Long, hard,rugby playing muscles when I first met him, have softened slightly in some places, and his lasting love of sailing has tightened and corded others. Me, always soft, but now shaped by motherhood.
I have always loved our skin together. Both of us fair, our colouring within that could not be more different. He has the honeyed skin of someone who tans easily and golden highlights are replaced with white in his hair. My skin is milky white leaving me hiding in the house without factor 50 or sleeves from March to November.
I am smooth. He is hairy. Coarse, thick hair that rubs deliciously against me. Bristly beard hair abrading my skin where-ever his mouth moves. A pelt of warm, curling fur over solid muscles. Those few tender bare spots of baby soft skin.
I love how flipping the viewpoint flips the picture.
His body is a tool made tough through work. Mine is home. Soft, padded limbs that fold themselves around him. A cushion on which to rest. Fragile skin that marks and bruises with possessive artistry. Even the stretch marks are a sign he was there, that I grew our children in my body.
He is much more comfortable with pictures that focus on me, but I love his body. Love how it is aging. Love how he frames me, physically and in life.
F came out to me the other night. Curled up on my knee, under their favourite leopard print blankie, they told me they had noticed the male swans in Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake were hot,- was the correct way to describe them ‘silver foxes’ (generally their make up sent their hair grey for the performance)? “And what is the right term for me?” they asked. “Am I bi, or the kitchen one?”
F isn’t afraid of drawing in bold strokes clear across the middle of those blank pages. Not worried about my reaction, of their dad’s, or their siblings. Even the wider family who don’t really understand F’s neuro-queer headspace love them and have given them no reason to fear a negative reaction.
Can you imagine growing up knowing that the shape or your body and the parts it came with should not shape your life expectations, or those that you perceive for others? Imagine that your body and the way it reacts to people around it didn’t have any plan to which it had to conform?
F lives there, protected by the way their autism shapes their world view. Their world is built on concrete knowledge that they can tell me and their dad anything. Despite all the things life has thrown at them, they are innocent in the truest sense of the word. The idea of hiding their thoughts abut gender or sexuality, politics or religion is the unknown zone. Anyone who takes their dummy out and opens Christmas lunch small talk with “So has anyone here heard of Rasputin?” is not prepared to be kept in a box!
I have fewer blank pages left in my book, but I have increasingly beautiful and more complex pictures on the pages I’ve visited. It has taken me years and access to a psychologist to really get to grips with what I can, and almost more importantly, can’t do. To start in the middle of a blank page and develop an idea, knowing it might not be a masterpiece every time, but if I never start something, it can never be beautiful.
Preliminary sketches happened for most great works of art. Writers always draft and edit. Newton slept in a tree for many nights before developing his observations, which were re-illustrated with apples at a later time so lesser mortals could grasp them.
I am not daily frustrated by my own brain anymore. Not embarrassed or confused by the messages from my body and hormones. Able to sit non judgementally with my feelings whether about the uncertainty caused by lockdown and uncontrolled change generally, or when I see someone I find attractive. Not “I’ve had a bad day” but “Today I feel exhausted by the things that were out of my control and/or the things I didn’t anticipate.” Not “I’ve had a good day” but “Today x went well and that made me feel powerful.” Or loved. Or significant. Or needed.
Self recognition is important.
For someone who wears a lot of themselves on the outside, I don’t “come out” in many situations. I have thought long and hard about this. I tend to feel that If I am not going to judge people based their gender or sexuality then mine is not significant. If it is significant though, I don’t hold back, just as I don’t hide my autism diagnosis or keep back my life experiences. They are only relevant when they are relevant.
I am “out” at home as both non-binary and pansexual (the kitchen one!). We talk about these things very ordinarily- not so much the labels but what they mean as lived experience. Privilege in social status and presentation mean even when people know and disapprove, generally they are ridiculously polite about it.
