365 Days of Krav-life.

Picture credit: G C Montgomery

It’s been a year.

365 days.

An entire year since I stepped in to Fight Back Fit in Houston and took my very first Krav-class (which left me hobbling for three days straight!) and embarked on my journey to be an utter badass.

In the last year?

I’ve tried Krav Maga, Muay Thai, Eskrima/Kali, White Collar Boxing and, most recently, kickboxing.

I don’t even know who I am any more – and know what? That’s a good thing.

You think you know yourself.

Or, at least, are pretty sure of who you are.  What your limits are, how you’d react in certain situations and what you’re capable of.

If I learned anything in my Houston Krav time?

It’s that I had no freakin’ clue who I really am, what I was capable of, or what my limits are.

Also?  I’ve never before, in all my life, had a piece of clothing in my wardrobe that HAD to be clean at all times.  Something so important to you, so iconic in your clothing range, that you absolutely have to have it clean, dry and ready to rock at a moments notice.

Until now – my yellow belt t-shirts are THAT piece of clothing.

Post yellow belt testing!

So.  I let a couple days pass me by, then weeks, then a few more weeks (and months), in the hopes that maybe I could organise some form of rational thought, and get past the elation and overwhelming pride in myself before putting something together on paper.

I thought that perhaps, with letting a little time pass, it would all start to sink in and maybe even be a little less surreal.  However, all those months seem to have done? Was allow my black and blue body, to become even more black, and blue – which have raised a few eyebrows whilst out and about in public, and eventually fade back to normality, and cause some serious cabin-fever to set in from not fighting lately.  But what hasn’t started to fade?  What isn’t gone? And I’m honestly not sure it ever will…it my overwhelming pride in myself for what I achieved.

On Sunday 18th September, I faced what I’d consider to be one of, if not THE biggest personal challenge I’ve ever faced in all my days…  My level 1, yellow belt test, in Krav Maga. (For those of you who haven’t yet read my original post on Krav, you can find it here.) Nineteen weeks and three days after walking in to the Fight Back Fit (FBF) Krav studio, I hobbled out of there with my yellow belt (and a ‘you survived your test, here’s a kit to survive the next few days of pain’ gift, from my testing partner, Jennifer, containing things like Advil, Tiger Balm, bath salts and an ice pack!)

As I entered my last couple weeks in Houston, I give some real thought to all the things that I accomplished during my time there – and, second only to having my son, nothing fills me more with pride than having completed this achievement – in my entire life.

The most badass group of bitchez around!

I think the saying is ‘it takes a village’, right? And I don’t think I ever truly realised the depth of truth in that saying, until the moment I walked (hobbled) out of the gym with my yellow shirt on.

From my fantastic instructors, Jeanna, Mike and Dan, who not only teach well (well enough that I even learned a ton from other students in the gym), but, more importantly, listen well – to feedback, to questions and to requests for what I needed to work on in the weeks and months leading up to my test.  Fantastic instructors, who gave good, constructive feedback, never made me feel like an idiot for trying something,  whether I sank or swam, who recognised my strengths, weaknesses and limits – and challenged me beyond all of them.

To my solid training crew.  Group message nagging to get my backside to class, pushing my limits (both physical and mental) during training, and socialising (eating) when we were done kicking butt.

I’ve very recently lost a mentor, a coach, the very guy who encouraged (and even ‘gently’ shoved) me in to walking up those stairs to the Krav loft at FBF, and I almost wasn’t going to mark my anniversary at all.  Until I gave it a second thought.  I thought about what he’d want for me to do, about how much of an important milestone it is for me in my life and how he’d be pretty devastated to know that I didn’t mark it somehow.

I don’t think I’ll fully be able to put in to words just what a difference taking that first step in to the gym has made to my life as a whole.  I was terrified, shaking, even.  I’ve mentioned it any number of times around this blog, but, there’s often this ‘fat girl’ thing in the gym, those uber fit dudes and gals who make it look so easy, who can go pump iron for an hour or two, and not so much as sweat a single freakin’ bead.  Whereas me? I look at the gym from the car park, my face turns a deep shade of beetroot and I get under-boob sweat. I don’t know how to use the machines, I’m super intimidated by fit people, I utterly abhor exercise and I confess to having my own ‘fat girl’ complex, never mind the ‘fat girl’ complexes the *actual* fit people may have, when they see a plus sized chick walking in to their gym.

I was legit terrified to go in to FBF, but, it didn’t take long before I felt at ease.  Between the instructor and my fellow students, I felt oddly at home, from the first five minutes of class.  That has never happened before – I thought for a moment that my desire to be like Jason Statham had overshadowed my core-trembling-terror at being in a gym.

I was never asked ‘do you think you can do this?’  I was never told ‘Just do what you can’, and once I’d shaken off my new-person terror, I eventually lost the ‘I can’t’ mentality, and adopted a ‘someday I’ll do what they’re doing’ mentality – and yet? They never demanded that I did something, either.  They never said ‘you must do this’, I just knew that as long as I pushed and challenged myself in each class and went a little further, and a little harder, that eventually, I’d be able to do all of the things that the other, slimmer, more flexible, fitter students could do – including kicking my friend in the head (she was elated, I was horrified! LOL!)

It didn’t happen overnight, the crew at FBF quietly (ha! Not!) encouraged me to push myself, to grow, to learn, but mostly? To believe in myself.  To believe that I could do anything I wanted to, with some hard work and grit.  After a couple weeks of the beginner classes, I levelled up and joined the advanced classes too – if I was driving for an hour to get there, it made sense to just stay for the two hours instead of one.  But more than that? I started to believe I could do it.  I started to WANT to do it.  Me.  Miss ‘allergic to exercise’, WANTED to work out more.  Why? Because I loved every freakin’ second of it. 

Walking on the treadmill? Nope, not for me.

Learning how to choke someone and defend against chokes? Count me in!

My badass training was quickly in full flow. 

I learned more than I could ever tell y’all, during my time at FBF.  Not just about survival skills and self-defence, though that was a big part of it.  But I learned more about myself, conditioned my ‘fight response’, (whereas before, while I’d have said I’d have only *said* that I had a fight response, I think, looking back, it would have been a flight response instead.)  I learned that most of my limits were self-imposed, I trained with orange belts, green belts, blue belts, black belts and instructors.  I trained with women and men, tall and short, 100lb people and 250lb people.  As a 250lb girl, I never imagined that was possible.  I never thought I’d be able to lift my leg high enough to kick someone in the head.  Or to endure (and LOVE) ten hours of exercise a week! Some days I did SIX hours of self defence – IN ONE DAY!?  At first, I was a little intimidated, but I had a thirst to learn so I quickly just jumped in with both feet…and both fists.

I remember the instructors always telling me that it often takes people a while to find their inner fight, their inner warrior, that thing that makes them want to absorb everything like a sponge in class, and excel, and I almost fell over when they told me that I walked in the door with it, on my sleeve, ready to be a badass.  I didn’t feel that way, I was unsure, shaky and convinced my friend who’d sent me to krav was punking me for some cruel joke – but, from day 1 they saw something in me – something they fostered, nurtured and helped develop, and the more I look back, the more landmark moments I notice through my journey that make me beam with pride.

Post Muay Thai seminar with world renowned Mark ‘The Hyena’ Beecher

I, not only survived a three hour Muay Thai seminar with Mark ‘The Hyena’ Beecher – but I rocked it.  Ok, his long and complicating cardio inspired cool-down was beyond me, but I was SO epically proud of myself that day – mostly for not allowing the bowl of spaghetti that was threatening to make a reappearance from lunch, come back up.  But also? I’d done the morning Krav class, the women’s self-defence seminar AND the three hour Muay Thai class in ONE DAY – and loved every damn second of it.  And wanted to do it again.

My first fight class, with my training partner, and big bro G.

There are no classes on the FBF schedule that you cannot go to – except one – even if you’ve just walked in off the street for your first week of training, you can go to the beginner, the advanced, the cardio – you can do it all, except fight night.  Fight Night is Mike’s ‘baby’, it’s a night where students get together and work on fighting technique, sparring, punching, even kicking (with shin guards on, obviously!)  To go to this class, you have to be invited, and I wasn’t quite convinced that I’d receive an invite before I left Houston, I was jealous of those who got to go, and I was totally convinced that I NEEDED to do fight night – so I worked hard.  I went to watch one or two fight nights, after a couple months of training, and as I left one night, Mike called me from the top of the stairs and said, ‘if you wanna come fight next week, you can’, I thought he was just being nice cause I’d sat and watched everyone fight for an hour, ‘I don’t mind watching’, I replied, ‘it’s ok’.  He replied, ‘yeah, but you’re ready to stop watching and fight’.  And so, I did. 

