In Conversation With… Steph Douglas

Steph Douglas is CEO and Founder of thoughtful gift company Don’t buy Her Flowers. Prior to starting the business 2014, Steph worked in brand and marketing on Government campaigns and on London 2012. Steph lives in Richmond with her husband Doug and three kids. 


Can you tell us a bit more about your decision to launch Don’t Buy Her Flowers?  Was it a slow burning idea that you’d pondered over for a while or a Eureka moment? 

I had two small kids and had returned to work part time after both maternity leaves before I launched. But I had the idea when I had my first baby four years earlier – I was sat on the sofa feeling overwhelmed and leaky and exhausted and these beautiful bouquets kept arriving. They were obviously well meant, but it struck me as bonkers that the go-to gift for a new mum was another thing to care for, when she’s doing more caring than she’s ever done in her life. So it was kind of a eureka moment that solidified over a period – after that as friends had babies, I would send them some chocolate and a magazine and a message to say it’s going to be ok, and they were so grateful. It felt like their gratitude far outweighed the gesture – one couple bought me a massage to say thank you for leaving a couple of lasagnas on their doorstep – and I realised it was because I was thinking about them and what they needed. We launched as gifts for new mums and then very quickly customers were asking to send packages for birthdays and get well and lots of other occasions. So the market and our offer is much broader now, but the core is the same – thoughtful gift packages that encourage the recipient to take a bit of time for themselves. 

“People don’t like talking about money, but it’s absolutely critical.”

And what were the biggest considerations you had to take into account before launching?

Losing my salary was a big one. When I returned to work after my second child, I knew I was going to start the business but I went back to work while I developed plans, researched suppliers and started a blog to grow a network and community. There’s a lot you can do while still working, which means (hopefully) you’re not using up all your savings while still thinking around the idea. It’s important to acknowledge that we had my husband’s salary as security so although it was a gamble, we could still pay the bills for a while if I bought in nothing. People don’t like talking about money, but it’s absolutely critical.  

Steph with her brother Chas who is also Head of Operations for DBHF

“..the feedback we started getting straight away, that people sometimes cried when they received their package – I had underestimated that human connection..”

When did you realize you had a gem on your hands with DBHF?

The first Mother’s Day was five months after we launched and orders were crazy – people got it and I’d added a package with G&Ts in it and that was so well received. I also think the feedback we started getting straight away, that people sometimes cried when they received their package – I had underestimated that human connection, that in sending a package that is encouraging someone to take some time for themselves, they’re saying ‘I’m really thinking about you’, and in turn the recipient feels loved, like someone understands. That emotion is the thing that keeps customers coming back and advocating us to others. 

Six years later, Mother’s Day is one our busiest times of the year and we’ve created a Mother’s Day Gift Guide to help customers find the perfect gift or to create something bespoke.

Mother’s Day gift suggestion

We are also launching our Bestsellers Package – where the customer creates their own gift from our 16 most popular products selected by customers, making it a little simpler to choose and The Sleep Package – which, as the name suggests offers customers a selection of products all focussed around encouraging sleep. 

The Sleep Package

What has been the most surprising thing you’ve learnt about yourself during the process of running your own business?

I never considered myself entrepreneurial and had no desire to run a business until this idea came along. A part that I absolutely love is connecting with people – the team as well as our customers. The blog and Instagram are also part of that, and I suppose I hadn’t considered myself particularly creative before. I’m also good at staying focused. I always worked hard – I had three jobs when I was at school (cleaning, stacking shelves in Boots, and waitressing) – so I knew I had that in me but throw a purpose in the mix (other than having enough money to go out at the weekend!) and I’m pretty focused.  

“When you’re 70% sure of something, go for it. Don’t wait for it to be perfect or you’ll never do anything.” 

What is the biggest challenge that you face on a daily basis?

To keep that focus! To know what to do first – there is so much opportunity with Don’t Buy Her Flowers, and we keep uncovering more. We haven’t taken investment so we have to stop and work out what we do first, that will keep us growing and allow us to do the rest. 

Steph at the DBHF warehouse in Gloucestershire

What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?

When you’re 70% sure of something, go for it. Don’t wait for it to be perfect or you’ll never do anything. 

What advice would you give to your children?

To be kind to people – build relationships whatever you’re doing. 

“There’s time for everything but not all at once.”

Any top tips for managing the ‘overwhelm’ – juggling kids, husband, career, your own needs?!
It’s a constant learning curve, but one I’m getting slightly better at with age I think, mainly because I’ve realised that if I don’t look after myself it all goes to shit! Getting enough sleep, eating well, not trying to pack in too many plans. We’ve got better at prioritising our relationship too, accepting that if we want to spend time together we need to sort a babysitter and get out. That’s probably because we don’t have a newborn anymore – it’s hard to do when you’re exhausted and small kids are all consuming. If work is busy, I need to pull back on anything social. There’s time for everything but not all at once. Otherwise I don’t enjoy any of it, and it all feels like chores to get through, even the fun stuff.

Do you ever suffer from ‘mum guilt’?  How do you manage to keep it all in check?
I do but I try and squash it pretty quickly as it’s a total waste of energy and none of us has spare energy to waste. For me it has got a bit easier as the kids have got older – my eldest is nine and he’s lovely and smart and kind so I haven’t screwed him up yet! also started to take an interest in business and it helps a lot when you can sit down and talk to them about running a team and what you do with your day and they understand. 

What are your simple pleasures?
Being with my little family with no plans. Weekends that are clear of birthday parties and football training, we take the kids and their bikes to the park, get lunch (probably in a café because it’s less stressful) and then go home for naps and TV. And then seeing my oldest girlfriends. There are six of us, they were my bridesmaids and life is busy so it’s not often enough, but they know every single thing about me and time with them makes me feel calm.


Right Now I’m…

Watching: Succession. The characters are horrific humans but brilliant

Reading: The Confessions of Frannie Langton

Listening to: Secret Leaders podcast

Pass it on:

Who would make brilliant guests on the Muse? Please suggest up to 3 people with their Instagram and Twitter handles and we’ll invite them to join us.

Laura @themodernnursery

Emma @homemilk on instagram (interiors – I knew her at school and she’s brilliant)

In Her Words… Life After Death by Abbey Craig

Abbey Craig first wrote for The Muse in June 2017, shortly after she had received a diagnosis of terminal cancer.  The diagnosis followed a year in remission after acute treatment for primary breast cancer in 2015 when she was 37 years old.

In 2018 Abbey was given the highly unusual option of a rib removal for her cancer to be further investigated.  A couple of months later, after a slew of tests it was decided that the damage in the rib had not been caused by cancer after all and was healing from time, not the cancer treatment. So, it was agreed, no secondary cancer.  The terminal cancer diagnosis was, in fact, a misdiagnosis and Abbey is now in remission from her primary cancer and continues with treatment to help maintain that.

We asked Abbey to write a follow up piece to her original letter (you can read it here if you haven’t done so yet) to reflect on her misdiagnosis and on how she lives now.


