hadn't it would never even occurred to me that they ever do silly things like me. 

So kind, and so appreciated. 

3) Jiminy Cricket

My friend Jiminy Cricket is just about the kindest person in the whole world. 

She always thinks of extra lovely things to do- and seems to genuinely think nothing of it. 

But the thing I love most about her is not the flowers she sends, or the little surprises she organises, or even that she drives to me even though it's very much my turn to drive to her because she knows how disproportionately terrified I am of putting Squirt in the car. 

My favourite thing about Jiminy Cricket is that I can tell her anything. 

Absolutely anything at all. 

I truly believe that all human beings are judgemental and that's completely normal, but honestly Jiminy never reacts in a judgemental way to anything that I tell her, and I don't think I've ever heard her say a bad word about anybody else. 

She might be the extreme of kindness. 

But it makes her blooming wonderful to be around. 

Which is why I don't understand this whole kindness isn't cool thing. Surely everyone would rather spend their time with kind people? 

I always say that to be friends with Dale you have to be incredibly, super, wonderfully kind, because he just doesn't bother with people who aren't nice. (Unlike me. I have a pathological need to be liked. Even by not nice people. Which is ridiculous, I know, but probably quite common.) 

My parents are both incredibly kind, and based on pictures of them circa 1982 I actually think they were cool teenagers. Perhaps it was in fashion to be nice then?

In all honesty I like to think that being cruel has never been fashionable- especially for adults-I like to think that ultimately people are super and that evil hits the headlines for a reason- because it's worth reporting. Because it's not the norm. 

I am surrounded by endlessly kind people, and even now am feeling guilty that I haven't mentioned...everyone I know. 

All the same, please look out for the kindness around you, please be the kindness around you, and please feel free to pass your magical stories onto me. 

And any stories about cooking disasters that might make me feel better. 

And for goodness sake the official name of that pasta scooping thing. 


Saturday, 30 December 2017

Little Big Things

Regular readers among you will know that I usually limit myself to one post per month, but a few days ago a post I wrote in December 2012 came up on my On This Day app and inspired me to write an extra one.

It was a summary of the year: both for the country and for myself, and I was delighted to find (when I was self-indulgent enough to read my own writing back) that there were memories in there that I had completely forgotten about. 

A sad moment for me this year was when I discovered that the diaries that I wrote religiously for four years between 2008-2012 had been ruined by damp in my mum's garage (and unlike when that happened to Monica in Friends I didn't manage to bag myself a Porsche out of it), so finding that reading my blog back can feel similar to reading old diaries was wonderful. Which is why I decided to do the same thing for this year. 

(I should note here that between deciding to write this and actually sitting down to write, my little brother has expressed disdain for anyone who insists on reflecting on the year on social media. If you either are Chip or are like him in that way, apologies. This post is not for you. In fact, this post is mainly just aimed at 2022 Rebecca, but please do feel free to read on if you're interested. Also how mad is it that we're as close to the end of 2022 as we are to the end of 2012?!) 


2017 was a mixed bag in that it was a sad and scary one for the world, really. I often find myself wondering whether the world has always been this scary. Perhaps I'm just more aware of it as I get older. But there were some super moments for us all as well, and in my personal little world it was one of the best years ever. Probably the most important so far (maybe ever?) for me. 

I've convinced myself that it's okay to write about my best year so far as my 2012 summary was of my worst year so far. So that's okay, right? Keeps the balance? I don't want this to be like one of those awful Round Robin letters (or emails as the case may be) where you have to read about how flipping wonderful everybody else has been this year when you're there in your jammies, surrounded by chocolate wrappers and covered in spit up (me, right now) and feeling fairly gross.

It is a joy to read about warm and happy things at this time of year though. At the beginning of the month I deleted all social media apps from my phone because I was driving Dale crazy with my fury at the ridiculous things I would read.

"Why do you do it to yourself, especially just before bed?" 

But as Christmas Eve crept up on us I logged in on the internet on my phone; partly to have a little peek at how all my creative mummy friends had used Elf on the Shelf (if you have me on Facebook and shared pictures of how you make magic with that little guy, trust me, I saw it and loved it-well done!) and partly to look at the cosy Christmas pictures of my friends across the globe. Everyone suddenly manages to have something happy to say at this time of year and it really is wonderful to read. 

This year is the year I got married and had a baby. Big Things. 

And the thing about having a baby in October is that when you welcome the new year in you have no idea that you'll be ending the year with a new baby. And somehow that feels huge. New Year holds such weight for me- as it does for many. Sure, there are the scrooges who insist if you want to make changes you can do so at any time of year, and of course they are right. But the thing is, I- along with many others- do make new resolutions throughout the year. I don't realise I need to change something in my life in May and think ah well, only seven months until I can action that. Obviously. But New Year is a super opportunity to reflect and set goals because it's one that's easy to measure in time. 

So I take New Year seriously and it's just mad to me that when I was making my plans for the year this time twelve months ago I had absolutely no idea that I would be seeing in 2018 with a new little human that I spent the year making from scratch. Huge. 

But of course, I won't ever forget getting married and having a baby. I won't forget those great things like walking down the aisle or meeting my little girl for the first time. I won't forget our incredible honeymoon or the moment we finally agreed on a name. 

But I might forget some of those little but important things, so here are my top five big-and-magical-but-minor favourite moments of 2017...

1) Moment Number 1

My cousins, mum, auntie, Grandma and I have somehow found ourselves in a pattern of meeting for breakfast every now and then to laugh until we choke on our Eggs Benedict. I'm fortunate enough to be related to the funniest women in existence, and hanging out with them has created a million magical moments for me this year. 

But the number one moment has to be when one of us (and for anonymity's sake I won't tell you which one of us) had egg on her face. This is how it went: 

"Oh you've got a bit of egg on your nose. I can't carry on telling this story whilst that's there." 

"Have I? I'll wipe it off." Gone. Super. The story continues. 

"Wait. Sorry. I can't continue. Now it's on your cheek. How has it got there? The plates have been taken away! I can't-even-tell-the-story-now." 

Spoiler alert. It ended up on the forehead. None of us could breathe for laughing. The story was never told. 

You know those moments you laugh so much it forms a magical bond between everyone that's laughing? That's what every moment is like with that bunch of ladies. 

2) Moment Number 2

In May of this year my beautiful friends planned me a Hen That's Not a Hen. I'm not a Hen weekend kinda gal. I'm a coffee and a chat kinda gal. Okay, I'm not boring (I like to think), I just can't think of anything worse than dragging my nearest and dearest away from their husbands and kids for the weekend so that we can drink too much through phallic straws and scream a lot whilst wearing devil horns and sashes. 