Snap from the class I was pulled out of line to demonstrate good punches.

I was pulled to the front of the class one night, in front of one of the biggest groups of students I think I witnessed in my entire time training at FBF.  To demonstrate – wait for it, ‘excellent form for straight punches’.  For a moment I felt totally embarrassed, but that was quickly replaced by overwhelming pride.  I turned to Mike and said ‘I’ve been concentrating on my form lately,’ to which he replied, ‘I know, it’s why you’re showing everyone else how to punch correctly right now’.  When I started white collar boxing in Newry after I got back to Ireland, I tried to help a few people I got close to with their punching form.  In my first class, I was told by another boxer, to pay attention to myself and stop trying to help people.  I told her that if I could help someone NOT break their knuckles, I was going to do it.  Just because I’d never done white collar, just because I’m a big girl, and just because I know something that *you* don’t know, doesn’t mean I don’t have something to teach.  In FBF, the mantra was more, ‘everyone has something to learn, and everyone has something to teach’.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a black belt man, or a white belt woman, you can still train together, and you can still learn -each of you, something of benefit, from the other. 

During Testing – picture credit G C Montgomery

My most notable moment in my first year of krav-life, was the day I earned my level one/yellow belt.  It wasn’t just a couple hours of being beaten up by (and beating up) my fight partner Jenn – though, if you know Jenn, you’ll know that that is an accomplishment on its own.  I couldn’t sleep the night before, couldn’t eat the morning of, I was utterly crapping myself, terrified – as confident as I had felt in the weeks running up to the test, in the last seven days of training with Gary and Jenn, I was convinced I sucked ass at everything and was just plain going to embarrass myself and fail – hell, I even got knocked on my ass during my test (I had a feeling it was going to happen, Jenn has this thing about gusto in her choke attacks from the front with a push).  When in actual fact? Jeanna told me that I was the most technically proficient level one student she had ever seen.  Mic drop – I’m out.  I was walking on air.

Last supper with my crew the night before I flew <3

Leaving that group of people to come back to Ireland, was one of the hardest things I’ve done.  Saying goodbye to them all in the carpark after my last supper of ramen, didn’t prevent me from ugly crying at the side of the road.  I was heartbroken.

I felt like those people knew me on a level I hadn’t previously knew existed within myself, I mean, you can’t exactly sit down at a table for dinner with your regular people friends and talk about your favourite choke position, or your favourite way of kicking people.  Most people don’t see bruises as badges of honour, they see injury, weakness, pain.   Kathy developed a ‘I train with Jenn’ and ‘I train with Las’ bruise balm for us to heal the worst of our war-wounds, but bet your ass I took pictures of them and snap chatted them to EVERYONE who’d look – Jenn will even tell you that I sent her a pic of my epic ‘the boy missed the pad and kicked my boob instead’ bruise.

Leaving that group of people to come back to Ireland? I was largely convinced that I’d really never fight again, I’d never find somewhere to fit in, somewhere who makes ‘fat girls’ feel accepted for their skill and not assume they had no game, just cause of their size.  And while I haven’t found my fight tribe here just yet, I didn’t quit.

I’ve been slow getting back ‘at it’ since I came back to the UK, my friend Taylor said to me that I needed to put it to priority #1.  ‘This is where I tell you that you busted your ass to earn that belt.  The right way.  So you didn’t have to prove yourself where you were going.  And it’s not about the colour of the belt, or how many days it takes to earn it.  It’s about your abilities.  And if you don’t practice, you’re going to be set back.  I don’t want to see you wait on krav or some other kind of fighting skill – you’ve stalled far too long as it is.’

He had a habit of telling it like it was.

Since I came back, I did a couple Krav classes in my home town, I’ve done a white-collar boxing fight night for charity and I’ve just recently started a four week, women’s only kickboxing class.  It’s not much.  It’s absolutely not enough.  But my heart has lost a little of its spunk I guess.  Leaving FBF, coming home to a country distinctly lacking in Krav and having lost a coach and mentor.  My heart hurts.  I cried the entire drive to my new kickboxing class, it was bitter sweet. It’ll pass, I know it’ll pass – because time ‘heals’ all, but, moreso, because I miss it.  Because I know I can’t quit being a badass – you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube. 

I’m hungry to train, I’m hungry to learn, I’m hungry to fight.  Every.  Damn.  Day.  I just need to find my jam here in Ireland.  Once I do – I’ll be unstoppable.

Watch this space.

 

Lewis’ Disney Cars 3rd birthday party!

I was determined not to take an entire 365 days to get my sh*t together and post about Lewis’ 3rd birthday party this time around.  I mean, I get that life got in the way last year, but his 2nd birthday post was *so* entirely lost in the recesses of my blog drafts that I utterly forgot ALL about it.

This was Lewis’ first birthday party at home, and, considering his parties are something of legend from our last two years in Houston, and our apartment here isn’t big enough to swing a cat in, that I was going to book a community centre hall, here in Larne.

Since we’ve barely been around much since we bought the apartment, I had no idea where to go.  I put a call out on a local mums page and got the recommendation of The Cliff, 60 quid, two hours, hall rental and a bouncy castle – sorted! I opted to add an extra hour (30 before, 30 after) for set up and tear down, cause I knew the 30 minutes that came with the package (I was right).

The theme was Cars, when I picked it, we were going for a planes, trains and automobiles theme, so Disney cars wasn’t the specific choice at the time, but Lewis became quickly OBSESSED with Disney Cars (especially the tractor scene) and the decision was an easy one.  The colours were red and yellow, and daddy ensured there was as much Mater presence as we could cram in to the party.

We have a much smaller circle here in the UK than we did in Houston, so the number of kids was less, the number of adults were less, but the amount of food and effort put in to the party was probably more – I can’t help myself! LOL!

And those that came along? Seem to have had a blast, and went home happy, full and most of the kids were well tired out from all the running around.

The Cake and Cupcakes

Let’s get this out of the way right off the bat.  I didn’t want a cake – no one really eats it, it’s always way too big for the amount of people you have, regular sized cupcakes wind up half eaten or in the bin, so I wanted mini cupcakes.  I have a cupcake lady here in NI and I opted to get three flavours, twenty cupcakes per flavour. Chocolate with chocolate buttercream, vanilla cupcake with lemon curd middle and lemon buttercream, vanilla cupcake with raspberry filling and a coconut vanilla buttercream – with edible, themed toppers.  Delish.  Sixty mini cupcakes.  A bite, maybe two, limited waste and everyone goes home happy.

This was fine until Col insisted we needed a cake.  We were going to go for a simple, buttercream covered cake and being quoted fifty pounds for a cake that I *could* have made, but was just a little too lazy to make, I opted for a Blaze cake from Asda for a tenner – it’s another current favourite of the birthday boys and it’s close enough to a car to pass in an automobile birthday party.

The decorations

Being a community centre, the room is ginormous, so there was no way I was going to be able to decorate the entire thing.  I didn’t have a rail to act as my back drop for the yellow curtains that I picked up in Target on clearance before we left the states.  So we got a similar plastic back-drop/poster decoration as we had last year for his Thomas party.

The table cloths were a mix of party colours and, a late addition, checkered flag table cloths, as we had more tables than we did tablecloths.  Col grabbed a helium tank and inflated a couple of helium balloons that he tied around the room.  We picked up some checkered flags that were thrown in some Disney Cars cups as last second centre-pieces and I bought some little rubber wheels from Amazon on a whim, to stack and scatter around the food and dessert tables – turns out, these were quite a hit and became toys for the kids to play with during the party.

We had a Cars Happy Birthday banner for out the front door of the community centre – there’s no sign on The Cliff, to say ‘hey you’re at the right place’, so it was just a wee marker to let people know they weren’t lost.

We also had a food labelling kit (most of which wasn’t used), but we had little food flags, straw flags and stickers for things like the jar of salsa and dips.

The Food and Drink

Not-Las made cupcakes and store-bought cake aside, the dessert table comprised of two flavours of oreo truffles (mint dipped in milk chocolate, and strawberry dipped in white chocolate), as well as banoffee balls.  I threw together some of Godmother Sheri’s date crumbles so a little bit of her would be at his birthday party too.

I had various crisps, and sweets from the sweetie aisle in Tesco (seriously though? Who doesn’t love giant strawberries, strawberry laces and sweetie teeth?!)

