How are you?
Where are you in the midst of it all right now?
Over here, I’m finding it hard to write anything at all.
And not writing means not connecting to myself that way - missing a part of who I am and how I make sense of the world.
I keep starting a letter to you, but it feels like I am trying to push a rhino up a hill.
There is so much to say.
And so little to say.
We are experiencing a shared trauma - and yet each experience of that trauma is different.
In many ways, my focus is so much smaller than usual right now - my family and local community, staying out of anxiety, meeting my reduced work commitments, and getting by, day by day.
But I wanted to say hello - to remind you to pause and consider your own needs - and share a little window into my world, so that you can share yours. Because that’s how we connect - how we remember that we’re not alone, that our stories are worth sharing.
And because making little quiet moments for reading is one of the things that is helping me - so maybe reading this will help you too.
While we can’t hold each other through this crisis in person, we can hold each other in mind - and in our hearts. Wherever you are right now, whatever you are facing, you are not alone. Your effort is appreciated, your pain is witnessed, your fears held, and your struggle known. Being a mother in this crisis is hard - and that’s quite apart from all the other people we’re supposed to be being right now…
I’m one of the lucky ones - I have a safe house, a little patch of grass out front to sit in, a supportive husband, and kids that are relatively happy to do schoolwork at home (even if they do require a LOT of hands-on input…).
I’m used to working from home, and I live by the sea.
Yes, I’m anxious about the state of the world, the injustice and misjudgements, and about loved ones’ safety; I’m worried about the future because my husband and I have both lost the majority of our work and look unlikely to qualify for government support - but I’m also confident that somehow we’ll find a way through.
While there’s a downside, the upside of having less work is that it’s easier for me to meet the needs of others, especially the kids, and to carve out little moments for myself when my anxiety is high.
Imperfection is the key. And acceptance that a child is pretty much guaranteed to interrupt each and every quiet moment.
Nostrils flaring rhino-style, they come thundering in, household destruction in their wake - needing a hug, or a snack, or to wail and complain - loud enough to wake the neighbours. Sharing a blow by blow account of the latest sibling malfunction, or demanding help with a complicated maths problem that bears no resemblance to anything I ever learnt at school, and most often - demanding Minecraft…
Well, while I am mostly not writing, I am apparently managing to spend about 10 hours a day focused on food.
Meal planning (something I have never done before in my life) has now expanded into prepping and baking bread (skills being honed by my sourdough expert neighbours), cooking with the kids as part of their ‘education’ (chaos), and constant washing up (by which point, the kids have normally had an epic meltdown, so it’s just easier to do it all myself). And as soon as one meal is done, it’s time to start cooking all over again.
To be fair, I made the cooking all the more complicated by embarking on a gut cleanse about two weeks before we went into lockdown, in an attempt to manage my increasing peri-menopausal anxiety and low mood. Doing that, I learnt that drinking even decaffeinated coffee increases my anxiety - and sugar unfortunately seems to increase my peri-menopausal fury…
So for now, I’m completely avoiding dairy, sugar, caffeine and alcohol, eating greens three times a day, and trying not to eat processed foods or much wheat (so all that bread baking is tragically wasted on me..). And that basically means that I’ve cut out most of the things I would usually turn to in a crisis - and, if I want to maintain my mental health and my relationship, a commitment to no chocolate for the whole of lockdown!
I don’t think that’s a change I would have made knowing a pandemic was coming, but, even in the midst of a pandemic, the dietary changes seem to be making a positive difference. The anxiety and low mood hasn’t gone away completely - especially given all that’s happening in the world - but it’s a big improvement, so I’m sticking with them for now - might as well with everything else in flux... Especially as I’m missing having regular access to the sea - that’s always been my other tool for managing heightened anxiety and the pain of my arthritis and dodgy joints. (Apparently the diet change may help with that too, we'll see...)
Relationships - to myself and others…
All this reduction in stimulus and ways to ‘escape’ is, of course, yet another opportunity to try to understand ourselves a bit better. And no one said that was an easy job.
I'm finding that all my issues (it’s always the same ones, again and again), all those things that get me stuck or mad, that trigger a particular pattern of behaviour, are bubbling up in isolation.
Lucky us - we get to work out how to face our demons yet again, and see what's changed this time around…
On the plus side, I’m noticing that my husband and I are slowly smoothing out some of the bumpier aspects of our different pandemic approaches…
He needs to read everything, know everything, watch all the news. While I find the news overwhelming, and have to carefully limit my intake.
He needs to look ahead at worst case scenarios that allow him to support and provide, while I need to stay in the present and be the calm and positive anchor. I often have to shift focus to something more hopeful - while he needs lengthy discussions of the negative implications of the current situation.
