Project Awesome

Making my life more awesome

Persevering

This morning I am very tired. This is probably because Little Girl woke for a feed before 5am and refused to go back to sleep until about 6.30am, preferring to shriek like a seagull and make motorbike noises.  Her partner in crime started shouting “Mummy! I need my mummy” at about 7am, and after Ex-Husband’s tale of how she got up in the morning, took her nappy off and tried to take herself to the toilet, resulting in poo on the bed, the doors, the floor, the toilet (I admit, I laughed), I’m quick to respond to her.

However, I would probably be feeling a bit more human if I’d gone to bed at a sensible time last night, rather than staying up sewing.  I haven’t done any sewing for a few weeks as last time I tried the bottom thread kept tangling up and I couldn’t work out how to make it better.  Now, my sewing machine is quite old.  In fact, it was my mum’s so I reckon it’s heading towards 40.  I have memories of my mum sewing clothes for us with it when we were small (dresses with puffy sleeves which matched the skirt and which tied in a bow at the back… Yes, I’m a child of the 70s) and I love the feeling of family history, although I haven’t used it to make any clothes for my children yet. But you can still look for parts on it online.  I checked and I’ve been using the wrong bobbin.  I tried again last night with the right bobbin and it seemed to work.  I’m feeling excited again.

It’s all about perseverance at the moment.  I went climbing on Wednesday and it was dismal.  I tried a couple of new routes – Lilac 6 and 7 – and failed to conquer either of them.  Lilac 6 was at an angle away from the wall, and I don’t seem to have the arm strength to manage anything beyond vertical.  Lilac 7 was just too hard – I couldn’t get my feet in the right place. I felt disheartened and went home feeling I’d achieved less than nothing. I think maybe I was too tired and too miserable to push myself to succeed. There’s a part of me that’s tempted to give up, to say I’ve had a go and I’m not that good at it. But when I’ve tried and succeeded I’ve felt great. So I’m going to keep going.  The next opportunity I’ll have to go is one of the nights they offer free coaching so I’ll get some help and advice – yes, I’ll approach someone who’s really good at climbing and say “Hello, I can’t climb your sixth easiest route, could you spare some time from flinging yourself up overhangs at 6m in the air and tell me what I’m doing wrong?”  There’s also a 3-hour course for improving your climbing which I might do.  And maybe I’ll take Simon up on his offer of rope-holding.  What I won’t do is give up.  Yet…

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Coping

I bank online.  I received an email today telling me I had a secure message.  This is very rarely a good thing. Today was no exception.  I’ve missed a payment on my credit card. They’ve charged me.  If I don’t pay NOW they may not honour any payments made with my credit card. They may prosecute me. And this may affect my ability to get credit in the future.

How has this happened? I haven’t missed a payment on my credit card since… ooh… I have no idea.  Practically forever. I’m anal about it.  I have a system.  My credit card bill arrives around the end of the month, at the same time as Ex-Husband’s wages, unlike mine, which arrive in the middle of the month… Ahhh, I see what’s gone wrong.  As well as leaving me a single mum to two children and sad, tired and confused, Ex-Husband’s departure has buggered up my financial systems.  Normally, when his wages appeared in our joint account, I would transfer money into our bills account and pay the credit card.  Now my credit card statement arrives a fortnight after my wages appear (or would appear if I wasn’t on maternity leave – however, my meticulous financial planning ensures this hasn’t been a problem) and so I haven’t co-ordinated money arriving with money which needs to depart – it’s just been a bit ad hoc.

It would have been helpful if my bank had messaged me a few days before payment was due to remind me that I hadn’t paid.  I don’t mind paying my credit card bill. Obviously, they don’t do this because they want to charge me £12.50 and threaten me with legal action.  I don’t mind paying £12.50 for not paying my bill.  What I do mind is having a blemish on my credit history.  I have a pretty good credit history, due to my habit of borrowing money and then paying it back, and I need it to be intact.

