2020. The end of a decade and the start of a brand new one. It feels…different somehow.
I remember being sixteen years old at the turn of the millennium and all the hype and excitement and trepidation around that – the start of a new year, a new decade, a new century AND a new millennium all in one go.
Ten years later, when 2010 arrived, the new decade didn’t seem to be all that important – it was just another date, another year. Perhaps that was partly because I was nine months pregnant with my third baby and had my mind on other things.
Now that 2020 is here, it feels special and I’m not quite sure why. Maybe it’s just because of where I feel I’m at in my life right now or maybe there is some bigger universal force at work. Who knows? I just know that I can feel a sense of transition, something changing and shifting in a positive way.
Either way, it seemed to be a good opportunity to have a little trip down memory lane and look back over the last ten years of our family life. To reflect on the highs we’ve experienced, the lows we’ve been through and all of the moments in between that make up our family story.
What I noticed as I looked back through endless folders of photographs on my laptop and leafed through my diaries from the last ten years, is that something pivotal has happened in every single year. An event of some kind that has changed the course of our journey and shifted our trajectory in a different direction – career wise, family wise, relationship wise. I found it absolutely fascinating to look back at everything that’s happened along the way and recognising how those things have shaped us as we’ve continued onwards.
Our last baby, Lola – the final piece of our family jigsaw – was born just two days into the start of the new decade. She completed our little unit perfectly and we knew we were done. The first six months after her arrival were a happy, chaotic blur – I had three children aged three and under and all three of them were in nappies so my days were pretty much spent playing, cuddling, feeding and changing. It was wonderful. Hard work of course, though it didn’t particularly feel like it at the time. I knew what I was doing by this point and Lola just slotted into our routine and our lives as if she had always been there.
At the end of March, when Lola was just six weeks old, my beloved Grandad passed away after a battle with cancer. I was devastated. I’m incredibly thankful that we managed to take all three girls down to visit my grandparents a couple of weeks before he died. I took Lola upstairs to meet him as he lay propped up in bed and laid her gently in his arms. She gave him her very first smile, grinning up at him gummily as he tickled her chin. The effort exhausted him and so I took her back downstairs with tears running down my cheeks. It was the last time I ever saw him.
When Lola was four months old we were on our way to visit my in-laws for the afternoon in early May. Myself and the three girls in my car, and Neil and Sophie in Neil’s car because we didn’t have one big enough for all of us at the time. I felt absolutely fine but I must have been more tired than I thought because I fell asleep at the wheel for a millisecond and what happened next remains burned in my memory forever more. We crashed. I woke up as my car swerved across the lanes of traffic just before we hit the central reservation. I desperately tried to regain control but we went spinning backwards across the motorway, hit the hard shoulder barrier and then ricocheted into the middle of the onslaught of oncoming traffic. How we didn’t hit anyone else, I have no idea. How we didn’t die, I have no idea. Thankfully I was the only one who got hurt (whiplash, shock, broken rib) and the girls were fine. It’s definitely had an impact on my mental wellbeing ever since though, despite having some therapy to help me get back behind the wheel.
2010 was also the year that we had our first summer holiday as a family of five (to Spain) and it was the year that my best friend got married to the most lovely man and I couldn’t be happier for her. I was one of her bridesmaids and the three girls were flower girls.
A fairly quiet year. Well, if life with young kiddos is what you consider ‘quiet’. Nothing major happened apart from Ella starting school! I remember not being able to believe that she was old enough to go – she still seemed so young. Thankfully she settled in well, made friends, loved her teacher and became an instant bookworm, which she still is today. I hope that stays constant throughout her life.
In 2012 I furthered my therapy training, qualifying as a Master Practitioner at the start of the year and an Accredited Supervisor towards the end. Completing the Supervisor exam (which consisted of 25 ‘short answer’ questions that required at least a page for each answer, 3 in-depth essays, two case studies and more…) was hard work and most of the time I was doing it with small children cuddled up next to me and/or clambering over me like a climbing frame. I was determined to achieve it though and I’m really proud that I did. The Supervision side of my therapy practice is still something that I love doing today – it’s so rewarding helping other therapists grow their practices, skillsets and confidence knowing that it’s making a difference to their clients as well as themselves as therapists.
