THREE - Dear Reuben

12/19/2016

Dear Reuben,

HAPPY BIRTHDAY YOU WONDERFUL LITTLE BALL OF  ABSOLUTE CRAZINESS!! I'm so excited to celebrate 3 years of you!

First of all, I know last year I promised that I wouldn't write one one of these dweeby birthday letters every year because we both know I'm cooler than that. But I'm not.

And I know I also said that your second year was especially worthy of a letter. But it wasn't. Every year is worthy of a letter.

And I'm also aware that you're probably much older than 3 if you can read this, and you're probably cringing at me. Please know that a tiny part of me is cringing along with you, BUT most of me is extra sleep deprived, extra sensitive, and extra in love with you because it's your birthday and birthdays are sentimental. SO just bear with me, be gracious, and humour me in my rambles.

Where do I begin? Well, this year was the beginning of the I love you's, the compassionate-saliva-filled kisses, the demanding back-tickling, the constant smell of pee, the imaginative 'run from the monster' games, the simple-yet-amazing Jesus conversations, the sudden love for books, the even more sudden and surprising love for singing, the constant chatter, the engulfing love of planes, and last but certainly not least the year you became the best dish-washer I know.

I think most people who know you right now will agree that the biggest and most noticeable change this year is that you are actually enjoyable to be around. I mean, it's not that you weren't enjoyable before, you were always enjoyable - but now you are your own little person and you interact in your own little way. You can form full sentences, ask questions, answer questions, express all kinds of emotions, remember things you shouldn't remember, repeat things you shouldn't repeat, and give orders...constantly. In fact, you don't just give orders, you shout orders. Son, you are a bellower. I am so sorry that you inherited such volume but hey, at least your presence is always known. Just yesterday you arrived at church, bounced into a group conversation, and announced, 'I'm heeereeee'. Subtlety is not your forte, but I like it. I may be biased but you are incredibly endearing, especially when I watch you absolutely at ease in a group of people trying to make them laugh.

For most parents it isn't much of a milestone but I am also quite excited that this year you started loving all the best hot beverages - tea, hot chocolate, and even coffee (when my back is turned). Something tells me that you are probably a product of your environment, but it makes you the perfect company for going on something that I like to call 'Reuben Dates'. Personally, I think they are the best thing to come out of this year of your life. Who doesn't want to date a 3 year old, beverage-loving, chatterbox? Just after your birthday last year, we went on our first date to the North Coast. You talked complete gibberish over hot chocolate and sandwhiches, followed by a ridiculously baltic run on the beach. Today we went on a date in Belfast and you talked about cars, planes, chipmunks, creche, and family, over hot chocolate and sandwhiches, followed by a ridiculously baltic run through the park. This year you definitely implemented some of our own family traditions.

It's also amazing that this time last year we were teaching you to say certain people's names, and now you have your own friendships with those people. Although, for while you only knew everyone by their cars or their dogs but to be honest that was just a really great party trick.

Oh, and you've still got that passion for dogs. 101 Dalmatians is still the foundation on which you begin your day, but this year you have ventured deeper into the world of Disney and there is a new favourite every week. The latest's have been The Lion King, The Jungle Book, and Peter Pan. I used to dream of 'movie days' and now you would declare every day a 'movie day' if I gave you half the chance. Ofcourse, within 5 minutes of the 'we need to get to creche and uni' argument, you are counting down the minutes until you can see Edward, Amelia, and Victoria.

I can't write this birthday letter without mentioning how darn adventurous you've gotten in the last 12 months. I always think that you are completely normal until we go to the park with another kid and I realise that you are either crazy-brave or I am crazy-neglectful. It's probably a mixture of both.

This week you got a birthday card from Charlotte at Capernwray where we went to the One Parent Family Week. And on it she wrote that you were the most adventurous 2 year old boy she has ever met. And by that I think she meant that she is probably still having nightmares of you rolling down steep hills, running on stoney ground and through wet fields without shoes for a week straight, sliding down stairs with goggles over your eyes, and playing football with the older boys because the toddlers weren't dangerous enough. At this point in our relationship I have low-grade anxiety from watching you do your 'boy' thing, but this year I have been made very aware and very thankful for all the men that God has placed in your life to encourage you to do those crazy things. I hope you know that Manga (Granda), John, Jason, Jayden, Jack, G, Phil, Mark and the rest of the Liberty lads are ALL routing for you and will always be ready to listen to you, let you climb the tallest tree, or give you a stern word for not listening to anything I say. Ofcourse, by the time you read this you will be an angel-son who is perfect in every way.

If you're not an angel-son, I hope you know that I love you anyway. And more importantly, I hope you know that Jesus loves you more than I ever could. We will always fail but his grace abounds.

I am excited for the year ahead and I already can't wait to write your next birthday letter. Please know that your massive family loves you. I am SO proud of you. And God is always good.

Have fun, play hard, stay sweet.

Mummy xx











An Autumn Saturday

10/30/2016

If you've set foot on Elmwood Avenue in the last few weeks then you'll know that the walk to uni in the mornings is quite glorious. Well, by that I mean the weather is glorious. The walk itself is far from glorious. I don't know about the rest of y'all but I always leave the house wearing a coat, hat, scarf, gloves, and 2 tops (and looking fabulous might I add). But after stopping 10 times on route to firstly, rebuke Reuben for something and secondly, remove every single layer of clothing, I arrive to class looking like an overheating mess because I spent the whole journey sweatin' and regrettin'. Nonetheless, I love Autumn.

You can say I'm over-sentimental but when I started to notice the leaves falling in September I made a mental note to savour it. Mostly because when I look back at this time last year I don't even remember Autumn or anything that happened during that time. I just remember the first few months of uni being horribly-hectic and overwhelmingly-new, and when the seasons started to change I probably thought to myself, 'Oh great, there's something else that's changed. I'll just add it to the list of everything else that's new'.

