Project Awesome

Making my life more awesome

I am not part of the Bartlett administration

It’s been a while since I posted.  Did you miss me? I’ve not actually been anywhere, just busy.  First I had one of those nasty colds which makes your brain stupid.  Then an NCT training day and a birthday party at the weekend.  And then Monday was my birthday.  I expected it to be hard – my first single birthday in 12 years, my first birthday since the separation.  I made plans.  I was positive about the day.  I put up my birthday bunting and wore my birthday pyjamas.  And then I woke up with a horrific case of d&v.  Unusually for me, I’m not going to share the gory details but it involved fainting on the toilet without actually injuring myself, which is quite a skill.

My Dad came and looked after my children so I could spend most of the day asleep or lying on the sofa. He stayed overnight.  On Tuesday I had a belated birthday with highlights including a trip to the supermarket and the fracture clinic.  I had lots of lovely cards and presents.  I have two lovely girls.  I feel so lucky that my dad came to my rescue, and it was actually really nice to spend some time with just him, even if I was asleep for most of it.  But I still feel like my life sucks.

This may be due to having been really quite ill.  Or the fact that I struggled to get to sleep last night after spending 30 hours straight sleeping the day or so before.  Or that once I did get to sleep, Small Girl woke up for a feed at 2.30 am and refused to go back to sleep for two hours.  I also suspect that my recent West Wing obsession isn’t helping.  It’s full of smart people making important decisions and being witty and attractive while they do it.  I, on the other hand, can’t keep on top of my paperwork or my washing up.  I can’t put toys away as fast as Big Girl and Small Girl get them out.

One blog I really enjoy reading is Seaswift’s – she writes about making stuff (which in theory I like doing, if I struggle to find time in practice) and about ways to make life better.  She’s written a recent post about The Happiness Project – a way to assess what would actually make you happier and take steps to achieve it.  I used to think I was not constitutionally designed to be happy – that maybe it’s not in my personality type.  But now I’m thinking, maybe I’ll give it a go.

For now, I’m going to see if I can fit in one more episode of The West Wing before it’s time to pick the girls up from nursery.

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Coping with a toddler with a fracture

  1. Don’t.  Seriously, do whatever it takes to avoid your baby breaking their leg.  You would think this is straightforward enough – don’t leave them unattended climbing up stairs or near furniture which looks temptingly like a ladder.  However, as Little Girl broke her leg while cruising round the walls (which sounds, to me, like she’s driving down Hollywood Boulevard in a sports car), you actually need to follow them round at all times, which may be possible when you have one child and a partner who will do all the housework, but not when you have an older child and no-one to do all the stuff you can’t do because you’re hovering behind your child.  Or design some sort of semi-spherical room so that there’s nothing your child can pull themselves up on.  It’s possible this may stunt their development but it avoids fractures.
  2. If you’re not sure whether your child’s injury is serious and you decide to wait til morning and see how they are, take this opportunity to wash their hair.  No, one day won’t make that much difference, particularly when your baby likes rubbing yoghurt across their whole head, but at least you’ll feel like you’ve tried.
  3. When you do eventually get to A&E and they ask how your baby broke your leg, don’t say “I don’t really know”.  You don’t need the four-hour safeguarding enquiry.  I’m not advocating lying.  I’m just saying, tell them what you think happened like you actually think it happened.
  4. Take advice from the medical professionals.  If they say “we could put a cast on below the knee but it will almost certainly slip and then you’ll just have to come back to hospital to get an above-the-knee cast put on”, listen to them.
  5. And on that note, avoid your child breaking their leg on a Friday evening.  It means going to A&E, having a temporary cast put on, and then going back to fracture clinic during a weekday for a proper cast to be put on.
  6. And while you’re at it, don’t leave it til Friday night to notice that the stupid below-the-knee cast has slipped.  You end up back in A&E for yet another temporary cast and a further trip to Fracture Clinic.
  7. When they say “don’t let your child walk on the temporary cast” pay attention.  At least wait until it has set.
  8. It is impossible to stop your mobile toddler walking on a temporary cast unless you have a team of people to help with things like cooking, cleaning and giving your uncasted toddler a bath.  See point 1.
  9. Ignore people who say “Awww, poor baby! How did *that* happen?”  Or, more to the point, ignore the part of your brain that translates their sympathy into “what sort of a mother lets her not-even-one-year-old break her leg?”.
  10. Buy calpol.  Buy more calpol.
We’re back at Fracture Clinic on Tuesday where the cast will hopefully be removed.  I anticipate discovering that, no matter how hard it seems to be to look after a baby with a leg in a cast, it’s nothing compared to the difficulties of looking after a baby with a wobbly and sore leg from being in a plaster cast for four weeks.  Oh, and discovering quite how much food Little Girl has shoved inside her cast.
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Big Girl Small Girl

