Quite a long one as it happened. In a nutshell, I took on a lot and something had to give. But that was then; this is now. I’m going to take you through the last 18 months of my life, the approximate time it took me to get to the great place I’m in now.
It’s good to be back.
In the space of the last 18 months, I:
Hit the floor. Not majorly, but enough to take action;
Bounced back up. ‘The ground is a great place to build from’ JK Rowling;
Exercised/not exercised, put on weight. Who hasn’t?;
Recovered in a big way;
Dated. A few times;
Achieved in a big way.
More importantly, the cubs remain to be my everything. The fire in my belly that’s pushed me on, the source of my happiness when I was low and my reason for never giving up. It really hasn’t been easy.
I’m going to take you through my period of exhaustion, including the funny times. It wasn’t all bad!
I’m going to talk about home schooling, including why it can be so hard but rewarding.
I’ll talk about dating. In your late 40’s. Online. In lockdown; in a global pandemic.
And (and I know you shouldn’t start a sentence with an and, but, my blog; my rules..) I’m going to talk about family court. In detail. As much as I can, without breaking UK law.
BSD needs a shake up! to the extent that I need to learn how to use all of these new features on here! they look pretty sweet.
Some of the relationships I forged through this blog; If you’ve reached out to me, I will try to reach back!
New BSD. Just like me; more focused.
Writing is so cathartic. Thank you for sticking with me.
I’m trying to make sense of the times that we’re in.
It’s now been 3 weeks since the cubs have been with me. It could be more; I’ve lost count. I’m balancing the loneliness and vacuum with a morning wakeup call from eldest, lunchtime updates and Facetime at bedtime.
Thankfully, I’m also self-aware so I recognise the need to take action. Not before the Universe gives me a little more incentive.
First World Problems
During lockdown I stick to routine. Wake, wash, work or watch (movies..) workout, wepeat..
Then my wifi dropped out. I tried to put it into perspective (global pandemic and all) but as I sat down to do something else my stomach knotted, causing physical pain. Add to this, a digital date that I had been talking to for the past two months had gone cold and has enabled ghost mode. Bummer. Easy come; easy go but none the less, I took the signs.
‘ it’s not the journey that wears you down, its the stone in your shoe ‘
I sat on my sofa, looking out onto the freshly cut lawn and watched the sun stream in. I opened the windows. Thankfully, my ‘share the love for our music’ neighbours were yet to start broadcasting, allowing nature to flood in.
I switched everything off at the wall and sat down.
I decided to meditate. Something that I hadn’t done in a while. I decided to count backwards from 100, breathing; where in would be one count; out would be two. I closed my eyes and started.
This is actually harder than I thought. I saccade regressively (or whatever the cognitive equivalent is) and end up double counting.
The intrusive thoughts are immeasurable. Everything tries to push me off my path; I won’t let it happen.
I notice a tightness in my chest; I keep going.
My line manager pops up. We get into an argument about goodness knows what.
I create a grey, swirling mist and use my mind to push him back into it. I’m in control of my thoughts; they are not in control of me.
I noticed my teeth are clenched.
I can feel the morning air on my skin. I breathe it in. I breathe out pollution; dirt, more swirling mist and use my mind to push it away.
I unclench my teeth.
My posture relaxes and I find some extra softness in my seat.
I’m still hyper vigilant. It helps with my job but I’m not. there. now. That has to go too.
I start to go through rapid eye movement (REM). Usual for a sleep state but something I have done historically, whilst stressed and fully awake.
I recognise it.
I now hear my breathing. I slow it, I deepen it; I want to get past the tidal volume and into my reserves. If I can clear out the stale air inside me, I can reset my physical state and my mental state.
I look inside; I visualise my lungs; tidal, reserve out; fresh, clean, cool, in. I’m now actively controlling my diaphragm.
The count slows. The feeling is amazing.
Although my eyes are shut I can see the sunshine outside. It appears to be flowing into my lounge, into me.
I can feel the oxygenated blood moving through me after my heart and lungs exchange the gasses; what’s been used goes out; what I need comes in.
