Cool stuff, check.

I’ve been mindful of wanting to both do more cool stuff, as well as appreciating the things I experience that are cool.

The night glow at the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta:

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Everything about the fiesta is fun, but this was our first night glow. It was also our first time attending with a camp friend – and her daughter accidentally knocking my daughter’s tooth out!

Tape exhibition, Cardiff:

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This is one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. It’s an interactive art exhibit – a treehouse/tunnel/otherworldly place suspended between trees….and made of nothing but sticky tape. The time inside this thing felt like a little bit of magic.

Arnos Vale Cemetery:

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Despite living so close to this place, we’d never been before last week. It’s a Victorian cemetery and woodland. I’ve been to old cemeteries thst have been reclaimed by nature, but this took it to the next level.

Graves are interspersed into old woodlands, with dark paths twisting around. I swear we saw a Leopard Cat, but I accept it may have actually been a Bengal.

Barleymow’s Maize Maze, Chard:

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I LOVE MAZES. And this one went on long enough to freak out both my father in law and son. All us women were laughing rather cruelly and helplessly at their worry we’d never escape.

The kids then climbed and conquered a mountain made of hay bales, before whizzing down the attached steep slide.

I’ve done cool shit.

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I have done some cool shit.

I’ve spent time teaching in a well known school for the Deaf, totally immersed in American Sign Language and Deaf culture. One of my most proud moments still is when two 17 year olds thought I was Deaf – a real relief as spending eight hours a day communicating in a language I was not born to was intimidating. But amazing.

I’ve worked at an American summer camp for years and years, culminating in an excellent time being the Director there. Summer camp is sort of like you see in the movies, only deeper and funnier and harder. It helped me discover who I was, to celebrate that, to be loved for nothing more simple than just being me.

I spent one memorable winter season living alone at that camp, 400 acres of potential axe murderers and demons at my beck and call. Many hours spent hearing voices outside the window, running like hell through the woods to my little cabin, keys shaking in my hands as I pictured the hounds of hell just about to disembowel me.

I’ve been part of the editorial staff of an international magazine. I never knew how mundane something so seemingly glamourous could be. I loved it. I loved the giant proofs of each new edition, I loved the weird pressure of my work being checked by people just as geeky as me, I loved the odd man who gave me lifts out of London.

I moved across the world to another country, practically sight unseen, for love. I learned how to navigate the most effed up city ever, fell in love with that city, lived in a tiny studio flat with a toy lobster hanging from the bathroom light pull. After a year of staying up all night on the phone to Suzy, waiting for the mail to come each day, what a miracle it felt like to live with her.

I had two years of therapy; it was a requirement for my course, and what a gift it was. I spent hours sitting on a couch across from a woman who showed me such love, such understanding, such humour. How profound it was to be seen, to be known. If I offered a quarter of that experience to the many humans I worked with as a counsellor, I consider that a job well done.

I’ve been inside some notorious psychiatric hospitals, many while volunteering as a mental health advocate. One particular night of trying to get off a locked ward, then out of a locked outer containment zone, then out of endless maze like corridors that all ended in locked doors stays with me still.

I’ve been pregnant with two children, and spent an entire summer on the couch, looking out the window at white fluttering butterflies. Every year when I see those butterflies I am reminded of movement deep within, of my huge, curved belly, of the heat of that endless time of waiting and wondering.

I’ve done cool shit.

I’ve shaved my head, dyed my hair every colour of the rainbow, pierced my tongue. Met many ‘strangers off the Internet’ in a time when that just wasn’t done. I won national awards for acting when I was a teenager and was still so stupid and so brilliant. I achieved a distinction on my Master’s dissertation, and have gone back to teach other MA students.

I’ve written a book or two. Or three. These moments were among the most joyful and fulfilling of my life.

I’ve had sloppy teenage kisses and made messy teenage mistakes. I experienced true love at a very young age, and those memories still sometimes creep into the nighttime landscape of my dreams. I’ve kissed boys, and girls, and my own arm before I was confident in my abilities when lips met lips. All those things led me to here – married just about fifteen years. Safety, laughter, ease, contentment, love.

I quit teaching right before starting a plum job that was hotly fought for. I dropped out of my PhD programme to pursue a career in counselling. I qualified as a high ropes course instructor despite spending three hours crying in a tree, trying to work up the courage to step off a twenty foot high platform. I’ve been in more Halloween haunted houses, haunted woods, and haunted hayrides than you can imagine – and wet myself in fear on more than one occasion. I’ve also wet myself lavishly while laughing.

I’ve survived hard stuff. I spent two years in a wheelchair, unable to walk. My grandmother’s death led me to what, looking back, I can only class as a breakdown. I had a very unstable parent, with many problems, and my choice to cut all contact troubles me still.