The other thing I don’t like is the constant feeling that I may be teetering on the edge of falling to bits.  I am coping.  I am coping bloody marvellously.  However, it’s only ever coping and I worry that I might stop coping at any moment.  I am coping emotionally.  However, every time I have a bad day, or I burst into tears in Mamas and Papas (I know, the prices…), I wonder if this is that end of me coping.  I’m coping with the children, but every time I struggle, every time it feels like one tantrum too many, I wonder if I’m coming to the end of coping.  I’m coping with the housework, but there are days when the only thing which prevents my washing-up from engulfing the world is that I do run out of plates to use.  And sometimes I feel like I’m going to stop coping.

And the problem is that, when it comes down to it, there’s only me.  I don’t really, really have back-up – not the sort of back-up you have when you have a partner who is also the parent of your children.  I have wonderful family and lovely friends who will do as much as they can to help me.  But if I fall off a climbing wall and break my ankle, there’s no-one who is obliged to look after me and my children for six weeks.  If I fall into a big messy pit of despair and spend all day crying and then lie to everyone, there might not be anyone who notices.  If I run out of bread or milk there’s no-one to ask to just pop to the shop on the way home. I fear falling, failing, crashing and burning. Maybe more so because I’ve spent the past few months telling everyone and the internet just how well I’m doing. If you come to read this blog one day and find yourself being redirected to http://projectcrappyhasgone.wordpress.com you’ll know I’ve stopped coping.

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Things to be thankful for

Despite Big Girl’s continued absence, today I feel happy.  It’s been so light and sunny outside – I think spring is finally here. Yesterday I spent a busy, thought-packed, relaxing day with my church community. This morning two friends came over for coffee with their toddlers.  This afternoon Little Girl and I have had a relaxing day together kind of getting things done, kind of eating chocolate Philadelphia, walking to the park without coats on (well, I was doing the walking, she was in the pram being a sleep-refuser).  I expected today to be awful, waiting for my Big Girl to come back, but it’s been ok.

And recently I’ve been thinking that, even though this is not what I wanted, so far from what I planned, things could be much worse.  I almost feel fortunate.  The way my marriage ended has been so painful but it could have been messier.  And I’ve survived.  Ex-Husband loves our children and wants to do what is best for them.  He sees them, he cares for them and he provides for them. I know a lot of single mums in far harder situations. And if you have to be a single mum (or if you choose it) now is probably the best time to do it:

No stigma: Where I live, at least, there is very little stigma attached to being a single mum.  Society doesn’t appear to be questioning my morals.  I’ve not been sent back to my parents in shame. It’s just another form of family. And for my children, although this is not what I want for them, they will be growing up with many other children in the same situation as them. I’m just reading ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ by Margaret Atwood and it makes me cry – in a dystopian, ultra-religious future, children born outside marriage are taken from their parents and given to infertile married women.  Ok, my children weren’t born outside marriage but I’m still a single parent.  It’s not the only reason to be glad not to be living in that world, but still…

Mr Tesco: When I was a student, yes, ten years ago, we used to walk to the supermarket then stagger home carrying about 6 bags of shopping with the handles severing our fingers.  I could be doing this again, but with the additional burden of a toddler and a baby and boxes of nappies to carry.  Fortunately, as Big Girl says, “Mr Tesco bring it”. I do miss wandering round the supermarket choosing things myself and have to put up with occasional rubbish substitutions (once they claimed there was no suitable alternative to a bag of Tesco value fusilli.  Really? No other pasta in the whole shop?  Really?) but it’s a small price to pay.

Facebook: I don’t get out much. Facebook keeps me in touch with my friends and with groups I’m involved with and with world events.  I have learnt of every celebrity death in the past two years and most economic crises through other people’s status updates. I can chat with friends on line. I can participate in group discussions. I can keep my mocking-my-friends skills up-to-date. I can rant about my neighbours banging on the wall. Or about Sky’s appalling customer service. It’s like going to the pub while staying at home.  With everyone I know.

The internet: 10 years ago, almost no-one had the internet at home.  Now almost everyone has broadband and I couldn’t imagine life without the internet.  As well as Tesco’s food delivery and Facebook, I can get almost everything else I need through the internet.  Amazon now sells nearly everything.  I can fill my evenings reading pointless arguments about parent and child parking spaces on Netmums. I can get dubious and useful advice on how to get a baby to sleep. I can make friends with other single parents. Essentially, I can take over the world from the comfort of my own kitchen while also looking after my children. That’s got to be a good thing, right?

