Project Awesome

Making my life more awesome

And so to bed…

Bedtime: two hours of my life I will never see again.  Two hours I could spend doing something useful, or fun, or interesting or relaxing.  Instead I spend the time wondering whether, if someone arrived and told me that I could die now and never have to do bedtime again, I would take them up on it.  Some nights it is very tempting.

On Monday, after a couple of nights at Daddy’s house, Small Girl spent an hour and three quarters alternating between crying for ‘more milk’ and crying for Daddy.  This seems particularly unfair as she is unsettled because she’s been to Daddy’s house, and I’ve missed her horribly, and it’s not my fault that he’s not here.  I’m not the one who left.  Never expect gratitude from small children, that’s all I’m saying.

The next night she spent a comparable amount of time standing up on her bed and spinning round and laughing at me.  I started off lying her down again each time she did it but, obviously, this was very entertaining for her.  So then I brought my parental authority into play and told her sternly to lie down.  Which she did.  For a while.  And then got up again.  And then I told her to lie down again.  Repeatedly.  And then I realised that I’d crossed the line between ‘sounding stern’ and ‘sounding menacing’, which is (a) not in the Guide to Good Parenting book and (b) made her cry.

And then two nights where they were at their dad’s again, and I felt sad and my life felt a little empty and meaningless.  The thing is that difficult bedtimes are the most frustrating thing ever.  There’s the fear that they may just never end.  There is no guarantee that your child will sleep.  And if they do go to sleep, there is a good chance that they’ll wake up again.  And, as a single parent, there is that little part of me, when I’m really tired and really frustrated, that starts working out just how long it is until they go to their dad’s.  And then I feel very mean and very guilty.  I just long, occasionally, for an evening which isn’t mainly filled with being screamed at.  And the opportunity to do something and feel certain that I won’t be interrupted.  And to be able to sleep all night (actually, I had no children at home last night and woke to find two towels on my bed which I had strategically placed to catch some kind of leak I dreamt was coming through my ceiling.  But, you know, at least I’m only being disturbed by my own stupid brain).  And to get up when I choose, even if that is when I set the alarm to get up for work, and to eat breakfast at my own pace, and to leave the house on time with no tantrums.

But wait!  Actually, it’s only two hours.  A year ago I would have dreamt of a two-hour bedtime.  And Big Girl has a pretty good grasp of how bedtime works now, so they aren’t both running round the bedroom while I hide under my duvet, sobbing.  I’m not letting her wander round the house turning taps on and flooding the kitchen through the bathroom floor while I settle Small Girl.  I’m not sitting in a dark room listening to a six-month-old scream for hours and hours.  I’ve been going to sleep workshops and working on their sleep and it is improving.  One night last week they were both in bed at 8.25 pm and Small Girl slept until 6, and then came into my bed and slept some more.  This is such stuff as dreams are made on.  Or something.

So I’m not saying it’s not difficult or frustrating, or that I wouldn’t choose death if offered it at 9.25 pm on a particularly difficult evening by the Avenging Angel of Sleepless Toddlers.  I’m just saying that I can see a trend, and it’s heading in the right direction.

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The grief of endings and finding a new song

I think I’m probably not the only person in the world late to the Dr Who party: there are spoilers in here.

I watched the Tenth Doctor’s final episode last night: heartbreaking, devastating, almost unbearably sad.  It had been prophesied that he would soon end; as long as he regenerated another Doctor would take his place.  We had seen him get older, weary, hurt at losing his companions, at damaging so many people, at the painful choices he had to make.  But still he wanted to carry on. After defeating The Master and the Time Lords, knowing he was about to die, he visited all the people he had travelled with, to see them safe and happy.  His loneliness, his aloneness, his loss, was so real and so painful to see.

Every time I watch something, read something which makes real someone else’s loss and loneliness, it taps into the still raw and unresolved pain and grief I have experienced through my marriage ending.  I haven’t yet found a way to resolve it because I don’t have the time or space to explore it, because I have two small girls who need me to be able to look after them, because I don’t know where to start.  And I experience that bereavement and grief again, and am left with the feeling, for a while, that my life can never be good again.

The Doctor, when he knows he is about to regenerate, is visited by an Ood, an alien with a tentacled face who carries his brains outside his head and looks like he’s been dreamed up by a five-year-old on drugs.  Just before the Doctor staggers into the Tardis and regenerates, the Ood tells the Doctor that his song is ending, but the story will continue.