Going on parties from Houston, where parents are increasingly health conscious, I had fruit and veggie trays with multiple dips, caprese skewers and sandwiches.  Bringing up the unhealthy (and hot food) side of the table I had buffalo chicken dip, cocktail sausages and cocktail sausages.

Drinks wise, kids had ‘Thank you for coming to my party’, personalised Lewis labels, adults had soda/pop/fizzy juice – I was supposed to pick up water, but with the crazy of the morning it evaded my memory.

Party Bags

This years party bags, were my best to date! I got some Paw Patrol fabric totes on valentines clearance for 39c a piece, I had Disney Car’s plastic cups from Walmart (99c), Disney Cars bubbles with a puzzle on top, Disney Car’s self inking stamp, a Disney Cars jigsaw puzzle, a Disney Cars play pack and a Matchbox car for each party bag.

Edible treats consisted of Paw Patrol edible gumies, Halloween haribo (I got on clearance at Tesco, wotsits, raisins, a Paw Patrol chocolate lollipop, mini Cadbury fingers and a little pouch of buttons.

Clothing

Aunty Magz was on the ball this year with ordering a themed t-shirt, daddy forgot to order one for his second birthday, but his 1st and 3rd birthday parties involved a shirt,with the theme, his age and his name – I LOVED this years Cars shirt.  A LOT!

As for me? I did a little ‘unicorn hunting’ within the realms of Lularoe and came up with these car leggings (couldn’t get a pair for Lewis to match!) and I was comfy and theme-fitting for the day!

Finishing touches.

When I was growing up, my parents always went all-out on our birthday parties.  Whatever they could afford, but always a little ‘more’ than our friends.  All my friends wanted invited to my parties.  Birthdays were always very important in our home.  The day you were born? It’s a pretty freakin’ huge deal.

I’ve always been the same when it comes to Lewis’ birthday parties.  He was so very wanted, and he is loved more than I knew was possible, and I believe in celebrating his little life to the max on his birthday, as I’d like to think that for the rest of the year (aside from when he’s in Grannies house), he’s not too spoiled at all.

So, with that in mind, in an addition to the bouncy castle, on a whim I priced a face painter – I’d seen their information advertised in the community centre only three days pre-party, when I went to extend our reservation.  I emailed them, fully expecting them to be booked up.  When they replied and said that they were not only available for the party, but they were only 45 quid for the hour, for around a dozen kids, probably some stray big-kids who’d want their faces done too, for face painting, glitter tattoos and balloon animals, I jumped on it.  I wanted this party to be a little special for the kids, but also? Things like a bouncy castle and face painting in Houston would have cost exponentially more than that, so it was an easy sell.

Not only was she prompt in arriving and setting up, but she was detailed in her face painting, and good.  The boys stuck to getting all Spidermen, the girls went butterflies and a princess – it was a great level of skill, not just stars and flowers and I’d highly recommend them to anyone in the mid-East Antrim area for their parties (info@carnivalpromotions.co.uk).

Lastly, but, most importantly, I asked my cousin Paula to come along to take some snaps on the day at the party.  I’d had my friend Sandra take pics of his first party, we didn’t have a photographer at the party last year and I missed it.  So I asked her to make the trek up from Newry and join us with her camera – I am so very glad I did.  We got some updated family pictures, some great snaps of my party planning wizardry for the blog and she captured some lovely pictures of my friends, their kids and just ‘in the moment’ memories that I’ll cherish forever.

Choo Choo! Lewis is two!

It’s been almost a year since I started this blog post.  You know how I know that it’s been almost a year? Because Lewis’ THIRD birthday has been and gone, so i’m clearly just a little behind.

Let’s do a quick recap…For his first birthday party, we settled on planes as the theme (blog post can be found here), I had originally wanted to keep the ‘train’ theme for when he was a little older and more involved with trains, so he could enjoy it a little more.  But I couldn’t help myself. I’d settled on the theme for his second birthday a before he began his obsession with trains, thankfully though, his obsession was in full force by the time his party came around.

There are worse things my son could be obsessed with these days, I hear Caillou and Peppa Pig are absolute head wreckers (I wouldn’t know, they’re banned under my roof! LOL!) Curious George bugs the hell out of my friends and I don’t think I could face a Dora the Explorer obsession for that matter either.

In spite of the fact that Lewis is currently, whole heartedly obsessed with Paw Patrol, I had already decided that his third birthday party theme would be cars (following the Planes, Trains and Automobiles path), and had already set wheels in motion for the theme before the obsession with the heavily gender-biased dog show came along.

Anyways, back to his second birthday, originally, we were going with a generic train theme, not specifically Thomas.  However, it wasn’t long before our little toddler was Thomas on the brain, so it became a non-starter, a Thomas party it would be.  The colour theme was red, green and blue – after James, Percy and Thomas.  If you search for Thomas and friends party on Pinterest, there’s an abundance of ideas and suggestions, to fit every budget and creative flare.  Everything from train cookies, to ride along hay-bale trains for the yard (which I momentarily considered before I decided that it was, perhaps, a little OTT).

I skipped out on the invitations for his second party, with my best friends wedding only two weeks before, life was a little crazy and so I opted for a Facebook event invitation (a trend I opted to do again this year) and didn’t bother with a photo-booth either (I know, right? What kind of pinterest party mother AM I?)

Essentially, this party was as minimal effort, maximum effect, as I could physically manage.

Party Bags

 

I LOVE party bags, they’re one of my favourite things to put together for a party.  I decided that last year, the party favours would be two-fold, upon arrival to the party, children were directed to the ‘Uniform Pick-up’ station, where they donned a hat, bandanna and picked up their train whistles.

As they left, they picked up one of these goody bags, the bags themselves I got a couple years ago in a closing down Birthday’s on a random trip to Scotland – figuring that I’d use them some day, whether for a grown-up ‘little boy’ obsessed with trains, or a son.  I paid pittance for them (like 15p a pack) and they fit right in.

Inside these goodie bags, kids found a train lollipop, star shaped bubbles, a Thomas and friends Mini ($1 each in Walmart, $1.50 in Target), a pack of Thomas stickers (Amazon) and a Thomas and friends stamp – I was pretty happy with this little goody bag.

Decor

Decorations for this party were pretty simple, the internet is coming down down with Thomas decorations.  I opted for this Thomas the tank ‘Scene setter’, which came in five pieces, two went on the front door, one went above the favour table and the two biggest pieces went behind the drinks station and served as a ‘faux wall’ between the party room and the dining room.

I picked up a pack of these Thomas table centerpiece decorations and confetti, a railroad track table runner, last year’s three-piece little blue suitcases were, this year, joined by a red set for holding favours and table decoration.  I opted for healthier snacks this year, and decided to have some popcorn, coincidentally I stumbled upon this cute popcorn stand, which was both practical and added to the table decoration.  The food was also served in foil containers that I’d glued oreos to, to give the impression of a train car – and that, was pretty much that.

The Cake

The ‘Cake’, was something i’d seen on Pinterest.  It was a ‘2’ made out of cupcakes, topped with kitkats, feigning railway track for his little Thomas minis to sit on as decoration.  It was a simple, yet effective ‘cake’, I ordered the cupcakes from a local bakery, and Lewis had any number of mini trains around to go on the ‘track’.

Food and Drink

Having made ombre rice krispies treats for my BFF’s wedding a couple weeks prior, I figured it would be fun to make them again for the party, dipped pretzels became our ‘log car’, poorly homemade train shaped sugar cookies, popcorn and various fruits, macaroons and oreo truffles made up the sweet table.

On the savoury side we had squares of cheese (dairy cars), chips and dip (grain cars), veggies and dip (produce cars), mini quiches, mini sausage rolls, min vol au vents, and train shaped sandwiches with various fillings.

The drinks table had mini waters, capri suns, orange juice and lemonade, with 99c Thomas cups from Walmart that the kids got to take home at the end of the party too.

This was Lewis’ last birthday party for a while in his hometown of Sugar Land, Texas, and it was quite a fun, at-home party.  Lewis’ toys were all on-hand for the kids to play with, so as far as party activities were concerned? I didn’t really need to do anything.  The kids busied themselves just fine, and when they weren’t playing with the toys, they were filling their faces with a mix of healthy and unhealthy treats, while the mama’s all had a chinwag and a bun!

To the mother of the autistic child…

I saw you.

I didn’t realize he was your son, or I’d have come to you first. I couldn’t fathom the idea that perhaps he belonged to you, considering you sat intently watching as your five year old child, repeatedly assaulted my two and a half year old without intervening. But had I known? I’d have taken your damn head off your shoulders.

Let me rewind.