Thankfully the 'overwhelmingly-new' part has subsided, even if the 'horribly-hectic' part has definitely stuck around. I always tell myself I'll make sure to blog about the big days so I can look back on them in years to come. But after having my 'I don't remember a darn thing about last year' revelation, I wish I'd blogged about the small, mundane days too... like leaves falling, and Reuben getting his hand stuck in the wheel of the pram because he was bending down to look at said-leaves. So that's what this random little update is - a short blogpost about our very mundane, but very memorable Autumn Saturday.


Half of the reason our day is worthy of a blogpost is because it's the first Saturday in a long time that I've put my foot down and declared an 'I'm not doing a smidge of work and I'm going to chill' day. I naively went to bed last night thinking there would be no early morning, no rush, no noise, no getting dressed, no moving in general... And I'd love to say our morning began well with Reubs waking up excited for football and me waking up exciting for scrambled eggs after football, but Reuben didn't get the memo. He never does. 

At 7 am I gave him my phone to watch Fireman Sam. I can't tell you how long he watched it for but I can tell you that I eventually gave in and got up after he peed on me, my bed, and my phone... on purpose. And I'd love to say I took a super-cute photo of him at football in his little kit after he followed instructions and played nicely with his friends... But no. He didn't get that memo either. He didn't join in on any of the activities and he kicked a little boy in the face. So instead of a photo of super-cute Reuben, above is a photo of my super-cute boots and some crunchy leaves. I guess I could say this is a photo of me putting my foot down, but that didn't really work out for me, did it?
                                               
Not-surprisingly he konked out as soon as we got into the car. I headed for city centre and spent approx. 20 minutes battling in my mind whether to spend the nap-time productively browsing the shops for some much needed winter clothes for Reubs, ooooorrrrrrr to spend the nap-time resting, drinking a bowl of coffee, reading, praying, journalling, listening to music, staring out the window, staring at the wall, and drinking more coffee... As you can guess, I will owe Reuben an apology when he's still wearing shorts in Winter, but I have no regrets. 


Excuse the very professional photo above which can only be truthfully captioned, 'He could have potentially suffocated but I didn't want to move the coat and risk wakening him'. In fact, I got so carried away with the alone time that I didn't realise an hour had passed when Reubs woke up, very groggy and very confused. But not confused enough to forget that I'd bribed him with a Saturday treat probably about 2 years ago. 

So I sat for another hour listening to Reuben, with his hot-chocolate-and-cream-moustache, give a running commentary of every person who walked passed the window. I may not remember much about this time last year but I precisely remember not sitting in coffee shops with Reuben for more than 10 minutes. I also precisely remember having a lot of people around if we did brave a coffee shop, because that was easier than dealing with him on my own. So he just watched the world go by and I just watched him. Sure, I was anticipating the inevitable 'let's leave right now because sitting is absolutely not my thing' announcement, but I thanked God for how much we've both grown and I lapped up every moment of that coffee date for all it was worth. 


My whole incentive for braving the city centre on halloween weekend was to visit the 'leaf-pod' at City Hall, organised by the Northern Ireland National Trust. As usual we arrived a little/very late to the party, but that just meant we got the pod aaaaalllll to ourselves. We waded through the leaves and threw them about to our heart's content... Or at least until Reuben decided he can give it but he can't take it, and shouted at me for throwing too many. I didn't know that a 'leaf pod' was a thing, but after today I'm seriously considering investing in one. Just imagine- Reuben and I could take it in turns to use it. He could be locked inside it anytime his excess toys are giving me palpitations, or when he feels the urge to cover himself in yogurt...which is pretty much all the time. And I could be locked inside it anytime I need some personal space but still need to be a responsible parent and watch my child...who just so happened to almost steal a CD and 3 umbrellas from the Faith Mission shop today. 





We left with the cutest little gift bag which Reuben was very disappointed to realise was not for him. But to be fair I sat and watched/refereed him chasing pigeons for the rest for the afternoon so a gift bag is the least I deserve. 




After going full on 'Home Alone 2 pigeon-lady' I managed to persuade Reuben to come home for dinner and a movie night. He tucked into a delicious feast of chicken and garlic bread because I couldn't be bothered fighting with him, whilst I tucked into a not-so-delicious but healthier bowl of dhal curry because, well, I don't own a metabolism. This week I've been choosing the 'sit at the table until we're finished eating' battle and it's no surprise that tonight was the first night he sat until all of his food was gone. I asked him if he enjoyed his day and he replied, 'I played with the airplane at creche'. Either this kid is a big fan of his weekday routine, or I'm not the only one with a bad memory. 



Like all toddlers, Reuben watches the same movie for hours on end. At the minute it's The Jungle Book and Peter Pan, not forgetting his old faithful - 101 Dalmatians. But he seems to associate Disney Pixar's Cars with our special movie nights, and I secretly love it. The soundtrack never gets old and I'll take anything that isn't a spotty dog. Although to be fair, I'll take anything that allows me to sit on the sofa and have cuddles. We stay at my parents house some Saturday nights if there's something on at church or if I'm in desperate need of getting work done, but this weekend I was craving the alone time with Reubs. And it was all kinds of wonderful.

Recently things have been... how can I put this without sounding like a big moan... they've been the opposite of easy and carefree. I think uni took a big step up and then Reuben hopped on the bandwagon and took a massive step up too. Then my body took a step down because exhaustion is a real thing. But I'm learning more than I thought possible, and more than I can fit into a blogpost. And most of all I'm learning more than ever to lean on God for the supernatural strength to get through each day - one day at a time. It's messy, but it's exciting. And 'conventional' wouldn't suit me anyway. 

I hope you've all had a memorable Autumn Saturday too!?

Truths from a Student Mum

9/26/2016


Summer is officially OVER. Finally! I'm currently wearing socks that are of maximum woolage, my classes start tomorrow, Reuben is settled into creche, and this weekend it was so wet that when he peed himself in Botanic Gardens, no one knew because he was already soaking anyway. As wonderful as the break has been, I make no apologies about my open hatred for Summer. It's too warm to wear tights but too cold to have bare legs, I can't cope with my own sweat, and there's no routine, so Reubs is an absolute space-cadet. Bring on the organised schedule, I say!