I also took a leap of faith, summoned up some confidence and started working out of an office in Harley Street in London one day per week. It transformed my practice exponentially. Looking back I wonder where that bravery and belief in myself came from – I don’t feel like I have much of that left any more and I’d quite like to rediscover it I think.
This was also the year the Mimi joined her older sister at school. When Ella moved up to Year 1, Mimi began her educational journey in Reception and suddenly I was down to having just one baby at home with me all day.
The year I turned thirty!
One July morning I got an unusually early phone call from my Mum and I knew straight away that something was wrong. My Nana had died. Ever since my Grandad passed away three years previously her decline into dementia had accelerated rapidly. They had a carer go in to help her but it wasnt enough. Eventually my Mum and her siblings moved Nana into a care home in Cornwall near my Aunt. It was there that she had a fall and after that she never really recovered. I hadn’t seen her since my Grandad’s funeral – Mum wouldn’t let me go and visit her as she said it would be too upsetting for me – and that’s something I always regret. I still miss her and my Grandad every single day.
The end of the year ended on a high. We’d had a really lovely family Christmas morning together, opening gifts and playing with presents, and then, with the girls watching on, Neil got down in one knee amongst the gleefully discarded wrapping paper, produced a beautiful ring and asked me to be his wife. I had absolutely no idea that he had been planning to propose and so it came as a complete surprise. Of course I said yes!
We took all four girls to Cornwall for the first time (we’d been before when Ella was a toddler but this was the first time we’d taken them ALL), the husband and I returning to the place we each visited many times separately as children before we ever knew each other – Bude in North Cornwall. Neil’s parents came with us and we fell in love with Bude all over again, vowing to go back as often as we could. It was kind of a pre-wedding getaway, the first holiday we’d had for four years, and it was lovely.
In June we got married! The whole day went by so quickly but I remember every single moment. I don’t think I stopped smiling all day. I was incredibly nervous (so was Neil!) but I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. I love that the girls got to be our bridesmaids and that they (mostly) remember our special day, I’m so glad they got to be a part of it. Sometimes doing everything backwards works out.
We didn’t get a ‘proper’ honeymoon (because three kids is a lot for anyone to babysit for any length of time and we’d spent all of our money on our wedding anyway), so we headed back down to Cornwall for our honeymoon, children and all. We stayed in a different place this time – The Beach Haven – and felt so at home there that we began a new family tradition – we have been back to stay there every single year ever since without fail.
In September, the littlest one joined her big sisters at school and suddenly I had an empty nest at home. I love this photo of the three of them in their matching summer dresses and matching gap-toothed smiles!
2015 felt like the year that everything changed. In early February, less than eight months after he walked me down the aisle at my wedding, my Dad died. The day I got married was the last day I ever saw him in person. It was completely unexpected and it turned my whole world upside down. He’d not been feeling well but no-one suspected that he had advanced stage aggressive lung cancer – the doctors thought it was pneumonia. Giving permission over the phone to turn off his life support machine, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to make it to his bedside in time to say goodbye was one of the worst things I have ever had to do. The word devastated doesn’t even begin to cover it and I still miss him every single day.
I did my best to carry on with life as normal – seeing clients, parenting, getting out and about and doing fun things with the girls – but it felt like a tiny light inside me had died. We returned to Bude in Cornwall in April and spent a wonderful week in our happy place making memories. And in October I started going to a yoga class every week. I think that one hour per week on the mat might have perhaps saved me from spiralling.
At the end of November we added a new member to our family – a teeny scrap of a ginger kitten who we named Pumpkin as he was born near Halloween. I had wanted a kitten since I was a little girl and we all (even the husband) instantly adored him with his cheeky ways and motorbike-volume purr. He had a wonky leg but he didn’t let it stop him doing anything.