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Going up, coming down

Big Girl has gone with Ex-Husband to visit her Grandma. Unfortunately, Grandma lives 9 hours’ drive away so Big Girl is away for 5 nights. I’m not really sure how to deal with this as Big Girl is not actually big enough to be away from me for that long, so I’m just pretending it isn’t really happening.

So, to pass the time, Little Girl and I are having an adventure. We’ve come on the train to Glasgow to visit friends, R and C and their three-month-old, E – this is the first time I’ve met him.

Firstly, I’ve never really been to Glasgow properly. I’ve seen the outskirts and I’ve driven past Motherwell with its massive, ugly tower blocks (I know, Motherwell isn’t actually Glasgow – actually I don’t actually know this – maybe it is). In my head, Glasgow is ugly and miserable and rainy and dour and full of people with incomprehensible accents. It’s also the heart-attack capital of the UK as far as I remember. Glasgow Tourist Board, you have some work to do.

It turns out that Glasgow is lovely. It has a Hamleys with the friendliest shop assistant I’ve ever met and a £3500 stuffed toy giraffe. Actually everyone is friendly. The architecture is stunning. It’s been sunny since we’ve been here. The shops are posh. There’s culture – we went out for lunch to a pub which holds ceilidhs and street markets and shows films with lunch. There’s a comedy festival coming up. We went to a fabulous museum which hosts organ recitals. There’s even the height of gentility – a Cath Kidston shop. Why did no-one actually tell me about Glasgow?

And then, in the evening we went climbing. C does everything that involves being outdoors and is slightly dangerous, including climbing. So he takes me climbing. Where I climb, we just do bouldering – even though some of the climbs are quite high you don’t use ropes – there are massive crash mats in case you fall. C teaches me how to use ropes.

Apparently there’s a difference between rope-climbing and bouldering. To the untrained eye (mine) it’s hard to spot. First of all C teaches me how to tie myself into the rope, using some fairly non-technical knots. Then he explains how he puts the other end of the rope through a belay thing and it means I won’t fall to my death (this is despite the seriously-worded signs is climbing centres explaining that actually, you can die, or at least be seriously injured, climbing indoors. I decide to believe him). Then he explains how I get down again and then I climb up. I go up a good few metres and then decide I should perhaps try coming down. Hmm, maybe I should have tried this a bit closer to the floor. C tells me to lean back and keep my knees straight. I tell him I can’t. Clearly I can’t let go of the holds on the wall. He tells me I have to. I descend into hysteria. He points out that there’s no other way down. (I would dispute this – I reckon I could have climbed down. But it’s not really the point.

So I decide to trust him. Palms sweating, I let go of one grip. I hold onto the knot. I look at the floor. I let go of the other grip. I grab the rope and lean back. This may be the scariest thing I’ve ever done. I walk down the wall. I reach the bottom and I am not dead.

So C explains how it works, how I can lean back into the rope and harness and not fall down (physics is like magic really) and I have another go. I go a little higher, I make slightly less fuss about letting go of the wall, I am slightly more confident.

By the end of the evening I actually like coming down. I’ve improved as a climber. I’m so proud of myself for managing to get myself down rather than being rescued, and for having another go at the most bloody terrifying thing I’ve done in a long time. But I’m still not sure about letting go.

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It’s all relative

People often ask me how I am and often it’s just a social enquiry, to which I reply “fine” or, more likely, “a bit tired”. I think this is a sign of progress: clearly I’m coping well enough with the total devastation of my life that people don’t feel the need to ask me how I am managing.

Then sometimes people ask me how I am, how I am managing, and I find this harder to answer. How am I doing? Given that my husband suddenly left me, that my world has fallen apart, that I’m a single mum to two tiny and very challenging girls, how am I doing? It’s relative really, and given those circumstances, very well. I did find myself crying at a Phil Collins song yesterday, which is an indicator that there’s still room for improvement – seriously, Phil Collins? – but, mostly, doing well.

