Brexit: The Fallout

Yesterday I wanted to write something because it seemed appropriate to claim my loss and attempt to express my sadness and bitter disappointment. Today I want to talk about the fallout. Not the political fallout or the economic implications; I want to talk about what’s happening out there at street level and on social media.

I want to talk about the range of emotions being expressed on both sides. From the Remain camp I have seen everything from gracious acceptance to poisonous vitriol. And from the Brexit side there has been both quiet celebration and cruel derision. Friends and family have clashed, angry words have been splattered on the walls. Remain wants to tell Brexit that they are stupid and racist. Brexit wants to tell Remain that they are petulant and don’t understand democracy.

The thing is, I don’t really think Remain are angry because they don’t understand democracy; they’re angry because this doesn’t feel like democracy. Let’s think back to the Scottish Referendum in 2014. Those who wanted independence were angry with those who did not when the result of the voting was announced. But not to this extent. And I can’t help but to think that there’s one simple reason for that: The possibility of Scottish Independence had not completely disappeared. There was always the chance of a second bite at the cherry. Perhaps not for more than a generation, but it was there. The result was not irrevocable. With Brexit, 48% of the electorate have been dragged into something they not only didn’t want, but which is also irreversible. There will never be anything that can be done to change this decision if the outcome is not favourable. So to tell over 16 million people to grow up and pipe down is, when you look at it like that, more than a little lacking in empathy.

That being said, I do not advocate the insults that I have seen and heard being bandied about since yesterday morning. It is not acceptable to cry “racist!” at every person who voted to leave. It is, frankly, offensive to tell another person they are stupid because their beliefs do not mirror your own. Maybe not everyone who voted to leave the EU did so off the back of sound research and reasoned argument, but that doesn’t mean that you get to call them an idiot.

I have grown accustomed to losing. It’s synonymous with wanting the best for everyone. So yesterday’s result came as no surprise to me. But it was, all the same, a terrible shock. And shock and surprise are not the same thing. At a party at which Surprise and Shock are both guests, Surprise delicately sips rose wine at a quiet table while Shock slams vodka shots at the bar. They know each other and are often in the same room together, but they are very different animals. Shock is a bit of a dick after a few shots, and he often encourages people to say and do things that they would not normally say and do. I’m not excusing bad behaviour, violence or offensive language borne of Shock, but sometimes it is an undesirable side-effect.

Here’s what I hope for the future of this country: I hope that we can heal. Forget the stuff we don’t know, forget the uncertainty of our future. There is only this; that we must not let our differences drive us apart. If we do, we are letting the worst amongst us win. We are legitimising everything they believe in and stand for, and we become no better than the racists, bigots and xenophobes – and they exist – whom we are so quick to decry. I know that it won’t be easy for us to forgive each other, and I equally know that it could well be a slow process, but it’s important that we try.

Yesterday, the first person I hugged (aside from my husband and sons) was a colleague who had backed Brexit. When she realised that we had voted for opposing sides, she asked me, “Are we going to fight?” I replied that of course we weren’t going to fight and gave her a cuddle. The second person I hugged was an elderly lady who came into my work with her husband. She asked me why it was so quiet in town and I suggested that perhaps everyone was at home watching TV. I make no exaggeration when I say that she literally welled up as she said, very quietly, “I can’t talk about that. I feel as though I’ve lost a limb. What have they done to us?” I told her that I was very sad too and we embraced in solidarity. I believe that this is what we need. We need to support one another through this transitional period. We need to tell each other, “It is going to be alright”.

I hope that this rift will heal before our children can inherit it alongside whatever consequences – good or bad – that Brexit may have in store for us.

To be honest

I want to be clear about the purpose of this post: I am not here to argue with anyone. I am here to be honest. Nothing more and certainly – always – nothing less.

I voted to remain in the EU yesterday.

I woke this morning at 4am to the almost certain knowledge that my voice, and the voices of everyone else who joined me in that decision, had not been loud enough. Persuasive enough. Passionate enough.

I am not ashamed to say that I have cried today. It doesn’t embarrass me to admit that I am afraid of what happens next, and afraid of the future that could now stand before my children.

I am not going to sit here and call you a racist if you voted to leave. I am not going to tell you that I think you are xenophobic. If you are either of those things then you really don’t need me to tell you. And I won’t say that you’re stupid or wrong for making the decision that you have. I hope that you had good, solid reasons. And, actually, I hope that you are right. There is nothing I would like more than to be proved wrong here.