I’m sitting in Funky Monkeys, as usual – vaguely watching my kid happily playing by himself – as he’s prone to doing. I see an older boy go and shove him. Lewis looks at him with a confused look on his face and tries to pass again. The boy slaps him. Throws one of those swinging foam punch bags in his face and runs off laughing.

A few minutes pass, Lewis slides down the slide and tries to do a second pass. He’s shoved and smacked again, and having watched this child’s interactions with other children after the first altercation, I had my suspicions that this child was perhaps somewhere on the spectrum, but I wasn’t quite sure, while I’m aware of ASD, I’ve had no direct experience with it.  I bit my tongue, gave him the benefit of the doubt and, thus far, he’d just been a bit overly boisterous with Lewis, so I held my ground and just paid a little more attention to them both – my ‘vaguely watching’, instead became ‘must have a 20 on both of them at all times’.

Lewis then proceeds to actively try and avoid this child for a few minutes. He’s decided he’s had enough, and he wants to stay away. But the child pursues him. Relentlessly.

And then? He shoves Lewis, off a set of foam stairs, causing him to fall a couple feet and hit the deck, on his back/head. Lewis gets up, rubs his head and tries to climb back up. He’s only little and didn’t quite understand what was happening, another sharp shove later and Lewis is back on his back on the floor.

At this point I bound up from my seat, cross the floor of tables and chairs and approach the pair.  As I approach, I notice a lady intently watching them, shaking her head with a disapproving look in her face. We make eye contact. She gives me that “where’s that wee bully’s parents” look and I continue on my way. I get to Lewis, pick him up before this older kid had a chance to shove him a third time (he was winding up to do it), ask him if he’s ok, turn to the offending child and (calmly, though I’ve no idea how I kept my cool at this point) say “can you stop shoving him please? He’s only little”.

“Sore face mama, sore arm” Lewis tells me and it’s about now that the VERY SAME LADY I just made eye contact with, over this child’s behaviour comes over shouting at me, demanding to know what he’d done. What has he done? You’ve been WATCHING what he’s been doing.  I SAW YOU.  FFS! I watched you, watch them.

I tell her, calmly, (though being accosted like it was my child doing the shoving off steps really got my goat up). She snaps at me “he’s got autism, just tell me next time. This is why I don’t take him out to places like this” and tried grabbing at the child’s arm and shouting at him to apologize to Lewis.

I (still calmly, and quickly) tell her it’s ok, to leave the child (Jose) alone and not to shout at him – it wasn’t necessary.  But that things had just escalated to the point of my being concerned for Lewis’ safety and I had to say something.  I realise the sensitivity of having an autistic child, I’ve had friends in the past with autistic kids, I’m aware that a symptom of the disorder is that the child often does not understand personal space boundaries, but I’m even more aware that raising your voice, getting angry at them and physically pulling them out of a situation? Is NOT the best way to deal with the situation.
For the rest of their time in the play area, Lewis kept going over and trying to make friends with the little boy, and both of his parents.  That’s just who he is.  You take his toy? He’ll let you.  You push him and he falls and hurts his head? I teach him to forgive.  I don’t teach him to be angry and bear grudges.  I don’t teach him revenge.  I teach him love.  I teach him kindness.  I teach him patience.
My childminder has said that he’s ‘too soft’, that being around other boys will ‘toughen him up’ and that he ‘needs to harden up’, and for a moment? I *almost* conceded that perhaps, just, maybe, he *does* need to be a bit more tough.
Until today.  Today marks five days post-incident with this little boy with autism in the indoor play area, and I’m back in indoor play with Lewis.  I’m sat watching him push a little baby, less than half his age, around in one of those red and yellow cosy coupes.  Prior to the pushing around? He went over to the little boy – whom we don’t know, and said ‘hi baby’.  He crouched down to his level, got a little in to his personal space to say hi, and the little baby touched his face (and eventually started slapping him a little and pulling on his nose).  Lewis didn’t hit him back, he didn’t argue or get angry.  He simply said ‘mama, baby touch the face’ and the babies mum intervened to ask him to stop pawing at my kids face.
Tolerance.  Patience.  Forgiveness.  Love.
Stand up for yourself when you need to, but pick your battles, you can’t, nor should you, fight them all.
Don’t sweat the small stuff.
Keep perspective.
Let bygones, be bygones.
However cliched, or fortune cookie-esque that sounds, I think the world is sorely lacking in these qualities right now, and I find it a little sad that people think that a little boy with more gentle qualities than ‘storm in a teacup’, or a ‘have your toy snatched, snatch it back’ mentality, is a negative thing.
The way it should have been for Jose’s mother the other day.  SHE, who sat WATCHING her child, hurt my child, REPEATEDLY, should have intervened.  SHE was more educated and better equipped to handle and diffuse the situation that I am, and she just stood by and watched him hurt another child.
I don’t typically fight my child’s battles for him.  I often fight my instinct to ‘helicopter parent’ him.  If he falls, I don’t make a rushing scene to his aid, I ask him if he’s hurt, if he’s going to make it, and, as such, he only cries when he actually hurts himself.
Perhaps I didn’t deal with the situation the best by addressing the child directly, but you? You have been immersed in his daily life, you’re experienced living with a child with autism, he’s clearly had similar experiences prior, considering your ‘this is why we don’t take him places like this’ comment and I, my no experience self, handled the damn situation better than you did.
YOU, lady, should be ashamed of yourself.  And I imagine if tables were turned? If Lewis had returned even ONE of his smacks, or shoves? You’d have been down my throat like a bullet.
Newsflash? Just because your child has autism, does NOT mean you can stand idly by while he hurts another child.
Aaaaand there ends my angry mother rant.

A Woman, in a Man’s world.

img_0042A friend presented me with UFC Fight Night tickets as a “congrats you passed your yellow belt in Krav, here go watch live fighting for a night” gift.

I was THRILLED when my “kid” brother was able to get the night off work to come with me. I’ve taken him to WWE as a kid, but I had no interest in wrestling and didn’t know a damn thing back then, but, he enjoyed it, and I enjoyed watching him, watching something he loved.

Now we’re both older, and we’re both “in to” fighting, I was even more excited to share this experience with him. As adults, and having lived across the pond for so long, we haven’t, and don’t get much “just us” time, and this meant a lot to me.

img_0159The night was going well, and took an unexpected upturn as Rowan came back from a trip to the loo and announced that he had just walked past Amanda Cooper as he was coming back to his seat. Just casually milling around the concourse at the Odyssey, still in her kit, after having won her FIRST EVER UFC fight. He said he contemplated stopping for a picture, but there was a crowd swarmed around her, so he thought better of it.

I didn’t go to the toilet right away, and when I did, I had no expectation of seeing Amanda on the concourse, but as I was walking back to my door, I caught her in my peripheral. She was walking pretty quickly, flanked by two guys and I thought to myself, nah, I’ll leave her be.

I walked in my door, got to the top of the stairs and was one foot ready to descend, when I had a whole slew of thoughts that prompted me to quickly turn on my heel and go back out to see if, just on the off chance, I could catch up with her for a picture.

You see, my gifted tickets were for some pretty epic seats, Row B, in fact, and Amanda had walked past us (we were sat on the exit route from the octagon) after her fight, just as a bunch of lads sat down behind us.

One of them had clearly never seen a fight before in his life. He asked his friends if this was the “sport for people having a midlife crisis”, and while that comment was mildly funny to his friends, what got me and made me want to punch him (and all of his friends in their boy parts) was the fact he was a blatant objectifying, misogynistic douche bag – and they egged him on and found him hilarious.

I sat there, listening to him, my blood slowly boiling from a simmer, loudly objectify the octagon girl. Announcing any number of derogatory comments about her and how he wished he’d sat closer so he could see her, rather than the fighting – because of how “f’ing hot” she was.

And you know what? For the longest time? My entire goal in life was to BE that octagon girl. Skinny, pretty, big boobs – the epitome of everything society and the world tells you that you should BE as a woman.  Plus sized is a dirty word.  You need to BE beautiful.  Plus sized is NOT beautiful.

Even nowadays.

Sit pretty.
Look nice.

Be skinny.

Another guy behind me, boxed for Ireland. He boxed for eleven years and when I asked him if he coached or taught when he was done fighting, he replied no, he had three daughters. He was taken aback by my exclamation of “SO???” and said he’d never have LET them get in to boxing.

Girls don’t fight.
Sit pretty.
Look nice.

He asked us if we came to UFC often and a third member of their group said “well, she (referring to me) is a pro, she knows a lot about this” and I’ll never forget the pride in my brothers voice when he informed them, “she does this” (meaning fight) and the shock on their faces and in their voices when I said, “yeah, I fight”, and told them about my new found love of Krav.