So instead, six of my absolute favourite humans in the entire world surprised me with an afternoon tea in the sunshine. It turns out that my mum is a genuinely fantastic actress because I really did have no idea, and that my friends are just the best. 

Anyway, that's not my favourite moment. My favourite moment was the moment that they presented me with a book they had made me filled with photos, messages, and funny stories from throughout our twelve years of friendship. I laughed, cried, cringed (I remember saying to them when I was seventeen that I just couldn't imagine we'd ever look back and regret our 2006 clothes and haircuts because we just looked normal. What did I know?) and laughed some more, and every now and then I get it out again to look at and am filled with warm, fuzzy, loveliness. 

3)  Moment Number 3

Dale and I were standing at the altar, in the middle of our vows. The registrar asked for the rings, and so the ring bearers- Dale's nephews aged 7 and 2- brought them up, and we began to exchange them. 

We got as far as "I give you this ring as a token of our..." before we were interrupted. Dale's two year old nephew had wandered over to the little stage we were standing on, hoisted his right leg (and it was such an effort) up onto the edge, followed- with equal effort- by his left leg, straightened himself up, wandered over to Dale, and gave him a little packet of biscuits to snack on. In the middle of the wedding ceremony. Oh, he knows his uncle so well. 

It was just the kind of magical moment that you could never have planned but which made the day. I don't think you're supposed to laugh out loud during your vows (although my friend Pumbaa did laugh during hers saying with my body I honour you ha) but we all laughed and it was the talk of the reception drinks. 

4) Moment Number 4

My leaving party from work involved the team ordering a lot of pizza and playing Heads Up in the centre. Hanging out with people from work is a rarity in my job because we're open seven days a week, so just being together without the responsibility was brilliant. 

The whole thing was full of so much fun and laughter, but the highlight for me was when someone got carried away trying to win the game and described the movie Tower Heist as 'a a tower!' 

5) Moment Number 5

It was Boxing Day, and the entire family was sitting around the lounge, sipping glasses of wine and waiting for dinner to be ready in the next few minutes. None of us even realised anyone was missing. And that was when my mum popped into the kitchen to check on the turkey and immediately came running out squealing and laughing. Grandad Derek was in there. Eating the dessert. With crumbs all around his mouth. He really thought he wouldn't be caught. 

When will he learn? 

Hopefully no time soon. It's the most I've laughed since Tower-Heist-Gate.

And so it ends- the best year so far.

My resolution last year was to Be Fearless- something that I worked really hard on all year and will continue to keep in mind as we move in to 2018. This year I have a sparkly new diary that I plan to keep to record all of those Little Big Things that I know will mean the world to me, and encourage everyone to ignore those New Year Scrooges (sorry Chip) and take the time to reflect on your year, make a resolution that's important to you, and continue to find the magic in your own Little Big Things <3 

Friday, 1 December 2017

What being a mum is REALLY like...

I have always wanted to be a mum.

The moment that my baby was placed on me for the first time I immediately thought of the Christmas (1995, I think) that I was given my Baby Born doll. I remember so clearly that my mum was getting more and more exasperated because my brothers had opened all of their presents and there was still a big pile for me that I simply wasn't interested in. I remember thinking that my mum didn't understand. If I put the baby down, she might cry.

(For those of you unfamiliar with Baby Born circa 1995, there was no crying feature. But to me she was real.)

By 1995 I had chosen names for my children as well. Names I was convinced I would use. So convinced, in fact, that I named my dolls different names so that my real children wouldn't be named after toys.

(Fun fact: I haven't used my girl name because Dale thinks it's the absolute worst name in existence. But if he hadn't been quite so passionately against it the name I chose as a child would have been the one I used. It's still my favourite 22 years later.)

Anyway, I named that dolly Gemma and I loved her more than anything in the world. I looked after her beautifully, and I can still picture putting her into a little cradle every night even in the house that we moved into around 2 years after I was given her.

Fast forward twenty two years and I'm finally laying in my hospital bed with my very own and very real newborn on my chest.

The room was filled with people buzzing about doing their thing- midwives, paediatricians, doctors, healthcare assistants...(I think. I'm actually not completely aware of who was there or what they were doing), and a few of them, along with my mum and Dale, kept firing questions at me that I would vaguely brush away so that I could focus on my new busy and important job: staring at this baby.

Very much the same as 1995.

And so now I'm a mum. I have, at last, joined that coveted club that I've been desperate to be a member of for as long as I can remember.

It feels a bit like I'm fibbing when I say that.

I'm not really a mum because my baby is only seven weeks old. Perhaps I'll be a real mum when she's seven years old. But then I won't have experienced what it's like to have a teenager. So do I have to wait until she's eighteen before I can count myself a member of the club?

But of course not.

I am a card (or is that scarred?) carrying member of the mum club, and I spend most days staring at our baby (Squirt) completely unable to believe my luck that this huge dream has finally come true.

Having spent a lot of time working with children of more or less every age, in a wide range of jobs, I've spent a lot of time wondering how it will be different when I have my own baby.

When you work with children but don't have your own you spend an unfair (I feel) amount of time being told you don't quite understand because you're not a mum. 

And so I have wondered for my entire adult life what secrets I would be let into once I had my own bundle of joy. What would I finally know once I was allowed to join the club? What pearls of wisdom would finally be bestowed upon me once I had been through childbirth myself?

Well now I know, and today I am going to break all the rules and reveal The Big Secret to you: whether you have children or not.

The Big Secret is: there is no big secret.

In my now vast experience of being a mum to one little girl for seven whole weeks, two whole days and around ten hours, I can tell you that whatever the books, blogs, vlogs, and other mums in your life may tell you: nobody knows what it will be like for you. 

I've found myself reading/watching/listening and speaking to parents who insist they know the answers. I'll read articles called things like Four Things I Wish I had Known Before I Became a Mum. The entire article will then be written as though it's fact (e.g. 1. You will lose half your friends once your baby is born) and will exclaim things like we need to talk about this more- nobody talks about this stuff!

With all the things I have read and all the people I have spoken to, the absolute biggest lesson I have learnt so far is that everyone thinks they're an expert, and nobody actually is. If you believed everything you read about being a mum oh my goodness nobody would ever do it.

But so many of these articles will also say 'everybody likes to paint a positive picture of motherhood: focusing on the positives instead of telling the truth about what it's really like.'

Firstly- I think focusing on the positives about the biggest thing in your life right now is a fairly healthy way to live. Only talking about the negatives all the time cannot be good for your happiness, and definitely won't help you with keeping all those friends you're due to lose when you have a baby. (Just to be clear- I haven't lost any friends, but more on that later.)

