Sunday, 7 August 2022

Honey, Love the One You're With.


When I left Canada 12 years ago,  I projected chaotic events in my personal life upon the landscape and began feeling as if it was Canada who’d fallen madly out of love with me, had chewed me up and spat me out here in the North of Ireland. 

It was a season scant with choice over my own standing in the world, hemmed in by babies and uncomfortable under the new title of single mother. But I seized what choice I had left; the choice of perspective, to recall to memory or try to forget. So I swept away all of Canada, wide and expanse as it is, I severed almost all contact,  each CBC show discontinued to me, all fondness of the landscape snuffed out, Canada was dead to me and I was not visiting her grave.

I turned my focus macro and local. The day I got the keys to my new home I hung a picture on the wall that displayed the words ‘Love Your Town’.  This was the mission I assigned myself. As the song goes, If you can’t be with the one you love,  honey, love the one (town) your (stuck) with. Largely, I’ve succeeded. 

There’s been turbulence, tantruming toddlers have grown into budding teens,  jobs have changed, relationships have came & went and each time, when dust settles I find m
yself along with that dust - settled.  A settler in new uncharted path, setting up place names, and mapping each step for the next person. Handmade bunting hangs in our apple tree, displaying the letters S-T-E-E-N  C-A-S-T-L-E.  This is my queendom, where I am contented, still and calm, where Canada chewed me up and spat me out, growing new things, forgetting the old. 

But 12 years on, I arrived at the right emotional distance to consider a return.  I planned carefully, tentatively tiptoeing my way around the idea of revisiting the scene, approaching the idea like my cat taps the remote each evening, just checking it isn’t a snake. 

 When the plane flew over northern New Brunswick, all came back. Rolling forests spilling on for hundreds of miles, endless lakes and rivers for swimming, and the people, good god the people, salt of the earth, fresh faced and genuine, their voices sounding like a chorus of old friends singing me home.  I thought I might go full exposure therapy; revisit all the old haunts and meet their ghosts. But I followed my own lead and nestled into the friendliest of sanctuary instead, breathing deep, reclaiming somewhat, but also providing introductions for the me I am now to the Canada that always was.

Upon return to my castle, I’m reconciling that I now have two homes,  like taking on two lovers, I’m preoccupied and restless.  But with diary open and flight scanner bookmarked,  I know now I need not subdivide my heart nor make a spotless mind. Forgetting was simpler, but remembering is richer. Walking through the park tonight, I’m still loving the one I’m with,  announcing my place in the family of things, belonging wherever I tread.

Friday, 3 January 2020


Today marks ten years since life dramatically changed course and I became a lone parent. 

I remember Shane coming home late from work. I remember listening to Bat for Lashes when he nonchalantly asked did I really see us together ten years from now. A question I thought never needed asking, a question I’d answered four years before when I blubbered my way through vows, solemn and starry eyed. 

But here began his amendment. I couldn’t breathe, except I did breathe, deep belly breaths, oxygen enough for self and the four month baby kicking my ribs from within. The planned pregnancy, in large part by him. 

Through streams of hot and confused tears I said “If you don’t see us together then, what are we doing now!?”

He replied “that‘s a good question” and that night he slept on the sofa. I remember scrambling over to that sofa in the middle of the night and waking him, panicked, asking what was going on, how was this happening, I can’t, I couldn’t. But my questioning woke our one year old. As I heard her stir from the next room, I fell to the floor and screamed “my wee girl”. Broken for how the unfolding of this conversation was to impact her life. 

Dramatic. I eye roll and think now, a decade on, with the events piled on top of each other so high that this first sequence seems small, maybe inevitable. 

But it didn’t then. I was thrust into a life not of my own making. A life so different than I’d planned. And in truth it has continued in that stream. Would I have chosen to live in this town, to spend 6 years working in admin, to continually reach points in relationships where my first priority as parent goes at loggerheads with the life a partner wants? Nope, the optimistic 20 year old who wanted to travel and study and have a career, still aggravates me from within, unsettling the gratitude I feel, and want to feel, for the life, town, job, home, family I have at hand. 

I remember,  mid way into this decade, reading the prophecy personally : “truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." I’m sure the apostle was not writing about the sudden, involuntary, life of lone parenthood, but it resonated with such a life nonetheless. Freedom of choice has become an internal concern, of thought and feeling. I am the captain of that ship, sometimes. 

The loss of him, that became grief three and a half years later, multiplies each year as the kids grow, the ‘content’ of all that is them expanding and impacting the universe with each of their thoughts, words and deeds.  I give little concern to the notion of an afterlife but occasionally it floors me that I may never witness his joy in our little people nor his reassurance that my parenting is enough.  No reassurance is possible and yet I proceed in doubt and hope. 

When he asked if I saw us together ten years from then the question seemed ludicrous, I could not have fathomed another way. I imagined myself half a person without him. 