I wonder if this is what I need to move on.  That song, the song of my marriage, my relationship with Ex-Husband, all that I loved about that life, has ended.  The Doctor didn’t want to end, and I didn’t want that to end.  But the story continues, and I will find a new song.  The difference, for me, is that the Doctor’s song ended because it was time and he was old.  My marriage was ended by someone else’s choice, painful and unnecessary.  And I think, to let that song go, I need to let go of that, to forgive Ex-Husband.  It’s difficult while we are still arguing over access and the divorce.  But if I can let go of that song and the pain of its ending, I can start to find a new song to which he is peripheral.

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A weekend of awesomeness. And mojitos.

I have been wildly excited about this Bank Holiday weekend for – ooh, actually only about a week, because I can’t really think very far ahead.  But, nonetheless, I have been very excited.  A whole weekend with nothing planned, nothing to do, no expectations.  An opportunity to do all those satisfying jobs I never get chance to do, like re-organising my cellar.  And all those things I don’t really want to do but will feel better once they’re done, like hoovering and tidying my bedroom.  And lots and lots of fun things, like sewing and watching Dr Who.  57 hours all to myself!

Except, waking up this morning to the beautiful sunshine (on a bank holiday weekend! I know! It never happens…) and a facebook feed full of people doing fun things with their friends and family, and the sense that there should be a barbecue or trip to the seaside planned somewhere, I felt slightly regretful, and slightly lonely.  This is probably not helped by being ill on Thursday night and spending all day in bed, watching Dr Who and dozing (I slept through most of at least one episode.  There was a giant cyberman in Victorian London, with a woman inside its head, and a man who thought he was the doctor but wasn’t.  Possibly best that I missed most of it).  I quite like my own company, and time to myself, but perhaps there’s a limit to how much time I need.

So I’ve made a plan.  I’ve made an hour-by-hour calendar of my weekend, because the alternative is actually doing useful things, and made a list of all the things I need to do, and I am squeezing in a trip to visit my best friend tomorrow. I’m going to stop overnight, and perhaps make her drink mojitos (I may have to smuggle a bottle of rum into the Quaker meeting I’m planning to go to on the way, which is probably *the* definition of classy), and see my godson and his brothers and have fun fun fun.  Today and Monday I will be running round my house wildly throwing things into the right places, taking down the cot in my bedroom which Small Girl barely slept in because she preferred sharing with me, finishing sewing Big Girl’s dress, sorting out Small Girl’s next-size-up clothes and then hoovering all the bits of carpet which I haven’t seen for about three months.  Productive *and* fun – it’s not a bad life.

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Five minutes peace

Big Girl and Small Girl make a lot of noise.  I don’t mean the kind they make as we walk home from nursery and the both shout as loudly as possible as we walk past people’s houses, just for the joy of it.  Not that I blame them.  If you don’t recognise the delight in making noise just because you can, to show you are alive, for the satisfaction and delight of it, you should try it.  Though it is more socially acceptable when you are three.

I mean mental noise.  Static.  Busyness.  I run from one thing to another.  Get up! Get dressed! Get Big Girl and Small Girl dressed! Nursery! Work! Home! TV on while I get supper ready – marshalling food while auditorily supervising their viewing and fighting and being alert to small children falling off the sofa (Did she fall? Was she pushed? The answer usually depends on which child it is on the floor).  Then dashing in pursuit of one child’s whim and then another – drinks, food, toast, ‘where’s my drink?’, things on the floor, tears, a quick rush to the toilet, urgings to finish their tea before we all die of old age, two demands at once, both wanting milk on their cereal first, and to eat *my* sandwich (and then to dissect, reject and return it to me).  Stories and milk and then the precarious path through bath and into bed, trying to brush teeth without provoking the sort of tantrum which can destabilise any hopes of a calm bedtime.  And then I am determined to squeeze just a little time for myself into the evening, before I go to bed, grimly determined to do something I want to, even if what I really want is to sleep, because my life must have more in it than work and children.

And now the children are away and the house is silent and I am hanging up wet washing and my mind is wandering idly.  And I wonder, what is the point? What gives my life purpose?

I find myself close to nihilism.  A pop culture version, rather than any nuanced philosophical position, and I daren’t explore it any further in case I fall off a cliff and can never find my way back.  Like most people, I am living a small life.  One day I will die, and I hope I will have had a positive effect on people.  But they will also die.  Eventually we will all die and the sun will implode and the earth will be sucked into the resulting black hole and my tiny life will not, in all likelihood, matter that much.