The boxer also said (when the heavyweight class came up), that being hit by a 245lb dude would be like being hit by a “fucking bus”, and sniggered like 245 was so. Damn. Heavy.

And as my 245lb, fitter than I’ve ever been in my entire life, recent yellow belt/level 1 achiever in Krav Maga self, stood at the top of those stairs, ready to return to my seat, I was struck by a lightening bolt.

If the last six months of self discovery and badass training have taught me anything? It’s that I’d rather be a strong, capable badass that men at the very least fear and question my capabilities, but at most, respect.

Than be a woman who’s gawked at, drooled over and talked about like I’m a stupid, piece of meat whose whole existence is to “stand and look f*ckable, like a good girl”.

I’ll admit, the results of the recent US election are weighing on my mind of late. With the president elect being so outwardly degrading to women, and my mounting fear of contraception, abortion and other “women’s things” becoming harder and harder for women to access, rather than easier. I find myself, almost glad, that I don’t yet have a daughter, because my rage and pain for how backward and thinly veiled the worlds attitude towards women remains, isn’t easily translated into comprehensive speech right now.

But bet your bollocks to a barn dance, if I ever have a daughter? I will help her smash through that bloody glass ceiling with our boxing gloves leading the way and shouting a big F U to the men like those I successfully tried not to groin kick tonight at the arena.

img_0072So yes, I walked my butt back out on to the concourse and thankfully, Amanda hadn’t gotten too far. I walked up to her and she made a few guys who were ahead of me, wait a second, so I could take not one, but two pictures with her – my hand was shaking (so sue me, I got a little nervous walking up to her) and I hit the cancel button on snap chat instead of the save button and she graciously granted me a do-over.

In that moment I wanted to hug her, to tell her that she had inspired me, empowered me, and had given me pause to think about things for just a moment.

I wanted to tell her that she was the kind of woman I wanted my future daughters, nieces and Goddaughters to aspire to, pushing the boundaries of what society deems “acceptable” as a woman. Taking societies expectations of what a woman should be, and do and saying screw you, I want to do this instead, and doing it.

I wanted to tell her, that in that moment, she gave me the courage to do something I probably wouldn’t have done otherwise, and snapped this picture.

img_0098Which will forever remind me, that, I too, wish to, (and should) push those boundaries and challenge those expectations, vehemently, and for my kids (of either gender) to learn from example and do the same.

That girls can be both beautiful AND badass at the same time – the two aren’t mutually exclusive like we’ve all been led to believe from an early age.

And mostly? That fighting like a girl? Is a pretty epic compliment after all.

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Larne Baby Club

This morning I did something brave.

In Houston, I wouldn’t have called it brave, and I’m hoping in a few weeks, I won’t be calling it brave either.  However, right now, where I’m at? It felt, just a little bit brave.

Having done a little research about playgroups in Larne, I discovered that online, there wasn’t much information around – did that mean there were no playgroups? Kinda looked like it, but you never know.  Larne isn’t a huge city and typically a lot of things happen on Facebook and it gets a little tricky to search for church play groups or people’s names, when you don’t know what they are.  I happened upon the Larne Baby Club after talking to a family member, and have had it on the calendar for a couple weeks.

That’s been the way, you see.  My calendar? It’s full.  It looks as busy as it did just before I left Houston to move home.  I didn’t miss a beat on paper.

About a week after we landed home, I got organized, I found a choir (Larne), knitting group (Larne and Belfast) and some self-defense options for me to try out in Larne, Belfast and Newry.  I found Lewis play groups to try out in the same cities, and I even made a nice and pretty schedule.  Days of the week, cities and what options they have on offer – all on a white board in Lewis’ room.

Theoretically, I’ve been set for a fortnight.  I’ve had options in three cities, I’ve had my name on the car insurance for just over a week now, so I’ve had the capability and freedom to actually attend these things, and I just….haven’t.

I’m a social person, I’m an extrovert, I miss my large social circle in Houston every single day.  I’m not exactly shy, I’m outgoing and love meeting people, but since moving home? I’ve gotten caught up in my own mind, my ever growing to do list and stuck in the expat-repat haze, that I just haven’t taken the first step and walked through a door.

Until this morning.

This morning, I decided ‘screw it’, my kid needs to go play with other kids, and I decided to take him to the Larne Baby Club (LBC) after I dropped Col at the train station.

img_9380LBC meets weekly, on a Monday morning, 10am at the All Saints Church (131 Linn Road), and while they have a donation bowl sat out, it’s a free, ‘Sure Start’ program (with connections to the Action For Children Charity.)

I was tempted to stay in bed, hand my kiddo his tablet and let the screen parent him for the morning.  I was tempted to take him to indoor play, instead.  And even for a split second sitting in the car park outside the church? I contemplated not going in and just driving off.  I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, when I arrived there was only one other mum (Nicola) and her twin two year olds (Ellen and Johnny) and she quickly informed me that there was normally way more people there (it quickly filled out).  It took Lewis a few minutes to come around, but once he realized there was food on the go – he was set and sat to have breakfast with the twins.  And food there was! Cheese cubes, grapes, bananas, pancakes and two (!) types of swiss rolls, milk for the kiddos and tea for the grown-ups.

The two leaders of the group, Alison and Diane were lovely, very warm and welcoming, and any time Lewis was playing by himself, they dandered over to him to keep him company.  They knew all the kids names in the room, recognized that I was new and came over to talk to me a bit about Lewis and the other programmes offered, and before I left to go home, I got handed a little person goody bag (complete with face mask for mama!) and Alison had put together a list of other toddler groups in Larne for during the week for me to try – so nice!

img_9375Lewis enjoyed being there, he played on his own a little, but interacted well with the other kids – especially a couple of the infants, and he LOVED painting with the twins.  And I enjoyed spending time with grown-ups, mums, chatting and getting some information about nursery programs, play groups and even a kickboxing class I’m going to go try out soon!

Looking forward to getting to know the people at this play group better, and to trying out the other playgroups on the list, and maybe, just maybe, I’ll drag my butt out to try my local choir tomorrow night too.  Since I’m feeling brave and all 😉

img_9370PS: If anyone is doing a pre-Christmas purge of their kids toys – I know a playgroup who would love to have them! 😉

A Funky little Monkey.

img_8496I wrote this post last week – just haven’t had a moment to scratch, to finish it up and edit it.  Needless to say, this will be the first, of what I’m sure is many blog posts about being a mum here in Northern Ireland, facilities available for kids and other such things.

——————

As I look out over this magnificent vista… wait.  Wrong show.

img_8467As I sit here, on this hard plastic throne and listen to the screams of a hugely disgruntled child as his grandmother attempts to drag him from whatever life changing toy he was playing with, as I watch the two poles of ‘human experience’ unfold before my eyes and am impatiently wait for my chicken goujon lunch to appear, I thought, perhaps, that it was high time I wrote my first ‘mumsy’ post from sunny Costa del Larne.

For the record, by ‘human experience’, I mean both the best and the worst.

I’ve just witnessed an older girl, completely unprovoked, grab an older boy by his head and smash his head into the floor of the play area, while he was howling in pain, I, simultaneously, watched a little girl – who had previously been doing some epically good round kicks on those punch bag looking things – take my sons hands over top of an obstacle he was trying to scale, and attempt to help (gently) pull him across.

img_8483While it didn’t work, and I sat for a good eight or nine more minutes, patiently watching him try to figure out how to get his little self, up and over this foam blockade (you can just about make out his wee head over top of the blue foam thing in the picture), he figured it out himself and I gave him a quick thumbs up, before heading over to thank the mother of the little girl, for not raising a face-smashing little wench, but a caring and helpful little girl, a stranger to my son, who tried to help him when she saw him struggling.  I imagined her heart leapt when she saw someone coming over asking if that little girl was her little girl, but instead I got a ‘yeah, she told me’ and a ‘what the hell are you doing over here talking to me, lady’, kinda look.  Screw you.  Ugh.

img_8479While living in the US, we had a few indoor play areas that we loved, nine bucks (ish), unlimited play time, typically an in house café – with varying successes in food provided – and a very happy, exhausted and sweaty toddler at the end of it all.

Coming back to Northern Ireland, I quickly became aware that we weren’t in Texas any more Toto.  The going rate for indoor play here, is around five pounds, which, in ‘real money’ is about $8 before the pound tanked.  Sounds on par, right? Well.  When that $8 only covers 90 minutes, you see, friends, we have a problem.