In Her Words… 

Life After Death by Abbey Craig

When I was dying, and we all thought I had a year or so left, I wrote a letter to the 11-year-old me on how to avoid pitfalls, in which I tried to guide the younger me down a better path.

“Be well, be healthy, be happy and be free…  Live! Make me proud to be me.”

So, did I really listen and hear my own advice? Am I living life the way I’d urged myself to?

I’ve tried to keep those words with me as my moral compass; it’s not always easy, bad habits can come creeping back.

I wrote about how the first diagnosis of cancer had un-encumbered me of self-loathing about my appearance. The ‘black cloud’ that had made my body and mind weak, sad and sore in many ways, had been lifted.  To live without that burden is joyous, and unlike before, I have many photos to prove it!

But what next?  Once I’d written that letter I still had months of the misdiagnosis ahead of me.  What else did I learn, if anything? 

Believing that I was dying, here’s what happened next…. 

I went into organisation mode, I am a control freak! It felt right to get things planned and in place for my death and its aftermath. So, the ‘The Death List’ was compiled and the next few months were all about completing it.

  • Funeral service and wake planned  ✔
  • Letters and gifts for friends and family  ✔
  • Banking and official documents sorted  ✔
  • Memorabilia binned or passed on, including old letters and anything that might cause confusion, embarrassment (old diaries!) or hurt in the future  ✔
  • Excess clothing and shoes given away  ✔
  • Suitable support organised for loved ones beyond death  ✔

This period of time was truly heart breaking because of the absolute focus on the lead up to death and of the lives of loved ones following my death.   But then came MY time. The list complete and the envelopes and boxes sealed and addressed, it was time to focus on the time I had left to be ALIVE.  I’d done all I could to prepare, so now I had to put aside the fear of death and illness, with the knowledge that I had it covered, as best as I could. 

“I had clarity and I felt entitled to achieve what I could, before I got too sick.  ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead’ became my mantra. I stopped planning and just ‘did’.”

Essentially I had to stop focussing on how people would cope with my death, because ultimately, that was their pain, there was nothing I could do about that. To continue to focus on that would have left no hope for happiness or pleasant new memories to be made and really, what the hell would be the point in that?  It sounds harsh but it was advice given to me and too important not to pass on.

I had clarity and I felt entitled to achieve what I could, before I got too sick.  ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead’ became my mantra. I stopped planning and just ‘did’. 

We made the decision for my husband to sell his successful business in London on the quick so we could move back to Scotland to be close to family, we chose a lovely cottage by the sea, owned by family friends that had a bedroom with a view of the sea which we imagined might have become my final view out to the world.

During this time I focussed on continuing to research for the children’s books I wanted to write with my dad.   Having a terminal diagnosis opens doors, I was granted extraordinary access to people, in hospices, in hospitals; children and families in their very homes.  A new world opened up and accepted me easily into it and I felt a belonging I’d not experienced for quite a while. 

“It came to me: The realisation that I had actually lived the least tragic life anyone could have hoped for!  If I’d died then, even if I die today, there will have been no tragedy.” 

My previous letter admits that I had laboured for a near-lifetime under the misconception that I’d be infinitely happier if only beautiful.  Whilst I was dying, the realisation came that it wasn’t just beauty that I had aspired to, but a romantic sense of tragedy.

From a young age I’d bought into the idea that being a tragic heroine, whatever the tragedy was, would validate my life.

I realised that internalising the tragedy-myth as a teenager and aspiring to be interesting and alluring, had in fact created real misery through insecurity, unintentional attention-seeking and poor decision-making and in the face of death I didn’t want to be sad or for anyone else to feel sad because of me.  It came to me: The realisation that I had actually lived the least tragic life anyone could have hoped for!  If I’d died then, even if I die today, there will have been no tragedy

Abbey performing stand up

Of course every death is heart breaking and untimely for the person who doesn’t want to die or for the people left behind, that’s a given.  But someone dying a long drawn out death when they’d rather be dead; a death going unnoticed; desperate life decisions leading to untimely deaths; deaths due to poor mental health; violent deaths; children who have so much still to experience or those who have suffered much of their life and didn’t experience how amazing living can be – Those to me are tragic deaths and none of those experiences applied to my life.

“To deny an end of life option makes living so much more painful and scary when you live with death’s presence so close.”

During this ‘awakening’ I read extensively about death and palliative care specialists guided me to books written about facing death. I realised that having no religious faith meant ‘being dead’ was not a scary prospect; there was no ambiguity in my mind.  How I might suffer on the way to death was scary, in-fact it terrified me.

My way of controlling it was to sign up to ‘Dignitas’ in Switzerland where I would be able to travel and be assisted to end my own life, peacefully.  This involved a traumatic conversation with my husband and parents to discuss my wishes and £8000 to cover travel, accommodation, the procedure and a cremation (which would make repatriation easier).

Once this was in place, the relief I felt was immense, indescribable in fact.  I’d spent months agonising over a possible alternative, stockpiling any medication or pain killers that I thought might do the trick, going without sleep and in pain sometimes to be able to do so.  

And so I had ticked something else off my Death List, I wished I’d known to deal with it first off instead of hiding from its darkness, the relief was so impactful on my whole wellbeing. 

  • Death options discussed with family and medical staff, arrangements in place  ✔

People live with physical differences, poor mental health, chronic pain, complex health needs, illness, tragedy, terminal illness and grief and the world as it stands disables so many of us from living life as well as we could. I truly believe, along with every single person I met during my cancer treatment, that to deny this end of life option makes living so much more painful and scary when you live with death’s presence so close.  

After becoming a member of DIGNITAS there is still a long and thorough process to be able to access the service. It includes many in-depth background checks and prerequisites not least the need to be of sound mind and able physically to self administer the drug (and to make the journey to the facility). Also, a member has to have a terminal illness, ‘an unendurable incapacitating disability and/or unbearable or uncontrollable pain’ for access to be granted. I believe the person in pain and/or dying should be able to choose when to end their own suffering and lawmakers should be listening to those people. Before my own terminal diagnosis I shied away from ‘taking a side’ on the assisted suicide debate, now I can say,  when following these guidelines, I support it 100%.

“People nearing the end of life because of illness or age are only in limbo if the rest of the world puts us there.”

During my own misdiagnosis I adopted ‘living with’ as opposed to ‘dying from’. Such a small but crucial phrase to adopt when talking about LIVING WITH illness, even if it is LIFE LIMITING.  The words ‘terminal’ and ‘dying’ sound so painful and final, as if a life has already concluded. ‘End of life’ or ‘palliative care’ mean something very different to me now because of everything I’ve experienced.  Yes, they partly mean, ‘helping to die well’ but far more than that they’re about ‘living well’. 

Sometimes when I was ill, it felt like I’d been written off already, like people were already disinvesting from the REAL me or even that people might be saying over a coffee somewhere, “Did Abbey die yet? Poor Barry, her poor parents. Are you having that slice?” 

