Rediscovering intuition, wildness and sisterhood

I’ve experienced culture shock twice. The first time I was nineteen. I’d just moved to Brighton from Trinidad to study English Lit at university. There wasn’t a language barrier (much – there still managed to be a lot I didn’t understand or couldn’t make understood easily) but just about everything else was unfamiliar, from the sense of humour to the cultural markers to the public transport. But I was fortunate to fall into a lot of fast friendships that sustained me through those years and many of those people remain close friends today.

In a way, the second culture shock was harder to get past. It put more cracks in my confidence. My imagination struggled to be regained. Becoming a mother seems to shake a lot of us.

This time I didn’t have the safety net of university around me. I wasn’t in a place where everyone was young and away from home for the first time, eager to make new friends and start the new chapter of their lives together. Having moved to Bristol a sneeze before falling pregnant with my first baby, I lacked pre-existing friendships and the energy to initiate new ones in a new city. I struggled to breastfeed, Talitha did not sleep and I didn’t drive or know the area we lived in particularly well. I found new motherhood baffling and depressing, more so because I was so isolated.

Eventually, friendship did happen. That’s kind of the way it had always been for me up until that point with others mostly initiating and friendship mostly happening to me. I’m grateful for the people I met in those six years in Bristol, for the hopefully lifelong connections we made.

Yet I always struggled to go deeper a lot of the time. I held a part of myself back for safety, fearing judgement and feeling worse for motherhood opening up deep pre-existing wounds while waking up an awareness in me that this could all be different.

Without realising it, I was longing for the place Lucy Aitkenread describes in her new book Moon Circle: rediscover intuition, wildness and sisterhood where I could know and be known, to belong and to heal. Lucy’s book was released the week that a friend here in Cornwall was gathering a few women together to form our own circle. Reading it in the light of stepping out into this new, potentially revelatory thing was powerful.

In the video below, I’ve talked about where I think moon circles fit resetting our life intentions over the lunar new year.

It’s been year and a day since we moved from Bristol to Cornwall, which was another destabilising experience. I felt so responsible for the happiness of everyone in the family. We were starting life all over again, this time with three children and I was ill-prepared for the onslaught of grief which came with leaving a place where we’d built a life together.

But there was excitement too. Here was this opportunity to launch into new things. I googled red tents because I knew by then that I needed to connect with women on a much deeper level to navigate this next chapter but I didn’t get any further than that. In the meantime, I just got a lot more proactive about meeting people and building those friendships I knew we all needed. Then my friend asked late last year if I’d be interested in joining something she was starting and the timing of meeting in the new year just felt meant to be. Reading Moon Circle sparked excitement about all that gathering like this could be.

The book takes us through how a moon circle functions as a non-hierarchical gathering where women can deeply listen and deeply speak. The idea of ritual safekeeping runs strong as a theme throughout with practical suggestions for how we might create a space where vulnerability becomes possible, where we talk without fear of judgement or unsolicited advice and empathically listen without engaging our analytical brain. Lucy writes: “the net of women sitting together is a refusal to believe the myths we are told about how women relate to each other.” When I think about how fear of others discovering the worst parts of me kept me back from really sharing with anyone, I realise I’d bought into those myths.

There is something innately spiritual about meeting with others this way and indeed the book talks a lot about creating our own rituals to mark the circle as separate from the everyday but Lucy notes “these Circles are strong enough to hold the beliefs of all the women present – they are so encompassing and so expansive that a Circle can bind us all in healing.”

Some of the activities suggested include connecting through silence, singing for wellbeing, hand massage and creating small ceremonies that help us transition into new stages of our lives, whether that’s moving into cronehood or retroactively honouring our menarche. There’s an emphasis on finding what works for your specific circle, being mindful that some activities will be uncomfortable or unsuitable for some circles.

Moon Circle, naturally, encourages creating rituals around cycles, both of the moon and its phases and of how the menstrual cycle can mirror this movement. For instance, Lucy suggests that meeting on the New Moon might help us to share our “dark side” or that women might order themselves in the circle according to where they are in their menstrual cycle, while recognising that not all women menstruate.

