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Non means No….

I have just returned from a few days with friends in the south of France. We had a lovely time, despite truly British – dare I say Scottish – weather.

One of our jaunts out took us to the port of La Rochelle. I have fond memories of this place, having spent a riotous four days there in late 2009 on stopover prior to departing for an insane yacht race with ten other boats all the way to Rio de Janeiro. Good times – well, the bits I remember anyway.

Returning to La Rochelle the year after my return from Brazil with the family on holiday, I was mortified to be met with a hug and an effusive welcome by the proprietor of the port’s only Irish Pub – he apparently remembers me downing impressive quantities of some shocking cocktails called After Eights and thereafter dancing on the tables accompanied by other slightly inebriated sailor-type companions. It was not one of my finest parental moments – being displayed in front of my children – but they were so “Meh” about the whole thing that I believe I got away with it. Phew. Note to self: Must learn to lead children by example…..

But – staying on point – this visit included a mooch around the shops with our friends, where the children were amused to come across a series of Mr Men books written in French. The one that tickled our funny bone the most was “M. Non.” Just that – Monsieur Non. We fell about laughing on reading it, as we all immediately identified the elder male Stratton in the character – he who was browsing in a model-making shop at the time (because sensible people stay home and make models, not gad about the globe in glorified tin cans for the fun of it).

My husband – now M. Non forever more – is, let’s say, one who errs on the dark side. Not wholly negative, but not completely positive either. A planner and procrastinator. He’s most definitely a “No, but…” person when discussing ideas, people, concepts etc. whereas the rest of us are much more “But, yes…” He’s a “Can’t”, not “Let’s” person.

(Note: This “Non” does not, however, extend to bottles of French wine, for which he demonstrated much more “Mais oui!” this weekend than was good for him. Since his only failing here was to get louder in proportion to the quantity of wine consumed, this is a minor issue, although our poor friends may need to consult ear specialists this week as they recover from having us to stay.)

This inherent negativity has led to many clashes en famille as being with M. Non can somewhat limit spontaneity, creativity and simple learning through childhood (and adult) experiences. My son, for example, is protected from hurting himself with too much gung ho launching off walls and scaling of trees etc., by M. Non. He would say it is health and safety awareness, but I would argue that our son could also be less dexterous, less able to problem-solve and more cautious than he would otherwise be if allowed to experience more. My daughter is prevented from certain fashion choices and from experimenting too much with her hair. M. Non says non. But is that stifling her creativity, “cramping her style” or just his fatherly way of protecting her from peer ridicule?

It’s hard to know. I am a different animal altogether. I fight M. Non on many fronts myself. I believe in having a go, pushing boundaries and accepting the consequences as they happen. Not necessarily thinking about those consequences in advance. If I had, I would not have even been dancing on tables in La Rochelle, or scaring myself silly trying to manhandle a 68 foot bath-tub across the Atlantic for six weeks. “Non” is not a word I use much at all, unless we’re talking about tattoos or piercings on my daughter’s beautiful teenage person. That’s not so much “Non” as “Over my dead and rotted body.” Me and M. Non are, for once, in agreement on these issues.

But I do have to concede that without M. Non’s practicality, forward-thinking, hazard avoidance and foot-putting-down-ness then myself and the kids would teeter on the edge of potential disaster much more often than we do. While I find all that flying by the seat of my pants stuff terribly exciting, I do accept that it does not make for great parenting. Many meals and much of their formal education would be missed as we windsurfed our way across to the Canary Islands or trekked cheetahs in remote jungle bush, if their parenting was left purely to me.

So, here’s a tribute to the M. (and Madame) Nons of this world – those who we may moan about and rail against, but who keep us safe, love us enough to stop us doing too many silly things, and give us the secure base from which to leap into the unknown prepared and protected as much as they can manage and arrange.

Without my own M. Non, Madame Oui-Oui-Oui here and the little Oui-Ouis would not be the happy, healthy little unit we are. More time would potentially be spent in A&E than out enjoying ourselves. We must appreciate him and all he does (without the loud bits, obviously), even when “non” means no.

(She says, sneaking off to have a go at base-jumping before her ancient and creaky knees seize up altogether and/or M. Non finds out!! Just kidding, M. Non, honest?)

