#catlove 😻

Last night was the first time in six years that we spent time in our home without our cats. They’ve been taken to stay with a friend, ahead of work beginning on our floors.
I can only try to describe how odd and still the house felt without them. I was able to sit in the yellow chair without being miaowed at to move. Able to put fresh laundry down and know that no animal would use the piles as a new bed or plaything. We could have slept with the bedroom door open even, but we didn’t out of habit.
I woke up at about five to feed Nives and listened for the scratching at the door. One of my cats, Jango, always seems to sense when we wake and starts scratching to be let in at that time. I listened, but nothing came. It was at this moment that I realised how much these two animals contribute to our family. Everything just felt different without them.
I got Jango six years ago from a friend from work. I initially wanted a tom, which is why she has a boy’s name. I met her when she was only a few weeks old. She climbed onto my lap, along with her other brothers and sisters, but didn’t stick around. She climbed down and made a sort of shuffle for the open door. An adventurer, I thought.
How wrong I was. Yes, she is brave - she’s chased a fox through the park when she was only six months old - but she is more likely to be found napping than adventuring these days. We’ve had to force her out of the house at times, in the hope she will regain her love for leaping around and lose some weight, but she just sits on the windowsill staring accusingly at us until we let her back in.
Knolly came a year after Jango. I was worried about her weight gain and foolishly put it down to loneliness. We got him from a mad old French woman who lived in Streatham. She already had seven cats and one had unexpectedly had a litter. She greeted me wearing a kaftan and showed me her cats and their little purpose-built shed cat houses in her garden. I bought Danny with me a second time. I said “it’s just to look”, as he was not keen on a second cat.
But then Knolly played with his shoelace and he fell in love. At eight weeks old we took this lovable kitten to our home and subjected him to a lifetime of bullying from Jango. He seems oblivious to it, only wanting to play and cuddle constantly. Five years on and we still think of him as a kitten.
Our relationship with our pets is a funny one isn’t it? They give us so much love, their whole lifetime of love, and often it is only when they are gone that we realise how much richer our lives were because of them.
They can also show you sides of people that you were previously unaware of. My nono loved his ginger cat so much that they became a gang of two. When he died, the cat looked for him everywhere, breaking our hearts all over again. When Jutko, the ginger cat, died we felt the loss of my nono as well as of our wonderful feline friend.
Our relationship with our cats has changed as we incorporated Nives into our unit. She has practised stroking them and Jango will come and nap beside her (supervised). Knolly is still keeping his distance, but I know that as she grows older these three will be the closest of friends.

Friends

People always, always, ask me how my nights are now that I am a new mum. They ask me if my daughter is a ‘good baby’. “Does she sleep through?” They ask, to which the answer is yes, she is a good baby, because all babies are good babies you moron. No baby is bad. And no, of course she doesn’t sleep through. Because she’s a baby for Christ’s sake.
Anyway, in the still early hours, in the half light of our shared room - this room which for now holds my whole new family - I get to thinking. And I’ve been thinking a lot about friendships and love and counting the ways I am grateful for my friends and how different each of my friends are and feeling generally blessed to have all this love in my life to share with this little person.
And this is especially important because the majority of the people I am thinking about and feeling grateful about are women. And I have to say that if I respected the women in my life and the way our friendships formed and were part of my life before, then motherhood has sort of injected a gazillion love hearts into that sentiment, because now I think of my friends and I as a tribe powered by love for each other.
There are friendships that have lain dormant for years but now there is something wonderful which binds us again. These women who send a text or a random bobbly t shirt in the post for no reason other than to be helpful and kind. friendships that have stood the test of years - of former lives and loves and times - and which have had to change form, but have done so.
There are new friends, new mothers like me, who listen past the tears of frustration when my baby’s dictatorial sleep regime grinds me down to a pulp. Who don’t judge but say things like “we’re all in the trenches together”. God, if it wasn’t for these friends my journey so far would be very different indeed.
I want more than anything for my daughter to have these strong friendships too. I want her to be part of a tribe, want her to realise the importance of other women and of caring. This is undoubtedly one of the important lessons I can teach her. I hope.
Teaching her anything of substance however seems a long way off. I’ve taught her how to stroke the cat GENTLY, I think. And to giggle when the teddybear stops walking around the garden and tickles her (why is he walking around the garden?! Why should we walk around the garden LIKE a teddybear? They don’t walk!). She knows she is loved and she trusts me. And it is this, I think, which will be the starting point for all else.