She also discusses how hosts might act as “guardians of the circle”, from practical ideas like lighting a fire or introducing a talking piece to guiding principles like reminding the group to avoid chatter and advice.

All in all, I think it’s a read that would do a lot of us a lot of good. It’s pretty short and you might just find it transformative. Better yet, read it with a friend and start a circle together.

You can get all the info to buy Moon Circle here.


Choosing the best floor for your family

This post is brought to you by Luxury Flooring

Delilah is now seventeen months and I’m open to the possibility that she could be pottying soon. Nappy changes are becoming gymnastic feats and she is so communicative about everything. When I mentioned it to Laurence tonight, we got on to the topic of what flooring works best for family life. After all, a big part of the reason I never managed to stick it out with elimination communication was that I psychologically couldn’t cope with the mess.

Our last house was mostly carpeted, a constant frustration to me. That carpet held on to every spill and every accident. Short of getting a steam cleaner in, there was no real way of getting it fully clean. I’d look at it, imagining how dirty it must actually be. It made potty training an extremely stressful experience and I couldn’t fully relax when the kids were eating in the living room.

Aesthetically, I’m really not keen on carpet anywhere but the bedrooms and there, only for the purpose of providing warmth underfoot. In fact, we hadn’t appreciated how much heat our carpets had offered until we moved into the period cottage we now live in. We finally got the stone and hard wood floors that we’d dreamed of. They’re easier to clean and really make the rooms they complete. I couldn’t imagine going back to carpet if given the option.

However, we’ve found we’ve had to learn how to live on them in winter without freezing. I suppose in a money-is-no-object daydream we might install underfloor heating. In reality, we’ll stick to rugs in the living room and playroom and living in slippers. Mind you, the children run about in not so much as socks and are not bothered in the least.

We wouldn’t consider it in this house but I imagine in a more modern property we would look at putting in laminate flooring. It’s easy to clean with a mop, with no annoying gaps between. It offers a sleek, smooth finish and can look convincingly like hardwood so you’re not sacrificing aesthetics. Laminate can also be a warmer option which is something to think about if you have babies crawling on the floor.

There are ways to make any floor work for the stage of life your family is in, whether that’s babies learning to use the potty or teenagers eating on the sofa while watching television. You just need to consider where your budget, your lifestyle and your style meet.

Image credit: Photo by Oana Hodirnau on Unsplash


Don’t wait to talk to your kids about sex

My six year old asked me the other day whether men’s bodies store sperm or make it continually. She qualified the question by pointing out that she knew baby girls were born with all their eggs.

As we talked we got on to the subject of what happens once a month when an egg isn’t fertilised, how you insert a menstrual cup and why I’m not menstruating at the moment (ie lactational amenorrhea).

She wandered off, seamlessly losing interest and moving on to something else but I paused, grateful that we’re able to have conversations like these. I’m also aware that talking openly about bodies, sex and relationships isn’t standard fare for many families with younger children. Personally, I think it should be.

For a start, whether we’re aware of it or not, we communicate with our children about intimacy and physicality from birth. Asking to pick a baby up and allowing them to indicate, even if only subtly, teaches the beginnings of consent. I wish I’d advocated for my older two when people picked them up without warning, let alone without asking.

By parenting babies responsively – cuddling them when they cry, and perhaps breastfeeding and bedsharing – we prime them to expect physical touch to be positive. We’re also modelling the empathy we hope they’ll show others someday. Can you imagine a generation whose sexual experience is characterised by empathy?

As toddlers, we help them redirect from accidentally hurting others. We work at making time and space so we can respect their body autonomy around nappy changes, potty training, leaving places or getting dressed. We also talk to older children about respecting younger siblings by making sure they are playing in a way that everyone’s happy with. My three year old is very good at telling me, “It’s her body, what she says goes!” if she thinks that I’m coercing my 16 month old.

But many of us can wrap our heads around these respectful parenting practices and still balk at the idea of talking to under-10s frankly about puberty and sex. Heck, a lot of us even cringe at the idea of using anatomically correct names for genitals with our kids.