I have a one-year-old. I had forgotten how much I love this age. The indiscriminate interest is my favourite thing – pointing at everything: a curtain! A wall! The window above the bathroom door! I don’t have to do anything or be entertaining. I am good enough exactly as I am. I don’t think I will ever again experience this sort of love. Suddenly I can understand people who keep having babies. I’m unlikely to become one of them though.

I also have a two-and-a-half-year-old. She shouts at me. She’s demanding. She tells me what to do. She lies on the floor and cries. I love this age too. I love the imagination she has, the world going on inside her head and the world she is discovering. I love how she says ‘yesterday’ for anything that has happened at any point in her past. I think she’s totally amazing and I am trying to enjoy the time I have with her now, while she still holds my hand and wants to be with me, wants me to play with her, because I can feel her growing up and away from me.

And the contrast between them, between their ages, helps me to enjoy both of them. The things I find frustrating about one age are not present in the other.  I can see where Little Girl is going and enjoy where she is now.  I can be glad that Big Girl is no longer where she was.  With Big Girl I get to watch her learn and develop, work out how to do new things. With Small Girl I get to relax, just enjoy what she’s doing now.

I feel like a traitor to all second children writing this. I hated the fact that my parents had already done everything with my elder sister first.  They had already decided which school she would go to, so they didn’t look at schools for me.  She got to wear new (well, new to us) clothes first.  I had to wait for handed-down hand-me-downs. Now I find myself thinking, if I’m going to buy new clothes, that I might as well buy them for Big Girl so they’ll both get to wear them. I hope I never travel back in time and meet my teenage self.  I’m not sure I could face myself.  It would probably end in some sort of death-match-time-travel-paradox-horror, and I think I have enough on my plate at the moment.

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Two in the bed

Today I am being impressively productive.  Ex-Husband is coming on Monday to take away some furniture I’m not using, and also the bed I’m currently sleeping in, so I’ve had to arrange to have a new bed delivered and I’m taking the opportunity to move some furniture around.  So far this morning I’ve moved a cupboard, hoovered where it was, taken all the books off a bookcase, moved the bookcase to where the cupboard was, put all the books back on the bookcase and then hoovered where the bookcase was.  I’ve also put away a load of clothes that were on the floor next to the bookcase and cleared everything out from under the bed.  I haven’t, however, managed to get dressed yet.  I suspect I may forget that I’m still wearing pyjamas under the jeans and jumper I chucked on to take delivery of my new bed and actually go out like this. Fortunately I’ll fit right in here in Manchester.

It’s been a bit depressing choosing a new bed by myself.  I’m still adjusting to the idea that I have to make decisions by myself – I’m not really used to it.  And there’s something extra-miserable about choosing a new bed on my own because no-one else really gives a shit what I’m sleeping in. However, the good thing about this is that I’m making my sleeping arrangements more suitable for me and Little Girl.