Having said that, I've spent all of Summer trying to get over the exhaustion of 1st year and struggling to face the thought of returning to uni. It's only been in the last 2 weeks that I can truthfully say I am ready to go back. Thank goodness. I mean, it's only taken 3 months, countless afternoon/evening naps, multiple avocados and other nutritious foods, several hibernation days with Reubs, a week at Capernwray with no wifi/ lots of God time (plus more God time in general over the holidays), a week at New Horizon, AND a big massive cry into my microwave (I was midst-clean). The exhaustion has finally worn off and I feel like a new woman (that is a massive exaggeration, but it's worth being dramatic about).

Exhaustion, and getting-over-the-exhaustion aside, I've been looking back on the past year and all of it's crazy mind-boggling changes, and what I've learnt. And I've been wondering if I've made student-parenting seem unrealistically cute. You know... walking to class together, wearing matching school bags, having after-school coffee dates, the toddler hanging out with the students, cuddling up in bed to study beside the toddler, not working in a job I hate... you get the picture. Or in my case, you've seen the pictures - it makes for a very cute and dreamy Instagram photo. What Instagram doesn't show, however, is pictures of me having a snotty, tearful, semi-psychotic breakdown in the toilets at uni because I can't cope with my to-do list and as a result, suffering a great deal because I'm very passionate about my to-do list. Sometimes it's been the opposite of cute and dreamy.

I pride myself in being honest, and sometimes I kick myself for being toooo honest, but I want you all to know that there were countless times where I asked myself, 'why on earth am I doing this?'... Only to be reminded that this was my dream from the moment I got pregnant.

I've been connecting with more and more mums who want to go back into education, and they ask me what they should expect. And I guess that's what I want to tell them - it is excruciatingly hard and tear/snot-inducing, but it's my dream come true. And you're all about to cringe at this pinterest-worthy line (Sara, this is your fault), but I guess a dream wouldn't be worth having, if it wasn't worth working for.

So to all the mamas/parents in general who are considering doing the student thing, or to anyone who is just genuinely curious as to how on earth it all works, here's what I've learnt - particularly in the last year.

- Don't let your brain die. Seriously, if you don't have it already, find a way to practice some self discipline. We are all different but this has saved me big time. When I found out Reuben was in my belly, I told myself I'd continue to study, even over maternity leave. I knew if I took a 'break', it would last approx. 50 years and Reuben would end up funding my life because I succumbed to the 'teen mum' stereotype and fell into a downward spiral of benefits and lack of hope. (Okay, maybe that was a bit dramatic. But the hormones were a-flowing and I was terrified, so I made myself a promise that I wouldn't go back on). And I haven't stopped since! This Summer was the first time I stopped ALL study related reading/writing and I can already feel how hard it's going to be to get my brain back in the swing of things. If you even have the slightest hint of desire to return to education, get reading!

- Save money in advance. I'm terrible with money. Horrendous, in fact. I've never had savings and any short term savings were spent on adventures. Ahem, Paris, Rome and Amsterdam - oops. All about the memories though, eh? The year before moving to Belfast I started putting some money away 'just incase'. First year for me was a trial run and a massive learning curve. And although that money wasn't much, it was extremely helpful when unexpected issues arose. And by unexpected issues I mean, when I was an idiot. Like when I crashed my car. There are loans and grants available to student parents and you're welcome to contact me if you want help getting your head around it all. But I would encourage everyone to try and save a little before jumping head first into quitting your job and joining me in the bank-breaking student world.

- Freshers' Fifteen is a real thing. Whether you're a fresh-from-school, alcohol-bingeing 18 year old, or a not-so-fresh coffee-and-chocolate-bingeing 20 year old parent, the Freshers' Fifteen is a very real thing. In the grand scheme of things, putting on a stone in weight is not a big deal, but I'm just putting a gentle warning out there for anyone who is made up like me. i.e. doesn't own a metabolism but loves chocolate as much as one's offspring. This Summer I have had to learn to be super-prepared with shopping, meal planning, and cooking, or else I end up running from one thing to another on sugary energy and just grab whatever I can on the go. When I'm a massive stress-monster at exam time (you can read about that here, it's not pretty), I eat my way through revision. Recently I've had more time to get back into the way of cooking and eating nutritious, filling food again, so I'm hoping to make that a priority going into the new semester.

- Study what you love. It's okay to leave school and not know what you want to do. As a teenager with minimal responsibilities, it's okay to go into a course that may or may not lead to your desired career. And it's okay to figure it out along the way. But if you are like me and have bills to pay and a 2 year old who exhausts you beyond what you thought possible, and admittedly makes you question everything in life, then it's not okay to study something that you don't really want to do. This year I realised that sometimes the only thing that kept me going was my love for my course. I am passionate about what I'm learning and I hope to use it in a future career. If I'm going to study something that will mean time away from Reuben, then I sure as anything better be studying something that is worthy of the sacrifice. And it is - God has a purpose for my theology degree and although I question this every single week of my life, I'm learning to trust him.

- I'd be snookered without a support network. This is basically a roundabout way of saying my friends have made everything easier, and they will never know just how much I've appreciated it. This year could have been very different. Let's face it, I do this whole parenting thing on my own and I moved away from my family. I could have went to class and went straight home again, or straight to the library, as I've seen some parents do. Everyone was younger than me, so I could have said no to everything and easily have spent every single evening hiding away in my house. To be fair, I probably should have spent more time cleaning my house, making dinners in advance, and keeping on top of the washing so that I wouldn't have to wear the same pair of tights 5 days in a row (some pointers to work on this year, maybe?). BUT instead, I put myself out there. I talked to everyone (sometimes being annoyingly forward, apologies to Andy and Jack) and I went for lunch with anyone who would take me. I always get my energy from being with people (typical extrovert, I know) so I knew I needed to make friends. I said yes to everything and I spent time getting to know the people who, little did I know, would become my family.

I used to be queen of putting up walls, and not letting anyone in incase I got hurt. These days I've become more and more open to letting people into my life and I LOVE adding to my family. I love that my friends treat my house as their own and more importantly, that they treat Reuben as their own. If you're going back into education as a parent you need to have a support network. Whether that's a listening ear to share in your burdens, someone to talk things through with, or someone you can ring at the last minute to babysit. AND Someone to invite over after the kids have gone to bed, during those evenings when you don't know how to say it but you're so very tempted to lie down and sob, and all you need is someone to make you laugh. But if you're sitting there thinking, 'Alright Reb, that's all very well and good for you, but I've got no one', then PLEASE send me a message. PLEASE. We are in this together.