I considered listing the reasons why I voted to remain in the EU, but it would be nothing that you haven’t heard before. So I’m just going to give you two, because actually, every single one of my reasons comes back to them anyway: O and F were my reasons. I believed that their future would be safer as part of the Union. I believed that I was doing the right thing for them.

I will not mince words; I am desperately unhappy with this result. But, over time and by necessity, I will accept it. Today I have hugged my fellow voters, both those who voted with me and those who voted against me. Yes, I am angry. But I find that I can’t really be too angry with ordinary people who were, at best, ill-equipped to make a decision that should – in my opinion – have been made by parliament. Of course there are people out there who voted to leave purely out of contempt and racism. It would be dishonest to ignore that very obvious truth. But there are also people who voted out of disillusionment and protest, and can we really blame them for that?

Lastly, I would like to say this: Europe, for my part, I am sorry for the way this turned out. It was not what I wanted.

I, like so many others, wanted to stay.

Only time will tell how this decision will change Britain. I hope that it will be much better than I fear it could be.

“Do you wish you had a girl?”

There are two things that people usually ask me when I tell them that I have two sons: Am I going to try for a girl and, if not, do I wish that I had a girl. These are not questions with basic yes/no responses, and they’re not getting any easier to answer.

“Are you going to try for a girl?”

The simple answer, when you strip it right back to its most basic form, is no. No, we are not going to try for a girl.

The slightly more complicated answer is this: Having another child would change our lives completely. The very least of things is that neither of our cars could comfortably accommodate a third child seat. But then there’s the other stuff. The big, less easily fixed stuff. Our house isn’t big enough for five humans and two cats to co-exist without constant privacy issues. The sums don’t add up. The far-reaching financial implications of a third child are, without exaggeration, insurmountable. Also, my second pregnancy almost physically broke me, and F’s first six months of life took such a toll on me emotionally that it was almost a year before I started feeling mentally stable again.

And.

Even if we did try again, there’s no guarantee that we would get a girl. In fact, there’s a very good chance we would end up with another boy. And I would love him; of course I would. But I am already incredibly outnumbered by males and I already have three other people in the house who think I’m having a psychotic break whenever my menstrual mood swings get the better of me. I also don’t have a clue what I would call him, having exhausted my very limited resources of names for boys.

“Do you wish you had a girl?”

Firstly: Rude. Unintentionally, I’m sure, but that question never fails to poke the defensive Mama Bear in me. Because what I really feel like I am being asked is whether or not I wish that one of my existing children was a girl.

And the answer is: No.

No, I don’t wish that. I cannot imagine what my life would be without, specifically, them. Exactly as they are. It makes me feel as though I’m somehow expected to look at their being boys as an unfortunate side-effect of their existence. I know that’s not the intention behind the question. I know that. But they are my boys. My brilliant, clever, funny, beautiful boys, and I love every little bit of them. I love how O is so extroverted and sassy and brimming over with excitement about life. I love how F is sensitive and empathetic and mischievous. I love who they are together and how they interact with each other and adore each other.

Here’s the thing: I grew up naively assuming that one day I would have a daughter. I’ve known since I was 14 what I would call her. In my head she is witty and smart, she loves to run and jump and climb, she reads for hours in her room and she wears whatever the hell she likes. And when she grows up, she is my best friend and most trusted confidant. When we found out that F was another boy, I mourned that imagined daughter. Because I knew that she was never to be and I very quickly had to re-write the future I had expected for myself. At the time, I hated myself for that feeling of bitter disappointment, but I’ve since realised that it’s something I had to experience. And I honestly never, ever look at F and think “I wish you were a girl.”

What I think when I look at both of my children is simply this:

“Thank God that you are YOU.”

It’s true that I am sometimes uncertain about how motherhood will look 15 years from now when my boys are grown-up. I don’t know if they will call me once they’ve moved out and started creating their lives away from home. I don’t know if they will ask my advice when they’re trying to make big decisions. I don’t know if they will ever give me a hug or tell me that they love me.

I know that I love them to a degree that I cannot easily express in words. I know that I am excited to see who they turn out to be. And, above all these things, I know that I wouldn’t trade either of my sons for a daughter.

Mum of boys

What more could I want than this?