And what am I actually achieving? Often it really feels like not much. I’ve been climbing twice and I’ve made a skirt. Woo-hoo! It doesn’t feel like much really. I mean, I’m no Alan Sugar or Richard Branson, building up a business empire. I’m not Ellen MacArthur. But today I’m getting myself, a toddler, a baby, a double pram, a massive rucksack and a handbag to my parents’ house to stop overnight, on the train. That’s pretty impressive. And in the past couple of months I’ve also fixed a blind, replaced a broken toilet seat and lowered the mattress in Little Girl’s cot. None of them were actually difficult but I didn’t know how. The big thing is having a go – they’re all things that I’m embarrassed to admit I would have left to Ex-Husband. Now I’ve started thinking: I’ll have a go. And I’m amazed at what I can achieve.

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Climbing again

I’ve been climbing again.  Being a weekday, the climbing centre was pretty much empty and it’s a big cold warehouse with some walls in it with hand- and foot-holds. It felt a bit less welcoming being on my own, but I got changed and put my shoes on and went out and tried some routes (that’s what we climbers call them, apparently). I  tried the traverse wall, where you go sideways – maybe it’s just me but half the footholds seemed to be missing and I really struggled.  So I went downstairs and did some of the easy climbs, and then wandered around and did some different easy climbs, and I fell off and pulled my shoulder a little bit, and I wondered what I was doing and why it wasn’t really fun, and whether I should give up on the whole thing and go home.

Yes, I was feeling a bit despondent.  I didn’t expect to turn up and be an amazing climber and discover the world of climbing has been waiting for me my whole life, but I’d hoped it would make me feel good again.  So I decided to go and have a rest – my arms were knackered – and some cake and see how I felt.

One piece of Dandelion and Burdock cake (novel but not unpleasant) later, I was ready to try again.  I decided I needed some focus, so I decided to start with the easy-peasy routes and work up them in turn.  If I got to one I struggled with I’d try to work out how to do it rather than just trying something else – a proper challenge rather than a meander.  Lilac 1 is easy.  It’s just up then down again (getting down is the hard part…).  Lilac 2 and 3 are similar, with a bit of traversing.  Lilac 4 is tricky – the bottom bit slopes outwards.

I'm not quite up to this yet...

And then Lilac 5 – well, half-way up there’s this big box sticking out of the wall and it has a handhold on the corner of it and you have to kind of grab onto it and swing across and I have no idea how I’m going to do it.  So I set off.  Quite often the starting handholds are near the floor and you have to crouch down and your bum sticks out and you feel like an idiot.  Nevertheless, this is what I do.  And then I grab the handhold on the corner.  And then I fall off.  It step back and look at it.  And I try again.  I manage the handhold but my feet have no idea where they’re going.  At least I jump off properly.  And I try a third time – this time I work out where my feet should go before I start climbing.  And I make it to the top.  Success!  Except – shit! – I can’t work out how to get down!  I cling to the wall desperately looking for footholds.  I am reasonably accident prone and I really can’t get injured – I have two children to look after and no-one who can devote six weeks to looking after me while I recover from a broken ankle.  Eventually I work it out and gingerly descend, and I stand at the bottom with a massive smile on my face.  Having achieved something, I decide it’s time to go home.

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Ugh

Ugh.  I’m feeling a bit miserable today.  Little Girl is spending all morning at nursery so I’d planned to do some sewing.  But I’m having some issues with my sewing machine which means the thread keeps knotting up. I can’t work out how to fix it and I’ve spent an hour of my free time trying.  And all surfaces in my kitchen are covered either in washing-up or random bits of paper.  And I’m due back at work in 3 1/2 weeks and am realising quite how few days I will get to spend with my children, and feeling very unhappy about this.  And you know what? I still feel really sad about my marriage ending.  In some ways, the realisation that my marriage is over and I have to adjust to my single life is only just sinking in. Being a single mum is really hard – there’s a lot of drudgery (cooking three meals, getting two small children to eat them, then clearing up – every day), juggling my children’s needs and making decisions by myself.

I’m not sure what to do with these miserable feelings.  I have tried really hard to stay positive as much as possible – I think if I just talk about feeling miserable all the time I’ll feel worse.  But I don’t want to ignore these feelings – I think if I do they’ll just come back and get me.  I could run round punching pillows and kicking furniture and then dissolve into a big pile of weeping under my duvet (after all, both girls are at nursery so I can do that if I want) – but I feel a bit too tired for that sort of exertion – I’m saving my energy for going climbing tomorrow.