The problem here is, friends, that I have a boisterous and energetic little boy.  I have a little boy, who could easily burn through three hours in an indoor play area, doing the same thing over and over, and over again, to his little hearts content.  Who would cry, and scream, and protest were I to try and remove him from his fortress of fun.

And then I read about Funky Monkey’s membership.

  • $12 per month (that’s pounds, but I’m on an American computer and can’t figure out where in the name of all things, the GBP sign is).
  • UNLIMITED entry to the center, 7 days a week.
  • UNLIMITED access to activity programmes
  • 10% off birthday parties
  • 10% off at their café

img_8476Not only that? But you can use this membership in ANY of their locations around the north, there’s one in Larne, Newtonabbey, Banbridge, Dondonald…I’m not sure where else.  All I know is that the ‘city pass’ as I’d call it in a Houston context, means that I can use any of their branches under my monthly membership.

Sunday, we took Lewis to the one in Dundonald.  We had Halloween activities planned, but the weather didn’t comply, so we opted to cross the car park from the place we had breakfast and throw him in to Funky Monkey’s for a while.

img_8500I’ve been sick since Sunday, til yesterday (Thursday) and today, we’re back, here at the one in Larne, where we have already made friends with one of the girls who work here, Megan – which, brings up another point, the staff in Funtastics were verging on being rude, even, not just standoffish.  I’ve not found the funky monkey’s crew to be like that at all.  They’re friendly, kind and helpful.

So, my advice to the mums of Northern Ireland? Grab a membership to Funky Monkeys – it’s worth it.  You cover your monthly membership, with less than one trip to indoor play a week.  And, if you happen to see your local blogger sitting trying to wrestle her hot chocolate out of the hands of her toddler? Come say hi.

img_8502But for now? I’m going to enjoy the dregs of this mug, that he graciously left me until it’s time to convince this child that a quick trip to Asda is more fun than those swinging punch bags – when all this Krav mama *really* wants to do, is go throw some combos! 😉

Smells like Krav spirit…or is that sweat?

How in the world do you blog about a group of people who have quite literally changed your life?
13606656_10156979276515411_756404044872232427_nI wasn’t going to write this just yet.  I’m not 100% sure why, exactly.  I have a few reasons I guess, I wanted there to be more of a change in me, I wanted to make sure I stuck at it for an extended period of time and I wasn’t convinced that eight weeks was enough time to gauge, well, anything really.
Plus? Let’s just throw it out there now, but when it comes to talking about my amazing little Krav family? I get hit square in the feels (as long as it’s not the jaw, right?)

But, my time here in Houston is drawing to a close over the next couple months, and this new lifestyle and these new people have already had such a profound impact on my life, I thought “screw it”.  I figure that there’s really no harm in sharing this new chapter of my life on this blog.  Especially considering that the mental changes within myself, far outweigh any current visible, physical changes.  I’ve even gone so far as to have already looked up somewhere to continue my training when I go home, and Col has looked for somewhere in India.

I officially have “the bug”.
13516350_10156973497185411_7002291917759849473_nOn Thursday, May 5th, (so just over a month ago as I start to write this), I, in what felt at the time, like a moment of utter insanity, drove North of the city to try a free Krav Maga class.  I didn’t know much about the self defense system, other than it was more instinctual and less “organized”, than say, Tae Kwon Do, and really a little more akin to street fighting even.  So, off I went.
I got there a little early so I could watch the end of the previous, intermediate/advanced class, train and had I listened to the not-so-quiet voice screaming loudly in my ear to think again about what in the name of all that is holy I thought I was doing, I’d have bolted.  Part of me wanted to.  Not a small part either.  There was absolutely no way in hell I could ever do what those people were doing, right? But they’d all seen me come up the stairs, there was no escape – believe me, I considered it.
Hold up.  Let’s rewind a little, we all know that I’ve posted any number of fitness, weight loss, or healthy eating posts since I started this blog.  I’ve yoyo-ed the same 10lbs for years and my self-image hasn’t ever been stellar.
I abhor exercise.  Despise it.  I’ll leave a collection of things on the stairs that needs taken up, because I’m just too out-rightly lazy to add an extra flight of steps into my day.

And then something clicks.

It’s the same process every time, right?
I’ll get so sick of seeing my reflection in the mirror and I’ll hit something full pelt.  I’ll eat 1600 (-1800) calories a day (GP approved before any of you give me grief), drink 2 liters of water, eat 5 a day and start some form of exercise, Les Mills Body Attack or C25K have been the most notable favourites to date.  I’ll go 3-5 times a week, give my all, and after the first week or two of quick body-shock progress, eating like a hangry ankle-biting rabbit and working out more than any sane person should, in my lazy land of couch potato, I’ll hit some dumb plateau, the scales won’t move and I’ll lose my patience with it.  Or? Better yet? I’ll get my period, use it as the worlds lamest excuse to curl up in the corner and avoid the gym like the plague.  It really doesn’t take much for me to quit and go back to being unhappy with myself.
Typically.
I know myself, I know my patterns.

Or so I thought.

Anyways, back we go to Las, sat on the floor of the Krav loft, trying to look calm – when all she really wanted to do was jump in the car and drive home – stretching, because from the look of the intermediate class, it seemed like that was a smart thing to do, and praying, praying hard, that no one laughed at my mere presence there.
Then it occurred to me, the (I’m reluctant to call them educated, but on the subject matter I guess they are) person (people) who encouraged me to go to Krav in the first place? Wouldn’t have done so from an unkind place, or to make fun of me somehow.  They encouraged me to go because they thought I was capable – in spite of enjoying my couch potato lifestyle.  They thought that it was, perhaps, something I would enjoy, and maybe even go to a second class.  They believed in me, even if I didn’t believe in myself.
13510781_10156955669315411_8653724555621343230_nMy first class was pretty “low-key” (I’m also reluctant to say low-key, because I still ended up a sweaty mess and my calf hurt for three days after training).  It was all footwork, (stance is the most important thing!) and I spent most of the 60 minutes face to face with an orange belt, called Jen, who I’d seen training at the end of the previous class.  Neither she, nor Mike (the instructor), laughed at me for being there, they didn’t scoff, or ask what I thought I was doing, and, despite us giggling for the guts of an hour, Jen taught me more than I realised.
In spite of not being able to walk very well the next day (my calf protested being off the floor for an hour), I was sufficiently intrigued.  I signed up for a monthly, unlimited class membership and attended a two-hour monthly women’s self defense seminars, just two days later, that Saturday morning.
13319719_10156865174375411_9113199934113673980_nIn the eight weeks since that first night? My goal in May was 9 classes (two per week) I finished the month on 13.  I’ve attended a 3 hour Kali/Escrima (knife skills) workshop, two (soon to be three) 2-hour women’s self defense seminars and a 3 hour Muay Thai workshop with the best Muay Thai coach in the US.  I’ve not only tried an intermediate class, but I’ve done a number of back to back inter/beginner classes in the last few weeks, and I’m hungry for more.  Why? Not just because I enjoy it – sure, that’s a huge chunk, but these people I’m training with? They help me find belief in myself that I’m CAPABLE of more.
Crazy as it sounds, (and I know it’s a long shot, but we all need goals, right?) I’m training with the aim of testing for my yellow belt before we leave the US.  My goal for June was 13 classes, 3 per week and I finished on 22 Krav classes and 1 cardio combat class, I’ve not skipped a single class simply because I have ovaries (as a friend’s better half pointed out “an attacker doesn’t care if you’re sick or have your period”) and I’ve even managed to simultaneously train through a chest infection, just fine.
13307453_10156865174365411_3685887745969475778_nIt’s incredibly hard to capture, on a computer screen especially, the kind of people, or atmosphere, that Fight Back Fit has managed to harness, and I find it just a little laugh-out-loud-funny that I’m getting ‘totes emosh’ about a group of seriously bad ass fighters, however, I really am.  Last week? I trained for two hours before we went out for post-training tacos.  We typically close out the places we go to eat, mostly, I think, because the other patrons are afraid that our special kind of crazy is contagious and don’t want to be within a city block of our hysterical giggling.  Anyways, I had a not-so-minor breakdown on my way home, worked up and upset that I’m leaving this great group of people in a short matter of weeks.  It bothers me, a lot.
In class, no matter who I pair with in training, I learn something.
Everyone has something to teach.
Everyone is vested in everyone else’s training.  Everyone wants to make you a better fighter and no one cares that you’ve only been there a short number of weeks and suck at hooks, your left elbow flares when you strike, or that you punch with the wrong part of your fist – they just want you to be better.

Every class.