- I've learned to be selfish. I've learned to ditch work, ditch responsibilities, sometimes even ditch class (I doubt my lecturers are reading this, but if you are, many apologies), and go AWOL with Reuben when quality time and perspective is just what the doctor (or the student medic friend) ordered. I've learned to get my priorities right and realise that just because there's no 9-5 working limit on studying for a degree, it doesn't mean I have to stress and work 24/7.

I realise that my closest friends will be reading this and I'll get a wee Whatsapp message telling me that I'm a massive hypocrite - I have yet to learn how to make time for myself. And perhaps that's why I burnt out towards the end of 1st year. I'm tellin' ya, I burnt out with a BANG. I'm talking a 'fireworks display' kind of bang. My new years (university) resolution is to leave a margin in my week. I picked up this useful concept at a seminar at New Horizon in August. And by 'picked up' I mean, it was like a punch in the stomach. You know when you're convicted to change something but you've been avoiding the change for a long time? Yep, that's me. I'm good at filling my week to a tee, and I love being in control. But then I have no space for when something crops up, or if I need to be alone, or when Reuben hasn't been sleeping, or if it's just been a hard week with Reuben in general, or basically - if life happens. As I go into second year, I want to make sure there's a margin in each week - whether it's having 3 free evenings a week, or leaving weekends wide open. And I want everyone who loves and cares for me to hold me accountable to that resolution. Thank you. Much love.

So here's to second year and giving it stacks, to learning from the trial run and being committed to change, and to staying on Reuben's good side, and having FUN.



Blog Awards Ireland 2016

9/18/2016


























As most of you probably know from my extensive, overly-excited social media updates, THURSDAY WAS THE AWARDS NIGHT!! EEK! I spent approximately 8 hours getting ready - 9 if you count the hour-long leg shaving extravaganza with Reuben the evening before, and I sauntered off to Dublin in my princess dress. It was the most surreal and bizarre, yet wonderfully-special night I have ever experienced. And to be perfectly honest I don't really have the words to describe it. But how could I go to a Blog Awards party and not blog about it?! (Very easily actually... considering I had a super-late night and super-early morning with a super-hyper toddler)


Shouting at Sara for making me pose

























The event was held at the Circus... I know, right?! I told you it was bizarre. The week before the awards I actually tweeted the organisers asking what the dress-code was and added at the end, 'if it's circus themed then I'm out'. The next day I got an email with all the important details and the theme was, you've guessed it, 'a night at the circus'.

Now, I find it strenuous enough to look respectable in the morning as it is, so costumes and dress-ups are a solid no from me, thank you very much. But after a pep-talk from Sophie, I decided to suck it up, buy a ticket, and choose the sparkliest dress I could find (but obviously not toooo sparkly/tacky- it's an awards party after all, not a pre-Jesus Saturday night in Kellys with me).

 After Gareth and Reubs went off on their merry way to play football and have a chicken nugget dinner-date, with Reuben not even looking back (I'm honestly not offended, honestly), we rushed down to Dublin - running late as always. Sophie, who is potentially the worst driver I know, was the designated driver. Anna shaved her legs in the front seat. And I had my Reubenless late-afternoon comedown, and half snoozed in the back seat.


We somehow made it in record time (Soph you are a gem) and we finished getting dressed in the carpark. When we got to the entrance I tried not to pee my pants as I told them we'd be under 'Maverick Mum'... another 'EEK' moment. And we walked into the courtyard, or as I like to call it - MY DREAM COME TRUE, there was free food, champagne, gin, candy floss, popcorn... I would list them all but there was butter chicken and that's all that matters.


Zipping up dress in carpark...
Best part of the night.

























As we walked inside to our seat, I was transported back to feeling like a 1st year who was delivering a message to a classroom full of Upper 6th pupils. The room was full of fabulously-dressed, super-trendy-bloggers. As I did a little intimidated scurry to my seat, I realised how crazy it was that I was even there! I was at the blog awards! Me! Can we just take a moment to acknowledge how flipping cool that is?!


I've always struggled to define this blog of mine. And I've never felt that it fits neatly into a category or a group, much how I feel about myself. It's definitely not a parenting blog because... well... I don't think I need to explain that one. I mean, I most certainly don't try to offer advice or anything helpful in general, and the phrase 'winging it' comes to mind. It's also not a lifestyle blog because every part of my life involves Reuben/being a parent in some way. I just don't know how these things happen to me (well, I kind of do. Only God) but I never ever want to forget this exciting experience.


We chatted all night long, making note of new blogs, fan-girling the ones I follow, and unashamedly taking photos of every single moment. I may have struggled to understand the southern accent most of the night, I may have cringed for my life at the circus acts, and I may not have won - but I had the ultimate girls night out with Indian food and champagne and goodie bags and roadtripping laughs and carefree/Reuben-free FUN.

Here's a few more photos and much love to...
Kayla - for fixing my face
Deyna and Sara - for dressing me and photographing me
Gareth - for babysitting Reuben in the midst of toilet training
My mum - for dealing with my many bra problems
Pamela - for sacrificing coffee time and steam ironing my dress at church and teaching me how to sit in it like a lady
Kayla - for the jewellery and make up I stole from her bag whilst she was at work
Sophie - for convicing me to go to the party and joining me and giving me the joy of watching her attempt to drive to Dublin
Reuben - for shaving my legs
Anna - for shaving her legs in the car and making mine look better.










I leave my house for one night...


One of Those Weeks

8/09/2016

Usually I try to not to rant on my blog. I've got a journal for that kind of thing. I actually have two journals (and I wonder why I don't update on here enough) - one for writing down the things that God has been teaching me, and one for processing my thoughts when there's no one around to listen to my yakking. Actually, a few weeks ago I found a folder on my laptop from way over a year ago containing lots of blog posts that for one reason or another I decided to keep private. One reason being that they were just a pile of rants. Another being that when I read them I thought, 'shut up, Reb'. After recently finding out that when I 'go off on one', my friends call it a 'Reb Rant', I've been trying extra hard to tone it down. (For the record guys, it's not my fault I'm passionate).