There are things I can do.  I’m eating Nutella and breadsticks.  It makes me happy.  I’m going to deal with the washing up as it will make my life better and my kitchen feel less crappy – and it makes me feel more competent – sometimes I feel like, as a single parent, I’m barely surviving some days, and a feeling of competency is really important to me.  And then I might have a bit of a cry.  It doesn’t feel particularly awesome but sometimes it’s necessary.

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Busy

I am feeling busy. I haven’t managed to do any sewing for a week and a half. My sewing machine looks at me reproachfully every time I go near it. (That’s not true, of course. Sewing machines don’t have eyes). Obviously, not having time to sew is not one of life’s tragedies. And it’s not like I’m not doing fun and useful things. I’ve been climbing. I’ve had my eyes tested. I had coffee with a friend. Today I had a lovely long lunch with Fat Roland. I also spent two hours while Little Girl was trying out nursery doing some essential paperwork which would have been much harder with children around (“Mummy colouring? Big Girl colouring!”).

So I’m not complaining that I never get to do anything fun. I just can’t do everything I want or need to. If I’m climbing, I can’t be sewing. If I’m meeting up with friends I can’t also be having a lovely relaxing bath. And whatever I’m doing, I’m not sleeping. I’d love to, I just don’t have time.

And day-to-day, I feel like I can’t do everything I need to. We go out every day – with a toddler, staying in all day is not a good idea. Once we’ve got up, dressed and had breakfast, gone out and come back, had lunch and cleaned up, done some essential housework (cleaning clothes, cleaning dishes), made and eaten tea, well, it’s time for a bath and bed. If I play with my children we don’t get clean clothes. Or the dishes don’t get washed. My hoover probably also throws me baleful stares but I’m ignoring it.

What I would really like is some sort of elf who lives in my cellar and comes out and cleans up so I can say “Yes, Big Girl, I will come and row your boat with you”. This seems unlikely to happen, so I guess it’s just me. So, somehow, I need to get better at this.  What’s my plan?  First of all, reduce the amount I have to do: if the children can re-use clothes or bibs that reduces the amount of washing I have to put on, hang up and put away.  I can probably make a lot less washing up when I cook if I try. And I could become one of those boring people who put things away when they’ve finished with them, throws away envelopes when opening their post, and generally avoids piles of crap being strewn around the house. It might just be worth it.  And then I need to get better at actually doing the housework.  I’m going to do a meal plan and shopping list so I don’t end up with only one slice of bread in the house because I’ve not managed a Tescos order.  But what else can I do to make housework easier? Any tips?

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Up, up and away

I feel… euphoric. I also feel as if my fingers have been cleaned with sandpaper. And someone appears to have pummelled my arms and legs with a hammer. Yes, today was my climbing induction.

I went to Rock Over Climbing. After filling in a form, agreeing that of course I won’t hold them responsible for sprains, breaks or other injuries – all part of climbing, apparently – I got fitted with shoes just slightly shorter than my feet, found the changing rooms, eventually found the lockers and finally found the rest of my fellow inductees.

A couple, a family and two friends, we got shown how to fall off a wall, how to go along a wall, how to go up a wall, how to go along the ceiling, how to avoid someone falling on your head and, finally, where to get a cup of tea.

It turns out that it’s harder than it looks and that I have weak and feeble fingers. I can see why it’s a fantastic team-building event as within minutes of being let loose on the walls we were chatting, joking and encouraging each other. And I suspect it’s also a little bit addictive.

I got an induction, two more visits and a year’s membership through Groupon, so I’ll definitely be going back. There’s free coaching on a Wednesday and Thursday night to help me learn how to do it and I can go every other weekend when the girls are at their dad’s house.

And I feel this huge sense of achievement: I said I’d do it and I did (now I just have to make sure I go again); I’ve been a competent social adult; and I managed to climb up things and do things I had no idea how to do. I need to be braver and less scared of falling off, but I am so proud of myself. I feel like I’m 3″ taller!

Actually, after hanging from my fingers all afternoon I may actually be taller!

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