It is my choice what I put on my blank pages, and (to an extent) with whom I share them. I haven’t come to non-binary as another border to draw around the page before I start to fill it. To me it is the sweeping away of borders- of gender as a key factor of presentation. Two of my three children are non binary and what that means to each of them is different to each other and different to me. I want to be very careful not to draw borders on their pages for them as to what that should mean.
We also discuss that our ideas of self can be fluid. When I met the lovely Mr Hunt, I described as bi, but that has refined to pan- during our marriage. But as a teenager, I would never have considered myself as anything other than straight, with a few aberrative crushes on girls. I didn’t have the language or the experience of what other identities might look like to give me any ideas of what I might want to doodle on my page. If I had, I hope I would still have ended up here, because this feels like the place I was supposed to be and the best person I can be.
F might be drawing swans now and something different later. Might, like me, doodle both or either in the margins of the pages until someone comes along who is the package of everything, sketching their genitals on as a later detail. They choose neutral pronouns now, but that can change whenever and to whatever they want. As a concrete learner, I will fuck them up regularly, but not because I don’t love F and respect their choice to draw whatever they want on their page.
We don’t always get to keep our pages private. This is not always so much a diary as a newspaper. And like we all have our own viewpoints on editorial standpoints, people will have a view on my life and F’s. There is a comments section that will be written in, but no-one makes us read it. We want to be loved and adored and that won’t always happen.
One day, F will be exposed to this. But not today.
This week, they looked at the pages and unconstrained by their body or society chose to draw swans.
The above 10 degree nights continued later this year than others, and it was mid-December, after the Christmas lights had gone up that we said farewell to the spa for the year. We took photos to remind us why hanging out naked in our tiny garden is so important to us, to help motivate us when it’s time to put it back up in Spring.
For us, it is space and bonding. An excuse to just be in each other’s presence with no additional distractions. A place where we are stripped bare with each other in every way possible.
The ever lovely Mr Hunt is shyer about his photos that I am about mine, but I think that confidence comes from the lovely reactions and kind comments I’ve experience here. Part of our Christmas gifts to each other are a printed selection of our favourite photos of each other from these photo sessions which we are going to hang in our bedroom. I’ve picked this one.
God, I’m a lucky person to have got all his spectacular qualities wrapped up in this rather lovely packaging.
Christmas is a marker in time. The lovely Mr Hunt always used to feel it took him by surprise, and that used to fray my nerves because it happens every year. I’m a planner and gifts are sorted by October and menus by the start of December. This year I had all the veggies pealed, cut and frozen ready to go, the turkey boned and stuffed and a salmon filleted and skinned a week clear because I was terrified of being ill and not being able to properly host my guests.
And I still had guests, despite lockdown, because my three carers/au pairs need hosting and the children need feeding with the specific things they will eat. There is no muddling through here.
It was a strange tipping point this year, with none of the children having large plastic toys. Clothes and personal grooming products took centre stage with the usual showstopper from their aunt, which we never try to beat. The low-key nature of the preparation was relaxing: their cousins being similar age, I had very little to buy as they had all reached the age where money and personal choice are key. But others went even more low key, and when it came to it, there was not a single present for me under the tree.
Strangely, this felt ok. I thought I would miss the days when appreciation from others came in the form of gifts. But we have spent a long time working on recognising each other’s love languages, and actually, this was just a reflection that gifts are not a love language I am receptive towards.
The things that were important to me were honoured. Mr Hunt shows me his love by getting on board with the planning, despite this not being his natural style. We shared food, which to me is crucial. We made time to incorporate lots of the religious bits of Christmas that are really important to me, including gathering the household in the garden to sing carols at the top of our voices (in a well-ventilated way). The tender respect of all the traditions that are important to me and their significance in my life was very special.
Of course, Christmas was adapted this year. But then, for families, I think it is every year. We never stay the same. Relationships start and end, friends become geographically distant, and children grow. The mythical perfect Christmas has never existed, but our memories will tidy up the difficult parts and distil it to the best gifts, the best party, the best company.