Secondly- these lists always include lack of sleep, and when I was pregnant I can probably count on one hand the people I spoke to that didn't take it upon themselves to let me know I was never going to sleep again (including strangers who approached me in the supermarket at random)- so I'm not sure who these people are that are having babies and not realising that their sleep pattern is going to change.

Thirdly- nobody can tell you what it's really like. Because it's different for everyone. Because everyone is in a different position.

In my quest to make sense of the fact that the majority of the things I've been told/read about parenthood haven't been true at all, I imagined someone writing an article called 'What It's Really Like To Go On Holiday' with absolutely no context.

I went on holiday this year.

So I'm qualified to write about what a holiday is like, right? I could write that article, and write a list of things that you can and should expect when you go on holiday.

My holiday in May was for ten days. It was action-packed and non-stop. I went with my fiance. It was in California. I was twenty weeks pregnant. We went to three different cities and stayed in four hotels- some quite fancy and some that involved wonky flooring and questionable bedspreads. The weather moved constantly between baltic and balmy.

Similarly, my friend Jiminy went on holiday this year.

Her holiday in October was for five days. She went to Blackwood Forest with her parents, husband and one year old. They went to Peppa Pig World and the New Forest, and had unseasonably warm weather.

Now imagine if I wrote a list called 'Five Things You Need to Know Before You Go On Holiday' and sent it to Jiminy and insisted that my experiences in California were exactly what she would experience in Blackwood Forest, and if anybody told her otherwise then they were just avoiding the truth about going on holiday. 

She would, of course, know that my list is nonsense.

But if she had never been on holiday before, and was already a bit nervous about going on holiday, it might worry her if a) I had insisted that anyone who is positive about holidays is lying and b) everything I said would happen didn't.

It's exactly the same with having a baby.

So here are three things that I've been told and read about motherhood that haven't been true in my case... 

1) You will lose half your friends when you have a baby.

I haven't lost any friends. (As far as I know, anyway.) Partly, I think, because I tend to only be friends with nice people. Partly because I really didn't have any expectations of my friends (and they have therefore all surpassed anything I could have expected). And partly because my lifestyle means that my friends can still be friends with me.

I think perhaps that one is aimed at people who have come from a wild lifestyle involving being out drinking every night with friends who don't have their own children. Before I had Squirt I would spend Saturday nights texting my pal Lady Adelaide my up-to-date opinions on Strictly. Having a baby hasn't affected that. So it's been easy for me to keep my friendships primarily the same.

2) You will no longer be able to sleep. Even when your baby is sleeping, every little sound will wake you up.

Dale wishes.

Dale has to spend around ten minutes (or so he tells me, I'm sure he's exaggerating) trying to wake me up to feed Squirt in the night. Nothing wakes me. Never has, never will. I'm just a super sleeper.

3) The first few months are torture.

I entered into parenthood with Dale. We decided- together- that we wanted to have a baby, and now we are in this adventure very much together. He doesn't 'help' me- we help each other. My own parents are so excited and beyond enthusiastic about helping. Dale's mum worked out how Squirt most likes to be held within about five minutes of meeting her and that knowledge has been invaluable. In the first week after she was born we had people turning up to make us lunch and do our washing up every day- without being asked. In the morning after our first tricky night with Squirt when she was going through a growth spurt my phone rang. My friend was outside with a Sleepyhead (a sleep tool that we didn't have yet) and a Tesco bag filled with the ingredients for wraps- within half an hour of her being here Squirt was asleep, I had had the most amazing shower, and Dale and I were both on the sofa eating lunch. When I was suffering from the effects of the labour Dale's sister sent me a long text filled with genuine empathy and advice. Jiminy Cricket receives around 30 texts a day from me asking questions- I feel like she is guiding me through motherhood one ridiculous conundrum at a time. Squirt and I go to two Baby Groups where people are kind and warm and chatty and lovely, and I get to sip coffee and chat to them and hang out with my baby instead of being at work. When I'm not at Baby Club I'm either at home or wandering town in my own time, reading, and always looking after my baby. Which suits me very much because I'm a home bird and enjoy my own company, but I know that it's not like that for everyone.

Yes, I do have to get up a few times in the night. Sometimes she cries and I don't know what's wrong and I'm not sure what to do about that. I spend a lot of time smelling of her sick, and the thought of having her in the car makes me feel so sick I could vomit right now thinking about it and as a result we've been in the car around 5 times since she was born.

On the other hand I know plenty of mums who have been immediately confident driving their babies about, and wouldn't have given it a second thought. I know babies who don't really spit up, and whose mums don't have to spend their days smelling of sick.

But I genuinely love every single second- even the seconds that I'm trying to stop her from crying, even the seconds that I want to (and often do) swear at Dale for waking me up at 3am, even the seconds that I'm convincing myself I forgot to strap her in (I have never and will never forget to strap her in), because I am so aware that this time is going to go so quickly and am going to miss it all one day.

When I was pregnant, among all of the 'make the most of your sleep now' and 'it changes your life you know?' chats, I had two stand out conversations.

One was with a parent from work, and one was with my auntie.

The parent told me that she looks back on those early days- even the days when she ended up sitting and crying because her baby just wouldn't go to sleep- with real affection, and that I should enjoy them whilst I can.

My auntie told me that she was just so excited for me because I was about to embark on such a lovely time in my life. She told me stories about her routine with my cousins, and what she enjoyed about those days.

And I really think that it should come back into fashion to have conversations like that.

completely agree that mums should feel able to moan, and to warn one another about the hard bits and pieces that come with motherhood.

But I also feel that we shouldn't talk like experts (nobody is), we shouldn't be making women feel ashamed or guilty for enjoying it (which honestly so many of these articles do- it really isn't in vogue to enjoy being a mum right now), and we certainly shouldn't be insisting that we know what it's really like, because what is it really like?

The secret is: nobody knows.

A few mums have actually opened the conversations they've had with me since Squirt was born with 'I promise it gets better.' Before even saying hello.

And I always think how flipping exciting. 

Because it's so magical as it is. 

What I wish I had known before I had a baby?

That nobody would be able to tell me what it's really like.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

You've Got To Be You

Around this time last year I was at a charity quiz when another woman at the table scoffed at me for knowing the answer to a question about a reality television star. Scoffed, in fact, I feel is an understatement. She humiliated me in front of the entire team by making a huge deal about how I should be embarrassed to know the answer to that, that I should be spending my time on more worthwhile things so that I don't know the answer to such empty questions. She made me feel stupid and pointless, and that feeling stayed with me.

As it happens I don't know how I knew the answer to that question. I've never actually watched the show that she's from. Some things are just absorbed from life, I think. I always remember my tiny cousin picking up her pretend phone once and saying "no I just want to cancel my direct debit before it comes out on Tuesday." Perfect context. Perfect sense. From a three year old. Absorbed from life.