In March of 2016 I launched this blog! I’d been wanting somewhere to document my thoughts, our experiences and the zillions of photos I take and it seemed that a blog would be the best way to go about it. I’d intended it to be mostly a journal of our life as a family and would never have imagined that it would bring us the opportunities that it has so far. It doesn’t pay the bills by any means (hopefully one day – I’m working on it!) but it has helped us make so many memories together and I feel like I’m leaving a bit of a legacy for my girls, something for them to look back over when they’re old and grey and with grandchildren of their own and they can remember all the fun we had and how much they are loved.
We were able to afford two holidays this year. The first was our annual trip to Cornwall in the Easter holidays. Sophie came with us and we had such a brilliant week visiting places in and around Bude that we’d not been to before.
The second was a week in Jersey, one of the Channel Islands. We stayed in fantastic self catering accommodation and thoroughly enjoyed exploring the entire island: it’s stunning beaches; the many impressive castles and historical sites; and picturesque towns and villages. The girls beg to go back on a regular basis and we would happily oblige as even though we saw as much as we could in the time we had, there was still so much left to discover.
2017 was a pretty full-on year. We made our annual visit to Bude in April, Sophie came with us again and I think this year might have been one of my favourite holidays we’ve ever had there.
On our third wedding anniversary I was involved in another car accident – not my fault this time. A minibus pulled out of a side road and ploughed straight into the passenger side of my car. I had two out of three girls with me at the time, who were terrified; my car was written off; I ended up with a shoulder injury that has never fully healed and still bothers me on a daily basis even now; I experience terrifying panic attacks as a result of the two accidents combined (they are better now than they were but they do still happen) and I’m still fighting for compensation two and a half years on. I work really hard to not let negative events like this become defining moments in my life but it is hard sometimes not to let them shape you in some way.
In July we got the opportunity through my blog) to go and meet much loved children’s author, Jacqueline Wilson, at The Foundling Museum in London. Ella was beside herself with excitement as Jacqueline Wilson was her favourite author at the time. A moment to remember for sure (and the girls’ first ever trip to the capital, even though we didn’t se very much of it!)
Also in the summer holidays we had a family photoshoot with a photographer I’ve admired for a long time – Steve Gerrard (no, not the footballer!). It was just the girls and I and I loved the whole experience, even though I am far more comfortable behind the camera than in front of it. I treasure every single image.
In September I stepped WAY beyond my comfort zone, left the girls for the first time ever and travelled solo to Colorado to take my place on Leap Retreat, a photography retreat hosted by the incredible Sarah Cornish of My Four Hens Photography. I’d won my place on the retreat in a competition on Instagram and whilst I was, of course, understandable nervous, it is truly one of the best things I’ve done. I made friends for life in the other women who attended, learned SO much about photography (and myself) and gained a little bit of the confidence I’d been searching for – in terms of photography and also in the realisation that I can do things that scare me and rediscover myself along the way.
Just two weeks after returning from Colorado, all six of us headed off to the US together – this time to Florida for a holiday of a lifetime at Walt Disney World. It was our girls first time travelling long haul. We had been saving up for years to be able to do it and we managed to keep the whole thing a secret for nine months until we finally told the girls one month before we were due to fly. Meeting Mickey Mouse in person was definitely one of the highlights of the decade for me (and yes, I got a bit emotional). The accommodation we stayed in – a luxury villa at Balmoral Resort – was incredible and whilst it wasn’t without it’s challenges (what holiday is ever completely smooth sailing?!) it really is something we’re all going to remember forever. We all want to go back to Florida, to visit Universal Studios this time and see what else the Sunshine State has to offer, and we’re working hard to make it happen.
Sadly we came back down to earth with a bump. Just a couple of weeks after returning home from Florida, Pumpkin got hit by a car and didn’t survive. He just didn’t come home one night (and he always came home in the evening so I knew straight away that something was wrong). We searched for him the whole weekend, eventually discovering what had happened and finding out that someone had thrown him in a dumpster bin, not wanting the sight of his broken and bloody body to upset any passers-by. We retrieved him and had him cremated – his ashes are now inside a silver heart paperweight that sits on my bedside table. His death devastated all of us. I’ve only ever seen my husband cry a handful of times – I have never seen him so upset as when our beloved boy passed away. I still get upset now just thinking about him.