13528802_10156942683145411_1999757221268620819_nFighting and fitness aside? The folks I train with have a pretty social element to their training, they typically eat out after class a couple times a week (this has become after every time I train because I have a long drive home and am so hungry I could eat an entire cow when I’m finished), we’ll sit, laugh (there’s always lots of laughing), talk, share stories and re-fuel after a tough work out that we push each other to kick ass in.
I know you’re skeptical, I would be too had I not experienced it first-hand, there’s no way anyone could accidentally happen upon such a ready-made group of great friends, right? Wrong.  Aside from the Krav-ing, and the post-Krav eating (which, in the interest of being up front if you’re thinking of joining us, can last for hours), we have also hung out socially, I’ve been shooting with them, we’ve had lunch together on non-Krav days, and we’re working on throwing together a bucket list for my last eight weeks here in Houston and have a few fun things like karaoke and go-karting on the list for us to try our hands at.
13615046_10156987121315411_4232918578577866323_nWe even landed around to my Krav friend Kathy’s house (toddler and all!) and invaded for a bbq for the 4th, with two of my other fave Krav friends (Kate and Jen) with Kathy’s sister and her family.  If someone starts a sentence with ‘Hey, why don’t we…?’, or ‘Does anyone want to…?’ chances are at least four of us will be there.
They pick me up when I fall (literally), build me up when I’m low, push me through when I feel like I can’t do something and tell me I’m getting skinnier while punching me in the chest – what’s not to love? 😉
13606503_10156989125330411_3121260125936346466_nWanna know how hard I love these folks? Sunday night on my way to my volunteer shift at Ronald McDonald, I hit a pot hole – and I was scared to my core that I’d busted out my tyre, was going to get stranded at the hospital (I had the car seat in my car, so Col couldn’t come rescue me, had I been in trouble), but I knew that without a doubt, I could have called any of a handful of Krav people and they’d have busted their behinds to help me get myself figured out.  Thankfully, I didn’t need it, but it’s a very, very reassuring feeling to know that someone’s got your back.
While a large part of me is devastated that I didn’t meet these people seven years ago when we first moved to H-Town, a larger part of me is so damn thankful that I got to meet them at all.  That I got over myself, my inner demons, my self-hatey and crappy self esteem to take a chance, try something new, and that I get to spend my last four months in Houston, doing something I love, with people I love even more.
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No perfect people allowed! (The Bridge Fellowship MDO)

13240491_10156832052615411_2207768648830933834_nI’m ugly crying.

Y’all know ugly crying, right?

Red face, puffy eyes, complete with buckets of snot and enough Kleenex that makes you wish you’d bought shares in the company? Yeah, that’s me right now.

I’m inexplicably emotional right now – no, it’s not just cause I now have to have my multi-faceted toddler home with me full time again, but, I guess, it’s because it’s the end of an era.

12002877_10155970090180411_6231317509495296900_nThis time last year, Lewis was on a waiting list for a Mother’s day out program at The Bridge Fellowship, here in Sugar Land.  I had inner-battled back and forth on this one for a while, I suffered from, what I believe in the ‘biz’ they refer to as ‘mama guilt’.  As a stay at home mama (SAHM) I found it very hard to justify to myself, a ‘need’ to send my child away for nine hours a week.  It wasn’t overly expensive, don’t get me wrong – as MDO’s go in the area, The Bridge is certainly the most reasonable that I’ve found ($150 a month plus a quarterly supplies fee were the fees for 2015/16), but it was still an ‘unnecessary’ outgoing, considering I’m a SAHM, right?

Then a friend of mine sent me this email for Mother’s day – this isn’t it in it’s entirety, but you get the idea, and it got me *really* thinking.

A lot of articles online bash parenting today – especially mothers. We judge each other too much, who has time for all that Pinterest crap, here’s why you should feed your baby this way, cloth diapers FTW, never spank a child, don’t yell, stay away from GMO’s, organic food is best,  is your 4 year old really standing next to the hot stove OMG call cps…. Etc.  This has to be the hardest era to parent in yet.  And for the most part it’s focused on the moms.  You don’t really see “daddy” bashing articles or see dads whispering across the park and confronting each other in stores.  I don’t know if it’s because men just inherently aren’t used to being the focus of this stuff or if women are just more emotionally wired to be protective of the village, or they’re more judge mental and bitchy or what.  One things for certain though – being a mom today is f*cking hard.  Harder than I think any of our previous generations of mothers before us.  Not because of all the physical labor, but because as a society we make it hard on each other. 

As much as I dislike this holiday for the feelings of sadness that it brings up from my past, I also think it’s one of the most important holidays that we have for people like you and my other friends with kids.  Every one of you all parent very differently. Your kids all have different rules and lifestyles.  But you all very clearly love your kids and work to be the best parent you can be, regardless of what all those damn parenting articles say, garnering from your parents lessons (and either striving to be more like them or nothing like the, depending on what the case may be). And for that you should all be celebrated hugely. 
11921796_10155917686515411_17310299548217551_nI thought about why *I* wanted to put him in to ‘day care’, I mean, really thought about it.  It’s not like I was going to go drink margaritas, have mani-pedis and shop til I dropped every day (though, Lord knows, most days I’d totally love that!) it was more for every day things, doctors, dentists, chiropractors, OBGYN’s – unencumbered by a curious little boy who wants to touch everything, doesn’t want to hold hands crossing the road or car park, wants to hit every button in the elevator and who will stubbornly go off in whatever direction his little mind decides it wants to.
It was more grocery shopping without having to rationalise to a two year old, why mama doesn’t need 14 types of Goldfish crackers in the trolley.
It was more taking care of laundry without having ‘helping mama’ hands pull out clean, dry and folded laundry and run around the house while I was chasing him – cursing under my breath.
It was more about having grown-up conversation at least once a week, that didn’t involve telling a toddler to stop trying to climb out of his high chair, or to eat his vegetables – or no, he couldn’t have the sharp steak knife that the server left all too close to his mac and cheese covered little paws.
I thought about other friends children and quickly came to the realisation that socialisation – with other kids, other adults and some parent-free time, has overwhelmingly benefited many of my friends children and that it would be good for him to learn things like sharing toys, routine and being disciplined by someone who wasn’t Colin or I.
11951751_10155917686560411_2189568573678727582_nSo, I signed him up to The Bridge.  Two mornings a week.  Tuesday and Thursday, 9.30am – 2pm in a class of twelve children.  One Tuesday a month they have Chick Fil A days, one Thursday a month they have pizza days (where you pay $4 and they feed your little lunch), they have all kinds of parties (Rodeo, Easter, Christmas, End of year – for example), they do all kinds of crafting, they come home with Mothers day AND Father’s day gifts (even though Father’s day is after the term finishes), they had both the police and fire departments visit the school (he got his picture taken with the fire truck and police car) and they do various things from music class, playing with toys to learning.
Bear in mind, I hadn’t got very high expectations for the amount of learning he’d actually do, he was just shy of 18 months old, he went to his first day of school with a bald head (don’t ask – we had a pre-photoshoot haircut boo boo) a cast on his leg (again, don’t ask) and for the first couple of months he cried at drop off.  Some days, he even cried a lot, but the girls insisted that he calmed down shortly thereafter and settled in to his day.  The crying meant I couldn’t linger or chat to his teachers much, I handed him over and walked very quickly – the first few days, even fighting tears myself, and wondering what kind of awful parent I must be to leave my sobbing leg-cast toddler with strangers.
10448730_10155917686660411_197839715295224187_nBut, each drop-off got easier, and at each pick-up, our shy and quiet little Lewis was always a happy chappy.  Which made me happy – not only because I was actually accomplishing something (some days that may only have been grocery shopping in Target with a skinny hot chocolate), but also because he was enjoying himself.
12246753_10156149454300411_282857918153111900_nFeedback was always good, he’s a great eater, he’s a very calm, placid and happy baby and he’ll let any of the kids have what he’s playing with, with no retribution.  A little time passed.  I’m not sure quite at what point things started to reveal themselves, but I distinctly remember him asking, very nicely, one afternoon, for Elmo to be on TV.  I obliged, Sesame Street bought me some time to do SSA work for the afternoon and out of nowhere I hear, ‘Why mama’, I say ‘Why what bubba?’ and he says ‘Why’.
I look up at the screen and sure enough there’s the letter Y dancing across the screen.  I think I had some kind of episode, I started clapping and cheering that my smart little boy had identified the letter Y.  Over the coming months he came home showing off all kinds of wicked skills, he learned his numbers 1-10 (and even attempts beyond), he knows his colours (though he often gets yellow and green muddled up on the first pass, but gets pink, purple and orange just fine), he learned how to sing the alphabet (which is more phonetic noises with the occasional letter being thrown in at this point, cause he sings it way too fast, but we are working on our diction) and the other day he even told me about a triangle – I about fainted.
I can’t imagine two women handling eight ‘terrible two’ toddlers on the best of days, but actually educating them, teaching them things that he has clearly retained? It’s nothing short of a miracle, cause I can’t even get him to listen to me when I tell him to stop balancing on the back of the sofa, standing on one foot and holding a freshly sharpened pencil in his hand.
13239395_10156832064720411_2027101294490036828_nHe’s come on leaps and bounds in The Bridge MDO program, he’s become more confident and outgoing when it comes to other kids, his vocabulary and speech have exploded, turns out he’s quite the chatterbox (no idea where he gets THAT from, eh?) and going by his goodbye hugs to his teachers today, he’s pretty fond of them too.
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Bloom where you are planted.