Home alone

My husband has been away with work for the last four days. I honestly did not know how I was going to cope with an almost-three-month-old, two cats (one ill, one obsessed with food), all the bloody fish (that keep shagging and having more fish) and a crumbling, broken house.

I’m not going to lie, it’s been hard, but there have been laugh out loud moments where I’ve thought “if only *anybody* could see this”.
Here are some examples of this:

*speaking to the fat cat as if it can answer me eg “should I have lasagne or fish pie? Lasagne? Oh, ok then”.
*attempting salt dough plaques. Nives covered in paint, ill cat caught licking plaque.
*scrubbing hall carpet in nighty
*doing YMCA for Nives
* attempting to make tea while singing to Nives.

There have also been moments of beauty. The ill cat got better (not because of the paint, before you ask), the fat cat caught Nives’ attention and she tried to reach for it, we’ve had lovely baths together, been swimming, had an impromptu picnic (three chocolate bars) and I feel closer to her generally. We now have a sort of nighttime routine, which is adorable, and I think, I think, I heard a laugh.

Even the fish were treated to some bubbles. That said, I did catch the fat cat sitting on the tank more than once, so it’s not been the best week for them.

Motherhood

My baby is over two months old. I feel that only now am I emerging from what has been the most physically and emotionally testing time of my life.
I fell in love with her straightaway. As soon as she emerged, pulled out of her safe haven by cold forceps into the harsh hospital light covered in shit and screaming, I loved her. That moment was the most beautiful and defining moment of my life. Each day since I have loved her more as she has developed and swollen her personality, rewarding me at the darkest of times with an impromptu smile or gurgle.
I’ve suffered sore, cracked and blistered nipples. Raw, stretched and burst weeping stitches. Piles. Anal fissures. Sleep deprivation and utter exhaustion. My marriage has also been tested. As much as my world has changed and I have become this scarred and tired - but loving - being, my husband’s life has continued more or less as normal. It’s difficult not to throw an icy glance in his direction when he complains of tiredness when he’s had a nine hour sleep. Or, yell with frustration when he arrives late home because he “deserved” a beer after work on a day when the baby has just Not. Stopped. Crying.
But you learn to see things from his point of view. And you learn that neither marriage not parenthood lend themselves to point scoring.
Support, for me, has come from the emotionally and physically tested mothers I have met along the way. Women who I previously did not know are my lifeline. We text each other our questions, our fears and frustrations and reveal our inadequacies at all times of day. We visit each other and receive visitors dressed in our oversized Tshirt nighties. We breastfeed in front of each other and, later, we learn to do this in front of everyone. These women have helped insurmountably in shaping my confidence as a mother.
Life for me won’t return to how it was pre-baby. I shan’t ever work a 14 hour day to put a magazine to press and then drink two bottles of prosecco and get the last tube home. Mainly, because I now live on Brighton and there is no tube here and ten months of no alcohol means this would kill me. But, also, there is nothing that will keep me from my baby for that amount of time. And, I’m now pretty shit hot at time management.

My None

Grief manifests itself in many different ways. Mine means that for a moment each day the fact you are gone breezes into my mind while I am thinking of something entirely different and it winds me into recalling our collective life. I see you dancing for me when I slept in your room, remember drawing pictures of your curly hair as a child, of secretly feeding cats in your garden, even when you said not to. But it’s the later years I remember also. These are the years that one would imagine I would want to forget. Your mind and memory crumbled as the dementia took hold. But I remember fondly the moments of lucidity. Of holding your soft hand in the rose garden, of the tears in your eyes, your eyes like mine, as I said goodbye each time I left. Of the funny moments: the times you would deny having eaten cake, your commentary during Italian game shows. Your insistence, always prevalent, that I absolutely mustn’t have a Serbian boyfriend. I miss you none, but I hope that where you are now there is cake, Oliver, roses and many colours.

