In February I got the opportunity to share my story with Lifetime TV for part of their Fempire Moments campaign. A team came to film one of my Tinytalk classes and interviewed me afterwards.
I loved having the class filmed, the Thursday class is a big class with a lovely feel to it. Everyone is really friendly and I feel lots of love in the room. The babies were just brilliant too!! The end result shots of the class are just beautiful!
After the class was filmed and all my families went home we set up to interview. They’d sent me a list of questions which I had made notes on as I didn’t really want to feel unprepared. And the questions they had asked I didn’t feel like I could answer on the spot.
My interview went on for over an hour. It was quite emotional at points. There were tissue breaks for me and the people in the room filming. It felt nice just to talk it all out to people I didn’t know, I felt like I could be quite honest and I also realised that I didn’t really need all my notes! But I’m glad I wrote it all down!
The Fempire Moment is now on their tv channel and quite a few times I’ve seen myself on the tv! That’s weird. It had a great reach on Facebook too and I’m ever so grateful to have had the chance to share a piece of my story and how I’ve ended up doing what I’m doing.
But the Fempire Moment is literally that..a Moment! And a lot of what they used was just me talking at the end when I didn’t realise they still had the cameras rolling. Which is quite nice in a way.
So below is the full interview, so to speak, all my notes on the questions they asked me. I’m hoping I will find it a useful piece to look back on and I think it will be nice for the kids to read when they are older too.
What inspired you to start Tinytalk.
I met Toby in 2008 and embarked on a whirlwind romance. Soon after we first met he had to start chemotherapy for the cancer that he had, something that he had been dealing with years before I came along. So after just one date we talked online almost every day for 6 months and once he finished his chemotherapy we started dating. Fast forward to April 2014, we had been married just over 4 years and I’d given birth to our twins which we had conceived through ivf.
I found out about Tinytalk classes in my area and joined. The classes were fantastic, we learnt simple BSL signs with different themes each week and I taught the signs I learnt each week at home with the twins. It was amazing how well they responded to me and how well they picked the signs up. I had to put in the work at home but it really paid off and made life quite a lot easier. In August 2014 Toby started a new trial drug for his cancer, he had to come off his regular medication for his non working lung, caught pneumonia and after two weeks in hospital, he passed away.
To describe what I went through is difficult, even when I think back to it now, I don’t know how I put one foot infront of the other.
A week after he died, I went to my regular Tinytalk class, I didn’t think twice about not going. It was part of our routine and that’s what I really needed, to be able to have some control in what was our upside world. The kindness and love I felt from these ladies, who had all kept in touch with me whilst I stayed with Toby in the hospital those last two weeks of his life, was just amazing. I walked in and they hugged me and carried on like normal. They talked to me, about normal things and didnt make me feel like I was different, if that makes sense. I hadn’t known these ladies for very long, 5 months, yet I felt close to many of them and felt like I could say anything to them, things that I couldn’t say to my family, even. As time went on, that class became the one thing I stuck to. Those mums became the women that I spent a lot of time with and it all stemmed from this lovely, brilliant lady setting up these classes and us mums going along with similar ideas about how we wanted to communicate with our little ones.
I could walk into a class and sit there and not really be there in my head and know that I was surrounded by lovely people who had my back, they didn’t bat an eyelid if I admitted I had slept in the tshirt I was wearing and they hugged me when I was crying and didn’t ask questions and also had the ability to make me laugh even when I thought my life wasn’t worth living.
Toby didn’t have life insurance and I had a mortgage and bills to pay so I knew that I would have to go back to work at some point, but also, more importantly, I needed to go back to work. I needed to fill this massive void in my life. The last few years had been filled with looking after Toby, being with him through everything and I’d put a lot of me into his care, along with looking after sienna, having IVF and conceiving the twins and then looking after him. It was a non stop rollercoaster between 2010 and the point where he died. I needed something that was mine that I could put all of me into now that he wasn’t there.
It didn’t take me long to realise what I wanted to do. I wanted a job that I could put my all in but which would work around the children. More importantly it had to be something I believed in and loved. There was no other choice for me but TinyTalk. Not only had I had first hand experience of the magic that is baby signing, it was the half hour social time that I loved. It was needed just as much for the mums as for the babies. It was time where we could have a cup of tea, chat and make life long friends. I felt that I could make a difference and if I could make one mum feel what I had felt when I returned to that class after Toby died, then it would be worth it. And that’s the joy of TinyTalk and I guess really wanted/needed to be part of it.
Tiny Talk has been a huge success. Describe to us how you feel teaching and the relationship you have with the parents and children.
I may not be earning thousands but actually I do see Tinytalk Epsom as a success, in the sense of what I do each week in bringing these families together. I feel like the parents bond with each other as much as the babies bond with their parents. The relationship I have with the parents is like nothing I’ve felt before in a “job”. We have fun, we laugh, we chat, we talk about what might be troubling us, I give my help where I can in all things baby related but mainly I am just there to listen as well as teach.. and provide hot drinks and biscuits. You don’t know people’s backgrounds and how they may be feeling as first time mums. You don’t know if they’ve had a bad night, a bad day, what they could be battling, just like I was, and having that friendly face that you see each week and that routine is a lifeline for some.