I just want to encourage you that with practise, you can comfortably use the words “vulva”, “vagina”, “clitoris”, “anus”, “penis” and “scrotum”. If it feels awkward it could be worth asking why. Is there something inherently scary or dirty about genitals, to your mind? Or is it simply a lack of practice?

This is really worth challenging in ourselves, from babyhood if possible. Using correct names tells children that these are just body parts and that we can talk about them just as we would talk about anything else, no shame attached. Yes they are private but they aren’t off limits for discussion.

It could also deter sexual predators, who are less likely to target children who use these terms. And should the unthinkable happen, children who can accurately name their body parts could more effectively aid an investigation.

A brilliant side effect of getting comfortable with using these words early on is that by the time your kids are asking, “Where do babies come from?” you may already feel a lot more comfortable talking about bodies.

To work out how to respond to a question like that in an age appropriate way, I’ve tried to follow my children’s lead. I’ve asked, “Do you want to know how the baby gets inside the mummy or how the baby gets out?” Or I might give a short answer and let them ask for more details. My saying, “An egg from the mummy meets a sperm from the daddy and that grows into a baby” was followed up by the question, “How does the sperm get there?” which gave me the opening to talk about the mechanics of sex in a very straightforward way. No “special cuddles” here.

My eldest may have been five when we had this particular conversation. She thought it was hilarious but it was all very matter of fact.

This actually wasn’t the first time we’d talked about how a baby was conceived through sex but she hadn’t remembered. In fact, I feel like I’ve had loads of these conversations with my six and three year olds, which I find pretty interesting. Any extraneous information I supply tends to get naturally discarded. So I don’t really worry about going into “too much” detail because they take hold of what they need and lose interest in the rest.

Like many parents, chats like these are new territory for us so we find reading books to the children a really helpful way to open up conversations and give us the language we need to create a positive script around bodies and sexuality for our family. We’ve read How You Were Born over and over, a sweet home birth story that talks positively about pregnancy and birth. My eldest loves it even though she knows she was born in a hospital. More recently, we’ve read It’s My Body, What I Say Goes (clue in my three year old’s refrain to me), which talks about safe and unsafe touch and trusting your instincts.

My six and three year olds just love It’s Not the Stork. It’s an extremely thorough book looking at bodies, gender stereotypes, conception, sex, safe touch – the works. There’s also a section on different families like single parent, fostering or same sex parent families. I’m reading my eldest the next one up from that, It’s So Amazing, which goes into more detail.

I think it’s so important not to wait to have “the talk” someday. It’s so much easier to create a family culture where sex is a comfortable topic when your children are young than trying to introduce it when preteens are already undergoing body changes and have possibly received misinformation from other sources. You also don’t know in advance whether your child might undergo puberty early or late. If you inadvertently communicate from early on that you find talking about sex and bodies awkward, they may find it unnatural to bring you their questions.

I am so aware that my children may not always want to talk to me about these things. I can only hope that I’m laying a foundation of trust and respect so that they feel able to. And beyond that, that I’m helping them accrue a mental library that they can draw upon. That way they can test the messages they get about sex from elsewhere as they develop their own values and make their own decisions.


Ten tips to keep your home safer this winter

This post is brought to you by Newview.

You never think your house is going to get broken into until it happens. Both Laurence and I know too many people amongst our families and friends who’ve been burgled to be cavalier and yet we could certainly do with giving it more thought. I’ve thrown together a few ideas here, which may be especially useful for those going away over Christmas and New Year’s.

Leave a light on
When away for a weekend or longer, leaving a light on can be a simple deterrent to potential burglars. If someone is taking care of the house, ask them to change which light is left on so that someone watching the house will be put off.

Make use of technology
If you have the money to invest, make use of technology that will turn different lights on intermittently so it appears that people are in the house. Sounds pretty Home Alone, no?

Get a hardcore door
Is your door really as secure as it could be? Solidor makes thicker doors which offer both the most efficient locking system and largest dead bolt available while also improving your home’s insulation.