And as we understand all of this about each other anew, how to bump along in this phase of our lives together, we’re finding a way to balance out and respect each others needs. We’re going to be OK - unless of course, I decide to eat chocolate…
For work, I’m mostly coaching - which is lucky because the pace and spirit of offering coaching calls fits well with life right now. It requires a very different kind of writing from me, one that comes far more easily. I get an active opportunity to offer space and support to mothers who are finding their way through this time, and onward through the rest of life - and I also get to keep that vital part of myself energised - the part that can listen and offer insights, focus and encourage. The part that isn’t only interested in what’s for dinner... Plus, it gives me an excellent excuse to put the kids in front of the TV for an hour or two at a time.
If you’re curious about whether that kind of time for you might be helpful right now, I’m always happy to chat - I reckon I have room for another two coaching clients if needed (at least, I know from experience that I can very effectively keep the kids quiet for that long…!). To find out more, reply to this email and we can set up a chat to find out if what I offer is likely to be helpful to you or not. You can also find out more at www.storyofmum.com/change
Everything at once
I’m also finding that there’s a strange duality in everything I'm feeling - nothing is just black or white - how about you?
We are in the middle of so much - the pain and the joy, the ease and the struggle. It’s a duality that is present throughout life, but it seems especially stark right now. I am feeling everything at once.
I am grumpy - and grateful. I am stuck - and changing. Hungry - and sated. Scared - and safe. In my house - and at home. I am pushing a rhino up a hill - and I am learning how to stop making myself do that. I am facing all the crap that comes up when you take the distractions away. And while that is unpleasant, and often painful - it’s also hopeful.
So when I’m in a funk, I know that I will also get to the other side, unfunked - they are two halves of the same thing - often happening at the same time.
Right now, I’m noticing how the birdsong lifts my soul. How I feel the life sparking from our neighbours gardens as the sparrows chirp - and the blackbirds accompany us on our daily exercise. I love those precious walks from home along the beach, through fields, lanes and a little bluebell woods, the chance to hold my husband’s hand for a moment while the kids are distracted by a game.
At bedtime, I can sink into the blissful feeling of my daughter’s cheek on mine, the smell of her hair as she drifts off to sleep. I can appreciate the gift of them both (which to be fair, is always easiest when they are close to sleep…!). In the day, I put my rhino aside to listen, to witness how they learn and what excites them (even if, mostly, it isn't the same thing that excites me….) - to give them my time. When they are sad or angry, I can be with them, for as long as it takes. And when my husband and I are the sad or angry ones, they can sense it and come in for hugs - an evolving ecosystem of emotional support and expression.
In spite of nearly always being the one washing up, I’m also appreciating them both playing more of a part in the household chores.
I find hope in the chats with neighbours along my road from our front garden, in the trips to the supermarket for those who can’t get there themselves, in the hellos and smiles of passers by, in the postman turning up every day.
And magic in the intimate technical wizardry of new online connections.
There's joy in our little patch of grass that catches the sun in the afternoon, just enough for us all to squeeze into if we spoon on a rug with books.
I’m in awe of the many industrious bee species that hum around our flowers, and by the ability of leek off-cuts to sprout in water, plant in the garden and grow into new leeks.
I find life in dancing outside in bright colours every Saturday for #familydiscohour.
And when I get to the sea, I appreciate its magic more than ever.
Strategies for getting through
These are some of the things that are helping me right now:
- Very hot baths and body scrubs.
- Making lists of things I appreciate and am grateful for like those above.
- Reading novels - not self help or educational books right now, I’m into proper escapist novels, anything and everything I can find in the house that I haven’t read yet. Both for the freedom of escaping to other worlds, and to overcome the feelings of loneliness and disconnection. I’m always sad to end a book because it means saying goodbye to the characters I’ve learned to love, and giving up people I’ve shared a little piece of my life with - but the time spent with them is a gift.
- Making the most of each daily walk - which generally involves making a deal with the kids to let me have a few moments of peace, a bit of the walk where I get to listen to everything, appreciate being in nature, and not have to respond to constant Minecraft soliloquies.
- Letting myself feel everything I’m feeling - even when I know my troubles are so much less than so many others and I feel guilty about feeling anything at all.
- Self compassion - being kind to myself, not pushing myself, forgiving myself, lowering my expectations.
- Compassion for others - letting go of the urge to judge or criticise, looking for the good in others, assuming I don’t know the whole story, thinking the best of people.
- Growing things. In particular, putting the bottoms of leeks, lettuce, spring greens, and fennel into little tubs of water on the kitchen windowsill and watching what sprouts.