Similarly earlier in the year I had family over for a barbecue and we had a music channel on. At some point in the evening the music stopped and a show started. My dad asked what it was and three of us replied "Keeping Up with the Kardashians."

"Never seen it." He replied.

"Me neither," the three of us who had known what it was said. But somehow we all knew who each member of the family was and what was going on in their personal lives.

Anyway, the humiliating dressing down I got from that woman has stayed with me all year. How can I help what I know? If I don't know something that I definitely should then perhaps I need to start reading more or popping the news on every night. But how can I help what I do know?

I, like most people I imagine, am trying my best. I'm trying my best to be kind, intelligent and involved. To be the best I can be at being a friend and a sister, a daughter and a wife, at my job and- most recently- at being a mum. At spending my time wisely.

Then, of course, there are the wider issues. As I get older I have to be concerned not only about my world- about being good to the people I listed above, but I also have to worry about my effect on the environment, my stance and actions in making a difference toward those less privileged than I am, and about how my stance and actions as a woman affect the future of women.

And I'm trying my best.

 But in this big outburst about my knowledge of someone from TOWIE I suddenly felt that I wasn't doing well enough. Not at being intelligent, not at spending my time wisely, and most significantly- not at being the kind of woman that I am meant to be.

I'm the kind of person who always wants to do the right thing, who truly hates to be thought of as stupid, boring, or thoughtless and- again, like most people, I think- worries far too much about what others think. So I want to stand up for women. I want to fight for our rights. I want to be confident enough to take action when I know I'm being treated unfairly because I'm a woman. I want to be fully aware of how much easier I have it as a woman because of my background, and I want to be able to say and do the right things to action change for those it might not be as easy for.

Which I think is why I battle with any suggestion that I'm stupid. How am I supposed to do all of those things if I am?

I don't yet have the confidence to provide a quick and cutting reply to anyone who makes me feel stupid, but thanks to my friend Simba I made a fantastic discovery this year that means that I'm much further along the road in being able to.

A few months ago Simba introduced me to The Guilty Feminist. The Guilty Feminist is a podcast that- in their own words- explores our noble goals as twenty-first century feminists and the hypocrisies and insecurities which undermine them. In my words, they're incredible women discussing a wide range of topics whilst acknowledging the fact that real life every day feminists are not what they are often made out to be. Every podcast starts with 'I'm a feminist but...', which involves the presenters explaining the guilty non-feminist things they did/said/thought that week. Mine is usually something along the lines of 'I'm a feminist but...I listen to a podcast about feminism whilst I clean the house and my husband sits on his computer.'

And it's amazing. It turns out women all over the globe feel exactly the same as I do. They really do want to be incredible women who have the ability to change the world around them and beyond through their attitudes and actions, but sometimes it's not as straightforward as some media may have you believe. Sometimes, for example, who you are can hold you back from fulfilling the traditional picture of a feminist.

I've always been led to believe- by the kind of women who put other women down for being able to recognise a celebrity- that to be a feminist you have to look and act a particular way. I have always felt that I wasn't quite welcome in that club because I've always wanted to get married and have a baby. I spend money on make up and care how I look. I like pumpkin spice lattes and know every single episode of Friends off by heart and no matter how much I enjoy thrillers I would always rather be watching Bridget Jones. I love Disney and still know most of the Steps dance routines and have been known to tear up just thinking about an advert.

That girl can't be a feminist, right?

Then I started listening to this podcast. One week they started discussing the fact that anything traditionally liked by 14 year old girls is mocked, seen as a bit pathetic. One woman said she actually quite likes Justin Bieber, and that fact doesn't mean that she hasn't read To Kill a Mockingbird. Why shouldn't the same person be able to enjoy and partake in completely different things? Why should anything aimed at a teenage girl be a 'guilty pleasure'? Why can't it just be enjoyed? Why should I be ashamed of answering a charity quiz night question correctly? Does that undo any questions I answered correctly about politics? Of course it doesn't. But for some reason it took these impressive women discussing it for that to click into place for me.

A few weeks later they were discussing the idea of being 'fabulous' as a feminist. They discussed the fact that there can sometimes be a feeling in feminism that you have to be dowdy in appearance rather than feminine. They were saying that it's one thing to dress and make yourself up in a way that's forced because it's how somebody else looks or how you think you should look, but it's another to take an interest in clothes and make up and in a way that enables you to genuinely express yourself. That's all well and good, I thought, if you are a flamboyant person who expresses themselves with bright lipstick and a feather boa. Then it's clear you're expressing yourself. But what if your genuine, deep down, personal style is relatively boring like mine? 

And that's when a voice chimed in: 'Some people's self expression is expressed in a stereotypical feminine way, and that shouldn't be derided.' And another light bulb went on in my head. My appearance is self expression because I wouldn't feel like myself if I were to dress any other way. I've noticed recently that there are lots of girls in Chelmsford with messy high blonde pony tails and big thick rimmed glasses and that they all look gorgeous. But I wouldn't try and conform to that because I wouldn't feel like myself.

They went on to discuss the fact that it is still okay for little girls to choose to dress up at princesses, despite the general feeling at the moment that the mum whose daughter is a superhero has 'won feminism.' My memory of being little and my experience with children tells me that they dress up as something different every day- sometimes throughout the day. As an adult working with children I've been known to dress as a princess, a zombie, a dinosaur, a a girl in a superhero outfit may well- probably will, in fact- be a princess tomorrow and a dinosaur the next. Everyone's a winner. And that's my guilt at quite liking princesses banished.

What I have finally realised is the fact that I know what's comfortable for me and always style myself that way is my way of expressing myself. The fact that I know that I love American sitcoms and syrupy coffee and am excited to be a mum but also want to be a writer and see the world change for minorities and read about Irish history absolutely do not need to be contradictory.

I excitedly expressed all of this to a friend who replied "the whole POINT of feminism is that it is inclusive and nobody is lesser or more 'equal', whatever the hell that might mean. It's so much more feminist to like and love what you do and who you are than to live in judgement of others."

I've always felt this way- that I'm not quite in the feminist club because of my relatively feminine, and often predictable, nature, but what I have finally accepted is that that is inherently who I am- a feminine feminist, and no amount of judgement from others should change that. I also think that surely the most important thing of all for women to be in with a chance is for us to boost one another up, respect one another and shout about how wonderful the women around us are. Telling each other that we're not allowed in the Boosting Women Club because we dress or eat or spend our time a certain way is, of course, ridiculous.

I'm just delighted that I had this sudden epiphany exactly one week before I went into labour with my daughter- who will now be brought up as a guilt-free guilty feminist. By day. And whichever superhero she wants by night. Even if it's Cinderella. Or a dinosaur.