But here I am exactly ten years later, having grown the other half of myself, my opinionated, insubordinate, blundering ‘daemon’ self, so full of my own will that it’s sometimes embarrassing. I can stare myself down and wish so much of her away. But I’m stuck with her,  she was with me that night listening to Bat for Lashes and, like it or not, with me for the next ten years. Self partnering is a pretentious term for a very real thing. I am my only guarantee, till death parts us. I should really pay her a compliment every now and then. 

Happy 10th Anniversary. You're doing alright. 

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Reclaiming the Conversation on Single Parents

I'm over at the Women's Resource and Development Agency talking about my latest passion project 'Tod' , please go have a read! xx

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Real Motherhood has a Mental Health

Maternal Mental Health Week has came to a close and I’ve found it so refreshing to read peoples stories via #realmotherhood . Today my relentless timehop feed boldly reminded me that I might share a snippet of my own story. 

Just one year ago I took this photo,

I was on extended sick leave with stress (read: barely keeping it together), every day was a major struggle.  These two little notebooks went everywhere with me and both were independently inspired by two heroes of the motherhood. 

The Next 60 Seconds – was by super-micro to-do list book, inspired by the uncontainable Caitlan Moran who once wrote an open letter titled “To the Girls I Meet at Book Signings”.  I still can’t read it without brining on tears – but I strongly recommend you give it a go.  The letter signs off:

You will never, ever have to deal with more than the next 60 seconds.

Do the calm, right thing that needs to be done in that minute. The work, or the breathing, or the smile. You can do that, for just one minute. And if you can do a minute, you can do the next.
Pretend you are your own baby. You would never cut that baby, or starve it, or overfeed it until it cried in pain, or tell it it was worthless. Sometimes, girls have to be mothers to themselves

Reading Moran’s sage advice I realised I could manage some sort of control in a turbulent time. So I created a Next 60 Seconds book, in fact I had two of them to ensure I’d always have one at hand. They contain very important lists like 

drink water () 
do dishes () 
text hollie ()  
Listen to Kate Tempest ()

When the thought of going on was far too much, I zoomed in on that very moment, made a tiny plan and implemented it. And just like that, minute by minute, I did go on. 

The second notebook ‘Contributions’ was borrowed from Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant’s book ‘Option B: Facing adversity, building resistance and finding joy.’ – Grant became Sandberg’s therapist in the early days of her grieving her husband and father of her young children.   In the book Sandberg describes how Grant encouraged her to write down three things she did well every day for 6 months:

"Adam [Grant] and his colleague Jane Dutton found that counting our blessings doesn't boost our confidence or our effort, but counting our contributions can. Adam and Jane believe this is because gratitude is passive: it makes us feel thankful for what we receive. Contributions are active: they build our confidence by reminding us that we can make a difference."

I didn’t do this for very long, but there were definitely some days when I found it helpful to force myself to find something, no matter how small, to be proud of myself for.  One particular day It just says “Stayed in work despite SO MUCH TEARS and got some proper stuff done”.

These techniques, along with a mood tracker, an incredible family, a handful of faithful friends (note: it only takes a handful) and an understanding employer – got me through a very difficult time. 

In the midst of all of this, I was still a mum doing mum things.  When the kids enquired as to the reason for my tears, I always replied “I just have a headache”.  I’ll never forget the night, after being taken to a church event with their auntie, they came running in, so enthusiastic and told me they’d written down a prayer for me and my headaches.  I bit my lip and looked sheepishly over little shoulders to their auntie who gave a sympathetic smile, knowing full well that ‘headache’ was code word for ‘mummy might be losing her mind – but you don’t need to know that’.  

Motherhood, having little people to care and be responsible for, didn’t make my mental health any better, but it did keep me alive. It kept me around for long enough to learn from other mums like Sandberg and Moran – who helped me by sharing their own reality. 

So this is my late submission to the Maternal Mental Heath Week theme of #realmotherhood, take care of yourselves, you are never beyond help and to borrow heavily from Moran’s open letter:  Sometimes Mums have to be Mums to themselves.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018


Today, In the library, whilst supervising the kids and their homework, I attempted to squeeze in a bit of my own personal study. I was reading (*trying to read) an academic book regarding the place of Single Mothers in society and throughout history. Scanning through the pages I came across one paragraph that demanded my full attention, it read: 
One has only to look at Native American and African American communities to find alternatives [to the nuclear model of family]. Patricia Hill Collins describes the practise of “othermothers” [as] “women who assist bloodmothers by sharing mothering responsibilities,”
This called for some red pen action, the passage continued.. 

Shared child-raising practices contribute to a people’s self-reliance, says Collins: “Black Women’s relationships with children and other vulnerable community members is not intended to dominate or control. Rather it’s purpose is to bring people along, to – in the words of late nineteenth century Black feminists – ‘uplift the race’ – so that vulnerable members of the community will be able to attain the self-reliance and independence essential for resistance.
Jane Juffer, Single Mother -  the Emergence of the Domestic Intellectual.  
Just as I read this and scribbled in the margins the word: “Amazing!”, I got a text from the one most fittingly my (or more precisely, the kids..) “othermother”- the one who has uplifted me and mine and has given me the strength for self-reliance, it takes a skilled practitioner of kindness to nurture and support someone in a way that doesn’t make them feel dependent – but instead stronger and more free, free to be a force of resistance instead of a subject of vulnerability.