- Helping neighbours. Isolated at home, we can feel powerless to make a difference, but whenever I’m able to help a neighbour with some shopping, a friendly chat, making a fool of myself (see below) or sharing what we have, it always makes me feel better.
- Agreeing to the kids' desire to host a Saturday morning #familydiscohour, where we dance outside in matching rainbow themed clothes to their own chosen playlist, linking up with friends all over the world, and entertaining our neighbours.
You are VERY welcome to join in with that one if you like -
And how about you?
What does your daily life consist of? What are you doing - and what are you not doing?
Whatever muddle of emotions and experiences - frustrations, agonies and joys - that you find yourself in right now, you are doing and being enough. This is something you have never experienced before. That your children have never experienced. There is no right or wrong way to be getting through these days. That rhino has its own agenda, and it will only get up the hill when it’s good and ready. We can only keep coming back to kindness, and rest, and faith that things will get better.
Be kinder to yourself. Take your focus away from the moments that you wish you could have done differently - and instead, notice all the love that you are sharing. The amazing impossible things that you are making happen every day. Even if they aren’t happening exactly when and how you’d like.
Please remember that you too are vital, a key worker in your household, doing your very best to support those you love. And it's going to look messy and imperfect, and that's OK.
Productivity and perfection isn’t what we need right now. We need to get through.
To get through with love - for ourselves, and for others.
In truth, this letter to you took me a week to write - and that’s only once I actually managed to get started…
I foolishly stayed up ‘til midnight one night writing it, then realised that was a really bad plan - it completely exhausted me. So I didn't do that again. I switched to finding little moments when the kids were quiet to write - and practiced being gentle with myself throughout. I'm learning to accept that this is just how long things take me right now.
I hope this letter reminds you that you are not alone, and you are loved, and appreciated. So much.
And encourages you to take a moment to listen to yourself - to notice how you are feeling and what you need. To see where you are succeeding. To forgive yourself for the things that are imperfect. Everything is imperfect right now. If you’re missing connection to others, reply to this email and let me know how you are. I would love to hear what’s happening in your world.
This week, when we are all appreciating the NHS and all the amazing people out on the frontline, keeping the vulnerable safe, let's also take a moment to clap for each other - the parents doing our best to move our families safely through these times, in whatever form that takes right now.
Thank you for all that you do, every day, to ensure your family - and others - are safe and loved.
Stay safe and well,
Pippa and Penny.
PS Life permitting, I'm going to try to host a #somum Mamas' Retreat Party in Mamas' Everyday Retreat next Wednesday 6 May from 8.30pm to 9.30pm, so pop that in your diary, and hope to see you there!
This month's Sea Soul Blessing: May you be RESILIENT
The pebbles endure, turned in the shoreline. Beached between tides, sea-glazed, they shine. Solid, they face the waves' inevitable return: as proof that in the unending wash, even the hardest of rocks is tumbled smooth.
May you be irrepressible. May you sculpt a bold life from upturns and challenges. May you tend to your resilience in the lulls between the tides.
Find more Sea Soul Blessings at www.seasoulblessings.com
Follow Sea Soul Blessings on facebook and instagram
Monthly Retreat Party: Join us on Wednesday 6 May for our monthly #somum Mamas' Retreat Party in Mamas' Everyday Retreat.
Mamas' Everyday Retreat is a safe kind space for mamas to connect and support each other. You can expect much me-time encouragement, compassionate conversation, gentle motivation, and surprise treats.
If you're not already a member, ask to join the group and we'll add you.
MIDSUMMER RETREAT: Release, Refocus and Recharge. Join Pippa Best and Leif Olsen on Saturday 20 June from 10am to 4pm for our second ever midsummer day retreat for women. Come celebrate the year's longest day together with gentle encouragement and connection, delicious yoga stretches, tasty vegetarian food, time in nature, and some simple creative activities to inspire you to approach the rest of the year with renewed confidence and refreshed motivation.
(At the moment, we're hoping this retreat will still happen... fingers crossed!)
SPECIAL GIFTS FOR LOVED ONES
Sea Soul Blessings: I've heard from many of you about how useful you and your families are finding these simple encouraging cards right now.
"We are so appreciating sharing these with family while isolating ourselves: asking them to pick a card in Facetime and reading from the booklet to them to ease anxiety and help them have purpose and peace."
These beautiful cards and simple guidebook encourage you to pause and reflect.
They help you to speak more kindly to yourself, and connect you to the sea even if its far from you right now - in just two minutes a day.
Our latest version of Sea Soul Blessings is plastic-free, vegan, fully recyclable and sustainable.
They cost £21 for a box set. And your purchase supports Sea Soul Blessings’ donations to projects that protect our seas.