We grieved Pumpkin for weeks and weeks until eventually, unable to bear the absence of a feline presence in the house, we tentatively began looking for a new kitten to adopt. Not to replace Pumpkin because he was utterly irreplaceable. More to have somewhere to direct all of our love for him that now had nowhere to go. We ended up adopting a brother and sister out of a litter of four kittens. We named them Felix and Luna and they quickly settled into our hearts, curled up next to the space we still hold there for Pumpkin.
I also made the decision to stop working in Harley Street at the end of 2017. I’d been commuting to London and back every week for five years and the time had come where I was needed more at home, missed the girls and wanted a better balance in my life. I shifted my therapy practice online, working exclusively with my clients via Skype and it was definitely the right choice.
2018 felt like another big year. We took our annual trip to Bude at Easter (of course!) – just the five of us this time as Sophie was revising for her GCSEs.
My best friend gave birth to her first baby, a little girl. She is the closest thing I have to a sister, so I consider her daughter to be my niece/the girls’ cousin. We headed off on a mini road-trip in May half term – first to visit family we hadn’t seen for years in Somerset, stopping in Dorset overnight and ending our adventure by staying for a couple of days with my friend so we could meet her little girl. Of course we were all instantly smitten with her!
The summer was a busy one. We got the opportunity to work with Warwick Castle through my blog, trying out luxury glamping at Warwick Castle’s Knight’s Village, and had a fantastic time. I also met up with Amy, one of the friends I’d made at Leap Retreat in 2017, and her family when they made a flying visit to London. Seeing her just confirmed how special our friendship is and I loved meeting her husband and two daughters. We spent a few hours together at the British Museum in London – somewhere I’d never visited before and now want to return to with the girls because it’s such an incredible place.
We began the summer holidays with a week in Italy, staying in a gorgeous villa on Lake Maggiore in the north of the country. It was such a beautiful place and it’s given us a taste of wanting to explore more of Italy. Definitely a holiday to remember – hot sunshine, swimming in the lake, exploring stunning towns, eating delicious pizza and gelato, and climbing a mountain in a bucket lift certainly made for some memorable experiences.
In September Ella started high school! I still can’t believe we’ve got to that point. And then at the end of the year my husband turned 40. He and his best mate went to Las Vegas to celebrate (without me *sob*) and had a brilliant time checking out the Strip and everything it had to offer, squeezing in an excursion to the Grand Canyon as well. I’m so jealous!
2019, the final year of the decade, has been relentlessly difficult and tumultuous in many ways – it felt like we kept getting hit with one negative thing after another. However, there have also been so very many wonderful moments to counteract the less good ones, so I guess it all balanced out in the end.
February is rapidly becoming my least favourite month of the year. Losing Dad in 2015 began that pattern and then in 2019 we had the terrifying experience of our oven unexplainedly catching fire. It escalated so fast and we couldn’t contain or control it – all we could do was get the girls out and leave the house to burn. Standing across the road, waiting for our house and everything in it to go up in flames was absolutely horrendous and at the same time I felt a curious sort of peace, knowing that I had everything I needed – my family – outside with me and that really, nothing else mattered beyond that. Thankfully the fire brigade arrived quickly, extinguished it and the damage was to the kitchen only. But it caused months and months of stress and upheaval as everything was renovated, replaced and redecorated. Wok began at the end of February and it was all finally completed on the 1st July.
In the middle of all of that, my Grannie passed away just six weeks before her 99th birthday and I made a flying visit to Spain for 24 hours to attend her funeral. I spent time with family I hadn’t seen for decades and whilst of course it was a sad occasion, it was also a wonderful celebration of her life.
April saw us back in Bude again (as per tradition!), where we celebrated my Mum’s 70th birthday in style at a gorgeous restaurant on the clifftops overlooking the ocean. We also put out house on the market having decided that it was time to move on after over a decade of living there. The fire was the catalyst that prompted us to make the decision to do it and sell up, but the intention had been there for years – it finally felt like the right time.