It’s not the lack of actual emotion I object to, not at all, it’s the dismissiveness of a life that is still being very much lived, until it’s not.  People nearing the end of life because of illness or age are only in limbo if the rest of the world puts us there.

I’ve learnt that each older person or person living with a complex health need or illness is very much alive, even if they are changed, or not the same, to the outsider.  Everyone feels as alive and as vital as they’d always done and no one wants to be written off, not until they actually stop breathing for good. 

Everyone is dying. I’m still dying, I’m just not living with an illness!

“I made a vow to always keep my work/life balance tipped in favour of life and to only do work that I genuinely enjoy, believe in and that causes a minimum amount of stress.” 

By the time the misdiagnosis news came, we were already in the throes of saying goodbye to all that we loved (and didn’t love) about London. The repercussions of our decision to move to Scotland have been the biggest for Barry who left behind a thriving business that he undersold to set us free to move immediately, in doing so we lost the financial security that we’d been working towards.  But there are many things we cherish about being here and leaving London wasn’t the painful wrench I thought it would be because I’d originally thought I’d be saying goodbye forever. I visit as often as I can.

Abbey on the day of hearing of her misdiagnosis

Being by the sea, next to family and old friends and living a different pace of life, offers us more security.

Whilst my dad and I are still committed to and passionate about writing and illustrating the children’s books we have planned, finding the time to do so is more difficult now that I have to earn a living!  I made a vow to always keep my work/life balance tipped in favour of life and to only do work that I genuinely enjoy, believe in and that causes a minimum amount of stress. 

Barry and I started Tick Tock Together in Scotland. We offer interactive music and drama sessions for children under 5 and bring popular songs and rhymes to life using puppets and role play.  Tick Tock was established in London over 30 years ago by my friend who generously told me when I was moving that I’d be welcome to use it in any way I could.  It fitted with my new specifications for work, something I feel passionate about, that is relatively stress free and where I can connect with people; children in particular.  We’ve realised that we can incorporate some of the important aspects I want our books to include; a fantastical fun adventure for EVERYONE, inclusivity; we have puppets and characters to represent everyone in the world so Old MacDonald is a female farmer; our fairy tales include Queens who are men; we incorporate hearing aids and glasses without them always being the focus and being old or having a complex health need is just part of the norm for our puppets.  We hope this will familiarise children with perceived ‘differences’ so that they can explore and ask questions that they might otherwise not have the chance to ask or have even been told specifically not to! 

Abbey and Barry in action together for Tick Tock

As well as representing ‘every person’ in the sessions we’re trying to make what we do accessible to every person who could benefit from it. So I adapt our shows for much older people and/or people with dementia, or for young people with complex health needs. We think Tick Tock Together is perfect for doing what the name suggests, bringing people together. 

“My family and I have no interest in being angry or trying to lay blame for the secondary cancer misdiagnosis.”

I work for the Royal Voluntary Service running a singing group for folk over 50, one of the highlights of my week, there’s so much laughter, even if it’s at my expense!  Under the Tick Tock Together umbrella I aim to develop intergenerational work and hope to bring together the various groups I work with to contribute to other work happening in Dundee and Angus, all helping to create a ‘caring community’.  

With her singing group the Singing Buddies

I know that pain, in some form, is just around the corner, that’s the nature of having a life that you value and want to live fully, and of having people you love in your life.

I hope that I will be able to handle whatever life throws at me as stoically as I see many of my friends and family deal with life’s rollercoaster. I know that I handled living with cancer pretty well, but I was always sure the suffering was far worse for my loved ones and of course I was pretty fit and well and able to still enjoy life fully when I was ‘dying’.   

Every day I try to see people that I love and that I think I can give love to, and I choose to try to enjoy what is now, instead of being fearful of what the future might be.

I will be forever grateful to everyone who held me and my loved ones through that particular crisis in our lives and I hope I am moving forward in a way that my dying self would approve of!

My family and I have no interest in being angry or trying to lay blame for the secondary cancer misdiagnosis.  We understand that as badly as we may want it to be, medical science is not 100% reliable. We continue to be eternally grateful for the NHS and will fight in any way we can to prevent its continuing privatisation.


Pass it on:

Who would make brilliant guests on the Muse? Please suggest up to 3 people with their Instagram and Twitter handles and we’ll invite them to join us.

Marnie Baxter– My friend Marnie is an actress and her first short film, Bad Mother, that she co-wrote and directed, did really well last year winning several awards.  Instagram: @eidlass78

Fi Munro – Fi, whose blog is included in my list above, is incredible. She’s living with ovarian cancer and has written books including How Long Have I Got?  Her motto is ‘live like you are dying’ which, in her words means: ‘Embrace today. Live for the moment. Stop worrying about the future. Focus on today. Laugh more. Take the risks. Follow your dreams. Be unashamedly you. Make the day good.’   She’s fierce, funny, truly inspirational and says fuck plenty. 

Some of the books and organisations that help Abbey to live well are listed below:

https://www.goodlifedeathgrief.org.uk

http://www.dignitas.ch/?lang=en

https://www.dignityindying.org.uk/assisted-dying/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duck,_Death_and_the_Tulip

In Conversation with… Kym and Jade

Kym & Jade have been together for 11 years and married for 4 of them. In some ways they are very different, but in many others very alike.   After a couple of (not hugely successful) pet-owning attempts they decided it was time to get serious so they got married in a room full of loved ones, got a mortgage and had a child. Here is their story of an unconventional family.

_________________________________________

Can you tell us about how you became parents?

K: Like any other young couple we had decided that there was more to life than nice restaurants, travelling and lie ins (note we were wrong!) so we decided to introduce a sprog into our little world! We visited our doctor to find out exactly what the options were for lesbians to have a baby together and from there we spent a lot of time browsing donor sperm catalogues, yup it’s a real thing! We then spent a year or so visiting clinics and so on until we got a positive result on a pee stick. Fast forward 9 months and we welcomed our beautiful baby boy into the world.

J: It was something we have always discussed, we both wanted to be parents eventually. I guess we were at that point in our relationship where we knew it was the right time for us. The process was obviously a very clinical one and unlike most heterosexual pregnancies, we took months planning and screening donors and picking which process would best suit us at that time (IVF, IUI) it was all very new to us and everyone around us. We got there eventually and after what felt like the longest pregnancy ever (because you find out so soon with IUI due to the scheduled testing etc) we took home our greatest achievement yet.

__________________________________________

“My biggest consideration and still is, is society’s perception of our unconventional family. I guess I just don’t want my child to suffer the consequences of our choice to bring them into the world.”

__________________________________________

What were your biggest considerations before making your decision to embark on parenthood?

K: I didn’t have many considerations pre-pregnancy, I tend to run away with a plan without always thinking it through. But during the pregnancy I did consider a few times if we were really “ready” for it. And by it, I mean giving up the luxury of not being responsible for keeping a whole human being alive, fed, loved and looked after. Turns out we’re managing quite well.