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I will do better

Last week we went on our first family holiday. We were supposed to go to Penrith last year, but F was still waking up a gazillion times a night and I didn’t think I could cope with doing all the driving (because, between you and me, N is a pretty shabby driver) and being awake most of every night. So that brings us to this year. If you’re interested, we stayed at a beautiful cabin called Larchwood Lodge right on the edge of Greystoke Forest. We were visited every day by red squirrels and great spotted woodpeckers and the path at the bottom of the garden literally led straight into the trees… and if I’m not selling this to you by now then just go ahead and look at the website.

I’m not going to relate the blow-by-blow minutiae of the whole week because, to be frank, you’d be bored shitless by the end of the first paragraph. So I’ll spare you the details, but I’ll include links to the places we visited at the end of this post in case you’re ever in Cumbria and stuck for something to do.

Family holiday

A montage of our week in the Lake District

The thing is, what I really found myself thinking on the last night of our holiday as I watched my children playing at the edge of the forest through the kitchen window was this: They’re never going to be this age again. O turned four while we were away and I couldn’t help but wonder where those four years have gone. I mean, I hate myself for even typing that because how unbearably cliché do I want to be? But it’s true. Four years ago he was a tiny, helpless baby and I was just getting to grips with motherhood, crying a lot and swearing every time he latched onto my chapped, bleeding nipples for a feed. Now he’s answering back and refusing to go to bed and driving me up the fucking wall half the time, but he’s also this amazing, proper little person and it’s hard to imagine that he was ever that tiny.

happy birthday

Happy birthday to my big boy, O

Then I looked at F and I felt that all too familiar tug in my gut that happens every time I remember how much of his babyhood I missed out on due to worry and stress, sleep-deprivation and god awful mental illness. And I thought that as much as I possibly can, I will try to savour these moments. So I stood there at the window and I just watched my babies play with flowerpots and sticks and dirt. I watched them delight in every moment of this simplicity and I forgot that I should be calling them in for a bath because it was already long past bedtime. I forgot that I still had stuff to pack for the journey home. I forgot that anything outside of that little snapshot of time actually mattered at all.

Bear cubs

Bear cubs in their natural habitat

I worry so much about the little things, about their routines and what they’re eating. I worry about keeping the house clean and getting the laundry done. And I worry what people think of me when they walk through my front door and see the detritus of family life strewn throughout every room. And I know that it doesn’t really fucking matter what anybody else thinks, but I worry anyway. So I lose these moments to worry sometimes. I don’t stop for long enough to notice the little things half the time. But this holiday has been good for me, because it has shown me what life could be like with my children if I put my worry aside sometimes. If I let F cuddle me for as long as he wants to instead of freaking out about everything that I need to do. If I read O just one more story before bed rather than panic that it’s half past bedtime and he still needs to brush his teeth. This week I’ve learnt that if I put off my worries for just a few more minutes, the whole world really won’t fall on my head.

These are lessons that I will forget as often as I remember them, I’m sure. But the point is that now I know and I will try. I will try to do and be better, for myself as much as my children. So I won’t regret the moments I missed when my children are grown up.

The day after we came back from our holiday was our 5th wedding anniversary, and I’ve been thinking a lot about the people we used to be and who we are now. When we got married, we had only been together for a couple of years. We were just two kids in love and we thought we had it all figured out. We thought we could conquer the world, just the two of us, with the force of that love. I look back on that boundless optimism now and I realise how naïve we really were. Because the truth is that what has kept us together for the last five years has been hard work and determination. We have been determined not to forget, but sometimes we have anyway. Sometimes we’ve screamed at each other to “just fuck off already!” at the end of a hard day – or the beginning of one after a long night. Sometimes it’s almost impossible to imagine who we were when we first met, but I know that I was a fragile, heartbroken thing. I know that I was a flight risk, and I know that N put up with a lot. I know that it took strength and guts for him to resist every one of my attempts to push him away. I know that he loved me a lot, and I know that I loved him enough in return to let him in. To give him the chance to hurt me. And I’m not going to dress this up; there have been shitty times and yes, he has hurt me. More than once. But that street has gone both ways sometimes and the bottom line is the only one that really matters in the end, which is this:

He is my co-pilot. We navigate this journey together. And, when all is said and done, there isn’t anybody I’d rather have in the cockpit with me when all of the lights start flashing at once.

Five years is wood. We are not going to be wooden.

We are going to be God damn TREES.

Wedding

04.06.2011

Mirehouse & Gardens

Bank Mill Visitor Centre

Brockhole

Whinlatter

Walby Farm Park

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