All of that self-defense and justification aside, if you'd encountered me at the beginning of this week I probably would have ranted to you and driven you straight into a dark pit of despair.

"This is going to be one of those weeks, it's going to be hard. I just know it!", I screamed at Kayla as I angrily sped down the motorway to Belfast on Monday morning, probably gaining myself another 3 points on my license as I ranted. I'll nervously fumble through the post for at least the next 3 months.

I don't think I've had that dooming 'I can't face this week' feeling since I worked in Next before I started university. Sure, uni had stressful weeks. Things got on top of me and I spent many a day having meltdowns in the toilets, wiping my snot in my friends' hair. But in general I didn't wake up any Monday morning completely dreading the week ahead.

So why was I being such a drama queen all of a sudden? I hear you ask. Well, let me tell ya.

First of all, at the weekend I got a letter telling me that the guy whose car I drove into back in February was all of a sudden making a personal injury claim. EVEN THOUGH HE WAS ABSOLUTELY FINE. Don’t even get me started on him, that is a whole rant in its own right.

Secondly, the health visitor was coming to see Reuben and everyone knows how I feel about health visitors. Thirdly, my scary landlord who lives in America was coming to do an inspection in the house - and lets just say a hyper two year old can do just as much damage as a group of intoxicated students. To make matters worse, I'd been gone from my house for 4 weeks and hadn't tidied a thing before leaving... not even the dirty dishes - so you can imagine the family of flies that had moved in by the time I got back. (Obviously I left windows open because I'm an idiot).

On top of that I had to face the looming bills that I'd avoided because I was well into my overdraft. Money I was due to be paid hadn't gone into my account and I got a letter about my student loan for the incoming year, and it was significantly smaller than last year - I'm talking too small to live on. So I was going to have to ring and beg to find out where my money was - this is one of those adult things you wish that your mum could still do for you.

Speaking of mothering skills, after being in Monaghan, Magherafelt, and Portrush with lots of wonderful people for the previous 4 weeks, I knew Reubs was going to have a massive come-down when we returned to the reality of just the two of us. I expected some pretty testing behaviour. So just as I was beginning to mentally prepare myself for the week ahead, first thing on Monday morning I bumped into someone that I really didn't want to see - you know how Northern Ireland is excruciatingly small and you can't go anywhere without knowing someone? Now I'm not one to avoid people, but when it's someone you don't expect to see or have any desire to talk to, it can send your mind into overdrive for the rest of the day...if you let it. It seemed like a confirmation that I my expectations for the week would be quite accurate.

So after venting to Kayla, I told her that if I made it to the end of the week I was probably going to write about how terrible it was and then make a list of all the things I have to look forward to. But you know what? I don't even have to do that anymore. Because what I thought was going to be 'one of those weeks' actually turned out to be one of the best weeks I've ever had. All the situations and tasks that I was dreading so much somehow weren't so dreadful after all. In fact, they were wonderful. Okay, maybe wonderful is a bit far. But to me they were pretty great. Here's how it all turned around...

The health visitor cancelled - The whole reason we were rushing up to Belfast on Monday morning was because my new health visitor was coming bright and early. In the space of an hour I needed to scrub the house, heal Reuben's eczema, potty train him, broaden his vocabulary, straighten out his behaviour, and make myself look like a mother who actually knows how to mother. In reality, health visitors are not out to get me. But I've had some horrible experiences where I've been left in tears, feeling completely crazy and incompetent. From this blog post alone you've probably realised that the crazy part is semi-accurate but apart from that I think it was just a case of some teen-mum prejudice.

Thankfully she cancelled and I had a full day to get my house in order. It gets better, not only did I have extra time to prepare, but when she did come... she was an absolute delight. She loves Jesus. She stayed with us for an hour and a half just chatting and getting to know us. She was genuinely interested in how we've been getting on and in the way she talked about her job I could see that she has a strong passion and love for other people. Compassion and encouragement just oozed out of her. I sound like I've completely fallen for this woman but seriously, she is special. The only thing that oozes out of me is stress and loud volume (and urine when I've been too active or excited). She is one of those people that leaves you feeling lighter. She suggested different ways I could discipline and assured me that boys are wild, and that Reuben is not only normal, but also doing brilliantly. I could have kissed her but she is married, and her husband is the manager of the Evangelical Bookshop, and I shop there often.

I called in reinforcements – One of the girls stayed on Tuesday night, and on Wednesday three of them came around and made dinner, bathed Reuben, helped me do some cleaning, and stayed until 1am to put all my printed photos into chronological order. I probably shouldn't gloat about my friends, but this isn't anything new. They spend a lot of time at my house - they're my family. They've all been travelling a lot over Summer and if there was ever a good time for us to be reunited, this was the week. They all left with signed photos of me giving birth and I was left with a very happy heart.


The landlord wasn't so scary after all, he was actually very lovely. To be honest I think he was the one who was scared of me. I imagined my landlord to be a 9ft authoritative, hairy-monster who was going to kick me out of my house when he seen what Reuben and I had done to it. So I was pleasantly surprised when he turned out to be a 5ft 7in leather-jacket-wearing, young guy who sat on Reuben's bed and read all of his Mickey Mouse books. We talked about theology, philosophy, and we compared our travelling notes on Israel where he had just returned from. He briefly looked at the house and said, "It's clearly not a drug-den so I'm happy if you're happy". I was happy. Reuben gave him a sticker and off he went. Reubs is still referring to him as 'my new friend who likes Mickey Mouse'. I was a little miffed that I had scrubbed every inch of my house and all he did was look through my book collection, but at least I can count that as my spring clean and hopefully avoid it again until the next inspection. (The family of flies have finally been evicted).