J: My biggest consideration and still is, is society’s perception of our unconventional family. The world is so hate-fuelled and when things go against the so-called ‘norm’, that becomes heightened. I guess I just don’t want my child to suffer the consequences of our choice to bring them into the world.

What have you learnt about yourself along the way?

K: I have a lot less patience than I thought I did!  And I care more about “developmental milestones” than I thought I ever would.

J: That sleep is a God given gift, don’t waste it! But seriously, I think I’m learning more about myself all of the time since becoming a parent, that’s the beauty to teach your child, yet learn from them too.

_________________________________________

“I sincerely believe that there is no better starting ground for a new life than it being truly, truly wanted.”

_________________________________________

What advice would you give to anyone else who is considering embarking on a similar journey?

K: Do it. If you want to be a mum or a dad. Do it. Being in a same sex couple doesn’t make a difference, I sincerely believe that there is no better starting ground for a new life than it being truly, truly wanted. In our situation you don’t fall pregnant by accident. No amount of drunken nights of passion will result in a baby for us. Our baby was well planned for.

J: If this is truly what you want then go for it! Life is too short to have regrets and although having a child turns your life on its head, you will gain more than you will have lost.

Would you do anything differently?

K: Probably avoid moving house whilst 5 months pregnant. Maybe save some more £s too. In terms of being a parent, I would enjoy those early newborn days way more than I did. Everyone told us it would go fast and it has. I really miss the snuggly, snoozy, totally dependent on their parent, newborn days.

J: No I’m not sure I would have really. The only thing I can think is that I would have liked to ask the donor a few questions because in situations as big as this you will always have questions (as will our child) but other than that I think we did alright for first timers!

What inspires you and your parenting?

K: Instagram and Pinterest give me loads of inspo for meals and educational activities. But mainly our son inspires my parenting. Watching him learn a new skill or say a new word really keeps me going through the long and if I’m honest, sometimes boring or mundane days of parenting stuff like cooking, changing nappies and watching yet another episode of the pink, bratty pig also known as Peppa.

J: My family, my mother and grandmother are two of the greatest (barring my wife) mothers that I know. It takes a village to raise a young one and I learned how to parent from instincts that I have picked up from them.

What keeps you up at night? (if anything!)

K: Our kid! He’s not a great sleeper. He doesn’t seem to have read the memo that says “you feel heaps better after a solid night’s sleep”!

J: I second that! I think I have definitely become more anxious as a parent, so in all honesty I do worry about things that haven’t and possibly will not happen but that’s parenthood, it’s my job to worry. 

___________________________________________

“Be a mix of the parents that you had/have and the parents that you wanted to have.”

___________________________________________

What was the best piece of advice you ever received?

K: Enjoy them whilst they are small. It’s hard, it really is. But even at 23 months there is so much independence oozing out of this small human that it scares me to think one day he won’t physically need us anymore.

J: Be a mix of the parents that you had/have and the parents that you wanted to have.

What is the biggest challenge that you face on a daily basis and how do you overcome this?

K: Managing being a working mum/stay at home mum means I often feel guilty about something or other. If he’s sick one of us has to try to get time off of work or gauge just how ill he is and decide if he can go into nursery or not. If he’s crying and we’ve exhausted all options I feel awful that I don’t “just know” what it is that’s upsetting him. Mum guilt is a constant battle.

J: I work full time and miss out on a lot of his day. It would be ideal to be home earlier and get to spend family time on the weekdays.

What are you most proud of?

K: My family. Every day my son learns something new and blossoms into a new person. Every day my wife gets up and commutes into Central London to afford us luxuries such as a nice home and holidays. Through the sleepless nights and toddler tantrums we are doing it. We are parenting. And doing it well, if I don’t say so myself!

J: I’m proud of us (Kym and I) for cracking on and dealing with this parenthood thing. I am proud of my extended family for being a support network and accepting our family as the norm. I’m proud of my little guy for being such a bright beacon of light and bringing so much into our world.

Do you have any tips or habits for happiness?

K: Lower your expectations. Chase your dreams. Eat your veggies.

J: Meditate, communicate and don’t procrastinate

*****

Right Now I’m….

Watching:

SO much Netflix including Stranger Things and Queen of The South as well as for a bit of balance and all that, Tiffany Haddish and Dave Chappelle’s latest comedy specials.

Reading:

K: Michelle Obama “Becoming” – what a woman!

J: I’ve just finished Akala’s book Natives: Race Class in the ruins of empire. Brilliant read!

Listening to:  Beyoncé is always on the list, H.E.R as well but we’re also big on U.K music like Ella Mai, Wretch 32 and Dave.

Pass it on:

Who would make brilliant guests on the Muse? Please suggest up to 3 people with their Instagram and Twitter handles and we’ll invite them to join us.

Caprice Fox @the.fox.family

Bee Adamic – @mamabossgirl

Kira – @kirasocialldn

In Conversation With… Vanessa Jedrej

Vanessa wrote a letter one day that changed her career and her life. In August 2018 she relocated her young family from London to Plainville, Massachusetts where she now lives and works for international best-selling author of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Jeff Kinney.

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Can you tell us how you came to have the opportunity to work abroad?

I had a terrific job working as Children’s Marketing Director at Penguin Random House in the UK.  I’d worked there for over a decade and found myself at a career cross road.  I’d wound up in a leadership role where I ran a team of inspiring and capable marketers, and although I loved the business itself, I hugely missed ‘doing the doing’…

I took a risk. I’d been pondering my dream job for a long time and I knew exactly what it would be doing and who I’d be working for.  I started mapping out the job and thought hard about the service that I might be able to provide.  I wrote a role profile and a cover letter on a long car journey back from Exmoor!  I decided to sleep on it and send it at 8am.  The role profile was for a Global Brand Manager for Diary of a Wimpy Kid, the company being based in Massachusetts, USA.  I felt I had everything to gain and nothing to lose and wrote exactly these words in my covering letter… I honestly, thought it wouldn’t amount to anything. It was fun to fantasise and I felt like it was a first step to exploring how I might be able to pivot my career in some way.

Jeff Kinney, the best-selling author of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and my now Manager, wrote back within 24 hours and to my shock, he was interested.

Awesome Friendly People
With Jeff Kinney and the Wimpy Kid, Inc team at the launch of Diary of an Awesome Friendly Kid, New York. 

“We were presented with an opportunity that is once in a lifetime… a dream job with an inspirational boss, in an attractive part of the US in which to base ourselves.”

What were the biggest considerations in making your decision to go?

We knew that my husband wouldn’t be able to work on my visa type in the US, which would mean he’d be a full time Dad to our two young sons, a 5 month-old baby and a ‘just-2-year-old’ when we first arrived. And we knew we’d be facing a world where we’d have no help with childcare which would be a challenge given our kids are both part sweet-small-human and part wild hyena!