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I still co-sleep with Little Girl.  She usually goes to sleep in her cot at around 8.30pm and wakes for a feed at 11.  At this point, she comes into bed with me.  I have a bed guard on her side of the bed to stop her falling out but it doesn’t go all the way down and I do worry about her falling out.  So, now there’s no-one getting in or out of that side of the bed, I’m going to put my new bed against the wall (where the bookcase was) so she can’t fall out, wriggle out or roll out.  I’m also taking the sides off Big Girl’s cot and cable-tying one of them to the end of the bed, so she can’t escape over the footboard while I’m on the toilet. I’m fairly sure I’ll come to regret taking the sides off Big Girl’s cot (when she’s running round her room emptying drawers at 1am) but it’s a risk I’m going to take.

I love co-sleeping.  It makes life easier (I can lie down while patting Little Girl to try to make her go back to sleep).  It’s friendly (I miss her when she’s not there).  And I think she likes it. I do find sometimes that I’m sleeping in about 18″ of a king-sized bed while she sleeps horizontally across the rest of it.  And I do occasionally get kicked by her cast. I don’t expect she’ll still be sleeping in bed with me when she’s 10. But while she likes it and I like it, I don’t have a problem with it.

I’m just waiting for Big Girl to work out how she’ll open the stair gate across her bedroom door and then I expect there’ll be three in the bed…

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Why cider is always the best option

Tonight is the first night of a new arrangement – Big Girl and Little Girl are spending an extra night every four weeks with Ex-Husband. I had to choose between a night in, catching up with housework, starting season 1 of The West Wing and probably getting an early night, or taking the opportunity to get to a Wednesday night session of Sanctus1 for probably the first time in a couple of years. I went for the option most likely to involve a trip to the pub.

Sanctus 1 has been the place I’ve explored my faith, questioned my faith, pulled it to bits and struggled to find some sort of faith again. I haven’t succeeded yet but I keep trying. We meet in an art cafe in Manchester city centre. Trying to explain what Sanctus is is difficult. I start with “it’s a church” and then spend the rest of the conversation trying to explain why it isn’t like whatever ‘church’ makes you think of.

Tonight we talked about the current art exhibition. We talked about spirituality in art, the process of making pieces of art, about art in the current austerity climate – is it a necessity or a luxury? Is it easier or harder to be creative when life is a struggle? – and about whether we can find God in art. I looked at a piece of conceptual art about survival skills in a post-apocolyptic world and reflected on one of my responses to anxiety – making a plan to survive a zombie outbreak. In reality I’m actually wondering whether I would be able to be a good enough parent when I’m questioning if I would put myself at risk to protect my children from zombies. I like to think I would but zombies really frighten me.

Following this we went to the pub where I had a pint-and-a-bit of apple and blackcurrant cider (hence the slightly random nature of this blog post), discussed the future of bookshops in the face of Amazon’s rampant monopoly and Fat Roland did an impromptu reading from his new book which is surreal and has lots of pictures in it.

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I struggle to balance my need to go out and have fun against my need for sleep, relaxation and box sets of US drama series. Tonight I think I made the right choice – being with my Sanctus friends I feel alive, I feel like I’m me, I feel like I’m thinking and mostly not talking about toddler poo. I feel like I’m funny and interesting and likeable. And I hope it’s not just the cider.

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Family traditions

When I was a child we had lots of family traditions – like putting the presents out under the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve. I suspect a lot of these were habits borne of necessity (I imagine if the presents had been put out any earlier they wouldn’t have made it to Christmas Day unopened) but to me they were fundamental parts of each celebration. I think I assumed that, over time, we would develop our own traditions. Now it’s just me, I’m having to choose to make them.

It’s Small Girl’s first birthday tomorrow. I am having an unnecessarily large party which I’m not really pretending is for her. It’s her birthday so it is her party, but really I want to get my friends and family together and say “look! I’m surviving!”. To myself, not to them. That would be a bit odd. Small Girl is probably a bit more sociable than Big Girl was at this age so I think she’ll like seeing lots of people and enjoy watching the big children running around (obviously she won’t be doing any running in her thigh-high cast, although she can now do a fairly ungainly scramble and a bit of walking around furniture).