Monday, 23 October 2017

Celebrate the Magic

On my very first day in Walt Disney World almost five years ago, my new friends and I ventured into Magic Kingdom to discover the night time spectacular Wishes. It was absolutely incredible, and had a genuine magic about it that made every single person watching it feel as though it was speaking directly to them. 

My favourite part, however, was the short projection show that was on in the build up to Wishes. Celebrate the Magic. It was, exactly as the name suggests, a ten minute celebration of everything Disney- from a wide range of characters and music with clever transitions from one world to another to quotes from Walt himself- it really did make the most wonderful watching, and it was a bittersweet night last year when Dale and I watched the last ever showing of it before it was replaced.

On the day that I saw it for the first time I was relatively emotional- you know, having just moved my life across the world to make my own dreams come true- and so let the tears stream all the way through both shows. 

But there was one line in it- a quote from Walt Disney- that sent tears dancing down my face every single time I watched it, and will never get old. 

I only hope that we never lose sight of one thing- that it was all started by a mouse. 

What a brilliant quote. 

The reminder that Walt Disney's idea to create a mouse as a character that day that then grew into all of those other characters, the parks, stores, music, shows, films, cruise ships- the list is endless- is filled with magic in itself. 

I am fascinated by the idea that at any given moment something could pop into your head or into your life and change your future forever. 

I heard a story yesterday about a couple who met in Hong Kong when the woman- an English midwife working abroad- was asked by a colleague to go with her on a date to accompany her new boyfriend's friend. And the rest is history. They have three children, who between them have seven children. That's a whole lot of humans that wouldn't exist if she hadn't gone on that date. 

Entire worlds changed because of that decision to go on that date. 

I often think about the time I was bored on New Year's Day in between films and turkey sandwiches and found a job in Disney World online and decided to apply on a whim. I genuinely didn't think anything of it. 

But when I got that first email inviting me to the first round of interviews I was overwhelmed with the feeling that my life might be about to change. Which of course it did. 

By the time I knew I was going to move to Orlando I knew that my life was about to change. 

But again, like the time I applied for the job, I often think about the time I had been living in Orlando and working in Disney World for almost four months when I'd had enough of one particularly irritating cast member. I stormed around the pub from where I was working on reception to where my friend Dumbo was working in quick service so that I could moan. I let rip, listing off the many annoying things he had done that day when Dumbo cleared her throat and said 'um...Rebecca. This is Dale. It's his first day of training.' 

I was mortified- I'm so rarely a moaner and now this poor lad was going to think I was terrible. 

What I didn't think was- the entire course of my life has just changed. Which again- of course it had. I had just met my future husband.  

Sara Bareilles has been writing songs that better express how I feel than I could ever write for my entire adult life, and as a result has written more or less the entire soundtrack to my relationship with Dale.

At every stage of our relationship one of her songs has made an appearance and beautifully summed up where we were.

Just to be clear they weren't all love songs- there's one song that I have quoted at him on many occasions because it so fantastically sums up why I've got my cross face out. 

In June I walked down the aisle to the song that I fell in love with around the same time as I realised that I was going to marry Dale (a couple of years before he proposed, I might add), and as time goes on Sara continues to write songs for me and sum up my feelings beautifully. 

So you can imagine my absolute joy when I discovered Everything Changes last week. 

The first line is: Today's a day like any other, but I am changed, I am a mother- in an instant.

Now I've been relatively emotionally stable since I went into labour. I didn't cry when my baby was born, I didn't cry on Infamous Day Three when the hormones normally kick in, I didn't cry the first time I heard her cry. 

But when, on day five, I heard that line 'in an instant'- everything finally hit me all at once. 

Once again, Sara Bareilles has said everything I want to express and can't. 

My friend Simba had asked me a couple of days before whether everything had changed or whether everything felt the same, and I had found it really difficult to answer. 

Generally before I gave birth Dale and I tended not to get up every three hours in the night, we didn't sleep at the foot of the bed, have a lounge filled with various brightly coloured items, or have around seven visitors a day. 

But we're still watching 24 and Strictly, still eating too much Ben and Jerry's and promising to be healthier tomorrow, still walking into town every day and still finding huge joy in a hot drink. We're still seeing friends, reading books (I am, anyway), and still writing (again, just me). 

Oh, and now we have a daughter. We're parents. We have a child. We're bringing up a human being. 

It doesn't matter how I say it, no words will give it the weight it deserves.

And it happened in an instant.

I found out I was pregnant particularly early in the pregnancy- I had only been pregnant for 12 days when I did a positive test- which means that we spent nine months knowing that we were having a baby. Nine months creating a nursery, buying a whole host of things we hadn't even known existed, arguing over names, washing teeny, tiny clothes, watching my bump grow. 

And then one day- without any warning- I went into labour. I woke up that morning, had breakfast, had a long chat with my mum, watched a film, spoke to my Grandma on the phone, did some ironing- had a regular day. Then at three in the afternoon my contractions started. I stayed quite calm. Didn't tell anyone. Had dinner. Watched a couple of Harry Potter films, It Takes Two (the Strictly spin off, not the Olsen twins film), some old recorded episodes of Would I Lie to You, some Gavin and Stacey, Friends. Had two baths. Still absolutely no acknowledgement from me that I was genuinely going to have a daughter soon. Then it was 1am. Dale got home from work. Let's pop to the hospital, just see what they think. 1.30am. Arrived at the hospital. 7.44am. Became a mother. In an instant. 

No amount of notice can prepare you for how instant it is. 

And Everything Changes. Of course it does. The entire world has just changed because the most gorgeous, immediately hilarious, perfectly formed human has just entered the world and she's yours. 

And who I was has disappeared, it doesn't matter now you're here. 

I like to think that I haven't (and won't!) have a personality transplant, but I remember Pumbaa's husband saying after their son was born that he genuinely didn't care what others thought since he had become a dad, and I like to think I understand exactly what he meant. 

And I swear I'll remember to say we were both born today. 

If you've recently- or ever, in fact- had a baby, listen to Everything Changes from the musical Waitress written by Sara Bareilles. It's like she was there.

Everything and nothing has changed. The entire world has just changed because the most incredible human grown by me has just entered it and I'm not sure I will ever get my head around it. But we will continue as we always have- celebrating the magic, spreading the joy. Enjoying our food, each other, The Apprentice, everything Disney. 

And now, Mia Sophie Harper Stark. Born 7.44am. 5lb13. 

Tuesday 10th October 2017. 

And I swear I'll remember to say we were both born today. 

I only hope that we never lose sight of one thing: that it was all started by a mouse.   