Reuben didn't drive me insane - Future Reuben, if you are reading this (you had better be reading this), I owe you an apology. (I actually owe you multiple apologies but we'll discuss those when you take me out for dinner). Firstly, because I didn't have enough faith in you to believe that you wouldn't play up when we returned home. And secondly, because sometimes I focus so much on the bad moments that I completely forget to take in the good moments and ingrain them in my memory forever. We all know what my memory is like so it would be in my best interests to work on that.

Of course, we had our annoying disciplining moments this week...he put Rice Krispies down the toilet and headbutted me three times. I may have had a concussion but the good moments made me forget my headache very quickly. Or at least I forgot as long as I sat still and didn't move from the sofa. He asked for cuddles multiple times, let me read to him for a whole hour one evening, and on Saturday we went to a donkey show. Motherhood makes you do weird things - never in my life did I think I'd pay £9 to watch donkeys parade around like girls in a nightclub but here we are. I guess I can tick it off my bucketlist...or someone's bucketlist somewhere.




























New Friends - Reubs and I had dates with three people that we are only beginning to get to know, and I have a feeling they are going to be lifelong friendships. I don't really remember what going on dates with guys is like, but I imagine it feels something similar to the exciting bubbly-feeling I've experienced this week.


- We hit up Ikea (where else?) with Hannah (who is also a young mama) and her Reuben (who is also two). I know right? We’re a match made in heaven. The more I get to know Hannah, the more she teaches me about mothering and she doesn't even realise it. I could write a full blog post about her alone. She wants all the babies in the world and I would be prepared to give birth to some for her just so more kids could be blessed by her. In fact, I'm wondering if she'd adopt me.

- We had dinner with Nikki who we met in Monaghan, and if I had to describe her in one sentence I would say she is the city version of me. By that I mean she's a mouth and she loves Jesus but she has a Belfast accent. She's strong, fiery, and has a massive heart. You just know a soul sister when you see one.

- We made a trip to Bangor to meet Esther for the first time. Esther and I were set up through a friend of a friend of a friend at Summer Madness and she is a fellow young mama who has recently given birth to Hope - my new favourite baby. She's been in this motherhood game about 4 weeks and her head is already more screwed on than mine will ever be. I can't wait to have some quality mama time and get to know her better. She is a delight.

I've been praying a lot about finding new friends in Belfast, especially over Summer. If Reuben could type he'd probably let you know how embarrassing I've been. I have started talking to strangers everywhere we go and I even joined a mum's circuits class...but nothing really happened. There was no spark. I'm pretty sure other mums thought I was creepy and that's fair enough. As I type this I've realised that it didn't happen the way I thought it would, but God definitely brought new people into my life in some weird, wonderful ways and His plans are so much better than mine.

I got a pep talk from my Mum - After having a mini meltdown to my own mother about my lack of funds and my lack of desire to confront people on the phone about my lack of funds, she encouraged me to wise up. I did. I phoned student finance about the incoming year, and I phoned the people who hadn't paid me for Summer work. One hour later, everything was sorted. I was out of my overdraft, and I had the loveliest conversation with a random guy on the phone at Student Finance. He told me about his grown up daughter who was about to leave home and how he was taking up gardening to help him cope with empty nest syndrome. I told him he could borrow Reuben any time he needed to fill his parenting hole, and if it weren't for the fact he lives in England, I think I nearly made another lifelong friend. We chatted about Emmerdale for another 20 minutes, and I don't even watch Emmerdale. The moral of the story is if my Mum hadn't told me to suck it up and wise up then I wouldn't have made the phone call. I would still be knee-deep in my overdraft, and I wouldn't have known that Zak and Lisa from Emmerdale have split up. How could I not smile after that conversation?

At the end of this week I was expecting to feel stressed, exhausted, and ready to punch someone in the face. Instead, I feel refreshed, extra thankful, and a little guilty for screaming at Kayla on Monday. A very wise friend recently told me that just because something is broken doesn't mean it can't be beautiful. Jesus can redeem even the worst day, the anger fuelled relationship, or unruly child - when something belongs to Him it is never lost. I didn't realise just how much I'd be reminded of those words when I was having 'one of those weeks'.


Lots of love, Reb (and Reubs who bashed the keyboard a few times).


10 Date Days - Summer Edition

7/29/2016

I've called this post the 'Summer Edition' because I've blogged about our date days before and because in theory it is actually Summer. In reality we live in Northern Ireland so this post will be exactly the same as the 'Winter Edition'...but with added afternoon naps as uni is a distant memory.

Anyone who knows me will know that I'm very passionate about my date days with Reuben - we date hard. And it's not because I'm a total romantic and want to replace a boyfriend with my son (I probably have issues but I'm not that bad). I just love setting aside special time to spend with him, just the two of us. Otherwise a busy week has gone by and everyone has been fed, no one is dead, and the to-do list has been completed...but poor Reuben has had to fight for my attention in the midst of the busyness. 

Even though I convince myself otherwise, the drive on the way to Tescos with me singing/screeching 'Let it Go' to keep him from kicking my chair really doesn't count. Partly because I'm thinking of all the groceries I need to buy, figuring out what I can afford to buy, and I sometimes forget that my son is in the back seat. But mostly because we are both hating every moment. And if I'm honest with you, there have been lots of times when I've been selfish and chosen to meet people when it wasn't a necessity, purely because I didn't have the energy to deal with Reubs on my own. I'm sure it isn't that way for everyone, but my multitasking skills are mediocre at best so I love having date days where I can forget about everything else and focus on my little ball of craziness. 

I could probably blog about each date in itself (which I would love to get better at), but by the end of the date all I am capable of doing is passing out on the sofa... usually fully clothed and smelling of toddler sweat and chocolate (it's a very distinct smell). So here's what we've been getting up to on the days when we've skipped breakfast and left soggy nappies lying on the living room carpet...because sometimes time is too precious to be stuck in the house completing to do lists: 

After my exams had finished Reuben still had creche for a few days (praise the Lord, am I right?), so my days were spent bleaching and hoovering everything I could get my hands on. Including the little tearaway himself. Okay maybe not bleaching...don't call social services just yet - I didn't bleach my son. I did hoover crumbs off him at one point though, but his eyes didn't look away from 101 Dalmatians once. Until he finished for Summer, our date days were substituted with date evenings. The photos below were all taken in Botanic Gardens on separate days, just incase you noticed the different outfits - we love clothes but the student budget doesn't quite fund multiple wardrobe changes... even if Reubs is a diva with the ice cream spills. 