I spent time in the room where Anne Frank hid. I’ve stopped my car to let a bear cross the road. I lived without electricity or walls five months every year. I’ve seen meteor showers, I’ve survived tornadoes, I’ve danced in the rain at the tail end of Florida’s hurricane season. I’ve swum naked in a lake filled with dubious creatures. I’ve found friends who feel more like family. I got a qualification as a sexual health worker with young people, and had some of the most…interesting…conversations of my life as a result.

All these things I’ve done, and more, crept into my thoughts while I was driving home today. And I wondered: where is my cool shit now? Ten years from now, will I be able to add onto this list?

I’ve done cool shit. I want to do more.

Gromit hunting!

A couple of summers ago, Bristol gave us an amazing gift: Gromits all over the city, and beyond. If you don’t know who Wallace and Gromit are, please google them now; you’re missing out. Aardman Animations is based here in Bristol, and they agreed to using Gromit’s image in statue form – 80 of the large ones, and many half sized. Gromits were painted by artists, musicians, writers, charity groups, and beyond.

We spent much of that summer clutching maps in our hand, hiking around to find different Gromits.

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Gromit hunting led us to explore places we’d never been before – and to appreciate ones we had.

We marched around the city centre in swimming costumes after finding many Gromits and playing in the fountains. And then we found a suitably themed one in the aquarium!

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We were thrilled to find a ‘mystery’ Gromit in a well established, quirky market (that sells nut free vegan chocolate cake! Hurrah!)

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We got to board a boat we’ve admired many times from shore.

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While we had a fun and colourful summer looking for these amazing statues, they served an even more astonishing purpose: every person involved in the project did so with the knowledge that at the end of the summer, the statues would be auctioned to raise money for our local Children’s Hospital.

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Each Gromit sold for unbelievable sums of money – some over fifty thousand British pounds. These eighty sales, plus sales of half sized Gromits and assorted memorabilia, raised millions for the hospital. We have personal links to the hospital, and know firsthand how wonderful it is. The outpatients waiting room is one giant play area! Downstairs features an art gallery of things made by patients. They have dedicated play workers who bring joy and light into little lives.

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We spent that summer dancing in the front hall of a music venue to the jazz music built into one Gromit. We were lucky enough to have my parents visiting and get to see some Gromits with us – including a very early morning viewing of the one in the airport, before we flew to Italy. We met people we wouldn’t have met otherwise.

We watched YouTube videos on the project, including movies on individual statues being painted. We visited Aardman Animations to peek at all the mini replicated Gromits. We waited five hours in a queue to visit all eighty Gromits in a grand museum exhibition at the end of the summer. We printed many copies of Gromit outlines and coloured our own designs. We even painted our own:

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All in all, it was one of the best summer experiences of my life.

We get to do it all again this year, with another Aardman character: Shaun the Sheep. We got our map of locations last night, and I can’t wait for another summer of sunset visits to huge old parks, people walking all over the city with huge smiles on their faces, and the thrill of seeing giant colourful sheep everywhere we go! Best of all, the money raised this summer goes to Children’s Hospitals around the country.

If you live near Bristol, I cannot recommend coming to hunt down a few of these statues enough. We’ve not yet got around to making a huge picture collage to commemorate our summer of Gromit hunting, but I know the memories will stick around, anyway.

Brave and free.

I was born in America, land of the free, home of the brave.

Fifteen years ago is when I realized I wasn’t free. I packed a few bags, boarded a plane, and moved across the globe to be with the woman I loved. It was bittersweet. I left behind my family, my friends, my career, my home. I stepped into the unknown – except it wasn’t unknown. It was my wife.

We both wanted to live in America, but there wasn’t a way for me to bring her there as my wife or partner. Even that long ago, the UK had just passed provision to allow me to apply for a same sex partner visa, after my initial two years living with Suzy while I completed a graduate degree. I couldn’t bring her to my home, and actually, the fact that she loved me could bar her entry from the very place I’d always thought was so progressive and powerful.

This is the face of who marriage equality protects:

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You can barely see me. I’m the one with glasses, the one who came out as queer at nineteen to her mother. The one who was told she’d go to hell, was told how abnormal she was, who grew up with a legacy of fag jokes and classmates who played Smear the Queer. I’m not dangerous. I love reading, I’m quite gregarious, I laugh a lot, I love my family.

You see my wife? She’s the one with tears in her eyes, as she holds one of our newborn children almost six years ago. She’s smart and creative, she has a beautiful singing voice. She works hard to help young people with additional challenges blossom, believe in themselves, and achieve. She doesn’t earn much money, but she loves her job and she recognizes how important it is to fight for people who sometimes can’t fight for themselves.

One of those babies is now a small boy. He does martial arts with painted nails. He is rough and tumble, he is sensitive, kind hearted, and gifted with a talent for befriending people. He exudes an easy confidence and is joyful. He’s a storyteller and a comedian.

The other baby is now a small girl. She’s musical, she’s a perfectionist. She’s funny and dramatic and strong. She is very athletic, she has a fierce love for her friends, she is learning to ride her bike without stabilizers. She has a small Bunny she loves deeply.

