You’d think it would be relatively easy for a grown woman, a mother nonetheless, to get herself from A to B. A was a conference venue. B was the train station. B was approximately fifteen minutes away from A. Simples? Not simples for me.
I am an adult. One who, for once, had no child to juggle. It was just me, myself and a shed load of freebies from said conference. Let me tell you what happened:
As I’m running late, I decide not to walk to the nearest tube station with the two lovely ladies I’d met at the do. Instead, I decide to hop in an Uber straight to B. It is bucketing down with rain. Everyone else wants an Uber too. The “aha! we do have Ubers available but because EVERYONE wants one we’re going to see if you’ll actually pay double because you’re a noodle?” message pops up. I’m a noodle – I click “yep, fine, drain me”. Uber turns up, we sit right next to the pick-up point in traffic for ten minutes. I get out at the nearest tube station. After walking to every entrance, I conclude that it is closed. I cry at my husband on the phone (too many proseccos). Very soggy by this point, and likely to miss the train. I get in another Uber. We crawl our way to B (not literally – now that would be a niche, but somewhat uncomfortable service: chap turns up, you both get on your hands and knees and he accompanies you to your destination). I’ve missed my train by this point. I get to B, and get on a later train.
So, let’s face it. That would have been a pain if it were just those actual events. A pain, but still manageable. The thing is, my head got involved, didn’t it? It gave my little inner critic, the Should Have Gremlin (let’s call him SHG) a buzz and said “ha come on in! Let’s stir some shizzle UP!”.
Let me replay the scene with the little interventions from the SHG in [RED] (for grrrr).
As I’m running late [SHG: Err you should have left ten minutes ago?], I decide not to walk to the nearest tube station with the two lovely ladies I’d met at the do. Instead, I decide to hop in an Uber straight to B. [Hmm ok. This might be ok.] It is bucketing down with rain. Everyone else wants an Uber too. The “aha we do have Ubers available but because EVERYONE wants one we’re going to see if you’ll actually pay double because you’re a noodle?” message pops up. I’m a noodle [YES, YOU ARE A NOODLE! What did you do that for? That’s double the price! You should have checked before. You should have walked with those girls and just got the tube. In fact, you should have left earlier. You’re already late. You’d probably be there by now! You’re such a duh] – I click “yep, fine, drain me”. [*face-palm* – there goes your bank account. What happened to ‘Project Thrifty’ for mat leave?] Uber turns up, we sit right next to the pick-up point in traffic for ten minutes. [Oh man! You should have gone to the tube station. What were you thinking? If you’d planned ahead or left earlier, this wouldn’t have happened. You’ve spent loads of money, you’re going to miss the train, you’re going to be late for your in-laws. You’re an idiot! You may as well just get the tube now.] I get out at the nearest tube station. [Why did you do that!? You were in a taxi GOING TO THE STATION. Now you are in the rain NOT going to the station. The taxi is probably there by now! Me: that’s not physically possible. SHG: Sssh you.] After walking to every entrance, I conclude that it is closed. [You really should have just stayed in the taxi. You were going to be late anyway. Now you’re late, wet, with an Uber cancellation charge. And no tube.] I cry at my husband on the phone (too many proseccos? Nope. just too much SHG). [You haven’t even got your baby with you and you can’t blimin’ cope, woman. Crying at him again? You should have just sucked it up. He’ll get fed up you know.] I get in another Uber. [Another Uber?! You’ve already missed the train. You should have just walked back to the other tube station and got the tube and spent less money!?] We crawl our way to B [Told you. Expensive and no faster Me: but I’m comfy and dry? SHG: Hmm not convinced]. I’ve missed my train by this point [Well, duh. I could have told you that]. I get to B, and get on a later train. [You know, if you’d just left earlier, you could have walked to the tube station and been here on time and none of this would have happ- Me: Oh, bog off, will you?]
My head created just so much noise that evening. The circumstances of the actual journey weren’t ideal, but letting my inner critic in made things feel so much harder than they needed to, and ended up making me cry in the rain like Andie MacDowell in Four Weddings (“Is it raining? I hadn’t noticed.” ‘Course she had). And then feel like an idiot for crying in the first place. And so the cycle continues.
The reason I was able to carry on bopping myself on the head like this throughout the trip was because I was rushing and therefore I was on autopilot. I wasn’t there in the moment, making a plan. I was back at the entrance to the conference, regretting getting in a cab, regretting staying 10 minutes longer. I was creating stories in my head about what would happen in the future because of my actions, and imagining a better scenario if I’d made a different choice earlier. And I was turning that back on myself, as if in some way it defined the type of person I was.
In essence, I wasn’t giving myself time to stop, take stock, accept that the situation wasn’t ideal and give the SHG the good ole heave-ho. I needed a moment to realise that it had no power over me. I needed to remind myself that it didn’t matter that things were going wrong, so there was nothing to beat myself up about. Sometimes things just don’t go to plan. No biggy.
The same happens when we are around our babies. Life is constantly go, go, go, from the moment you give birth. Milestone after milestone, day after day, moment after moment. Our headspace is so filled with this new little human so totally and utterly dependent on us, that we don’t notice the Should Have Gremlin creep in and start creating a ruckus. Before we know it, we’re blubbering wrecks with no confidence in our decision-making skills as mothers (despite having MADE A HUMAN), and a huge guilt complex about the fact we have not been the #instatastic pictures of perfection we thought we’d be, or think we should be.
The tricky thing is that we don’t have time to stop like we used to. My downtime before having a baby was meditation – I used to meditate every morning. That all stopped when I had B because I couldn’t find the time to stop and do it. My day was so unpredictable. When I was at my lowest ebb covered in baby vom with a poor screaming refluxy baby day after day, the SHG saw his chance and in he came. Similarly, the rushing that day in the rain meant I didn’t think I had time to stop.
But there ARE ways to nip those Should and Should Have thoughts in the bud without needing to do a three-hour body scan and zen gong bath thingamy. It just needs to fit into your new life. It takes a minute. Anyone can do it. You can do it. On the go, wherever you are, even with a screaming baby next to you.
It’s called Stop. Breathe. Watch.
Stop: Physically stop, or just guide your attention away from your thoughts. Ground yourself physically. Notice the sensation of your feet against the floor, the sensation of the ground beneath you supporting your body.
Breathe: Take 10 deep breaths.
Watch: As you breathe, invite yourself to be a little curious. Notice that the air going into your nose is quite cool, but that as it travels into your body and out again, it gets warmer. Notice too that each breath is a bit different to the last. Like snowflakes.
It’s ok if your mind wanders. That happens all the time and it’s fine. Just notice the thoughts, say hi, and then kindly nudge your attention back to your breath.
Find your feet against the ground again, and I bet you’ll be able to see your SHG for what it is: just unnecessary mean noisy thoughts. You are not your thoughts. You are just lovely you and you’re fab. And you can Stop-Breathe-Watch the shizzle out of any thoughts you want to.
Believe me, you’ve got this. You are nailing it. We all are. Be kind to yourself because, to quote Andie at a lower point in her career, “you’re worth it”.