Birdsong. I’ve made much of this with the reduction in traffic and so have they. I can pick out individual songs; a blackbird; a very vocal robin, a song-thrush and some sparrows.
Nature is making the most of the lockdown.
I don’t want this to end. I slow my breath and count even further.
I do something I haven’t done in too long. I pick up a pen and begin to format a blog post. Just things that I’m thinking; just my thoughts..
And in the beginning
I’m reminded of who I am. My core identity that I rely on for everything. The strong foundation and self awareness that sees me through anything.
Times are tough but they could be a lot, lot worse.
I’m not what you would call a slouch. I like exercise. I’ve grown up around it and I’m vocal about the benefits of maintaining health and wellbeing through exercise. Recently, I have been a bit of a slouch.
In a way, I forgot the golden rule that exercise serves to callous an individual against most of life’s stresses and strains. Instead, I gave in to those stresses and strains. Both exercise and diet suffered.
One of the [many] positive outcomes of finding out I’m not yet on my final path, was that my cholesterol level was quite high. Not wanting to bring on what I had feared was ailing me, I decided to buck my ideas up and get back on track.
I’m on week two of the ‘Couch to 5K’ training program. I began while I was still under the perceived heart scare as in my head, 5k wasn’t a massive distance as I’d happily run 12 miles before; admittedly, it was a few years ago. I figured that it could only do me good and if I did have a heart condition, that distance wouldn’t tax me too much.
The program is an app that you download to your phone. It’s backed by the BBC Sport as part of their ‘Get Inspired’ initiative, aimed at getting Brits to take regular exercise. You get a choice of coaches, who happen to be personalities from the broadcasting world. They tell you when to run, how to run and how often. The only thing not provided is will power.
It seems to be working and more importantly, I’m enjoying being out on my feet. They do a ‘Couch to 10k’ too, for those without perceived heart conditions..
Leading by example is important to me so I’m also sourcing Park Runs for me and the cubs. School has notified us with mild concern about their body mass index (BMI) and whilst I’ve never held much truck for the system I have noticed that both of my darlings are a little on the big side.
Rather than beginning to stigmatise and label them at such a young age I intend to just make them more active when we are together. This weekend they are coming to a Kung Fu session with me. I can’t wait.
Killing me softly
This Christmas just past a friend, work colleague and neighbour of mine invited me to his house for dinner with his family on the 27th. He has three children of comparable age to mine and we occasionally have play dates.
For the meal, we were accompanied by his partner’s family; her sister, her mother and her father. Her father was doing the majority of the cooking so we sat in the kitchen keeping him company. He looked in his late 70’s and had noticeable poor posture. He revealed the reason in a conversation.
’40 years of sitting at a desk has rendered my abdominal muscles useless’
That scared me. My job used to be more practical, but promotions have meant that I’ve been more managerial for the last decade or so. Work does give us the option of using ‘standing desks’ but I’d always declined, favouring getting up and moving around every hour or so. The only problem with this approach is that I tended to get stuck into a task and by the time I lifted my head, two hours had passed.
I set my watch alarm to the hourly alert. The annoying function that I had disabled many moons ago. Now, every time the double beep sounds, I get up from my seat, perform 30 star jumps followed by 30 squats. In time, I hope this will become a Pavlovian response that will pay dividends in later life.
If anything good has come of my near miss, it was highlighting the fact that I had been taking my health and welfare for granted.
Here in the UK, we have a turn of phrase for being busy; we call it spinning plates. It harks back to the circus act of erecting a number of head height poles into the ground, then balancing spinning plates on them.
The trick of it was to wobble the stick in a circular motion, causing said balanced plate to spin and remain in situ unaided. The skill arrived in getting all your plates spinning, by running to each stick in succession as they slowed, friction getting the better of them, and impart more energy to keep them going.
To be successful, the artist needed to be a blur of movement between each.
The act never lasted long.
Back to reality
My plates were projects, desires, goals and work. It was fun for a while, imagining the utopia of each whilst imparting that energy, but it was extremely tiring. Something had to give and BSD was the [temporary] casualty.