While I didn’t base my life around Ex-Husband, that relationship gave me a framework to live in – a journey together, growing closer, learning how to live together and accommodate one another and be happy together.  And I expected that to continue, to work together to bring our children up, to look forward to their adolescence and a return to it just being the two of us and retirement.  That framework is gone and the path I was journeying has ended in a cliff or, slightly less precipitously, a desert, stretching for miles, open and empty.  Or maybe a forest, with lots of possibilities but no obvious paths.  And possibly wolves.

Anyway.  I decided I needed to teach my brain to be quiet.  So I’ve been back to a Quaker meeting.  Sitting in silence is a bit boring, but just now I welcome a little bit of boredom.  I thought about forgiveness, and the parable of Prodigal Son.    I didn’t stop to chat or drink coffee, but I hope that exploring a different way of expressing faith will help me to think about what I believe and what I value, and perhaps to find a new path to journey along for a while.

 

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Falling

Small Girl fell down the stairs yesterday.  All the way from top to bottom, pretty much. Tip. Tumble. Flip. Thump. Thump. Thump.  All in devastating slow-motion, the stuff of nightmares, where your brain is racing and your feet won’t move.  She’s crying.  Her mouth is bleeding.  No bruises.  I cuddle her.  She seems ok.  I cuddle her some more.  She still seems ok.

Should I take her to hospital? I text Ex-Husband to tell him what has happened.  I don’t ask if I should take her to hospital.  He is medical (although he’s also the man who panicked when Big Girl asked where her wee came from, and told her it was her vagina) and I hope he’ll tell me if I should take her to hospital.  He asks what happened, how she is.  He doesn’t tell me to take her to hospital.

She still seems ok.  Really ok.  Happily playing, no bruises, no signs of concussion, no altered behaviour.  I decide not to take her to hospital.  I put the girls to bed.  This takes approximately three hundred hours as Small Girl fell asleep on the way home at tea time and is therefore in no way interested in going to sleep.  After a while I go to bed.  I try to wake her up, to check she’s not unconscious, before I go to bed.  For a child who has been referred to a psychologist for trouble sleeping, she is bloody difficult to wake when she wants to be (this is also a technique called ‘turning’ which is supposed to help her sleep for longer.  It works.  She wakes at 4am rather than her normal 2am.  I am trying this again, but without the falling-downstairs part).  I lie in bed wondering whether I should have taken her to hospital; if at some point I will have to explain suspicious old injuries to a social worker and I’ll say “well, she did fall down the stairs when she was nearly 2” and they’ll say “there’s no record of a hospital visit” and I’ll say “well, she seemed ok” and they will look at me and explain that only a stupid and neglectful parent would fail to take their toddler to A&E after falling all the way down the stairs.

I wish I had someone to share the responsibility with.  Someone whose job it is to discuss whether she needs to go to hospital.  Someone whose job it is to look after one child while the other goes to A&E. Instead I have Ex-Husband, to whom I confess my failings as a parent, the failings which allow my child to fall all the way downstairs, even though I was standing right next to her.  The man I fear is storing up all these stories as evidence for the day he decides he wants my children to live with him.

And there’s not just Ex-Husband, the man who loved me and then left me and now takes my children away from me.  There’s the Ex-Husband in my head.  I see my children cry for him and I am told that they sleep all night at his house.  He is clearly a superior parent.  I compare all my failings, the times I shout at my children because I feel so bloody tired, the times I feed them incoherent meals lacking in vegetables and mainly constituting chips and something from the freezer, the lack of enriching activities, the vast quantities of television used as a babysitter, with the parenting I imagine him doing.  (Yes, the parenting I am making up and have no evidence of in any way, shape or form except for what he tells me and Big Girl tells me.  Big Girl told me today that when she went to Grandma’s house she saw a hedgehog and Grandma told her it would be fine for her to bring it home if she wanted.  This seems unlikely to me).  And I fear his critical voice, the one asking me why I let her fall down the stairs, why I wasn’t holding her hand, why I’m not doing a better job, the best job I could be doing, of looking after my children.

And really, that voice is mine, is all my fears and anxieties about my parenting abilities and my children’s happiness and whether they will be ok.  The worst thing about being a single parent is knowing that my children have another home, another life, and the fear that perhaps they would be better in that life all the time, than here with me.