So I’m starting a few new traditions. Firstly, birthday pyjamas. I’m not sure if it’s peculiar to where I live (many things are) but quite a lot of people I work with seem to get their children new pyjamas to wear to bed on Christmas Eve. This would be fine for Big Girl, my December baby, but Small Girl would start getting pyjamas when she’s half-grown-out of them. So I’m going for birthdays. I only really decided to do this today, so went on a miserable trip into town, went into Boots, Next and Marks and Spencer and failed to find any pyjamas in 12-18 months. I then rang my sister who was on her way to visit and demanded that she get off the train at the big city nearby and find me some pyjamas. As she loves to shop, this wasn’t too much of an unreasonable request. Small Girl is currently asleep in her birthday pyjamas and Big Girl (who doesn’t quite understand that this is not in fact her birthday or her party or her presents) claims that she is also in her birthday pyjamas. As long as she’s happy…

I also tried to get a photo taken at our local Max Spielman as you can get 10 photos for £5.99, which seems a reasonable deal. Small Girl managed not to fall off the chair in her cast. Big Girl refused to smile at all. I wanted a picture of them together but ended up with a photo of Small Girl on her own, smiling. And a picture of Big Girl gazing off into the distance, not smiling, which I had to pay a pound for (“it’s an add-on” apparently) because I’d told her we were getting photos of both of them. Never tell toddlers anything. I’m not sure if this is going to become a family tradition. Not unless they’re both able to smile for the camera at the same time.

So Small Girl’s picture is currently stuck on the wall next to the Happy Birthday bunting, my other new family tradition. Mum used to write us a birthday message on the fridge using magnetic letters. I’ve found this lovely bunting made by Calico Gifts – every birthday I’m going to hang it up for the birthday girl to get up to. I hope it makes them feel like it’s a proper birthday in the same way that fridge magnets did for me.  It turns out it doesn’t take that much to make a tradition.

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symptoms consistent with…

Recently I got involved in a bit of a stand-off at work.  I received an email asking me to do something, to which I replied, suggesting politely that it wasn’t really my job and that they do it themselves.  The reply was that they didn’t know how to do it and that they would like me to do it.  I became quite angry and spent the day becoming increasingly angry with anyone who asked me to do anything even slightly outside the remit of my role.  And then just angry with anyone who asked me to do anything.  Irrationally angry.  With anyone making my life more difficult than it already was.  Since Ex-Husband left, my life has become difficult and unpleasant a lot of the time.  I needed to talk to someone about this, rather than sending passive-aggressive emails to people in other departments and raging at the people who sit near me.  Everyone would thank me for it.

My employer will refer me to a counselling service, but I needed my GP to write a letter recommending counselling.  So I spoke to my GP.  “I spoke to you a while ago, after my husband left, about counselling.  At the time I was coping ok but now I’m really struggling.  I feel as if I’m on the edge of depression.”  What makes me think I might be depressed?  “I feel really miserable. I’m really struggling.  I’m not eating well.  I have a lot of negative thoughts.  I feel as if my children might be better off without me.  I don’t really feel like I want to live a lot of the time.”  Blimey! That sounded serious!  My GP agreed.  I said that I was coping, but only because I have to, because of my children, and that actually, coping is really hard work.  My GP said that sounded like ‘symptoms consistent with depression’ and he agreed to write to my employer recommending counselling.