I imagined we'd do this every day for the rest of Summer/rest of our lives, you know, because toddlers love to repeat everything. But we haven't seen the sun since. And neither has the inside of my house because I'm too ashamed to open the blinds and let passersbys see the aftermath of a housebound Reuben who goes full 'Tazmanian Devil' and exerts his energy into wrecking anything he can get his hands on. I spend approx. 72 hours a week cleaning up after him. But it's totally fine. I'm not bitter at all...

1. Exhibit A is a typical photo of Reubs and I - me looking deliriously happy and perfectly innocent while really I'm sweating bucketfuls from chasing Reuben for a photo. My hand is holding him so tight he can't move (or breathe for that matter). Reuben has his typical 'I'd rather be back in creche than sit for this photo with my ma' face. Notice our football in the background - I had to start bringing our own ball to the park after Reuben got us into lots of trouble by stealing a football from a group of guys. And by that I mean, my mouth got us into lots of trouble when they refused to let Reuben play with their ball, even though they were lying sunbathing and hadn't used it all day! I've a feeling Reuben isn't going to invite me to his matches when he's a professional player.


2. The only thing I took away from this date is the memory of Reuben purchasing his ice-cream and staggering across the grass with his super-proud grin...and then falling flat on his face - for the 2nd time that week. In this photo he has his second ice-cream and is eating it very quietly, clearly with a bruised ego. If you ever see the ice-cream van in Botanic Gardens, please think of me and know that I have probably single singlehandedly funded his business. And if you don't see the ice-cream van, then you can assume that I have singlehandedly funded his early retirement in Lanzarote.

3. On the last day of creche we celebrated with pizza in the park because, as my dad lovingly told me the week before, no one thought we'd make it to the end of first year. Charming, I know. In the time it took us to eat one pizza, one man was arrested, one child was lost and then found, and I'm pretty sure one couple were trying to make a Reuben...if you catch my drift. No one can say I'm bringing Reubs up in a bubble - he has seen it all. But at least we have approx. 2 months to find a new park.

4. The Monday morning after our pizza/ice cream/chips consumption I decided we'd better do something that involved moving. Climbing Cavehill seemed like a good idea after my amazing and trustworthy friends told me it was 'so easy' and 'basically just a wee dander up a hill'. So I strapped Reubs into the Tula Carrier and off we went. At first I thought, 'Okay, yes, he is a little heavier than he was last Summer...but it's just a wee dander after all. No biggy'. HA. NO BIGGY.

I NEARLY DIED.

I don't think I've sweated as much since P.E. classes in first year of Secondary School when I hadn't yet mastered how to forge my mum's 'sick notes' yet. You know you look rough when every person you come across reassures you, 'Don't worry love, you're nearly there'. I couldn't figure out if I'd accidentally taken the wrong route or if I was just a lot more unfit than I'd realised. Either way, I cursed my overly-optimistic/lying-friends the whole way to the top. Just as I was about to give up and go back down, Reuben poured water over my hair and as dramatically as ever, I decided to do it for him. And for all the kids in primary school who called me fat.

Kidding. I did it for the selfie at the top. And the view, of course.


You can be rest assured that I let Reubs walk by himself on the way back down. And by walk I mean he skidded pretty much the whole way down. But it was funny so we laughed it off. Well I laughed it off. He did this nervous little fake laugh and asked to go back in the carrier. We looked for lions and bears and stopped for chats with other hikers/runners/dog walkers who absolutely did not want to stop for chats. But when a 2 year old stops to tell you about the stick he just found - you listen.


I've constantly been saying our Summer will be filled with exciting adventures and days out... but the exhaustion from Cavehill was probably going to last about a month at least so I decided to cut my losses and move our adventure to the sofa with Bob the Builder, Fireman Sam, and Mickey Mouse. I ended up falling asleep and woke up to a concoction of yogurt and air freshener smeared all over the coffee table. I guess it is rude to fall asleep on a date after all.

5. Our next date day involved animals and tractors at Streamvale Open Farm. And every day since then Reubs has been trying to convince me to go back. And every day since then I've been trying to convince him that the farm moved to France. During my very short 3 month pregnancy people offered me all sorts of conflicting advice. I noticed that when older people didn't know how to respond with either 'congratulations' or 'I'm sorry for your loss', then they responded by telling me what to do. DON'T dye your hair or have an epidural. DO take your vitamins and walk a lot. One thing they all agreed on though, was that a child would turn my life upside down, but I wouldn't mind as long as he was happy. Apparently I'd do anything to put a smile on his face.

Well, you know what? I would do anything. Anything but go to a farm. ANYTHING BUT A FARM.

I try to love all of God's amazing creation but I just cannot relate to my son's love for animals. I mean, puppies are nice to look at. And goldfish are kind of funky. But when I look at animals all I see is responsibility. I've found him stroking dead flies and whimpering, 'Awww, wee fly'. I dread the day when he's older and I'll arrive home from work (provided I get a job after uni) to find him hiding in his bedroom with 3 cats, a goat, 2 dead flies, and 101 spotty dogs.




To be fair, this is cute. It kind of made the trip bearable. And the ice-cream - it helped too.
Later that evening we unashamedly raided the Asda reduced/probably-out-of-date section and came away with the ultimate Fat Friday ingredients (Fat Friday used to be our thing before we actually started to get fat). Reuben took one bite, looked me in the eye with his chocolate moustache and said 'Weuben wuvs mummy'. I always turn into such a mushy doe-eyed teenage girl when he says 'it' first. I mean, it is a wee bit offensive that out of everything I do for him, it's chocolate that floats his love boat... But at least that confirms he's definitely mine.