This year my parents, living less than a mile away, may as well have been on the moon. My sister, 250 yrds away, likewise someone I can wave at from 8ft, when what I want to do is touch her. There are always crisis though. In 2008, with a new baby, the lovely Mr Hunt nearly died of swine flu and spent the lead up to Christmas in intensive care with pneumonia. In 2011, we left our third child at the crematorium and went straight to our eldest’s nativity play. In 2015, we were waiting between the charging and court appearance of our children’s attacker. Being apart from people because we love them is a walk in the park comparatively.
Courage is to take what you have and create as many of those happy, shiny memories as you can. The ones which sustain you going forward. It’s minimising the bare spaces, noting them and making emotional room for them, but focusing on what is there. I can’t imagine how hard that must be for people facing their first Christmas alone, as every adaption I’ve needed to make has seen family standing with me.
It is also courageous to make your Christmas/ winter solstice / Hannukah unique to your own needs and those of the people you love. I am religious and like my Christmas focussed that way, which can be very out of step with my peers. But the lights that cover my home are far more focussed on driving out the winter darkness as we reach the turning point of the year. Christmas this year has been about incorporating the traditions and needs of my guests from France and Spain. Innovation rather than hanging on to the things we can’t have has been important, kept us focussed and sane. It was easier for the grandparents to all join us via videocall than it is for us to focus on only the set who are visiting. Our Tapas lunch is amazing, but its flexibility is designed to make sure there is something on the table each child will eat and enjoy and that will never be a roast dinner.
Hope is something I have learnt a lot about through learning to parent. Without getting political, some people seem to think hope is a moon-shot. Aim for the stars and wait to see if all the pieces come together. Like promising the best toy when there is neither money for it nor availability and disappointing with what is delivered.
Hope needs to be grounded in reality. Hope is the top end of a realistic plan.
It is not I lack optimism, but I am not good with uncertainty. I’m a long hauler. I’d rather a downplayed, slow burn relationship than the promises in “Last Christmas”.
Christmas is just a day, an anniversary and public marker we (broadly) societally share, but you always need to look back with tenderness, face today with courage and aim for the top end of what is possible, with kindness and consideration to yourself and others if this can’t be achieved.
Treated myself, and by default, the lovely Mr Hunt, to some Snag “Sexy AF” garter tights. My legs are ridiculously long, so I’ve never had stockings come this far up my legs before and I really love the look.
This was Christmas Eve, with a freshly spanked behind, ready to throw myself into the last preparations. It was lovely to know- to feel them – beneath my clothes all day, whilst cracking on with being the public-facing, domestic manager all day. Having the carers in for the kids is a real privilege, but, my goodness, the six of them (kids and au pairs) take some management when it comes to excitement and lack of structure. The stockings, and the slightly warmed backside, were my powersuit- a reminder of who I am when I’m me rather than “Mum”.
And, God, I need that sometimes.
There are lots more gorgeous images out there… follow the two links below if this is your Christmas cup of tea.
It is not as easy to be kind as we are told when we are children. Ethics and morals develop and divide ideas of kindness because how you treat someone becomes based on a set of internalised rules and protocols and these don’t always align across society.
Do you tolerate the inappropriate view of someone you broadly get on with, in the hope of educating them in this point of disagreement with your consistency and kindness in other things? Or is this appeasement? Do you really sometimes need to be cruel to be kind? Is not rocking the boat when someone asks you not to kindness? What about when you do rock the boat to speak up for someone- kindness or activism?
Kindness is consideration of other people without expectation of reward. Sometimes in being kind to one, you can be unkind to others simply because of their conflicting stances.
I think considering another person is to be aware of them as an individual, so to be kind takes account of their needs, their traumas and making the provision they need. Autism books often talk about iceberg behaviours. You see the part above the surface, but to understand it and act appropriately you need to get to grips with the parts under the surface.
You cannot be truly be kind if you are only dealing with the part above the surface.
At the same time though, kindness should not reward poor behaviours. It is not an excuse to allow someone to be hurtful. I don’t agree you need to be cruel to be kind, because cruelty takes pleasure in hurt, but I do think you need to be firm. There are lines that shouldn’t be crossed without consequence.