I found his description, ‘symptoms consistent with depression’, interesting and strangely satisfying. I’ve felt so proud of myself for so long for coping with everything that has happened and mainly staying positive, not succumbing to depression. I don’t want to label how I feel as depression because I don’t want to give myself the slightest chance to fall apart. And I don’t think it is the sort of depression that comes from an inbalance in your brain.  I think it’s a normal sort reaction to the things that have happened to me over the past eight months.  The man who promised to love me forever decided one day to stop loving me and to leave.  Big Girl cries for Daddy when she comes home.  She struggles with the coming and going and the changing.  I feel like an inadequate parent.  Most of the time I feel quite lonely and I miss loving and being loved.  My ability to have a secure and trusting relationship has been seriously damaged and I can’t imagine having the time or energy to have a relationship in the near future.  In the past fortnight I’ve been investigated for child protection and benefit fraud.  I am tired all the time.  It’s no wonder I feel sad and the future looks bleak.

But I’m getting through it. I am making good choices.  On Sunday I didn’t feel like getting up or doing anything, but I went out and did a kind of run (I found the scenic route to the supermarket along the canal and got very wet feet) because I hoped it would make me feel better and I think it did. I don’t allow thoughts of running away or of hurting myself to take root because I have two children who need me.  I try to get the help I need – my Home Start volunteer, counselling, help from friends – because giving up is not an option.  It’s not a choice that I have. Before now, when I’ve had depression, I’ve had someone to carry me, someone to look after me, the option of staying in bed and crying.  I don’t have that any more and I have two children who need me.

I know that some people have crippling depression, are unable to get out of bed.  I’m fortunate that I don’t have that sort of depression.  I’m not saying I’m better than those people, just that I don’t have that illness.  I just have ‘symptoms consistent with depression’.

I have thought about whether I want to blog about this; whether this is something I want on the internet.  I don’t want people to worry about me and I’m not looking for more drama (the baby with her leg in a plaster cast is more than enough, thank you).  But I’m here trying to work out how to make my life better, how to make it as good as it can be despite everything, and getting through this is part of that.

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Time off

It’s my weekend off.  Except I was back in A&E this morning as Little Girl’s cast had slipped and needed replacing.  And, for various reasons, I had Big Girl to look after as well.  This was a bit challenging as I didn’t think many poorly or injured people would want an inquisitive toddler paying peepo around their cubicle curtains.  There was also the dramatic moment when a nurse whisked our curtain shut and I saw three police officers escort a man through the room.  And the particularly tricky juggling act when Little Girl was in-between casts and needed holding while Big Girl needed help getting on the loo to have a poo.  Fortunately, the nurses were lovely and we were seen reasonably quickly.  I have to go back to fracture clinic on Wednesday for Little Girl to get an above-the-knee cast put on, which I’m not sure she’ll like.  But I’ve found myself feeling lucky that I got to spend an extra morning with my lovely children rather than peeved at having to have them both.

‘Weekends off’ are starting to feel like a more regular occurrence now.  But I still can’t quite relax.  I am used to being busy and always having more to do and always responding, watching, reacting to my children.  The idea of 31 hours entirely to myself is unfamiliar.  And I always have lots of plans – often to see people, meet up, do things.  I want to do more than I actually have time for.  As this blog shows, I’m a planner and a goal-setter; I love making lists and ticking them off.  So even my relaxing time is regimented – I feel myself getting anxious about whether I will manage to finish sewing my current project and whether I should be doing some cleaning and if I have time to have a bath as well.  Do I want to go to a Quaker service tomorrow when it will involve so much time on public transport?  I can’t quite enjoy my free time because I feel anxious about making best use of it.

I do have quite a lot of things I’ve committed to in my head – my NCT voluntary work, making a birthday present, organising Little Girl’s birthday party.  No-one will die if I don’t do them, but I will feel that I’ve let myself down.  And then there’s the housework – detritus is building up around the edges of my living room.  The cellar is full of dumped clutter.  I have to do some re-organising in preparation for Ex-Husband coming and removing a few items of furniture I no longer need and he wants.  So, should I be wasting precious child-free time on baths and films when I could be using it to make my time with my children run more smoothly and more pleasantly, benefitting myself?  I can’t really work out my own priorities yet, but I hope to get better at this with time.

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