Feeling you

You are 26 weeks old today! I feel you kicking and moving around and it feels … It feels like the most wonderful thing imaginable. It feels like someone has opened my belly and filled it with other hearts that are full of love for you and they are moving around inside me.
You move at the funniest times! You move when I haven’t drunk enough water, or when I am hungry. You move in the middle of a budgets meeting with my boss, causing me to stop, mid-sentence and smile, one hand on my belly as I say hello.
If I’m stressed or angry, you nudge me as if to say “don’t worry mum! I’m here and *I’m* important.” Which of course you undoubtedly are. The most important of all the important things.

Dating scan 8/8/2014

I saw you today for the first time. I was so nervous, apprehensive. I didn’t know what to expect; I didn’t know if you would really be there. Maybe I imagined it all.

But there you were. I held my breath - a sharp inhale as the cold gel made contact with my stomach - and turned my head to the screen and there you were. A gasp! You were in there, wiggling around, kicking your legs. Big. Bigger than we thought.

Danny, your dad, said nothing, then turned to me, beaming, looked again. There you were. There was your beautiful head, little legs, your strong heartbeat. Your nose! And those legs kicking away. God, you existed! And we couldn’t stop laughing. We loved you then, instantly, more than before. It was a catalyst, that moment, meeting you. It changed everything.

Basta

There comes a point when even the weakest of people will say- enough. Basta. It could take months or years or even just a smattering of weeks.

But there comes a point when you just think to yourself that nothing, nobody, can or ever will be worth all this pain and questioning and self doubt.

And once you’ve decided that it’s hard to look back and shrug and let it happen again. It’s a catalyst.

It happened to me not when I suffered the most severe of break ups and lost my home, my job and was rapidly failing the masters I had fought so hard to accomplish. No, it came after when I started dating a guy to get over the initial asshole.

Man, that, that, was a problem. I heard somewhere that broken people find comfort in each other. But I don’t know that it’s true. I think broken people will either stay broken, rise and become strong, or become a bully. Unfortunately, he was a bully.

Everything, everything, was on his terms. This was a guy who was leaving! He was leaving the country! I knew this. And having just gone through the most horrifying of breakups did I protect my heart and steer clear!? No! Even knowing that this could not, would not, end well.

Even without being a bully this was a stupid situation to put myself in.

So I ignored my friends, I all but moved out of my shared house. I ate food I didn’t like, watched far too much TV with this jerk. I lied about my past, I spoke entirely in Spanish, I didn’t object when he told people I was Latina - I am not Latina! - I stopped wearing make-up. I ignored the fact this douche never took me for dinner. Never bought me nice gifts.

But not only that, he never broached the subject of him leaving. I left before him, to visit family in Canada, and he didn’t even walk me to the bus stop. Still, I was so weak, so possessed, that I kept to our nightly Skype sessions. I kept applying for jobs in the country he had emigrated to. I told everyone how in love I was and couldn’t understand why they didn’t believe it.

Still, from him there was no indication that I should move. I ignored this. It was only after I was with him, after a particularly expensive flight, and two particularly long weeks (where I had dealt with his jealousies and petty insecurities as I assimilated myself in the community that had rejected him) that I started to think clearly. Only because I said to him ’ so what should we do?!’ And what he answered was so insignificant and made me feel so small that I just thought, in the black light of his bedroom, lying in a bed I had chosen: basta.

So what follows on from this? Freedom, basically. Freedom in all its terrifying and illuminating guise. Freedom to buy the soft grey leather boots he deemed whorish, to dye my hair back to its natural colour - not the colour he wanted. To stay out all night. To wear acres of eyeliner. To speak English. To breathe.

Grab it and hold on

Just over a year ago I waved goodbye to my little brother as he slung a pack on his back and disappeared with his friend Martin (Stretch) to South East Asia.

 I said at the time that I thought the trip would help him grow, would open his eyes to the world. And, frankly, it did. My little brother fell in love.