I work with some people who are so hurt and chronically under-supported that they thrash about like injured animals, hurting those around them, including those who are trying to help. Regularly, I have to remind the others professionals working with them, that their poor manners, lack of thanks or hurtful mistrust does not make them unworthy of help, in fact it is a sign things are lacking. That doesn’t mean we don’t set boundaries on their behaviours. I get hurt too and have to take steps to protect myself. Ask my clients to step out if they are being mean to people who are doing what they can within their own constraints, including me.
And then I go to Twitter.
To return to the iceberg analogy, when you are dealing with people you see in a holistic setting, you can start to unpick their motivations. You can talk, but mainly you listen, and from that you sort out the causes of the behaviour you see. When someone is a real person to you, working out where to draw those lines, how to be considerate of them and make their life better are easy to see. Even if you are only seeing 10%, you are seeing enough other clues to the remaining 90% if you are observant.
On Twitter and other media we see a fraction of a fraction presented through whatever prisms the speaker and receiver wish and crushed into imprecise language choices to fit the word count. Whilst there are people out there who are truly callous, cruel and self centred, and business who are there for the money, there are many more that we judge based on this tiny refracted image of who they are.
If you can’t be kind, say nothing at all.
Twitter is very instant. If you miss a day or two, you can miss a whole shitstorm and end up paddling through the mess trying to make sense of it all. It is possible to be morally and ethically correct but at the same time and in the same thread be inconsiderate of an individual and what has shaped their world view.
One of the things I find hard is when something like this has happened, not taking a side has been met with instant condemnation. To me, kindness is often stepping back and listening carefully first. It’s often far more nuanced than can ever be achieved on twitter. It’s taking the hurt and the violence of an altercation and distilling the key points and taking action- something which may or may not be visible on Twitter.
Lights: Step out of the spotlight. Kindness is offering sympathy rather than empathy, where empathy changes the focus to yourself. Kindness isn’t always an apology, but when it is, it is a “Sorry” without a “but”.
Camera: Don’t think about how your words or actions are going to play out to others. If they are not for public consumption, but need saying, find places and ways to do this that are constructive. Kindness is being firm, often privately, rather than fuelling a bonfire because you look good in firelight.
Action: Kindness is finding something praiseworthy and praising it. Kindness is taking the time to understand where someone is coming from before you act or speak. Kindness can be action rather than words.
Tidying my bedroom this afternoon I came across the laundry bag I term my “dressing up box”. It’s full of ideas and dreams that don’t go in the weekday underwear drawer.
The kids were at the park with the au pairs… so I had a little dressing up time. Not quite the adventures of Mr Benn or even what Sid and Rebecca had in mind while I was raising my kids, but all the same, a very relaxing break from reality.
No motorbikes available, but having had this week’s Top of the Pops on earlier, a little bit of Heart and Cher and all the other leather clad ladies that filled my young teen experience with ideas of what “sexy” might mean, the lovely Mr Hunt was persuaded to help me play.
One day I’ll have time and space to try something a little more adventurous than yet another cleavage shot… but in the meantime…
“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” – Albert Einstein
Life is like mountain biking. It is not just that you have to find your balance, but that the terrain keeps changing, making that balance point change.
Maybe mountain biking whilst juggling. Through the Alps. As part of a team.
And trying to do so with grace.
Sometimes suddenly finding yourself on a flat piece of terrain with empty hands can throw you off balance as much as the steepest paths.
I am good in a crisis. Where there is a problem to throw myself into, I do exactly that, feeling the relief of being able to legitimately prioritise that one thing above others. But finding a balance on my own, in my own space is harder. What do I want to prioritize? There are things I love, things that are productive, things I take pride in, and the chances are these things do not align very often.
Parenting versus sex life is a classic example. We chose to have three children, but we didn’t know until after I was pregnant the final time that the first two were identified as autistic and the chances child three was also going to have extra needs were therefore quite high. This places many additional demands on our time, on our individual self images and on the bond of our relationship.
