'Sometimes I need only to stand wherever I am to be blessed'
Boxing Day, my 54th birthday and I’m up early doing the post-Christmas Day chores. A freshly baked loaf of soda bread is cooling, the laundry is folded and vegetables prepared for lunch. In full Mother, Daughter and Sister mode, I’m also watching as the winter sun rises above the bay. The sea gently laps the shore, perfect paddleboarding waves.
Breakfast over, I’ve swapped my apron for a wetsuit and am heading for the beach. Blue skies, sunshine, oystercatchers and a board, I have a spring in my step.
There is a special thrill as I skip like a child into the waves and the sharp, icy North Sea fills my booties. I walk the board further from the shore and then hop on, first kneeling and then standing, looking out to the horizon.
I am on my way.
As a busy working Mum flying solo, time on the sea, canal or reservoir is precious. Juggling commitments to my boys, my Dad, the office, my “side hustle” and our little home, life is happy, demanding, exhausting.
And so, these moments away from the world have become ever more important to me.
An opportunity to pause, exhale and breathe deeply again. Time to set aside tomorrow’s To Do lists and focus simply on the here and now.
I can feel my over-thinking, anxious brain calming with each stroke of the paddle, my shoulders relax, my body in sync with the board and waves beneath. Like a warrior, strong and confident, I’m heading out to explore new horizons, of the sea and of my heart. I chuckle as I sing ‘This is Me’ from ‘The Greatest Showman’. The birds swoop above with little care that I have neither a singing voice nor full grasp of the lyrics.
I can see the beach, hear dogs barking in the distance and watch families wrapped in Christmas hats and scarves. And yet it feels a million miles away. I am in my own little world – joyful, tinglingly alive and so very grateful.
Whether I’m plogging in the Dales (running and picking up litter), flying across the waves on my bodyboard or treading water with my treasured fins, such tiny adventures nourish my body, mind and soul.
They have helped me rediscover the essence of who I am after years of loss and change (miscarriages, bereavement, my eldest son going to university). They are helping me build a vision of the braver, purposeful woman I seek to become.
I head out to the waves breaking on rocks at the edge of the bay. I’m creating (learning along the way!) a short film called ‘Finding Joy’ for the British Mountaineering Club’s Women in Adventure competition. With my iPhone between my teeth, I build up speed, the wind behind my back whooshing me along.
My hope is that I can share the joy of moving in nature, of finding a space to breathe and return to ourselves. I want to show how close and beneficial these tiny escapes are for women my age, if we just put ourselves a little higher up the priority list.
'My hope is that I can share the joy of moving in nature, of finding a space to breathe and return to ourselves. I want to show how close and beneficial these tiny escapes are for women my age, if we just put ourselves a little higher up the priority list.'
I pick up some bits of plastic floating by the board and with my filming done, turn back to the beach. I paddle into the golden sparkles from the sunshine dancing on the sea.
Nearing the shoreline, I stop and recount Mary Oliver’s words. “Sometimes I need only stand wherever I am to be blessed.” It’s become a ritual, a reminder of the joy of these tiny midlife adventures. Together they build within me what Brene Brown calls a “reservoir of emotional strength (that I draw upon) when hard things happen”.
A two-minute beach clean and I am soon back warming my hands on a mug of tea. From apron to wetsuit to apron again, it has been less than two hours. I’m not sure the boys even noticed I had gone!
“You went a little further than normal,” my Dad remarks. He’s been watching me with his binoculars. A sailor, diver and RNLI volunteer, safety is always on his mind.
“Yes, and I was careful and it was lovely,” I reassure him. “A birthday treat to myself.”
“Ah, about your birthday present,” my eldest chimes in, “well, you see it hasn’t quite arrived…”
I smile. It doesn’t matter. It can wait (I am still waiting!). Two hours on the sea and home to my family. I am here and I am well. I am loved and my heart is full. I have everything I need and I am truly, truly blessed.