 He fell in love immediately. It was New Years Eve, he was hanging off the back of a taxi - the details are fuzzy - but this is how she met him. My crazy, daredevil (and frankly, idiotic) brother. According to her he repeated his name over and over again so she could find him on Facebook. I mean, it was almost dawn; he’s hanging off a cab. I’m guessing he didn’t have a pen on him.

 My brother was blessed and cursed with the fact he grew up in an almost exclusively female household. My stepfather often travelled for work and wasn’t really around until Danny was in his early teens. Our parents divorced when he was six. This was a blessing because, obvs, me and my mum are awesome. But a curse as we constantly meddled. Poor Danny, then, as soon as he had a passing interest in a girl would hear opinions and questions and - I’m ashamed to say it - constant teasing on his crush. This, by the way, when he was only about eight years old. So when he did grow up and start dating - we were often, unsurprisingly, the last to know.

 Not so this time. My brother having met this girl almost immediately contacted me to tell me about her. He encouraged – encouraged (!) - me to look at a picture he uploaded onto Facebook of the two of them. And then, if that wasn’t enough, he sent me a picture. I have to say this excited me a lot. A great deal. 

 Now I am a sucker for romance. I believe in love. Of course I do. I just got married to my soulmate and smile all the way home every night knowing I am going back to his sweet embrace after a crappy day at work. I know that when you meet that person that makes everywhere you go feel like home, you hang on for dear life and you don’t let go. Much like riding on the back of an open cab at dawn. And, lookie, looks like my brother knows it too.

 So while I am sad that he’s going to be on another continent to me with this sweet girl, I am happier that he found his soulmate and is hanging on. And I am so excited for the adventure that their life together will be.

Talking it out

I don’t know much, but this I know. Life is beautiful and it is cruel. If you are struggling, ever struggling, please don’t keep it to yourself. Please speak to someone. Don’t let the black tar of your mood drown you to a place where no one can ever reach you. You are loved. Things will improve. If you die, that’s it, you’re gone. No more laughing at Gifs of cats. No more sea against your toes, snogs in the back of cabs. No more Sunday roasts, laughing at graffiti of a penis on a road sign. No more tea and cake. Gone.

Goodbye single me

Goodbye unfinished and then deleted text message.

Goodbye peeling labels off beer bottles and looking for an in.

Goodbye Sundays hopelessly waiting for a text.

Goodbye obsessive Facebook stalking.

Goodbye mistaking loneliness for love.

Goodbye drunken fumblings (and bitter disappointment).

Goodbye physcoanalytics over coffee.

Goodbye pretending to read a paper while waiting for food.

Goodbye learning about the following (despite having no interest): Aussie Rules, baseball, Romans, football, fitness, (some) art, whiskey, Cocktails (I just wanna drink them, not learn the history), food (ditto).

Goodbye explaining where I’m from.

Goodbye painful invites for one.

But also:

Goodbye slinging a pack on my back and going wherever I please.

Goodbye first date excitement.

Goodbye learning new pockets of life.

Goodbye being part of a really cool pack and hello living with conformity.

Goodbye coming home and watching One Tree Hill reruns, because no one will stop me.

Goodbye three hour conversations with friends analysing each others’ horrific love life.

But hello new life. I’ve been waiting for you.

Love - as if I dare

I’ve been thinking a lot about love lately, and the different forms it takes.Obviously this is because I am getting married. And so love, in all forms, is up for dissection.

I’ve been looking at the world around me and I’ve seen love everywhere. It is hard - I live in London; but it is here everyday.

It is here when I sit on the way home and see a woman absent-mindedly trace her finger across her boyfriend’s palm when he is not looking. It is there when I see a mother speaking into a pram enthusiastically (despite the fact it is 8am on a Saturday) it is seeing a grandmother squat down and explain something to a petulant raised-with-too-much-shit child.

I see love in everything. I see love in my dad’s new art club, in my mum test trialling my wedding, in my brother texting me with his travelling updates. With Danny.

Danny:- I could write reams about the curl in his arm when he holds me. About his heart. About what I would be without him. I could; but I won’t.

I see love everywhere, and it is all because of him.