In May half term we had our ‘big trip’ of the year – ten days in Boston and Cape Cod in the USA. We spent six days in Boston exploring the city, had a family photoshoot with my soul-sister Amy (who lives there) resulting in some of my most favourite photos ever of us as a family, and saw a Boston Red Sox baseball game at their home ground – an experience that became one of the highlights of our whole trip. We then moved on to Cape Cod for four days, enjoying the shift in pace, time at the beach and a completely different way of life. I loved the beauty of the place and would happily return as there was so much there that we didn’t get the chance to see and do.
Summer gave us two opportunities through my blog: a wonderfully relaxed weekend stay at Sandybrook Lodges in the Peak District at the start of the summer holidays; and the chance to experience the fun of Sunshine Festival in Worcestershire on the scorchingly hot August Bank Holiday weekend. I really do feel so lucky to be able to create this work that gives our family experiences that they’ll remember forever.
In September Mimi joined her elder sister at high school. It seems crazy that at the start of this blog post I was writing about how they were both starting primary school! She settled in well and now I only have one more (Lola) left to go, though thankfully that’s not until 2021. It feels like the start of a whole new phase in parenting and life – trying to give them more independence whilst doing my best to support them through the inevitable challenges of trickier (and increased volume of) homework, friendship worries and more. Teenagerhood is rapidly approaching and where I used to dread it, now I’m actually looking forward to it – seeing them all becoming more of who they’re going to be is such a special thing to witness and I’m immensely proud of who they already are.
November saw us travelling to Hertfordshire for the weekend to celebrate Sophie’s 18th birthday. Eighteen! I first met her as a cute, blond-haired, dimple-cheeked little toddler over fifteen years ago and to think that I’m now celebrating her becoming an adult is crazy. She’s been through a lot and being invited to be a part of her life is one of the biggest privileges I’ve ever had. She was my first experience of what motherhood might be like and I’ve learnt so much from her. Seeing her all grown up, on the dancefloor enjoying herself, surrounded by friends and family was really special.
Just a month later it was another big birthday celebration – this time Ella turned thirteen! It happened to be right in the middle of when we were moving house so I feel like maybe we didn’t make as much of a fuss of her as we could have done, something I’m hoping to rectify this coming year. I still can’t believe I’m a Mum of a teenager!
We finally moved! It has been the longest process in the world but we were in our new home in time for Christmas and we couldn’t be happier. It already feels more like home than our old house ever did and I have a feeling we’re going to make lots of memories here.
Which brings us to now. 2020. The end of a decade and the start of a brand new one.
I’m grateful for all that this last decade has held – the good and the heartbreaking. The challenging and the exhilarating. I’m doing my best to count my blessings, to learn from my mistakes and to recognise that I might not be where I want to be (yet) but I’m also not where I used to be.
We have been through so very much together as a couple, as a family and as individuals. There is no one thing, good or bad, that has been a singular defining moment over the last ten years. It’s an amalgamation of things, all blended together in one messy tangle. And that’s where the magic is. In the mess I mean.
I’m sure there will be more stormy waters to navigate as this next decade unfolds, ranging from ripples, to waves, through big breakers and all the way up to tidal waves or maybe even tsunamis. That’s ok. Life would be very boring if the sea was constantly flat. We’re designed to be able to cope with them all – sometimes we’ll be able to stand up and surf joyfully, sometimes we’ll be able to dive through the waves and sometimes we’ll allow the current to carry us for a while as we rest. Sometimes we might have to tread water for a while or feel barely able to keep our heads above the water. All of these are ok. The storm will pass eventually and the seas will become calm again and we’ll survive. Because we always do.
I’m equally sure that there will be many more moments of joy, excitement, happiness, elation, bravery, calmness, imagination, pride, kindness, love, contentment, creativity, positivity, honesty, laughter and fun to come over the next ten years too, far more of these sunshine-y days than the challenging ones.
Truthfully, I’m excited for whatever is to come. I can’t wait to experience more moments together, to create more memories, to travel further, to explore more, to say yes to whatever opportunities come our way and to document it all.
To tell the story of our lives.