Of course, we also knew it would be tough living an ocean away from our nearest and dearest.

Yet, flip the flop and we were presented with an opportunity that is once in a lifetime… a dream job with an inspirational boss, in an attractive part of the US in which to base ourselves. We’ve always been travel-thirsty and we thought that New England would be an amazing place to travel with a young family.

Fall Leaf peeping on the Kancamagus Highway, New Hampshire
Fall Leaf peeping on the Kancamagus Highway, New Hampshire

What are the best and worst parts of living and working as an ex pat?

The best part of our experience has been the sense of adventure and opportunity to explore New England. We’ve been fortunate to make all sorts of whimsical memories already from horse-sledding at Christmas in Vermont to watching the sunset on Martha’s Vineyard and cheering on the Boston Celtics at the TD Garden. ‘Fall’ here is mind-blowing – it has to be seen to be believed.  At weekends we can easily get to a beach or mountains and I often can’t really believe this is my life, I feel so lucky.

Beach
Corporation beach, Cape Cod, Massachusetts. 

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“We are really enjoying living ‘someone-else’s life’ for a while… (at least, that’s how it feels!)”

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Beyond this we love the outdoor lifestyle in general, it’s wonderful with young children. We have such good quality family time out here given we are shorter on the supply of family and friends. We love the space, gyms that offer ‘child watch’, how Americans GO LARGE on festivals and dress their doors and houses for each. I love the dairy farms everywhere; home-made ice cream is never far from reach in New England, year-round. We are really enjoying living ‘someone-else’s life’ for a while… (at least, that’s how it feels!)

And the worst…

  • Nappy bags aren’t a thing over here.  On arrival I resorted to dog poop bags. I had two children in nappies and I couldn’t manage.
  • Missing family and friends. We miss them the most when the kids hit milestones and their kids do too and we can’t be together to share them. Saying goodbye to grandparents is awful!
  • Winter (we’re talking 16 inches of snow, not 6!)!
  • Driving everywhere.
  • The impossibility of being understood when you ask for a ‘waTer’.
  • Having to parallel park in the US driving test! (And having to retake it!)
  • A Christmas without mince pies!
  • The cost of living is high. A loaf of bread costs 3 dollars and in Massachusetts you can’t buy alcohol in most supermarkets, which took me a while to get used to!

What does the future hold? Do you have a five-year plan?

Our visas do have an end date but we’re always reviewing the possibilities. We’ll stay whilst the going’s good and we’re trying to live in the here and now. Right now there is so much to be excited about working on Wimpy Kid, it’s been a career highlight to be in the US to help oversee the launch of Diary of an Awesome Friendly Kid, which became an instant global bestseller!

I used to plan for the future but, honestly, I’ve never done well on having a five-year plan! We’re delighted to be utterly off course for the plan set 5 years ago!

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“There’s really nothing stopping you from returning home.  I’ve discovered that London will always be there waiting.”

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What was the best piece of advice you ever received?

Think what you’d do if you weren’t afraid. And then do just that…

What advice would you give to anyone else who had the chance to create a new life and career abroad?

Remember it’s not an opportunity that many people are handed. Based on our experience, I’d encourage embracing it!  And there’s really nothing stopping you from returning home.  I’ve discovered that London will always be there waiting.

What is the biggest challenge that you face on a daily basis and how do you overcome this?

The biggest challenge is easily my husband looking after the kids full-time, particularly given my role involves a significant amount of international travel. He’s nothing but supportive to me and a brilliant dad but it’s very hard for him to not be able to work and I’m sure it can be lonely.  We make an effort to ‘stop-check’ during the ‘highs’ and have found ourselves a great babysitter!  And there might be a time further down the road when I’m supporting his career in a similar way.  We’re both open to that.

snow and horse
Christmas horse sledding in Londonderry, Vermont. 

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“Be sure to cherish crumpets, marmite, cheddars and chocolate digestives. And TREASURE the NHS.  Living in a country without a universal healthcare service is enlightening and frightening.”

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What are you most proud of?

Jeff once asked me what I thought the likelihood of this job happening would be when I wrote to him. I said less than 5%.  I’m proud that I plucked up the courage to hit ‘send.’

What makes you feel happy or helps to lift your mood?

When my friends and family living in different time zones leave me WhatsApp voice messages overnight and I listen to them as I get dressed in the morning. I guess the format lends itself to hilarious long monologues, which can be charmingly entertaining!

 Any wisdom youd like to share?

Be sure to cherish crumpets, marmite, cheddars and chocolate digestives. And TREASURE the NHS.  Living in a country without a universal healthcare service is enlightening and frightening.

And remember who’s in charge of your life. You are! And you can change things. I hope our tale might help others believe anything is absolutely possible.

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Right now I’m…

Watching –  Les Miserables, the BBC’s 6 part mini-series (on a British Airways plane wherever I can!)

Reading –  The Tatooist of Auschwitz

Listening to –   Frank Sinatra in a cafe!

Pass it on:

Who would make brilliant guests on the Muse? Please suggest up to 3 people with their Instagram and Twitter handles and we’ll invite them to join us.

  • @bestchildfriendlyholidays My sister, Emma, has created her own business recommending child-friendly holidays!
  • @happyfitmums Lauren Hyett has left full time employment to launch fitness classes for women (and spend a bit more time with her sons). A daring plunge that I know she’ll soar at. 
  • @studio.eris Rose Gardner, escaped the rat race to lovingly make sustainable jewelry from her London studio. A really inspirational story and creative start up. Add some goodies to your Christmas list!

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In Conversation with… Liv Thorne

Liv Thorne was perpetually single at 37, she wanted a baby so she bought sperm, went to a clinic but didn’t get pregnant x 3.  Eventually (after buying more sperm) she went back to a clinic and got pregnant.  Now 40, Liv has a one year old son, Herb and  is the co-owner of a digital branding agency in Oxford.

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Can you tell us a bit about how you became a mum to Herb?

It is a pretty long story, not an overnight decision, but in short: My problem was the primal desire I felt to become a parent and the lack of sperm in my life!  So, in very basic terms, I bought some online from a clinic in Denmark, got it shipped to a clinic in London and on the fourth attempt got pregnant.  My treatment was IUI (Intrauterine insemination), rather than IVF.  So, essentially turkey basting.  Really romantic.  There was no reason why I couldn’t get pregnant as far as I knew, it was just that I didn’t have a partner.  So, as I didn’t want the extra expense and physical stress of fertility drugs if that was something I could avoid, I tried IUI first (against the ‘wants’ of the clinic.  I really don’t think I can call it advice.  They are a business after all).

I told myself that I would give IUI four tries before opting for IVF.  I got pregnant on my fourth try.  I was very, very lucky.  Especially as, statistically speaking, I was unlikely to get pregnant at all as I was ‘old’ (in fertility terms, being over 35 is genuinely called ‘geriatric’) and overweight (I eat my feelings!) However I think most fertility stats are bullshit, but that is a story for another time … don’t get me started!