Wedding

When Danny got down on one knee, almost six months ago in Carmel, California, I said yes instantly and then collapsed in hysterics.

I didn’t see it coming. Sounds weird as we had been together almost three years (or over three years, depending on when you take the dates from), we lived together, we had two cats, were happy. But I didn’t.

The day after he proposed we drove to Santa Barbara, met my friend Jess and I started to think about the wedding.

I got up early, stole downstairs and sat at Jess’s mum’s breakfast table, cluttered with the debris from Jess’s wedding to Steve, which took place a few days beforehand. (nb: that* was an amazing amazing wedding). I sat there with my Donald Duck notepad and tried to write down all the things I needed to do. The list seemed endless and overwhelming. I then sat and wrote down everyone I wanted to
come to the wedding. This list, too, seemed endless.

Since then I have written around eight different lists. I have put them on excel sheets, on google spreadsheets, back to my Donald Duck pad, on my iPad, on my iPhone, on my work PC.

Am I any closer to having anything organised? Am I hell.

The wedding is in six months. I have a dress, he has a suit. We have a menu, we have a website. We have flights, a venue. We have some decorations. We have about a million candle holders.

We have a stressed bride to be.

Oh, brother

Having a younger brother means several different things. It means there’s always someone who knows exactly what you’ve been through, and can laugh about it with you.

It means you’ll never have to go through a dreary family assembly alone. There will always be that person who will sneak out with you for a fag, or share a bottle of wine with you when everyone else has gone home.

It means that with one look, you can convey exactly what you are feeling, across a crowded dinner table.

It means that there’s someone there who will always have your back.

My brother is four years younger than me. He’s also my best friend. If I am ever panicked, or need picking up, I call him. We don’t have a long and dreary heart to heart, but he’ll make me laugh. Knowing he is there comforts me.

He has the same wicked sense of humour as me, but he also has the biggest, most generous heart. He takes people at face value, always has. While I obsess and worry and judge and pick, he accepts life for what it is and looks it in the face, always smiling.

He is the only person who will book my birthday off as holiday every year. The only person who would stay out all night partying for my 30th, dressed as a sheriff, and then complete a 50 mile bike ride in the stinking heat the next day.

He’ll be standing at the front at my wedding.

Today he is leaving for six months. He’s spent a year saving up, has packed in his job and is slinging a pack on his back to see what else is out there for him.

I know that he’s going to grow an enormous amount during this trip. I know that he is going to have the most wonderful adventure and I can’t even begin to articulate how proud I am of him. Also, how much I’m going to miss him.

Here’s to you, bro. Have a good one. I love you.


I always won the feet game.

If I could reach younger me.

If I had to write a letter to my younger self I would tell her that everything was going to be ok. That all the people in your life that make you feel crap will be replaced by people who love you, who make the effort for you. Who want you in their lives so freakin much they travel across oceans to see you.

I would say that you can now look in a mirror and see something that is beautiful, and growing. Something that maybe isn’t perfect, but beauty never is. It’s something that is clever, and hard working and yeah, pretty.

I would say ‘don’t worry about your mum’.

I would say – guess what! You have two cats! And you will work for a magazine! When you speak, people will listen! Someone wants to marry you! And you’ve travelled to so many countries that people come to you for travel advice.

I’d give her a massive hug. I’d give that poor, broken, girl a massive hug. And I would say “you know what, kid, it doesn’t get easier to cope with the shit people throw at you. It’s always going to be really really rubbish when someone you love lets you down, or goes out of their way to dig their claws deep into you and rip out your heart, but you will be stronger and you will be able to cope with it.”

I would tell her that it’s ok to cry yourself to sleep, but it’s better to find a shoulder to lean on – those people are out there, and they do love you!

And I would say, kid, the best thing that’s happened to you is that you haven’t let this blackness shut your heart out. When you grow up you let people in. And yeah, sometimes they stamp on your heart. And yeah, it does hurt. But most of the time it feels amazing to have these people in your life. And the rest of them? You walk away from.

I would say, I love you kid.

pencil drawing by Morgan Ann LaRue