The text she sent at this opportune moment was a screenshot from the photoshoot we did this weekend (in the freezing fricking cold I’d like to add, she is both wonderful – and cruel). The brief I gave for the shoot was “I want it moody but not in any way vulnerable.” – None could have captured it so brilliantly than the person who has contributed so much, over many years, to making me feel as strong as I do. 
So here’s a big giant fist bump to the othermothers of the world – most specifically My Rachums*.

*for relentlessly beautiful photos - follow Rachel on Instagram here

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Self Love

“If you don’t love yourself who else is going to?”

I’d returned from Canada for a fortnight visit, my baby girl was 6 months old and I was anxious about meeting an old friend. Not just because she has forever been the creative babe to which I could never compare but also because I wanted to share some things with her. 

we were back just to visit because we’d decided to stick it out in Canada, the three of us, keeping at it, the Canadian dream, the good life. But in truth it had been far from the good life, not long had we bought our dream fixer upper home when the first infidelity began. And there in the midst of home renovations, all rubble and dust, we tried to figure it out, he pleaded, I ranted, raged and then collapsed wearily into forgiving. Because that’s what we’re supposed to do and who would I be without him anyway? After all I’d been his loyal puppy since aged 19. 

The renovations continued in the house as they did in the marriage. No longer was he on a pedestal. People used to call us “the love birds”, a stranger on the tube once asked for photos of us, we were a ‘force to be reckoned with’ - but that was then. And now, now the reckoning had been done, Now there was distance and disappointment.  My belief in grace, forgiveness and trust were being tested to the max and I know now how misinformed I was on such things. I see with hindsight how unhealthy it was to bend myself into trusting when it had not been earned. How I prized forgiveness over my own emotional safety.  

And this of course laid me bare and vulnerable to further indiscretion. Which in time was revealed. And so it goes 
1.  He begged and pleaded
2.  I ranted and raged
3.  I wearily collapsed into forgiving..

...Because that’s what we do and who would i be without him? (Though I’d a growing concern regarding the person I was becoming with him, depleted, let down, chipped away) 

But this time I was guarded, hard and distrustful. Which in time he’d resent me for.

The renovations progressed, Interior walls were moved, floors laid, new doors fitted and then to everyone’s surprise - the strip turned blue. 

Maybe it could all be a blank slate? 

Sitting on the picnic blanket in Belfast’s botanic gardens with the only friend here that I’d trusted with it all, I told her the journey in hushed, teary tones, whilst Molly giggled and cooed. 

“I may not know what it’s like to have your husband cheat on you Alli. But I know what it’s like to have your lover betray changes you, you realise: if you don’t love yourself - who else is going to?”

This was truly the first time I had heard self love articulated. It was radically different from the fluffy ‘self esteem’ speak i’d heard so many times before, which depended on being built up by others. What my friend was talking about was resilient, tough, self love - the ultimate offensive weapon to a world full of people that will chew you up and spit you out. 

Those words have always stuck with me. And I’m glad I didn’t know then how many times I would need to be reminded of them. You could argue it’s more than a little pessimistic, “who’s gonna love me?”, But isn’t that the question we are always asking ourselves? And isn’t the easiest answer the only one which we can control? I will love me. I will show up for me and it will be a radical resistance to all the things that go on externally that threaten to chip, recede and demolish. 

I used to think self love was selfish. But we are talking about two very different things here. Distinctly different, not opposite things on the same spectrum. 

It’s taken me years to really put in place this kind of self love - but I recently LOVED watching spike lees Netfix series ‘she’s gotta have it’ Nola darling exemplifies this resistance Best 

Happy valentines xx

In Praise of Being Basic

One of my unspoken resolutions for 2018 was to come to terms with chronic FOMO. To learn to be content with sitting still, staying put, missing out. Little did I know I’d spend all of January very ill, including ten days in hospital and continue my sick leave from work into February upon doctors orders. 

Lately I can only seem to do one thing a day, if I’m meeting someone for coffee? That’s me done for the day. If I’m on my feet too long or speaking too animatedly I get out of breath. I haven’t yet driven beyond a five mile radius of my home (and yet still managed a collision due to black ice 🙄). 

My fear of missing out is not entirely dissolved but along with my body, it is somewhat weakened. When I’m scrolling through social media and I see all the coolest kids at a gig I want to be at - I only momentarily feel resentful and then I pull the blankets up round my face and go back to sleep. I recently heard someone talk about ‘post flu enlightenment’ - when you’re coming out of feeling crap and you appreciate everything so much more. I’m there. 

Here’s a photo of me being basic in my own home, I’d just unstacked the dishwasher. I’m not in a club, or with my girl gang, or on a date, there’s no cocktail in my hand or eyeliner on my eyes - but I’m ok with that.