What were your biggest considerations before making your decision to become a single mum?

I needed to know that I had the support of my family.  My parents died when I was a teenager, so my siblings mean everything to me.  If they were to tell me they thought I couldn’t /shouldn’t do it, then I would’ve had to really consider whether or not I should go ahead.  Needless to say, they have been truly amazing.

What have you learnt about yourself along the way?

That I didn’t need as much sleep as I thought! Seriously though that is a really tricky question.  I am sure that I have learnt a plethora of things, however I am not sure I will realise what they are until I am out of the thick of it.  So maybe ask me again in ten years!

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“Whilst it is has been mind boggling, I wouldn’t change a thing.”

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Would you do anything differently?

Nothing. I have been really lucky. Herb is a happy, healthy, funny boy.  I think the first year (and probably the subsequent thirty!) is an absolute minefield, it is all encompassing, it changes you, you dig deeper than you ever thought you could.  If I had changed anything, it might have had a Sliding Doors effect … would I still have had Herb?  So whilst it is has been mind boggling, I wouldn’t change a thing.

What keeps you up at night?

Money. Pathetic isn’t it?  I have a one year old child and for 10 months it hasn’t been him that wakes me up, but the worry of money.  I have always been bad with money, it isn’t Herb that has made this happen, let’s be clear!  However currently there is a perfect storm brewing from the last few years’ monetary situations that is about to implode!  For example, before I had Herb I worked out my childcare costs (I work full time, I have to) based on the old working tax credit system, not the new Universal Credit system.  With the new system I am not eligible for any help.  I earn a good living, but I earn a good living in the most expensive city in the UK (outside of London), with a big mortgage and on top of that the same again in childcare expenses.  Without any help, could you find an extra £1000 a month?  It’s hard but let’s face it, I am really, really fortunate that I own my own house, so things could be much worse.  It is just the one thing that is always on my mind.  So if I’m lucky enough to do an Instagram ad, don’t hate me …

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“You do you”

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What was the best piece of advice you ever received?

You do you.  If you want to breastfeed, great. If you don’t, great. If you want to co-sleep great.  If you don’t, great.  If you want to let your babe play in the mud, great.  If you don’t, also great.

Unless it affects anyone else, then it is your decision to work out how to best live for you and your baby.

P.S. No-one knows what they are doing, there are NO answers.

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“Just work out if that fiver in Starbucks is worth it?  Instead chuck it in a savings account.  You will be SO grateful you did.”

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What advice would you give to anyone else who is considering trying for a baby as a single mum?

Save. Every. Single. Penny.

Seriously.  Apart from the cost of getting pregnant (it cost me £14k in total), everything that comes after that; childcare, shoes, clothes, food, nappies, books, bedding, entertaining them day after day… nearly everything costs money. So just work out if that fiver in Starbucks is worth it?  Instead chuck it in a savings account.  You will be SO grateful you did.  Needless to say, I did not do this.

Other than that, I really cannot give advice it is too huge a decision.

Oh wait, one thing I would also advise is to get second, third, fourth opinions in terms of speaking to fertility clinics; they are a business, they want your money and some prey on your vulnerability, so make sure you are truly happy with what they are suggesting before going ahead with anything.

What are you most proud of?      

Herb.  I made him.  I did that.  He is bloody wonderful.

What is the biggest challenge that you face on a daily basis and how do you overcome this?

Loneliness and money problems.  Both are manageable.  Both are possibly fixable. However both are very, very real.  I don’t know how to overcome either, but I am working on it!

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“My best friend who always anchored me, held me, encouraged me, supported me even though we didn’t live in each others pockets, died in a car accident when I was 7 months pregnant.  I have felt slightly at sea since and I am not sure if it is grief or motherhood.”

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Do you have any tips or habits for happiness? You always seem so upbeat 🙂

That is so funny, as I have suffered from anxiety and depression to varying degrees for years and I suspect many of my friends wouldn’t say I am upbeat!  Tears of a clown and all that.  If I am it is because I have learnt to say no.  For example if there is a party and I don’t want to go because it will make me anxious, I don’t go. I used to go and drink my feelings and wake up angst ridden for days. Now I just say no like the good people of Grange Hill told me to!  I am aware it makes people eye roll, but it keeps my mental health on the straight and narrow, which is the most important thing.  I’m difficult.

I have also learnt not to be arrogant enough to assume a gathering will be a horrific disaster without my sparkling presence!  Turning up because you don’t want to disappoint people, is very rarely a decision based on their feelings, it is about yours.  97% of the time they will have a great time regardless.  I don’t drink as much as I used to as that used to spike the anxiety, so that has really helped. That is not to say I don’t drink, just I don’t drink at home as I think that could be my slippery slope.  Instead I am sliding, head first into the snack cupboard.

Don’t get me wrong I am happy loads of the time, I am very lucky and have a massive circle of friends, but I do have to work at it, it doesn’t come naturally to me.  I don’t have that one person that would call me if the world was going to end, be it a partner, a best friend or a parent and that is an odd feeling.  I would absolutely be on the list of people to call, but I am not at the top of anyone’s list.  My best friend who always anchored me, held me, encouraged me, supported me even though we didn’t live in each others pockets, died in a car accident when I was 7 months pregnant.  I have felt slightly at sea since and I am not sure if it is grief or motherhood.

It is well documented that many comics have had / do suffer from depression and I get that.  Social awkwardness is very real to me … I will always be the one ‘helping’ in the kitchen at parties!  Also, have you seen Herb?  Of course I look happy!!

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Right Now I’m….

Watching –  to be honest I think I completed Netflix months ago … I live alone with a toddler, I watch a lot of TV!

I absolutely love the real life crime dramas like The Staircase (which is ridiculous for a girl who still sleeps with the light on!) Also I have watched Home & Away every day since it started. I record it! It is the only soap I have ever watched and is my daily dose of vitamin D.  Yes, Alf is still in it.  No, I am not sorry.

Ultimately I will watch most things, from what might be considered high brow to the lowest (yep, I am a Love Islander.) My truly happy place is watching people interact, so programmes like 24 Hours in A&E & 7UpSeries absolutely break me … how people care for each other, hold each other. People are amazing.

Reading –  I am terrible at reading, I have some sort of reading narcolepsy, so for years I have listened to audio books. The last one I listened to and genuinely loved was The Wild Other by Clover Stroud. We have both suffered loss & trauma and we dealt with it in very different ways. She is now a friend. How cool is that?

I have also started reading, The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read..., by Phillippa Perry.  It is fascinating. Will I finish it?  Unlikely.  Soz Herb.

Of course there is also the endless rounds of Oi Frog! too.

Listening to – I did my degree in radio production. I am obsessed with radio & its intimate place in people’s lives. So now podcasts have changed my life. I wish they had been around twenty years ago when I did my degree, then maybe I would have stuck with it! I would LOVE to do one, but it needs to have a really great hook, the market is getting saturated.