Let your neighbours know when you’re going to be away
Sometimes the best solutions are the simplest. Let a neighbour know when you’re going to be away and ask them to keep an eye out. Of course, this only works if you trust your neighbours. My feeling is that people are generally willing to look out for each other but sometimes need the green light to do so. This is one of many great reasons to get to know your neighbours, something we’re working at.

Get a house sitter
Could you do a house swap or offer someone a stay in your house while away? A friend mentioned that when she used to be away a lot, she got a lodger so the house wouldn’t be unoccupied. Even having someone stop in once or twice a day to feed your pets (if you have them) could be helpful to deter preying eyes.

Don’t shout it from the mountain tops
I always go back and forth on this but perhaps don’t make it too obvious on social media when you’re away and for how long.

Be careful with Strava
Related to this, if you’re a runner or cyclist, it’s worth not turning on Strava until you’re well away from your house and making sure to turn it off before you get back. You may be telling people where you live and could potentially alert predators to when you’re not at home if you go out regularly.

Lock your back gate
This seems obvious but soooo many of us don’t do it, leaving our homes pretty vulnerable. You could go one step further here and add a motion sensor light to spook anyone who’s decided to try to climb over the back gate.

Make sure people can’t climb your fences
Equally, consider carefully how high your fences are and repair as necessary. A weak and wobbly fence could be a easy way in to your garden and back door.

Don’t leave keys under a flowerpot
It’s easy to think if you live somewhere idyllic that you can relax about things like this but leaving keys with a trusted neighbour could be the safer thing to do.


Our homeschooling month – October

November is well underway but I don’t want to miss the opportunity to look back on what we got up to in October. Reflecting helps me to make sense of what our lives look like right now. Yet I’m also cautious because I would hate for someone to misconstrue this as any kind of “how to”. The shape of our home education mirrors the shape of our family in whatever season we happen to be in. For this reason, comparison is unhelpful. That said, I like seeing what other people get up to and perhaps the same is true for you.

Talitha got seriously into cursive handwriting this month. She asked me to write out an alphabet of lowercase and uppercase letters in cursive and religiously traced and copied them. She kept it for reference and checked with me if she wasn’t sure how letters joined together. Now almost everything she writes is in cursive as she wants to practise. I hadn’t intended to suggest cursive to her anytime soon so it’s one of those things that’s been led entirely by her, which is probably also why she’s got the hang of it quickly and finds it fun.

Ophelia is also writing lots of letters (mostly not in any particular order) and can now identify a lot of their sounds. She’s also suddenly started picking out the beginning sounds of words and points to words in books to ask what they are. She’s enjoying longer stories now, often asking questions or making surprising observations as we read to her.

The month’s big read aloud was Heidi. Talitha requested it, having read an adaptation. We’ve really enjoyed it though it’s a lot heavier than I remember! We’re still going, actually! Laurence has also started reading her Tarka the Otter.

We’ve continued to follow Story of the World, which I’ve mentioned before. We’ve spent the month on Ancient Egypt. The curriculum moves on to other things soon but we may stay here for a while as it’s really captured both girls’ imaginations. Talitha particularly enjoyed making a cuneiform tablet and a hieroglyphic scroll and listening to me read Jacqueline Morley’s Egyptian Myths.

We missed the monthly French lesson as it fell in half term when we were in the Isle of Wight with friends but they’ve been learning French on an online programme called Muzzy. I got a huge discount on it earlier this year but was a bit confused by it. Now that the baby fog has lifted a bit, I took another look and it’s actually pretty impressive. Talitha needs some support to do the written games but she’s getting a lot out of it and Ophelia enjoys the videos.

Violin practice has naturally added a little structure to our day. We hit a wall with it this month with Talitha not wanting to practice and I reminded her that she didn’t have to do it. This freed us to talk about what she was finding difficult and what we could change to make practice more enjoyable. I needed to recognise that it is a tiring instrument to learn. I think she’s benefited from knowing that she’s in charge of the process, and that it is a process – it sometimes takes time to learn things.