Thursday, 14 September 2017

I'll Be There For You

I'm curled up on the floor of my living room in my comfiest clothes, watching a Netflix romantic comedy whilst one set of impossibly tiny clothes dries outside on the patio and another set flies about in the washing machine. I've just hung up the phone, having been chatting to a work friend for 40 minutes, and am waiting for the phone to ring again so that Dale can tell me he's free to pop out of work and meet me in Mothercare. I'm purposely ignoring the cries of the custard creams in the cupboard and telling myself I'll chop up some fruit in a minute.

It's a Thursday afternoon.

Welcome to maternity leave.

I've been incredibly emotional about maternity leave- as I imagine most people are, since it only occurs when your hormones are completely out of control, your life is about to change, you're somewhere between vaguely uncomfortable and unbearable pain twenty four hours a day, and you keep being told that you're going to experience huge trauma followed by the most love you have ever felt any day now.

But also- I love my job.

My job is my current baby. I was lucky enough to launch the education centre I work in. The day I started it was an empty shell with a couple of desks and a single phone. I went in in my leggings and baggy jumpers and got covered in dust putting computers together. I unpacked boxes of office stuff and spent days organising and reorganising where we were going to keep books and stationery.

I went through the first CVs, hired the first team, signed up the first member.

(Just to be clear, this was all with two other managers. I'm not taking all the credit.)

When Minnie Mouse was in labour, the only thing that stopped me tearing my hair out was the distraction of interviewing new tutors to run our centre. When Dale and I were living in different counties and could only see each other every other weekend, hanging out with hilarious children and saving up their quotes to tell him kept me sane. When I was given the worst news I have ever been given, I spent the day teaching children maths and English- watching their little faces light up when they got something right, watching them visibly inflate when I praised them for their attitude- and was temporarily relieved of thinking about it all.

That's the job itself.

Then there's the part that makes or breaks every job: the people.

I am fortunate enough to have worked alongside incredible people: managers, tutors, parents, and of course, children.

When we got engaged, my colleagues were among the very first people I told. The tutors contributed far more than I'm sure they know to the planning of my wedding, and I can't imagine having made it through this pregnancy without the input of some of the parents.

I went through a phase of telling people I was pregnant and being met either with a reaction along the lines of 'I thought so, you've been looking ever so bloated', or 'wow, was it a shock?' Neither were reactions that I particularly appreciated, and it got to the stage that I had heard little else.

Then I saw a particular member. She's nine.

"Can I tell you a secret?" I asked. "I have a baby in my tummy."

She threw her arms in the air, squealed, and cried 'amazing news! Congratulations!'

It was honestly the most grown up and heartwarming response I had.

Some of my proudest moments happened in that centre. From the moment the first child came in to tell me he had passed the 11+, to the time an eight year old member finally spoke for the first time outside of his family home. From the small, daily triumphs like watching a nine year old finally make the connection between multiplying and dividing, to watching a tutor excel following their training and go on to become a qualified teacher.

Every day was filled with small triumphs and hilarious moments, and anyone who knows me will know that my favourite things about this and every other job I've had are a) the ridiculous sentences you say when you work with children b) all the brilliantly funny things you hear when you work with children.

I could write a novel filled with them, but here are my favourites from my last week...

1) "I don't want to alarm you but do you know that there's a flip flop in your hair?"

2) "I think I should try and write this more perfectly, it really doesn't make sense." A six year old boy after reading back his sentence.

3) "And were you concentrating or were you sticking pencils up your nose?"

4) "I went to have a drink of water but it made my ear hurt so I don't think I can do any more." A (different) six year old boy trying to get out of doing his maths.

5) "See if you can guess my favourite dinner." Five year old girl. "It's a type of meat."

"Okay...roast dinner? No? Steak? No? Sausage and mash? No? I give up."
"It's chocolate ice cream!"

6) "It was my sister's birthday last year." Five year old boy.

"Last year? Was it? Are you sure you mean last year?"
"Yep, definitely."
"He means yesterday." His ten year old sister.

7) "I went to London yesterday, to see the Eiffel Tower."

8) "Do you think you should be blowing raspberries or doing your work?"

"Blowing raspberries."
Oh right....

9) "Then I had to stand up on the train all the way back from London to England."

10) "Why is she crying?"

"She asked her sister to guess her favourite pizza toppings. She got them all right. She didn't want her to."

Of course it wasn't all laughing at children and chatting with parents; there were times when the pressure got too much, or expectations were too high; when people were rude or frustratingly unreasonable. But there was never, ever a time when there wasn't an amazing person beside me or on the phone to remind me that people are occasionally awful and that that's not my fault.

When I had been doing this job for a year I looked back over what I had achieved and, more importantly, what I had learnt, and was both impressed and proud (in a self-effacing, British way, mind you) at how much it had given me in such a short amount of time. I remember thinking 'imagine where I'll be in another year.'

A year after that I had been promoted and was facing a whole host of new challenges- equally frustrating, fun and full of self-development, and equally impossible without the amazing people I had around me.

A year after that and here I am. Spending my afternoons writing, watching Netflix and eating. (Just so you know in the time I've written this I've had two squares of chocolate, a peanut butter cup and a hot chocolate. The fruit continues to sit sadly in the bowl on the kitchen table.)

My last few weeks in my job were emotional, to say the least.

Most days I arrived struggling to breathe as my baby is squashing my innards and the rush into the centre didn't help. I've been suffering so much with heart burn that if this baby comes out with anything less than a thatch to rival my Grandad Derek's (he has the most incredible hair, even as he trots through his 70s) I'll be highly disappointed. And I'm so, so tired. Absolutely exhausted, all the time. Which means I spent a lot of time thinking that these blissful days off couldn't come soon enough.

But then one by one I'd realise it was my last shift with a tutor, or the last time I'd see a certain child, or their parents. Or a child would make me laugh so hard that I couldn't breathe for different reasons. Or one of the other managers would say something so relate-able, or would find something as funny as I did, and I'd just want to sob at the thought of leaving.

In the last month we had a fourth manager join us, so that when I left they would continue to be the necessary team of three.

We, as a group of four, had a magic about us, I like to think, in that we were all so different in so many ways, but so similar in all the important ways. We spent a lot of time finding the same things funny, and the same things infuriating, which brings people together in such a special way, doesn't it?

I had worked with one member of that team for two years, one for almost a year, and one for a month. And in all that time had spent the majority of it communicating in Friends quotes, and making sense of everything (as I always have done) through Friends comparisons.

Which is why, when I left work on my last day as a team of four, I emailed Jo Whiley.

The radio 2 listeners among you will know that it's incredibly rare that they provide the opportunity for the public to request songs, but every weekday evening on my drive home Jo Whiley runs a feature called Taxi Service. This involves listeners who are on the road contacting her with the song that they want to hear whilst they are playing taxi driver, and let her know what or who it is that they are taxiing.