250269_10150733801935411_2742472_nI’m struggling with words this morning, forgive me, please.  I’ve had a bit of a “creative spark” drought as of late, and I’ve not blogged in a little while.  But I got a phone call a couple weeks ago, that has changed my life forever, and it’s prompted my catharsis….

My dearest Cindy,

(I was very tempted to start this with ‘hey girlfriend’ but I resisted – kind of.)

Do you know how hard it is to explain to a two year old why you’re crying?

“Mama crying?”
“Yes Lewis, mama is crying.”
“Mama sad?”
“Yes bubba, mama is sad.”
He hasn’t learned the concept of “why?” quite yet, but the confusion on his face as to why his usually chipper mother has tears free-flowing down her face is clear.
I can’t quite break down into small enough words, or comprehensive terms for a two year old, so I just repeat, “mama’s sad, my love.  Mama’s gonna make it, but mama is sad” to try and reassure my concerned little man.
He reaches his wee arms up above his head, says “cuddle mama?” and rubs my tear stained cheeks when I pick him up.  “Wet, mama” he announces as he snuggles in to give me a hug.
318464_10150846251215411_703757683_nIt’s been over a week (more now that I’m actually finishing up this post) since you’ve gone and I don’t think I’m in any way more used to the idea that you’re no longer on the end of a text.  I tried to put some words together on the day that Tim called to tell me you had passed away, but words failed me – and we both know how unusual that is.  I think I needed those twenty four hours in Nawlins for your funeral, to be able to absorb, process, and string something coherent together, I’m just hoping that auto-correct is picking up typos through my tears.
A friend suggested that I write you a letter, I guess, this is my hybrid, both writing to you and sharing with everyone else just how wonderful a friend, but more so an amazing human being you were, because I couldn’t get myself together in time to put something in your casket with you.
45870_10152542173410411_310981353_nLet me rewind a little and tell everyone about my cherished friend…
Seven years ago, give or take, I was fresh out of college, I was dating Colin and his company offered him a transfer to Houston, ‘Let’s go!’ I enthusiastically exclaimed.  I’d always wanted to live in the US and this was a great opportunity for him, career wise, so off we went.

When I got here, I quickly realised though, that I hadn’t quite thought through the entire process of this expat malarkey, it wasn’t easy.  Culture shock (trust me, it happens even for people moving between states or provinces within the same country), not driving, not having kids or dogs to meet people at schools and dog parks, missing my family, my friends, birthdays, especially, being difficult.

Not long after I arrived, I joined the Spouses organisation – you know, the one that I tell you all about ALL. THE. TIME.  and I met, who I can only describe as this ginormous ball of positive energy, crammed inside a teenie tiny petite little frame.

I think this was the 1st (or maybe 2nd) time I ever met Cindy!

I think this was the 1st (or maybe 2nd) time I ever met Cindy!

Her name was Cindy, she was a bit older than me (think around my mums age), so not someone that you’d typically think of as falling under my ‘friend’ umbrella, but she quickly became a very dear friend to me.  I called her ‘mama Cindy’, her husband ‘daddy Tim’ and she took me under her wing.  She was sort of new to the Houston area (she’d been here before for a time) she was one of the first people I met in Houston and she was, without a doubt, one of the best.  Neither of us wanted to be here, she’d spent thirteen years in Denver, CO and that was home.  She loved having four real seasons, being close to her son Alex (I’ve heard so much about him that some days I wonder if he’s actually related to me somehow) and she hated Houston.  In spite of that?  She jumped in with both feet and wasn’t afraid of the splash.

Over the past seven years, our friendship has grown and I am nothing short of honoured to be able to say, that she’s been a large part of my inner circle, one of the original, old guard, ‘renegades’, who was truly up for anything.  Many’s a day have we cleared out cafes and restaurants by giggling obnoxiously loudly, we’ve eaten together (and for a little un she could surely put it away), we’ve laughed together, we’ve cried together, we’ve gossiped together and we’ve explored together.

She helped me picked my wedding dress, she was at my wedding, she helped both Col and I out after not one, but two surgeries, she co-hosted my baby shower, she never missed a sing-star party (or any kind of party) that I threw, she was always game for a good feed (and boy, could she put it away for someone so little) and she loved on Lewis and helped me out once he was born.  She was a true friend.

1010281_10152955364060411_1665002835_nWhen she got sick, almost ten months ago now, she was so full of hope, fire and determination that she couldn’t possibly succumb to this disease.  When she rang the exit bell at MD Anderson after her first round of radiation, she was so proud of herself, happy and excited about what was yet to come.  When the cancer came back? She took it in her stride, gloved up and said ‘Let’s do this’.  There has never been a single moment in the last nine months, where I didn’t think she would and could fight this – in spite of her prognosis, in spite of being stage 4, I figured that miracles happen, right? And if anyone was deserving of a miracle? It would be our Cindy, and she’d beat this thing.

You can imagine, then, how ill prepared I was for Tim’s phone call telling me that she was gone.

1484201_10153512435330411_1969890155_nSome days? I’m not wholly convinced that there’s a God, others? I’m not really sure he knows what he’s doing.  But if anyone needed convincing that God really does exist and indeed know what he’s doing, just look at Cindy’s story.  Tim mentioned it in his eulogy and brought us all to tears, he was right, things in Cindy’s life were definitely falling in to place, rather than falling to pieces, even though, in some ways it may have seemed like things were falling to pieces.

Her son Alex marrying Brittney when he did, her granddaughter Avery being born when she was – all big milestones that, had they happened at later stages of her life, she may not have been around to witness.  This extends to us too even, my friend Shelley wasn’t supposed to be transferred back to Houston when she was, instead, she got to see Cindy before she died, another friend and I are at the end of our seven year visas, had she died even six months down the line? We may not have been here to say goodbye.

The day before her funeral, I flew in to New Orleans with my sista-friend and Godmother to my son, Sheri.  We decided to go the day before, stay in a hotel in the ‘Quarter and pay homage to our girl Cindy in an amazing city.  We started with dinner and a hurricane at Pat O’Briens, a hand grenade at Tropical Isle, dancing and singing at a couple bars on bourbon street and finished up with a trashy hot dog in the street between pictures with minions and doing some guys advertising job for him.

IMG_6241The morning of her funeral, we met up with a couple of our friends who flew in early, we had breakfast, shed some tears as we walked through the French quarter, shopping a little for momentos and listening to a jazz band play ‘Amazing Grace’ (a song that the priest actually sang at the end of her funeral).

It was hard, but none of us fought our tears and I think a tradition was institutionalised.  In the future, when we lose one of our group (and I’m hoping it’ll be a long, long, time before that happens again), that’s where I’ll go, to honour, to drink and to say goodbye.

Miss Cindy’s visitation and funeral service was one of the hardest I’ve ever been to.  While it was beautiful and fitting, there were pictures of our fun-loving Cindy and beautiful smelling flowers at every turn, it was just hard.  I knew that with Tim doing the Eulogy, I didn’t stand a chance.  I was doomed to be a sobbing, ugly crying mess, before long, and I was right.  I was – and rightly so.

1511490_10153913529365411_953168089_nThe world is missing a very special person right now and I think many lives have been changed forever with her passing.  That said? Many lives have also been changed forever with her having been part of their lives – and I’m honoured to say, that I’m one of those people.  For a little’un, she’s left ginormous footprints on my heart and I’ll hold her memory dear forever – maybe some day we’ll all get together and tell little Miss Avery how ace (translation: cray cray) and full of love her grandma Cindy was.

397960_10151198854695411_185557443_nRest sweet, dear Cindy and I hope you’re dancing in heaven with the angels among the stars and we’ll all keep dancin’ down here, blooming where we are planted.

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