I even considered ending this alter ego but in the nick of time, I realised that it was a pity party move.
It hasn’t been plain sailing in the BSD household recently, and I’m squarely to blame.
Youngest cub has made the quantum leap to being potty trained. A real milestone in the transition from toddler to child. I’m ever so proud of him; he even goes to the bathroom standing up, after observing daddy in some uncomfortably candid moments.
I was conscious of this milestone as he entered the schooling system last September. His birthday is in late August and he had only just turned 4. Personally, I think that this is too young to enter full-time education, but such is life. I wanted him to be dry by the time he entered the system.
There is no shortage of reading out there with useful hints and tips. I knew what I wanted to achieve and set about doing it. I had the appropriate discussions with him and we spoke about what we would do to achieve it. We were both quite excited.
At first, things went quite well. He would excitedly run up to my room in the morning to proclaim his dry night. Great success!
He then had a couple of slip ups, but this was fine; the road to success is rarely a straight one. We could handle it. Bed changed, cub washed, no harm done; on with our day.
We then had a frequency shift; the dry days were beginning to lose out to the wet days. As we awoke in the morning, the disappointment in his voice was heartbreaking. More cuddles and reassurances that this was okay and that he would get it in time were administered.
I changed tactics slightly. Both cubs usually bedded down with a bottle of water to combat nighttime thirst. This stopped. We also watched the volumes of drink that we consumed in the pre-bedtime hour. This was restricted too.
It didn’t help.
We then tried a reward system. The star system that was already established was utilised. A star would be rewarded for more dry nights than wet nights.
This was wrong.
Things seemed to be getting worse.
Not only were we experiencing more wet nights but his skin also began to suffer. He’d clearly been peeing early in the night and then sleeping in it. The damage was visible.
He was also getting damaged inside with feelings of regret and shame of not doing as was expected of him.
I had a paradigm shift.
It followed some soul-searching on my part and answering a few questions.
Why were we doing this?
Who would benefit?
How was it making him feel?
How was it making me feel?
The answers, were quite damming.
We were doing this because I had decided that we should do it.
Whilst we would both benefit, primarily I would.
It was clearly making him feel bad; he was neither dry nor earning rewards.
This made me feel bad.
Time for a change.
We stopped. We had another chat and more importantly we re-bonded.
This took the form of a huge cuddle whilst watching his favourite film and eating popcorn. Eldest wasn’t left out; she got under one arm (and near the popcorn). I could, quite literally feel us all renergising in each other’s company.
There were some big learning points here and they were all for me.
I realised that I had let outside influences decide on what was best for my cub, rather than let him tell me.
Please understand, I don’t mean that I expected a 4-year-old to vocalise what he wanted; our children tell us things in so many other ways. We, as adults have to shut out the external noise and truly listen to what they are ‘saying’.
I was guilty of comparing him to his sister, to his classmates, to books e.t.c and in doing so, I ignored the only one I should’ve really listened to; him.
Attaching desired behaviour to a reward system is an age-old methodology but I applied it incorrectly. I’m still not sure I should have applied it at all.
He’s fine now. His skin shows no traces and he’s his usual, cheeky self. He’s back in the training pants for bed as the realisation that he is a deep sleeper will most likely mean that he takes a little longer to get dry.
I have every confidence that he will be; all in good time.
So to conclude and end this series on 5 life skills, I would like to summarise on my thoughts.
Firstly, this was quite a difficult series to write. It taxed my brain to come up with relevant superlatives when describing the skills, as they were quite similar.
It was also quite challenging to narrow it down to just 5 skills; let’s face it; we want to teach our children everything.
The reason I settled on these 5 is quite vicarious. I reflected on my life and the mistakes that I’d made, including the people who I’d allowed into it (for too long..) and focused on the skills that maybe, would have helped me make better decisions.
I recognise that I have the benefit of hindsight and also that memory is a sketchy thing once exposed to our inherent bias’. I also recognise that as a parent, we can do everything that we think is right, but free will will come into play.
This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try.
Here is a link to all 5; please enjoy responsibly and as ever, thank you for your support.