The ones I religiously listen to are Adam Buxton (everything about it is a brilliant; a dog, batshit jingles, intelligent chat, laughs, tears, stupid adverts … it’s the best!); Desert Island Discs (because WHY wouldn’t you?); Table Manners (it is based around food & peoples life stories. I am a nosey glutton, so what is not to love?) and The High Low (Pandora & Dolly are often intimidatingly bright, but it’s like reading The Week, they find out all the interesting stuff for you and point you in the right direction!)

Music-wise … I listen to everything, it is really important in my life.  I first went to a festival when I was 14 when you used to go in your very worst clothes, it blows my mind that people now buy jazzy outfits specifically for festivals!  I bought my first house for its proximity to the local live music venue as I figured it was save me in taxis.  It did, eventually.  My favourite album is a tie, I cannot choose: Nevermind by Nirvana and Graceland by Paul Simon.  I am a white, middle class cliche.  Sorry Kurt.

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Pass it on:

Who would make brilliant guests on the Muse?  Please suggest up to 3 people with their Instagram and Twitter handles and we’ll invite them to join us.

  • @thehotcrossmum – Jess is as brilliant and as honest as they come. Regularly documents about her mental health which is so important.
  • @remi.sade – would happily listen to her talk about ANYTHING alllllll day. She has taught me so much already.
  • @alright.bab – she’s brilliant, and setting up Godiva to help people in situations like she was once in is, whilst looking after her son and just bossing life, she is bloody amazing
  • @ultimategirlgang – Liv is a hugely supportive friend and is pregnant with her fourth little girl! But mainly follow her because she is brutally honest & hilarious!
  • @themindfulbirthgroup – I met Emiliana at a hen do years ago, she now runs this hypnobirthing company but mainly she is becoming a surrogate for her best friend who could not carry her own child.  How amazing????

In Her Words…. Not buying new

Jade gave up buying new clothes over a year ago.  She launched @notbuyingnew on Instagram to document her ‘struggles’ to give up fast fashion and uses the platform to share what she has learnt about unethical and unsustainable fashion brands.

“For years I’d been feeling guilty about the amount of stuff I was buying. I found that especially after becoming a mother, l’d got a bit lost style-wise and was just buying bags and bags of new clothes to try and feel a little bit more like myself.  Of course, that didn’t happen and instead I just felt guilty about the money spent and the waste. l’d set myself mini- challenges such as ‘nothing new for a month’ but failed over and over again.

At some point I cleaned my wardrobe out and whilst I looked at the huge pile of clothes on the bed, I cried.  I came across the idea of #project333 and decided to give it a go.  It was 33 items of clothing for 3 months.  It seemed achievable -and it was.

During those 3 months, I really learnt how to live with less and what’s more – I enjoyed it.  I loved getting creative with wearing the same clothes differently and really began to appreciate each item. I bought some clothes second-hand and realised that I could buy much better quality if I looked hard enough and was patient.

I also watched a few great documentaries about fashion’s impact on the environment and the unethical treatment of people in the supply chain. Everything seemed to come together in my mind and I knew that I would never be able to buy fast fashion again.

Since then, l’ve been learning how to care for my clothing so it lasts longer (aiming for #30 Plus wears) and l’ve been learning about different fabrics. My style is slowly evolving because I’m choosing with longevity in mind, but I’d like to hope that it still retains something individual.

I now have a seasonal capsule wardrobe of mostly secondhand clothing and I’ve not bought anything new for over a year.   I’ve actually found the process enlightening, creative and pretty joyous!

My instagram page inspires me to keep going. There are definitely days where I can’t be bothered to take a photo of my clothes and feel a bit absurd writing about myself but I get messages from people saying I’ve helped inspire them to change their own-shopping habits and I know that it’s worthwhile. Also, in the early days when I found giving up shopping really hard, I felt accountable because of my Instagram followers and this helped me stay on track.

@notbuyingnew Instagram
@notbuyingnew – Instagram

I’m constantly learning too, and that’s a great motivator. I’m currently doing a @fash_rev course called ‘Fashion’s Future: The Sustainable Development Goals’ and I’m feeling inspired. I’ll keep sharing what I find out on Instagram. Also, other accounts such as @ethicalunicorn and @aconsideredlife are challenging and thought provoking.

I’m currently really enjoying some collaborating with some brands. I’m working with @blackandsigi on their #basrevival collection -turning broken or un-loved jewellery into something new and beautiful. I’ve also just done some work with @barnardos who are encouraging people to avoid ‘wear-it-once’ fashion for summer events like weddings. I’m really open to working with others, sharing their sustainable efforts and spreading the word. In an ideal word, l’d love to work with@Venetiafalconer and @liviafirth – both are incredible women who really deserve the title of ‘influencer.’ They are bold, brave and smart.

The best piece of advice I received when I started @notbuyingnew was from my husband who said, ‘just keep posting every day’. I think I’ve been able to grow and learn because I’ve been really engaged with the Instagram sustainable community. By posting everyday, I’ve developed followers, friends and, in the same way ‘just putting one step in front of the other’ helps you move forward.

I’m most proud of my number of Instagram followers. This sounds shallow but it’s really not about my ego. When I watch my numbers grow, I know that more people are searching out information about giving up fast fashion. I know the thirst for more sustainable fashion is growing and I’m truly honoured to be part of some people’s journey to a less wasteful wardrobe.

The biggest challenge I face on a daily basis is trying not to listen to the constant advertising and marketing from fast fashion brands. No matter how much I unsubscribe, I still get emails daily, catalogues through my front door, posters on my commute, adverts on the TV. It seems like everywhere I go, someone is trying to sell me clothes – often by making me feel bad about myself. The resistance is getting easier. I saw a brand selling a bikini for £I this week and it made me feel sick. How can workers be fairly paid? How can the fabric manufacturers be fairly paid? How well is that item going to last? How can people appreciate the item when it lost the same as a chocolate bar? (not even to mention that the fabric is plastic based and so will be around a long time). Oh, sorry, rant over…

I’m no longer chasing the image of the person I wanted to be, l’m content because the clothes I’ve chosen are sustainable and have caused less harm. I don’t have the best clothes, l’m never the best dressed but l’ve realised that really doesn’t matter. I’m passing on the message to both my children and I hope the respect for the environment and other people, most of whom you’ll never meet, will stay with them.

The Fashion Industry must become more transparent. When we have a true reflection of the waste and unethical treatment of workers, we’ll see the fast-faction industry for what it really is -toxic. Brands will be forced to make changes and the way we consume will be forever changed. Let’s not let them get away with “green-washing’ and pretending they are really sustainable. Let’s force them to tell us If they are paying a living wage across all stages of production, how much clothing is being dumped and burned because it hasn’t sold? How much polyester is being used in our clothes and the polluting our water supply or sitting in landfill? If we saw these answers, we might force them to change.