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Feel free to tell me if I’m being over-sensitive. No, wait, don’t.

I bought ‘Stick Man’ by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, the creators of ‘The Gruffalo’, on Friday. Big Girl loves it – it has a lovely rhythm and lots of rhyming and repetition. Oh, and Father Christmas. And it’s got a dog in it, so Small Girl is happy. Really, what’s not to like?

Well, let me tell you… And here’s a warning. If you haven’t read it yet and you’re planning to, read no further. I am about to give away most of the plot.

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So, there’s this stick man. He’s a stick who lives with his family in a tree, until one day a dog picks him up and runs away with him. Stick Man is not happy about this. His unhappiness is further compounded by being thrown in a river, built into a swan’s nest, used as a mast in a sandcastle, made into a prosthetic arm for a snowman and finally picked up and put into a grate, ready to be burnt in a fire. And then Santa turns up and rescues him (I did say there were spoilers…).

So we cut back to Stick Lady’s wife and three children, at home on Christmas Eve and looking very sad: “Stick Lady’s lonely. The children are sad. It won’t feel like Christmas without their Stick Dad”.

And here we are. Apparently my family is inadequate and my children are going to have a quite frankly shit Christmas because they won’t see their dad (although perhaps this is made up for by the fact that their dad isn’t a stick. Maybe it’s better to have a dad who you don’t see on Christmas Day but who is at least human and doesn’t get run off with by a dog).

And yes, I know, it’s just a story. But approximately 25% of families are single-parent families (according to Wikipedia, anyway). I don’t really believe that what my children have now is the best they could have had, and I wish they weren’t in a single parent family. I see the effects the separation has had on them, and how much they miss their dad, and the damage caused by going back and forwards, and I just wish they didn’t have to deal with it. Still, I try not to let them think there is anything wrong with their situation, or feel that it is anything other than normal.

So let me introduce you to Alex.

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Sometimes Alex lives with his dad. Sometimes Alex lives with his mum. He has two bedrooms, two kitchens, two special chairs, two phone numbers: two different but happy lives. And I doubt I’m giving much away if I tell you that Alex loves his mum and his dad, and that they both love him, wherever he is. For separated parents whose children see both parents, ‘Two Homes’, by Claire Masurel, is probably more use than Stick Man. And it even has a dog.

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Surprised by pleats

I decided to make a dress. And I think dressmaking may just be my favourite thing ever. It’s an intellectual challenge – trusting the pattern when you can’t quite see how it’s going to work, but also trying to understand it enough to get it right. There’s all the lovely potential, imagining how it’s going to be to wear something which fits perfectly, something which no-one else owns, in a style and pattern you chose, and thinking about how impressed everyone will be when you tell them you made it. There are all the new skills, and the satisfaction of trying to do something just right, of working really hard at something. And, of course, there is cider and Doctor Who to accompany the dressmaking.

And then there’s the pleats. I *love* putting pleats in.

I did not, of course, expect to love pleats. Who would? And why would you? Well, firstly, there’s the pattern pieces. You start with something like this, all jaggedy edges and craziness:

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And if you’re really careful and you copy the markings accurately and fold it properly, you end up with something which makes sense, something with an unexpected straight edge, like this:

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(They’re not actually the same piece. But hey, they’ve both got pleats in).

And then there’s the joy of the sharp folds, the straight lines, everything so clean and neat and perfect. I looked at my pleats and I thought ‘I have done that. My kitchen is full of washing up, my hallway is littered with toilet-roll confetti and my children have spread my books across the whole upstairs of my house. I will never be tidy but I have made perfect pleats’.

And now I have finished, and I have a dress.

 

 

 

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Here’s the reality: I had to adjust the pattern because my boobs and waist are a completely different size to my hips and shoulders and I have a weirdly long back so I had to lower the waist. I loved working this out – it’s a bit like engineering except no-one is likely to die if it goes wrong – but it means the dress designed to fit me perfectly, well, doesn’t. Because I am not a dressmaking genius. And I forgot to clip the seams around the armholes, so it’s a bit odd. And all those pleats, those pleats I love? I think they make me look a bit pregnant. And, as I’m still breastfeeding, a dress is not a practical item of clothing.

But fuck it, I’m planning on making more. Where there’s pleats, there’s happiness.

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