‘The quality of having a modest or low view of one’s importance’ oxforddictionaries.com
For the final part of this series, I wanted to look at humility within children. I came across quite a bit of advice in books on modesty in adults with the premise that is better to undersell then over deliver, than to do the opposite. I guess the exception to this rule would be during an interview, when you have a small window of opportunity to sell yourself.
For me, the goal is again about striking the right balance. I want to instill the confidence to try new things in order to find out what they are best suited to. Everyone is good at something so whatever it is that they settle on, and eventually excel at, I want them to recognise their own ability to achieve without crushing the spirit of others who are not so fortunate. All whilst ensuring that they still have drive…
In the world of competitive martial arts, there have been occasions where I have recognised quite quickly that I have an opponent outclassed; as a result, I’ve made sure that I did enough to win but not to humiliate. I recognised that my opponent had trained hard to get to this point in their fight career and while they had not made the grade on this occasion, they would hopefully use the defeat as a springboard for more focus and eventual success. I know I certainly did.
I want my cubs to know:
Everyone is good at something
Find your thing; then excel
The stairs to success have a couple of floors marked failure
The green-eyed monster
The power of quiet..
What a creepy photo…
If everyone is good at something, and I truly believe that they are, then it’s the appreciation that no one is good at everything. It slightly eases the pressure on them, without diminishing the desire to try new things.
Once you find that thing, then do it to the extreme…
I remind them that many will see the end result of success but most will be blind to the hard work that leads to it. Failure is necessary as it provides learning opportunities and [for me] serves to increase humility.
Defeating envy. Spot it first. Recognise why it happens then recognising the signs in others. There are two options of dealing with envy in others; 1) Ignore it or 2) Offer advice; after all, envy in others can be borne of a desire to achieve.
As for envy in oneself, I refer you back to my first point.
My favourite skill is silence. I doubt I want the cubs to use it the way I do because I’ve managed to weaponise it. Actions speak louder than words; let the empty cans make all the noise.
If you judge a fishits ability to climb a tree… that watershed moment when they nail something that they enjoy doing is priceless. The motivational driver has switched from external to internal, in that they now want more of that feeling so will keep doing it. They then recognise that they can replicate this feeling in other ventures.
The trick is to celebrate the success appropriately which I don’t think I’d mastered myself.
‘The quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate’ oxforddictionaries.com
Maybe its just me, but kindness seems to be in short supply these days. It could the news outlets I watch but the media seems to be full of hateful intolerance. This is probably why I watch less news now!
As an adult, I like to show random acts of kindness whenever possible, although this has become a bit of a balancing act. In my recent experience, kindness can easily be mistaken for weakness and if you don’t establish proper boundaries, plenty will seek to take advantage of that.
I still prefer to offer a hand if I can.
I want my cubs to know how to:
Be kind to you first!
If you can help; do help.
First and foremost, children have to learn how to be kind to themselves! I catch my cubs in negative self talk quite often and I’m quick to challenge it. As earlier readers may remember, I’m big on autosuggestion. I try to reframe their points of reference, whenever I hear a ‘I’m not very good at that’, I ask them to add the word ‘yet’. I then remind them that no one is born good at something and that while natural talent can play a part, discipline, determination and self-belief are usually the strongest determining factors.
Negative self-talk will kill any ability you have to help others because a lack of self-belief will leave an opening for exploitation.
For reasons of self-preservation, kindness, at any given time should be a finite resource. We need to teach limits and for our children understand the need to draw a line in the sand. They’ll have to learn what their tolerance levels are which initially will have to come from experience. Recognising patterns and learning these lessons will help them make better decision in the future.
Active listening! hear [sic] we go again. My cubs have listening down to a fine art. Usually things I don’t want them to hear. Things that they will only then repeat again in company. People will always tell you who they are; you just have to listen.
Balancing the needs of yourself versus that of others is a valuable skill. You must put your needs first, but help where you can. Time is the most precious gift you can give but take care that it is not wasted.