7. For our next date I didn't really know what we would do or where we would go. All I knew was that I needed to get our frazzled butts out of the house before I was one toddler tantrum away from leaving Reuben to make lunch and locking myself in my bedroom with a family sized bar of Cadbury's and a sleeping pill. I ended up driving towards to the Antrim Coast Road and after a romantic drive with Google Maps whilst Reubs slept off his bad attitude, we headed for Carnfunnock Country Park - the park of dreams for any parent who wants to put a smile on their child's face/pass a few hours until its time for fish and chips (despite taking a long hard look at myself that morning when the postman knocked the door and Reuben screamed PIZZA'S HERE). 


Some would say you're spoilt for choice at Carnfunnock with a playground, golf driving range, orienteering course, miniature railway, bouncy castle, bungee jump, trampolines... others (Reuben) would say none of that compares to throwing your picnic at the birds and joining in on someone else's barbeque. Especially when 'someone else' doesn't actually want a stranger-child and his deranged mother to join in on their intimate evening meal and politely asked said-mother to remove her child from their table. After I made some awkward apologies and some 'all kids are the same' (but really I know mine is worse) jokes, we got back in the car and drove to Glenarm and Carnlough where I spent so many childhood summers at the caravan. Reuben could have sat on that wall forever (whilst my bum was numb) watching the lighthouse, eating his chips, and pointing to what he thought was Africa. I told him how I remember watching the lighthouse & boats with my binoculars every single night when I was younger. I specifically remember asking my mum how old she was when boats were invented (I've clearly never had a filter). This was obviously before we got a caravan in Portrush when I was a teenager and I spent the rest of my summers making bad choices. The nostalgia was real.


P.S. We had to find a wall because apparently the water at the beach was 'too wet'
P.P.S. Reubs is wearing my fleece because I didn't bring coats. 
Maverick Mum clothing coming soon to a blog near you.

8. Along with dressing my child properly, baking is another mothering skill that I haven't quite got down to a tee yet. And by 'down to a tee' I mean not at all. There was the time I made Mars Bar Squares for church and left the chocolate melting on the hob and forgot about it/covered the house in smoke. Or there was the time I made Pancakes and Reuben took one look at them and brought me the bin over - we ended up having Dominoes Pizza for Pancake Tuesday. Or there was the time I tried to make Caramel Squares and again, I left the chocolate melting on the hob. And again I totally forgot and went out for the day, returning 6 hours later to find my my house covered in smoke (again) and my saucepan burnt to a crisp. 

This time we played it safe and made good old Rice Krispie buns, with orange chocolate for an added kick. This sounds like a really romantic mother-son-pinteresty date. But really it wasn't fun in the slightest and we only enjoyed the eating part. And the dinosaur bun cases ofcourse. Mostly because they cost an arm and a leg and I felt obligated to like them. 

N.B. We balanced out the chocolate guilt by making smoothies. One smoothie allows you to eat 6 buns (figures may not be accurate). 




Just incase you think all of our date days are spectacular, here's a photo of me
grabbing a quiet opportunity to scrub the toilet whilst Reuben licks the chocolate off himself in the bath. 
9. Saturday mornings for Reuben used to be for Rugbytots and Saturday mornings for me used to be for regretting getting him involved in Rugbytots. I assumed that once the semester ended we'd use the glorious free time for sleeping but instead Reubs has decided that Saturdays are for getting up 2 hours earlier than the time we firmly discussed the evening before. Ultimately the only way to not lose my sanity is to spend at least an hour making enough French Toast to feed all of South Belfast. And the only way to get through the rest of the sleep deprived day is to eat all of the French Toast myself.




Occasionally all date day ideas go out the window because 1. Belfast weather sucks sometimes and 2. Toddlers suck sometimes. I don’t own one of these state-of-the-art 2 year olds that like to sit at the table and do crafts, or cosy up for a 2 hour movie. So all of the typical ‘rainy day arty activities’ are useless to me. I have the kind of ready-for-action toddler who needs to be in wide open spaces and run for his life, or else he is ready to scale the walls of the house or jab dinosaurs into my backside every time my back is turned.

As a result, there is nothing more frustrating than weather that stops me from going out to let my dog/toddler burn off his energy. This morning I snuck away for 5 minutes, just FIVE MINUTES, to get dressed. It wasn’t long before I heard a smash and went downstairs to see 2 glasses in smithereens and Reuben who had already placed himself on the naughty chair.

What else would you do on a cold, wet, miserable afternoon in Belfast with a tantruming two year old? You go to Ikea. You get some Swedish pic n mix, some £2 meatballs, and you sit and watch planes take off. You also buy a fake plant because it would be a shame to waste the trip, but you also know that a 2 year old human is quite enough responsibility for now... never mind keeping a real plant alive.




10. This date day was a bucketlist date. We were going on a train!! (Bucketlists become a lot less exciting when you become a mother, okay?) The train journey from Coleraine to Derry is picturesque, soothing, and enjoyable. The train journey from Coleraine to Derry with Reuben on board is sweat-inducing, stressful, and embarassing. For some bewildered reason I thought he would be mesmerised by his very first train journey and would gaze out the window the whole time and I could pretend we were in a really cute movie. Instead he demanded he needed to run around, repeatedly banged the food tray (for an hour straight), and had to be told off by the old lady sitting in front of us (I think half of N.I. look at my parenting face and think 'this girl needs our help'). 










I have never been more relieved to step/collapse off a train and restrain Reubs to his pram, never to be let loose again. Just as I was about to slip Reuben some calpol and make a beeline for the nearest coffee shop with a sofa, I realised the Maritime festival was on. And I may not know what that boat-related festival is about, but I do know one thing - there was a continental market. And the only thing I'm more passionate about than our date days is the continental market. Okay maybe that's a sweeping statement. If I had to list the things I love most in order, it would be God, Reuben, cheese, the continental market, and our date days. You get the picture. It's a big deal. 

The rain may have poured down on us, and Reuben may have fallen off the moving carousel and nearly lost a leg, but nothing was going to ruin the beauty of German hotdogs and Dutch pancakes. I gathered my body weight/total bank account's worth of pic n mix and managed to stop Reuben from dropping his ice-cream, and we watched the world go by as we chatted about how we are definitely going to visit Germany some day.























Dinner Date in Derry with a dinosaur and a drowned rat. My dating standards
clearly arent very high.