The babies are just brilliant! The minute I start singing and signing they are just memorised! They are friendly and comfortable with me and I think they are so familiar with me because of how comfortable and happy in what I am doing. And when a baby signs something for the first time AND in class it’s like that mum (and me) has won the lottery! The happiness you feel around the room is spellbinding. At our Christmas themed class last year we started by singing our hello song and then one little baby lifted his hand up and waved at us the whole way through the class for the first time. His mum (who took the day off work to be at the xmas class with her baby and husband) was in tears and everyone was clapping and cheering. Seeing your baby first wave at you and in context as we sang and waved to the hello song was just such a special moment..and why I love what I do.
How I feel teaching is something that’s hard to explain. It’s almost like therapy. I really did start these classes for me more than anything. Something I could throw myself into, I wasn’t sure how it would turn out but I wasn’t not going to try. To leave my thoughts at the door and put on my TinyTalk hat is probably the best kind of therapy I could ask for. I’m happy, I love what I’m doing and I think in turn that becomes infectious around the group. It’s nice to forget things and be in front of these babies or toddlers and sing and play and teach.
You set up Tiny talk not long after you lost your husband, can you talk us through how you got the motivation and drive. Especially whilst coping with such a loss?
I don’t know where I got the motivation from. I just knew that I had to do something, something that was for me and me only. Something good had to come out of this terrible thing that had happened. Tragedy either makes you or breaks you and I couldn’t be broken because I had my children to provide and care for. People kept saying they didn’t know how I got up in the morning, how I was getting on with things, but how could I not? Im not sure if everyone was totally on board with what I had decided to do, but the one good thing about being a newly widowed young mum of 3, is that no one will tell you “no that’s a bad idea”! And I was lucky that people supported me whatever they thought. I think what helped with the motivation was that I had control over this. TinyTalk was mine and I controlled everything about it, whether it was a success or not. Where I didn’t have control over Toby’s cancer or his death, here I did and I believed in the concept of baby signing and the way the social time was so beneficial to parents, that was enough drive for me.
I also wanted to do something that made me me again and something that I hoped Toby would be proud of. I also wanted to be a good role model for all my children but mainly at that time, for my eldest, I wanted her to see what you can achieve even after the worst possible circumstances.
Would you say that this was a time when you had to dig deep for strength to get through…?
Definitely. But If I’m honest it’s all abit of a blur. I had a 9 year old and 8 month old twins to look after and provide for. I was now their only parent. It never occurred to me to not get up every morning, or put my make up on, or do my hair. It never occurred to me to not send my daughter to school, not feed or play with the twins, to not carry on with our routine, all those things. I don’t know where the strength came from but what’s the alternative? You have to make a choice, wallow in self pity because his horrible thing has happened to you or just get on with it. I was definitely going to get on with it, no matter what, But I was going to make sure that what I was “getting on with” was something that I could put all my love and energy into and really be able to make a difference, in my life and those who I came into contact with.
How did you balance starting a business with being a single parent of 3?
Not very well! I threw myself into Tinytalk the minute the twins were in bed every night and I think I neglected my eldest abit. There’s so much that goes into the prep of the classes for each term, especially in the first few years, plus you have to spend a lot of hours advertising absolutely everywhere you can, getting your name out there, learning the songs, thinking about how the lesson plan will flow and how you are going to interact with those babies, and that’s before any admin is done. My daughter hit a wall last April and whilst I think it was always something that was going to happen with such a loss, I don’t think me burying myself in work helped. She became angry, she was hostile and at times violent towards me, which was so far away from the kind and loving person she is. She also began to self harm. So I took a step back and re evaluated my work and family life. I try to remember that the kids have to come first always and that work can wait, I think it goes back to that control thing and that burying myself in Tinytalk is something I can have control in, I just have to know when to stop working. I don’t always get it right, I’m still grieving myself, I can easily get exhausted especially running over 10 classes a week and many of them being really busy. I can get tired and irritable and shout at my kids and snap before I should. And when it gets to that point I take a step back and look at what I can change. TinyTalk has to work around me and my family and not the other way around. We get takeaways once a week, so I have one night where I don’t cook, I leave all work until the kids are in bed and although this means working a good few very late nights, I’d rather do that. What doesn’t get done today gets done tomorrow. Again, it’s abit like therapy because I’ve got something that I love that I can put my energy into but I make sure I don’t work every night. It’s a difficult balance and I’m always running from one end of the scale to the other, but I try and make it work as best I can.
Tell us about a time when you’ve doubted yourself and perhaps your abilities. How did you overcome it?