I sent the following email:

Hi Jo! 

It's the end of an era. I am about to taxi myself and my unborn baby home from work for the last time after 3 years in the most wonderful job with the most genuinely fabulous team- feeling so emotional! 

We will, of course, stay in touch and continue to bond over Popmaster and taxi service from afar, but if you could play I'll be there for you by The Rembrandts after 3 years of communicating in Friends quotes I'm sure it would brighten all of our drives home!! 

Thank you so much, love your show always, 


I listened intently to Taxi Service. She read out a series of texts and emails that weren't from me, and eventually played No Scrubs by TLC-which was an excellent choice- just not mine. 

She then played another few songs before the news. 

The news finished, a standard BBC radio ad went out, and then the opening chimes of I'll Be There For You burst onto the radio. I, having managed to keep my emotions in check all week, promptly burst into tears and sobbed all the way through the song, before Jo came on and read out my email and said she hadn't seen it in time for taxi service but couldn't let it just go by. 

Safe to say all of us cried at the sound of that song that evening. One of the girls said that when it first started she thought 'it's a divine intervention, what are the chances?!' And then she immediately thought 'wait, I bet Rebecca's been in contact with them somehow.' And then she cried. 

It really was the perfect ending to my three magical years, and was made even better when, on my actual last day (for which only two of us were in), the other two managers, plus a manager from a different centre, turned up to surprise me with cake and presents and love. 

And now here I am, two weeks later, feeling wonderful for just having spoken to them again. 

So yes, I took so much from this job. Leadership and credibility and assertiveness and business sense.

But the biggest thing that I will hold onto from this job is that there are such incredible people out there. Children, who are hilarious, inquisitive, wise, kind and naturally thoughtful. Teenagers, desperate to make a difference in the world and full of life and enthusiasm for starting out their adult lives as role models for children. Twenty-somethings, still discovering who they are and changing and improving every day and being understanding, kind, hilarious and curious as they do so. Parents, comfortable enough to share their life stories with me and thoughtful enough to want to help me. Parents, who just want the absolute best for these little humans they've created, and who will fight tooth and nail for them to have the best.

I often tell my Grandma stories from work and she will say 'gosh you do meet all sorts working there, don't you?'

Yes I do.

There is very little that will surprise me about humans now.

But what I do know is that whilst there are scary things happening in the world, and whilst the media may be insisting that adults are greedy and selfish and cruel, and children no longer have any manners or respect, I can confirm that for the most part, this is not true.

I have met all sorts in my job, and whilst they are all different, they are all wonderful, and ultimately are just trying to do the right thing by the people around them. There are exceptions, of course. But they are exceptions.

And so as I pulled the shutters across for the last time on what had been an empty shell with a few desks and a single phone, and was now a fully functioning education centre filled with incredible people, stories and memories, I kept the tears at bay and let my heart fill up instead. 

I will continue to use all that wisdom from all those incredible people for this next adventure.

My actual baby. 

In the mean time, I'll be here for you.

Eating, mostly.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Almost There

I could probably have written a post on pregnancy every month of this year, but a) I was aware of slipping into the trap of becoming a motherhood blogger and more prominently b) when I haven't been at work I've been asleep.

But there's so much to say that I absolutely cannot let this pregnancy go by without managing at least one post on the magical adventure that is growing a child.

I've found myself adding a preface to everything I say recently, and this is no exception.

Just so you know: I do know how lucky I am. And I'm not complaining in any way. Merely observing the trials and tribulations that come with pregnancy. Sort of in the same way I loved to moan about my ridiculous guests in Disney or the other people around the pool in Majorca. I'm not saying I wish I wasn't going through it, I just love a little moan.

In fact, I am so aware of how lucky I am that I spent the first half of my pregnancy in absolute disbelief. At my first four appointments when I was asked 'do you have any questions?' I answered 'are you sure I'm pregnant?'

Fun Fact About Pregnancy I Didn't Know Number 1: Nobody checks you're pregnant for TWELVE WEEKS. Everyone just takes your word for it that you've done a positive test, and there's no such thing as a false positive. I mean I'm not totally sure why you'd tell a lie for the sake of having to fill in endless forms, answer insane questions like 'and is your husband also your blood relative?' and have all kinds of needles poked into you, but even so.

Every time I asked whether I was definitely pregnant I was met with the same reaction. A laugh and an exasperated nod. But I'm sure everyone must go through that in those first weeks.

I had around three days during my first trimester that I didn't throw up, and for those three days I convinced myself that I had invented the entire pregnancy in my head and vowed never to moan about morning sickness again (Fun Fact About Pregnancy I Didn't Know Number 2: morning sickness is absolutely not limited to the morning).

Those days aside, I did throw up more or less every day between four and fourteen weeks though- and my love of Friends and various other tv shows means that I was more or less ready for that. What I wasn't ready for was just how hard it is to keep your pregnancy a secret in that time. I knew that people tend not to announce anything until they've had their twelve week scan, and I have always thought that I hope I don't find out I'm pregnant until as close to twelve weeks as possible to save me having to keep such a big secret. (I found out at three weeks.)

But what I hadn't considered is this....

1) You're really tired in that time. I mean, like a kind of tired I have never experienced before. And whilst a couple of irritating people have told me to 'wait until the baby's here if you think you're tired now', every other mother I have spoken to has said it's a different kind of tired. A special kind of tired reserved exclusively for pregnancy. A few people have told me that's how they've known they're pregnant- that awful, overwhelming, un-fightable exhaustion.

2) You lose your mind. Seriously. The reason I did the test the day that I did it was that I walked around 15 seconds across the education centre I work in to say something to a mum dropping off her son. As soon as I got there I had to apologise that I couldn't remember what I was there for. I followed it with 'I don't know if this is my age or something but this keeps happening to me and I've never had this before.' She leaned in and said  'perhaps you're pregnant', smiled, and walked away.

3) You're not just sick at 7am. You're sick I was sick if I got too hungry, which meant I had to eat regularly (not very easily done in my job), and was sometimes just sick out of the blue. I was sick outside a school, in the middle of a meeting with my manager, during a conversation with someone I manage, and at my mum's hen weekend seconds before a whole group of family friends walked into the bathroom.

All of this means that you're fairly useless during this time, which means that a) people guess (I had two mums from work guess and ask me outright during those first twelve weeks and it was so awkward), b) you want sympathy. You want twelve weeks off work and lots of sympathy, please, and c) you want everyone to know that you're actually not completely useless, it's just a phase. (Hopefully, anyway.)