The easiest thing that everyone can do to lead a more sustainable life is to wear what you already own. You can stay on-trend by re-styling what you already have. If you need anything else, borrow or buy secondhand. Check my Instagram page for a mini directory of online secondhand stores if you don’t have much time, or aren’t able to visit charity shops.

If you want to make changes to your buying habits, it’s ok to start small and it’s ok not to be perfect. Buy less, buy secondhand if you can, buy from sustainable and ethical brands and wear everything you own already. I’ve started counting the wears and I’m aiming for #30 plus wears. You might be amazed at how long that takes. I think, even with a capsule wardrobe, most items will take 2- 3 years to get 30 wears.”

Right now l’m…

Watching –  Years and Years on iPlayer. It’s not the best thing I’ve ever watched but it’s definitely an eye-opener when it comes to thinking about the near-future dystopia unfolding before our eyes.

Reading –  I’ve just finished reading Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi. It was Incredible! Honestly, it was one of the most unique narrative voices I’ve ever read and I was completely absorbed. Next on my reading list is A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, which is a classic that I’ve been wanting to read for years.

Listening to –  The Guilty Feminist podcast. I’ve listened to the podcast for a while and recently went to the live show and felt so passionate and supercharged by the show.  She recently interviewed @larkrisepictures who was part of an all-woman expedition documenting plastic in the ocean. I cannot wait to listen to that episode!

Pass it on…
Who would you most like to see featured on this blog?  Please suggest 3 people with their Instagram or Twitter handles:

@larkrisepictures
@kitcheneers.uk
@metalsouthend

A Letter To…. My seventeen year old self by Tom Cox

A letter to…. My seventeen year old self by Tom Cox

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Tom aka the Unlikely Dad is 33 and a father to his son and husband to his husband. Blogging all about life, parenthood and everything that comes with having a family over at theunlikelydad.com.

 

 

Look at you!

You have no idea what the next 15 years will bring. You weren’t the biggest fan of school I know, but in the past year at college you’ve met some wonderful, like minded souls. And this sets you on your way to becoming who you were meant to be. You realise you’re okay.  And being gay is no big deal.  You’ve recently met someone called Daniel. You’re very young (and he’s 23, a little older but I know you secretly like that). This is the guy you’ll spend the rest of your life with.

You’ll move in with him. You’ll buy your first flat together at 19. It’s a filthy little pit but you make it a home (a very, very small one). It maybe damp and cold but it’s a first stepping stone. Even now, at 33 I wouldn’t tell you not to do it and enjoy it for everything it is.  You’ll have some ups and downs. You’ll get jobs and lose jobs. You’ll see beautiful places together. You’ll be poor. Then you’ll feel flush. You’ll learn so much. All in good time.

You guys get married when you’re 26. It’s a lovely big affair. Without a doubt the best day of your life. I remember everything about it still seven years later.  A year or so after your wedding something changes. It’s subtle. But you feel grown up. Your circle has gotten smaller…but it’s now the perfect size and there is room for all your friends and family in your heart. These are the friends you’ll keep forever.  You’re an uncle to your niece and nephews and this is a new kind of love you haven’t experienced before and you absolutely love it.  When you’re 30 you’ll want your own baby.  You would NEVER have thought about this at 26 let alone 17. But something changes.  The time is right.  You’ll have your home which you take so much pride in (who’d have guessed considering right now at 17 you’ve never washed your clothes or cleaned the bathroom!), you have your family, your friends, a great community. You feel ready to be a dad.

You and Daniel decide to go on a journey. One that will change your life in more ways than anything else ever has, or ever will. The journey of adoption is a big one. There is no real preparing you for it. You meet with your social work for the first time in June 2014 and she is fantastic. She just gets you both so you have nothing to worry about there. You can often hear how invasive and gruelling the adoption process can be. But be an open book. You have no skeletons. Nothing to be afraid of.

BOURNEMOUTH

You’ll go into this so willing to learn and create your family. Yes, at times, it’s not easy. The meetings and training are brilliant. They offer you such an insight into the children that are in care. The social worker meetings feel like free therapy where you just get to talk about yourself, friends and family, your life, upbringing… but it’s the waiting.  That’s the part that you find tough. It will feel like you sail through the key stages, getting yourselves approved as adopters. You’ve done it. All that hard work is compete. The meetings, assessments, medicals… tick! But then what? Oh, you have to find (be matched with) your child. And this is the insane bit.

From meeting other adopters you’ll be told “you’ll just know”.  But you’ll find that hard to believe. How can you love a child you don’t even know?  One that hasn’t come from you. But oh my… you will.  You’ll be approved as prospective adopters in October 2014 and on December 10th that same year you were sent a profile of a little boy.  You will know from the moment you see his little face that he will become your son. You’ll both laugh adoringly at how much he looks like Daniel.

But the waiting? Yeah… this is when you’ll need to be patient.  You’ll register your interest. But don’t hear anything for weeks. All over Christmas. New Year. Nothing. Were another family also interested in this child?  It’s torture. Not being able to say anything to anyone for fear of getting hopes up. But you’ll decide not to hang around. If this boy is to come home to you forever, you’ll need to make room for him. So you do. Buying nursery furniture in all the sales. Toys. You nest.

TENTIn late January (yes, really!) the child’s social worker agrees to come and visit you.  This is your moment.  The lady representing this beautiful little human, your son, is going to be in your house. We’ve never been more welcoming and of course Tommy’s Famous Brownies™ had to be made.

Together you’ll nail it. You are told at the end of that session that the social worker would like to proceed with the match. Your heart expands suddenly. Is this really happening? She leaves… you both look at one another as well as your social worker. Tears. Hugs. Laughter. Can we tell people? Should we?

It won’t be until April that you get to meet him. You’ll have to go through another panel, this time to be approved for the match. And it will be a unanimous ‘yes’. You’ll be told “you claimed him as your own for the start” and it’s right. He was mine. He was ours. We  knew.

DADDING ITThat day before walking into the foster carer’s house, where he’d been since birth will be with me forever. Knowing that when I knock on that door, nothing will ever be the same again. I will see my son’s face. Hold him and kiss him and be his dad. For the rest of our lives.

And just like that, it’s all change in your world. You’ll no longer worry about some of the things you did before: having the latest phone, buying into the latest trends. You have everything you’ll ever need. You’ll appreciate things you never noticed before. You’ll see autumn. Properly, I mean. Taking in the leaves changing then falling to the floor as your son runs about the leaves kicking them. You’ll see the magic through a child’s eyes that we so easily lose as adults. Encourage this behaviour every day.  You’ll be tired all the time. But you won’t care. The family has grown and shows so much love for your little boy.  He was meant to be here.

At 33 you’ll feel so content. Enjoy it. Every single second. In another 15 years who knows where you’ll be and what our 48 year old self will be telling us at 33…

KAI FOUR

Right Now I’m…

Reading: The Little Book of Hygge. I have been reading it for almost a year, am sure I’ll finish it at some point.
Listening To: Troye Sivan, currently obsessed.
Watching: Ru Pauls Drag Race of course!!