I can’t think of a specific time. There are many times where I regularly doubt myself. It can often come when there is a specific date coming up, for instance Christmas time was hard to get through and whilst you’re feeling low you start to doubt whether people are enjoying the classes, did I do enough that week, could people tell I was out of sorts, will this not make them want to come back. The negative thoughts can be endless and there’s no specific way to overcome it, other than ride it out. Doubt can come in waves and I think deep down I know my ability and I know that I’m doing something that I absolutely love and believe in and that underneath all the doubt, I believe in myself, somewhere along the line. So I cry if I need to, be angry or feel annoyed if I need to and keep reminding myself that the way I’m feeling is just the moment and that it will pass. I’ve also started writing a blog which is just a year old. It helps to get my thoughts out in the open and without having to actually speak out loud and it gives people who know me a window into my mind as I’m not one to talk about things. At the end of the day, I’ve come through when things have been worse. I make it sound easy, and it isn’t but that all you can do, ride through the storm and know that it won’t last forever.
What do you consider your greatest achievement in your career?
Last year at our Tinytalk conference there’s a part of the day where awards are giving out to teachers for various achievements. I was voted best new teacher and runner up for best teacher across all the franchisees. This was voted for by the other teachers and some of the things the other teachers said about me that were read out were just amazing. I felt so empowered after that weekend, I felt like I had really achieved something brilliant with my classes and it gave me the boost I needed to get through the months that followed.
What do you consider your greatest achievement in your personal life?
I don’t know, I find it hard to look at my personal life and say yes I’ve achieved that and I’m proud of it. There’s always self doubt and there’s always sadness, there’s always the thought that I’m not good enough. The fact that I’m still here and carrying on after Toby’s death is a pretty good achievement. The fact that I have stood strong for the children and carried them through the last few years is, I suppose, another achievement.
Who do you think has been the biggest influencer in your career?
Definitely the children. The twins were the whole reason I fell in love with Tinytalk. To be able to communicate with them was amazing. For them to be able to tell me when they were hungry or what they were looking at and what they wanted to show me was the best thing ever. The twins have grown up to be incredible young children, now just turned 3, their speech is second to none, they still sign and I take them to Tinytalk toddler classes run by my neighbouring teacher. They have never been frustrated nor had tantrums where I haven’t known what to do, they have always been calm, expressive children and I think the signing when they were young was key. I draw on my experiences with them a lot in class when I’m teaching the signs to the parents.
My eldest is just as influential. To see how proud she is to say that mummy works, that she runs her own business is lovely. I hope that I am a good role model to her in the sense that if we fall we get up and keep going be strive for what we believe in. I don’t think I would be doing what I’m doing now if it wasn’t for the 3 of them.
What is your greatest love in life
aside from the children?
I don’t know. I love being a mother, I loved being a wife and things have been upside down for a long time so it’s hard to answer. I’d like to find me again so that I can say this is what I love in life, about life, but for now I’m not sure I have the answer.
Your biggest fear in life is …
Not being enough for my children.
Your proudest moment is …
I don’t have one, but there are so many moments where I have felt like I have winning at life! Seeing sienna happy again and finishing counselling and feeling in control of our family life again. Sleep training the twins after Toby died and finally getting them sleeping through the night, being able to live and work after what’s happened, setting up the classes and watching them grow. I went from 2 classes in September 2015 to 10 classes a year later. Winning the awards at the TinyTalk conference last year. I don’t sit there and think wow I am so proud of myself, but I think yep.. that was a good day and I keep my fingers crossed that the next day will be a good day too.
If you could write a note to my 16 year old self, it would say…
Live life. Don’t be afraid of knowing what you want. Buy the shoes, eat the cake, worry about the calories later. Embrace love when you find it and go with it, Infact love every moment of it, run with it. And if you get knocked down, don’t be afraid to get up and try again.
Give us a definition of a strong British woman today.
Someone who is like me. And that’s not to sound arrogant. I know that I’m a strong person. I know that I will find a way round almost anything and will not be defeated by life. I will always smile and find something to smile about. I will always see the good in everything and lean towards the positive and not the negative. Sometimes I’m confident and sometimes I’m embarrassed and shy. Sometimes I will make great decisions and sometime I won’t and sometimes I feel like I can’t cope but other times I will feel like I am winning at life. A strong person to me is someone that will ride the rollercoaster that is life, cry at the sad bits laugh at the funny bits and do the best that she can.
Have you ever met one of your heroes? If not who would you like to meet?
I don’t really think I have any heroes. I read Patrick Swayze’s autobiography after toby died and then I read his wife, Lisa Niemi’s book that she wrote after he died. It was like looking in a mirror at times reading that book, I would have liked to have met him and I would like to meet her. They were so in love and a beautiful couple and reminded me of toby and I. She’s come through the other side and found happiness and love again.
Also Barrack Obama simply because he seems like the kindness man you’ll ever meet.
What would you like your legacy to be?
I would like to be remembered as someone who was kind and loving, someone who could smile, someone who lived life and found happiness even after the unthinkable. Someone who was successful in what she wanted to achieve and who could help others along the way.
And that’s it. Hope I haven’t bored you to tears. I’ve heard this week that they have cut another Fempire moment from the filming, I’m looking forward to seeing the final cut and so pleased and appreciative that I’ve had this opportunity to share my story.