As part of their autism, child two seeks physical comfort from skin on skin contact, not unlike a baby, for four or more hours each day. But other things have to be accomplished, so undoubtedly this eats into time one would rationally expect to spend with your significant other. When children are small, this time is expected and you balance it out against your whole lifetime together, but when your child is twelve and still needing this amount of “quality time” it feels like you are being dragged out of balance.
I love my children but I also love my husband, love what we create together as a partnership.
Recognising the forces acting on you and how much control you have over them is important, because you can make corrections that match the severity and significance of the forces acting on you.
Making sure we check in on each other, making sure we make time and space whilst acknowledging this is not going to be in the evening, is not going to necessarily be in bed together on a lie in morning, is not going to be in a traditional expected time and place, is vital.
We create time and space on Thursday mornings. Book time into work calendars with coded messages. Take photos in the garden when there is a child already in our bed or on the sofa. Play fast and hard when we can and be gentle with each other when one needs it, even the other doesn’t. Because this isn’t him playing me, or me playing him, but is the result of something we could never have imagined.
Letting it take us down isn’t an option.
I love my blog, love hanging out with others who don’t think my more sex positive parenting and lifestyle is weird, because it certainly doesn’t fit in with any local real-life communities I operate in. But I cannot prioritise this even though I love it.
I love to take photos. Once I had time to craft stories, whereas now all I seem to have time to do is spill my guts out to be picked over. I am learning how to be a good ally, which will be a necessary skill when raising non binary children through their teens into adulthood.
I have to be very careful with my blog and with the tools I use- my computers, my phone and photos. I am a specialist working with children and the world is not kind to kinky people operating in children’s spaces, even when there is no hint of impropriety. Social Care has no time to be kind to parents who have active sex lives if their children have struggled with harmful sexualised behaviours, as mine did as a result of assault by a carer (another joy of raising children with disabilities is it increases their risk of being the victim of crime). Therefore, I have plenty of reasons to not be here. But writing, even if it is not the fiction I love, and reading the work of others, is vital to my balance.
Things change. The pushes and pulls on us now will be different in the future. My need to be here may change. One day, my child may not need to be held like a baby for hours every evening and I may be able to watch adult themed tv, read blogs when I want.
As life changes, we change. Trying to stay the same will pull us over as surely as the worse stretch of bumpy terrain. Grieving the sex life we don’t have is as important as taking joy in moments of service snuck into plain sight.
The thing is, it’s my balance and I must work at all the aspects, whether blogging or working or parenting, to keep everything functional for me. And that supports the balance the lovely Mr Hunt and I create together. And that keeps the balance in place for my children.
My balance doesn’t exist in a vacuum, but it is still the only part of this juggling band of Alpine mountain bikers I can actually control.
This week had a wonderful gift in the middle, when I found that my photo from last week had been chosen as one of the five winning images of the week for the 500th Sinful Sunday. I am immensely grateful for this safe space where I have had the opportunity to explore my self image through photos.
The winners tweet on Thursday as a bright high point in an otherwise long week…one I’m very grateful for as it means work is going well and my new carer team for my children is settling in. It’s also tricky because this week of the year marks the anniversary of a bereavement that I mark, not by the date but by a certain tv landmark. I came home from hospital, having delivered my third child, without them, and curled up in bed while Children in Need played. When I was a child this always felt like a very positive, entertaining evening, as much a of marker of the season as Halloween. Now, I have three children who use services that are supported by the charity and will forever associate the evening with the ache of empty arms.
This weekend I’ve ripped the house apart cleaning, for me, a, sign of being unsettled. This evening I’ve followed it up with an evening of self care- a nice steak, some repetitive tele and a warm blanket to snuggle in.
Thank you for giving me a place where I could see people like me, enjoying sharing their lives.
See sexy not just as a representation of beautifully arranged mainstream body parts, although undoubtedly there are many of those here, but as acts or ideas or bodies that are real and perfect in their imperfection.
For giving me the confidence to post my first pictures and the encouragement to play around and post more.