Cubs will emulate the most influencial adults in their lives. If we engage in negative self-talk, they will too, because we’ve normailsed it. I try to openly congratuate myself for things, or reflect on an event where my acting differently may have produced a different outcome. I externalise my inner thought processes for them to hear.
I’m a bit of a fan of Freud, so watching the cubs develop through the id, ego and superego was fascinating. Without dipping too deeply into the structure of human psyche, toddlers are controlled by the id and the immediacy of their desires, as this is necessary for survival. Young schoolers learn to control those desires through the development of the ego and superego. The id and the ego will set limits! if a situation isn’t beneficial then interest is quite quickly lost. In the development of the superego, selflessness is a new attribute to wrestle with. I don’t think that swinging pendulum stops until well after the teenage years.
As this sense won’t develop for a while for my two, I’m happy for them to roleplay sharing and sympathy until they find a natural level they’re happy with. Youngest’s helpful side shows itself in acts of independence such as tidying his room. He’s pretty bad at it but there are two important factors at play; 1) he gets a sense of accomplishment and 2) he thinks he’s doing it for me. It works. Eldest will often interupt her own play to help me with a chore, especially if she thinks I’ve been on my feet for too long. I called her chief helper when she was younger.
Conscious of cramming too much learning into tiny minds, I try not to rob the cubs of their childhood and their right to get things wrong.
Positive reinforecment of desired behaviour is most effective; I try to live these attributes and lead by example. They experience me listening and giving time. They also experience me setting limits; not just with them, but with others. I help others when I can but more importantly, if I don’t help someone, I’ll explain why.
True kindness is an act of strength! but the greatest acts of kindness should be spent on oneself.
‘Courage in pain or adversity’ oxfordditionaries.com
One of the most difficult elements of writing this 5 part series was putting these life skills in some order of importance. I tried, but eventually gave up. The irony of me admitting this on a blog entry entitled fortitude is not lost on me, but the reality is that any combination of these attributes are what is needed to succeed in life.
Life is tough. It’s also the most amazing gift but that perspective won’t chime with this entry! Determination will get you over a great deal of life’s obstacles and to the prize on the other side.
As a parent, I want the cubs to realise that failure is a part of success. The approach here slightly mirrors that of my approach in the courage blog entry, but that is intentional. Concentric lessons are reinforced positively, and this is where learning happens.
I want my cubs to:
Embrace the fall and learn the lesson
Avoid the herd
Be the lone voice
When my eldest was in transition between crawling and walking, I observed her with fascination. I watched her figure out her terrain, mapping textures and adjusting her cadence. Most memorably, I watched her master a chair, in order to sit at the dining table. She scrambled, grunted, yelped a couple of times, looked to me once or twice, but continued with focus, once she realised that I wasn’t going to do it for her. Eventually, she manoeuvered the chair correctly, made herself enough space and sat at the table. The place that she had earned.
In giving the cubs the courage to speak up, I hope to empower them to be the lone voice. Not everything they will be told will be correct and not every action they observe will be moral.
Parentally, I encourage them to explain to me why they’re upset when they burst into tears, or what led them to lash out in the on-going sibling battle for primacy. In doing this, I hope to enable them to vocalise when they feel wronged as adults, although it’s also important that they can differentiate between that and keeping their own counsel.
The importance of this is that they shouldn’t feel the need to run with the herd, ridiculous pack animals that we are.
Finally, goal setting. At their age, most goals are predetermined. I do add some in, and encourage them to set their own. Goals are challenges that lead to growth. Growth leads to reward.
In my humble opinion, the best way for cubs to learn most of these is to play! Play often; in different environments, with different people and different games.
Like most sentient beings with nurtured offspring, life’s lessons can be learnt through the dress rehearsal that is play. That is, if we as parents let them get on with it!
I will discuss events with them when play goes wrong, in order to help process things as play invariably goes wrong, but that’s the plan.
One thing that I’ve noticed writing this 3rd installment, is just how much overlap there is in these life skills. I guess it’s because they’re based on my own value system
I guess the challenge for me would be to teach the cubs to master skills that I don’t posses or that are lacking in my personality.