We’ve vaguely continued using Lynn Seddon’s Exploring Nature with Children, if only for ideas of what to look out for on our walks and read aloud suggestions. The harvest moon so captured both of their imaginations. We tried looking at it from the woods opposite our house but the kids weren’t keen so we viewed it from our top floor instead. I wish we’d taken them to the beach to see it rise as friends had done. Next year. We also made leaf crowns, did a spot of pond dipping and had fun sketching pumpkins in our nature journal as well as learning about their seeds.

This month also threw up a fun opportunity to learn about Diwali, India and Trinidad & Tobago – where I’m from and where the Hindu festival is a big deal. We made diya inspired lamps from air drying clay and had a go with henna.

They’ve been gardening with Laurence as he gets into micro greens and continues his challenge to keep our salad going through the winter. They also planted some bulbs in the front garden bed. We may be getting an allotment so they may be getting into that too. I’d like to say I would too but I’ve got out of practice with gardening and I think I may have lost interest! Is that bad?

The girls asked if we could do a “theme” and they suggested sea creatures. They used to have themed days at their childminder’s in Bristol. To be honest, I was really daunted by the idea. Anything I have to prepare is still really tricky when Delilah is often in arms in the evenings.

As it turned out, they were happy to come up with their own crafts and asked to do activities and experiments from the aquatic issue of Whizz Pop Bang. We still have a few more to do and they’re not ready to move on yet so we’ll be continuing with this theme too.

We’ve read pages they’ve chosen from our animal encyclopedia, looked at books from our collection and the library and checked out videos online. I’m trying to weigh up whether Blue Planet 2 would be a bit scary. Talitha has been sketching various animals and writing down her favourite facts about them.

Serendipitously, this all tied in with a field trip to Plymouth Aquarium with a home education group for a workshop day. I’d love to take the girls back for a day where they could just wander and spend more time on whatever they find most fascinating, though.

The trip made me realise that we really don’t need to be travelling long distances and doing lots of activities. While that stuff is fun, it’s tiring and maybe not the best way to spend our resources. So I’m trying to focus instead on slowing down, keeping it local and making the most of what’s free. Education is not a sprint. We don’t have to do it all now. We hopefully have lots of time to explore different things at the ages when they’re the most meaningful.


Starting history with my six year old

We’ve changed a few things in our routines over the past couple of months and one of the things we’ve enjoyed adding in has been a history curriculum. Talitha’s at an age now where she’s really interested in different historical eras and can start holding onto and arranging this information. Following something just allows us to make sure to make time for it and keep it going.

So I’ve been reading her Story of the World and using the activity book that goes with it to give us ideas of how to take things further. She’s also started a monthly history workshop at the museum which lines up fairly well with the order of the book.

We’re on Ancient Egypt at the moment and she’s so intrigued by it all – the mythology, the pyramids, the mummies, the aesthetics. I aim to make time for history a couple of times a week but more Ancient Egypt is basically on request daily. Looking for a few more bits to help us explore, I gathered together other Children’s Books like this Usborne Activities Egyptian Things to Make and Do. I spotted a Flat Stanley goes to Egypt book so I may have to get a hold of that too.

Talitha was quite taken with the make and do book and disappeared for a while to re-emerge with this dancer paperchain, mixing men and women. It’s just a bit of fun but it’s really helped to cement the imagery in her mind.

Since we’ve been reading about the Ancient Egyptian gods and the pharaohs, she wanted to make a pectoral. They both got into this (I helped Ophelia with some of the cutting), while I read them Egyptian Myths by Jacqueline Morley.

By the way, I’m really, really not into using plastic for crafts unless it’s to reuse something before recycling it but we’ve had these straws from something or other for years so I figured they might as well get some use.

I love that they both looked at the pictures and decided to do their own thing.

Next, Talitha wants to make the mummy in a coffin craft further along in the book, to tie in with the story of Osiris who gets tricked into lying in a box and then fatally trapped in there by his brother Set (yes, these myths are dark!). On the subject of mummies, it really amuses me that with all the mummies we’re seeing around at the moment, they’re connecting them with Ancient Egypt rather than Halloween!