Then on top of all that, it's really exciting! We were so excited- I've mentioned in a post before that I had to stop Dale buying the baby a bubble machine back in March. And when people mention babies/pregnancy/time off work/anything even remotely related to babies, you want to shout about it and keeping it quiet is SO HARD.

But we made it through that thanks to a combination of each other, a constant supply of custard creams, and my cousin Hannah (Fun Fact About Pregnancy I Didn't Know Number 3: It cannot be done without having an incredible cousin who happens to be an amazing midwife. She's the first person we told and the reason that we made it through that first trimester without going crazy. Honestly. She knows everything and I don't know how anyone does it without her), and then we were able to announce it. And that's when the real fun began.

The most striking question that I was asked- and I was asked by a surprising number of people- mostly (though with a couple of exceptions) people who absolutely do not know me well enough to ask, when we announced it was- "was it a shock?"

Well, no Barbara, because there's quite a specific process for getting pregnant and I've followed all the steps. Of course it wasn't a shock, but thanks for implying that this absolute miracle might have been.

The other one is "are you finding out what you're having?"

This is a trick question. 

If you're doing what that person would do, you're fine (though you will have to endure a ten minute lecture on why what you're doing is the right thing), if you're not, oh my goodness, strap yourself in for a long and tedious journey through Why Your Decision Is A Mistake.

Does it really matter to you, guest at my mum's wedding that I'm meeting for the first time today, whether I find out the sex of my baby before its birth?

(Fun Fact About Pregnancy I Didn't Know Number 4: Everything you decide about your baby seems to matter to everyone. For a couple of weeks I made the mistake of actually answering people when they asked me whether I had any names I like. People are brutal. Also naming a human is hard. There's too much to consider.)

And it only continues from there.

Because that's when the experts come in.

And by the experts I mean everyone in the world. 

If my amazing, experienced midwife cousin Hannah doesn't know, she'll tell me. So one of our conversations went like this:

"Hannah, do you think my wedding dress will still fit me in June?"

"I'm really sorry but there's absolutely no way of knowing. Every single person is different and sometimes the same person is completely different with different babies, so there really is no way of predicting it at all. Sorry that's not more helpful."

Hannah needn't have worried though, because all the office workers, cashiers, estate agents and teachers of the world were able to tell me with confidence. I had everything, from "there's no way you'll be able to hide it, you're so tiny, you'll be all bump" to "26 weeks? My sister's best friend's brother's wife didn't even know herself until she was 37 weeks, you'll definitely be able to hide it at 26 weeks."

And it is not just there that the experts stopped with their wisdom either....oh no....

1) Midwife: You really should monitor your intake of fish, as you could eat too much mercury and poison the baby.

Expert: Don't be ridiculous, what about in countries where they live by the sea and their entire diet is made up of seafood?

Excellent point, man who works as a driving instructor, but even so, I don't live off an entire diet of seafood and the advice provided based on the most up to date research and provided by the experts is to monitor it, so I'll be sticking to my eggs on toast today, thank you.

2) Midwife: Everything's looking really healthy, your bump is on the 90th centile so as long as you continue to grow along that line you'll remain low risk.

Expert: You're ever so small. That bump's barely there. Actually even my husband mentioned the other day that he thought you were a bit small for thirty weeks.

Even your husband? Even? You say that as though he's an expert, Deborah, but doesn't he work on the cheese counter in Morrisons? I don't really care what he thinks. Good to know you discuss my figure at home though.

3) Sonographer: Hm I've been looking at this screen for about fifteen minutes now and there is just no way of telling whether it's a girl or a boy. The baby has its legs crossed so there's just no way for me to tell, sorry.

Expert number 1: It's definitely a girl. I can tell.

Expert number 2: It's a boy. Definitely. I've never been wrong.

And then there are the just plain hilarious comments....

1) "So sorry but I have to ask. IS that a bump? Only I can't work out if you've just had a big lunch and I won't be able to stop staring until you've told me." From a teacher that I met for 2 minutes before I presented a certificate in assembly and left.

2) "Oh Rebecca is pregnant? I did notice but I didn't like to say anything because I know she likes a creme egg...."

3) "Ooh you are pregnant? I thought I saw a bump the other day but then I thought maybe you'd just put on a few pounds. I didn't want to upset you so I didn't say anything." Great job.

4) "You're pregnant? Yeah I thought so. You've been looking a bit bloated lately."

5) "Oh that makes so much sense. I thought you'd just eaten too many carbs."

6) "I know exactly how you feel. I've done it three times." That's really sweet, Man In Sainsbury's, but don't let your wife hear you claim that if you don't want a sharp object shoved somewhere intimate.

Whilst I text these ridiculous conversations to my mum and best pals, roll my inside eyes and learn to let it all roll over me like water off a duck's back (best piece of advice I've been given so far was from Minnie Mouse to use pregnancy to practise ignoring people because- I'm assured- they'll all be a million times worse once the baby is here), I have also been absolutely blown away by how kind people are.

I've been inundated with endless thoughtful gifts from everyone from my friends to my colleagues, the tutors I manage to the families I work with, Dale's friends to members of our own families. Strangers make sure I get a seat and will go without if it means I'm comfortable, everyone asks how I am with a little head tilt and genuine care in their eyes, and I cannot tell you how well a 'you look lovely' goes down when you feel horrendous. I had a text from a friend after a picture went on Facebook when I was 20 weeks saying 'look at your bump in that picture! You look beautiful.' I could have cried. Probably did, in fact. (Fun Fact About Pregnancy I Didn't Know Number 5: all you need is to tell a pregnant woman she looks nice. Save your pennies. Spend your words wisely.)

And so with just over 7 weeks to go I will continue to sidestep name questions, duck underneath nonsense comments about my size, take on (and feel free to ignore) everyone's well meaning advice, and enjoy this incredibly magical time with Dale.

I mentioned in the post about our engagement that every day felt a bit like Christmas Eve- knowing the best was yet to come, and actually being pregnant is exactly the same. Before every amazing thing that I have been lucky enough to experience I've had doubts that it will ever really happen. Just before I moved to Florida I remember thinking: I know I will one day be jealous of this version of myself- of the girl who is about to go and have the time of her life. Just enjoy the anticipation, and know that wonderful things are about to happen.

I keep reminding myself of the same thing.

Yes, it's hard, with the comments and the exhaustion and the worry and still working full time and getting everything ready, and the ridiculous cravings for Bold 2 in 1 Lavender and Camomile washing tablets, and yes, the baby being born is only going to introduce a load of new challenges that I hope to one day have the energy to write about.

But ultimately this special time is so short, as will the next adventure be, and before we know it we'll be facing a load of new challenges as we pack our little cherub off to school.

So I'm doing my absolute best to embrace every magical bit of it.

The bits I'm awake for, anyway.