(Photo credit: http://broken-tv.blogspot.com)

What about ME?

I’m including here today a couple of the beautiful paintings created by my friend, Pippa. She moved to France a few years ago, and we got to talking on email one day about life, the universe and everything, as you do.  Turns out that, while France has been great and renovating a lovely little farmhouse, raising three gorgeous boys and learning an entirely new language has been fun, frustrating and immensely challenging in equal measure, she was struck by the same sense of something not quite right that affects all of us mums at some point.

Another friend wants to start a business, buying and renovating old furniture. Using craft skills she has, but cannot use in her day to day life.

Yet another wants to learn to water-ski. Whatever floats your boat, I say, pardon the pun.

The fact is the “What about Me?” moment comes to us all – even if you don’t, can’t or won’t admit it.  Something about motherhood, and in my case working motherhood, takes us over and we become like an escalator, constantly pushing and carrying other people forward to their destination, but somehow always ending up behind them, back at the bottom again, and wondering when is it our turn to get off?!  And don’t say you haven’t thought it, because you have. Even if you then felt guilty for thinking it, like I have.

In truth, thinking it is nothing to feel guilty about. Thinking that there is something you would like to do – just for you – is not saying that we are not grateful for and enjoying the lives we have. Being wives, partners, lovers, mothers, workers, businesswomen and all of the other important elements of our lives does not preclude doing or wanting something that no-one else in the family does. 

We most certainly do enjoy our lives. Even when its difficult. Even when the 3am high-temperatured and vomiting child is upon us and we have to get up for work at 6am the next day! Even then, we are not unhappy with our lot necessarily.  It’s just that somewhere along the way, at least in my case and that of some of my friends, something got forgotten. Put on the back burner. Left until later.  But just when is later in this busy life?

So one day Pippa, like me and so many others will before and after this blog, woke up and decided to start painting again – something she enjoyed and trained for in her past that had got buried in the mists of time passing. And as you can see, the results are amazing! Although I am not sure about the chicken theme, but peck – what would I know? The best part of all is that it appears to have brought a sense of fulfillment to my dear friend, and it does not at all detract from the rest of her life and achievements, which continue along their path in much the same way.

In my case, I took off on a madcap sailing adventure – learning to sail from scratch and then undertaking a 6,000 nautical mile journey across the Atlantic in a racing yacht. Six weeks away from home, and a million miles from the day job. I’m not alone – roughly 400 people do it every two years, and frankly, I thoroughly recommend it.  I did not realise it at the time, but it was the first time since I was a teenager that I was a) by myself, and b) able to spend the time thinking about my life and more importantly, me.  A little mid-life health-check , if you will.

I discovered, much to my great happiness, that there is not a lot wrong with either. Yes, I yearn to live by the sea (the subject of another blog which I will reveal to you shortly) and yes, I would like to stop commuting 3 hours a day to work that can sometimes not be as fulfilling a job as I would like it to be. But in general, despite niggles that arise and problems that have to be overcome, I am happy with my relationships, friendships, lifestyle and enormously proud of my children. Pretty pleased with the direction in which everything is moving. Without being horribly smug, I hope!

BUT, there was something which had bugged me for a long time. The thought that arose while administering Calpol at 3am in the morning. The wish that crept up on me while throwing a roast dinner together. Long ago, when I was a young girl (!) I had always thought I would go to university and study English literature and learn to write; had perhaps even toyed with the idea of a degree in journalism or similar. Circumstances conspired to make that impossible, but still I have always wanted to do something with writing and have never quite found the time. Now I am doing something about that, and like Pippa, I feel good about it. It’s not selfish to take a little time for yourself in this crazy merry-go-round we call life. And I am convinced it will make me a better person – broaden my horizons, give me an outlet etc.

So watch this space. Because that novel wants to be written (and Pippa will provide the jacket cover and illustrations although she doesn’t know it yet) and I want to do it. Lasagna will still get made, kids will still be cared for, the dog will get walked and sadly, work will still have to be a priority – but that bit, that little bit of satisfaction in a page written one day soon, a start made – that bit will be just for me. 

If you would like to know more about Pippa’s pictures, just comment and let me know! Thanks!