This is our family. We try each day the best we can to love each other, to appreciate ordinary life. To my kids, this is their normal life. We are lucky enough to be blessed with friends, children and adult, from all walks of life – including various religions who may have traditionally been against same sex couples. My children have never experienced anything but respect and friendship from the wonderful community here in Bristol.

To live freely and safely, I’ve had to be brave and leave one life behind, rebuilding another.

Because of the ruling today in America, marriage equality becomes a federal fact. Now millions of children won’t have to grow up and be forced to become an immigrant if they happen to fall in love with someone from another country. Same sex parents will be able to jointly adopt their children. Spouses can visit their lifelong loves in hospital. Insurance companies will have to recognize and include families like mine.

I’ve been crying on and off all afternoon. When I told M about the ruling on marriage equality, he threw his arms into the air and shouted, ‘Woohoo!’ When I told S, she gave me a look of disdain and said, ‘They already had that in England.’

What a marvel to have children who see marriage equality both as a given, and as a joyful thing to celebrate. What a wonder for them to have all the opportunities in the future to live such an ordinary, happy life as the one I’ve fought for.

Marriage equality strengthens individuals, couples, families. It gives us all a chance to recognize how beautiful the ordinary is and will continue to be, to finally be free and happy without having to be quite so brave.

At her own pace.

When S was a baby, she spent most of her time upside down. I think even before she was rolling – or if she was rolling, it was only to flip herself onto her back. She got around by arching her back. The only things touching the floor were the top of her head and the bottoms of her feet. She’d do this mega arch and push herself around like an upside down caterpillar.

I can’t find pics of her doing it, though I’ve got a killer video of her moving across the whole lounge, but here’s a similarly themed pic from the same era:

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Around the time of her first birthday, before she was walking, she taught herself to do a neat little flip. I accidentally called it a forward roll the other day, and she haughtily gave me a demo of a flip versus a forward roll. We knew this was a kid who would probably adore gymnastics.

I think she’d just turned three when we took her to a local(ish) gym. It. Was. Amazing. It has everything from toddler classes to training elite athletes who compete (and win) international elite competitions. One of the young people there at the moment will probably be in the next Olympics. I say all this to contrast it with my childhood experiences of gym – namely a dusty mat spread on the floor of a school hall. S and M’s gym has all the actual apparatus. They are training on the same stuff the elite adult athletes use.

It is like the world’s biggest, most best, most dangerous soft play.

After about a year in the toddler classes (and a broken arm suffered at the hands of a giant hanging rope), I mentioned the ‘big kid classes.’ Namely, the after school classes adults are not allowed to accompany children to. She went CRAZY. Insisted she would not do it.

I was confused, as this was a child who happily jumped into an eight foot pit onto a mattress without blinking. She loved the full height balance beam.

Silly me. It wasn’t about her actual athletic ability; it was about her feeling secure and confident. And those are the most important things, despite my crazy urges to push her into the older classes. I held myself back and she did another year in the toddler and parent classes. Late last autumn, she started the big kid classes. It was when she wanted to do it, and M signed up with her. A couple of months later, their best friend also joined in.

It’s been interesting. While adults aren’t allowed in the gym any longer, we are allowed to cram into a small room with smaller windows that overlooks the gym. Every week my friend and I watch S. She GRABS M and their friend and does not let go. During warm ups, if she finds herself slightly moved from their side during stretches, she quickly scootches back. When they sit on the side and get put into smaller groups, she clutches their hands and none of them volunteer, so they can all be together in the last group.

A couple of months ago M asked to do a second class of martial arts. I asked S if she wanted to, and she said she wanted a second gym class. It was established that she’d be doing it without her brother or friend, and was she really sure? She shrugged and said, ‘Yep.’

Yesterday was the first class with her flying solo. I think I was more nervous than she was. Because more than her continuing to develop her gymnastics, this class had her confidence in the palm of its hands. If she went up, I knew she’d be fine. If she didn’t, I thought it would put her off any future solo things. She said she was scared, she didn’t want to do it. But when the coach came down and announced it was time to go up, she ran and joined the group without looking back.

And she volunteered (and was selected!) to be the group leader of the first group.

She chatted a lot with the boy in her group, and afterward pragmatically said that while she’d made a friend, they might be in different groups next week. She was really proud and happy.

So was I.

What would have happened if I’d pushed her when she wasn’t ready? Made her leave her safety and forced her to do a class she would probably grow to fear and dislike?

I don’t know. But now she’s learned she can do this. She’s had the opportunity to choose when she was ready, and have this huge accomplishment of training with thirty nine strangers. And being so confident and strong she was the leader.

All those things aside, I think I’ve learned a lot more than she has. This morning over breakfast when she announced she was going to be a gymnastic Olympian, I didn’t start planning how to make that happen. I smiled at her, we kept eating, and it was simple. We are who we are, we are who and what we choose to be and do, and this upside down baby of my heart can do anything she pleases. I just want her to be happy.