I’m really enjoying learning alongside them because I didn’t learn about the stone and iron age or the ancient Egyptians when I was in school. Certainly, we wouldn’t have had the resources to learn about it the way they are with all these books, videos and crafts. I’m looking forward to seeing them creating their own projects, inspired by all we’re coming across.

We may well pause here until Talitha has exhausted her interest in this era and older friends have done. It could be a while.


This post was brought to you by The Works


Waking up in Cornwall – a life update

I was reorganising the playroom the other day (because when am I not reorganising that room as if I’ll one day walk in and magically find there isn’t too much stuff in there) and I had a bit of an epiphany. I wasn’t holding a baby. There wasn’t a baby calling for my attention. She wasn’t even in the same room, off instead with her sisters in the adjoining living room, genuinely trying to join in with whatever game they were playing.

I know it’s been like this for a while. They make a lot of space for her and I’m not even sure she’s aware that at fifteen months old, she’s a good few sizes smaller than they are. But I don’t know. Filling a bin liner of stuff-we-are-so-not-keeping-why-did-we-even-bring-it-with-us-in-the-move, I recognised a clarity of mind that’s been absent for some time. I feel like I’m waking up from a two-year stretch of dysfunctional sleep in which my dreams have mainly consisted of trying to wake myself up or trying to lift my eyes to see something above me and finding my lids an obstacle. It feels like freedom.

Nine months on from our move to Cornwall, a settling the length of a pregnancy, I’m waking up somewhere new, somewhere I’d never imagined being. My life looks so different here. My children are considerably older. It’s becoming a stretch to call Delilah a baby. She has only to start walking and I’ll have to admit what she already knows that she is a child. Ophelia is suddenly, at three and a half, full of conversation, reasoning and astonishingly well-expressed opinions. Talitha is on to chapter books and bigger questions and showing me how to do stuff. Six feels like such a different phase but then I’ll always feel that way about the eldest, I guess.

But it’s not just about the kids. Something has shifted for me outside of that. Perhaps the physical space is impacting the landscape of my mind. I do believe in that sort of thing. I am spending so much more time outdoors than I ever have in my life and there must be some effect specific to being confronted by so much beauty so frequently. I am amazed that I get to exist here right now.

There’s also something in the practicalities of how our life has changed. I’ve had to make more of an effort to grow a social network. Concern for the kids has been a powerful motivator in that regard. Coming to terms with that has been such a freeing thing, to know that I just have to go for it so I’m just going to go for it. Recently, I recognised that I experienced a huge loss of confidence when I moved countries eleven years ago and I’m really only starting to recover some of that now, through this process.

At the same time, I still harbour a lot of fears around taking these wonderful connections that I’m making with people and going further with them. Yet I know that caution is double edged and while not making myself vulnerable, not opening up might spare me rejection, it also prevents me from going as deeply as I want to go with people and anyone who already knows me well knows I am always longing to go so, so deep. So, yeah, that’s something that’s going to take time but it’s also something that doesn’t happen on its own.

Waking up from the baby haze means starting to ask a lot of questions again about what my life is going to look like, about where I’m going to invest my love and energy. I feel the need to create, to reach out there, to be a part of something bigger again.

Inevitably, my thoughts also turn to God. I don’t shy away from talking about faith here on this blog but it is difficult sometimes to know how to frame it when mostly my mind is full of questions and my heart is hungry. I know others who say they’ve found great sustenance in God in times of overwhelm like the baby rearing years and cross country uprooting. That’s not me.

Honestly, I feel like I’ve not had time to process a lot of things that have happened over the past few years and that I haven’t had the clarity to contemplate. I’ve felt sometimes like I’m walking into spiritual experiences broken, with doubts and disappointments that should not be named for fear of what others might think. This is no way to live so I won’t do it anymore. I am hopeful that God’s hand still holds me when I feel uncertain about being touched. I don’t know what the journey looks like from here but I am so open.

I suppose this post is a bit of a chatty one, attempting to start throwing my thoughts out there again with some regularity, even if it means at times laying myself uncomfortably bare.