Project Awesome

Making my life more awesome


Preparing to come away to Greenbelt, I was thinking back five years to the last time I stewarded, to my perfect Greenbelt. Packing is quite different – nappies, slings, Peppa Pig magazines – but not totally different – still working out how many of everything I need and doubling it ‘just in case’.

And Greenbelt is quite different. I spend the first day and a half wondering why I’ve come when no-one appears to be having any fun. This makes me feel quite guilty as quite a few people have put themselves out to help me be here.

But it’s hard. It’s hard to get anywhere with two small children who are ambivalent about walking. I forget to allow time to queue for anything. Camping is just inconvenient. I realise I am not a camper when I catch myself thinking about the possibility of communal dishwashers next to the toilet block. Neither child will go to sleep on the first night, then Small Girl wakes up crying and asks for a drink. I can’t bear to drag myself out of my sleeping bag and into the kitchen to get a drink out of the water container.

And then, suddenly, it begins to come together. I am camping with friends who have an 18-month-old. Last night we took them out in their pyjamas, in slings and buggies, and we watched the London Community Gospel Choir as they slept, and then, finally, I walked back to the tent and somehow managed to transfer them, still asleep, into bed. This morning I went to a Quaker meeting and came out feeling drugged on the silence. I’ve met up with friends I see most weeks and friends I only see at Greenbelt. We’ve sat outside in the sun eating food. My brother and his girlfriend looked after Big Girl and Small Girl (they seem to think he is a celebrity and talk about him constantly, only to be awestruck when they actually meet him) so I could actually go and hear a speaker. And tonight we went to see the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Big Girl and Small Girl mesmerised by the lights and the music.

But the thing which has really made Greenbelt work is the taxi service. For the past few years there has been a volunteer-run fleet of golf buggies, giving lifts to the campsite and back. Previously I have scorned the idea of paying for something I can do myself. But actually, at £2 for the three of us, it’s cheaper than a coffee and, well, it makes the festival fun rather than almost bearable. Funny how things change…

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Finally, my children are developing essential skills

Something unexpected has happened.  I find myself putting my children to bed at night, and *walking out of their room*.  Yes, I leave my children in their bedroom awake and expect them to go to sleep.  And they do.

Some parents have children who sleep.  They put the baby in its cot and leave it, waving and gurgling to itself, to drift off to sleep happily.   This has not been my experience.  If you have never experienced looking after children with long-term sleep difficulties, it may be hard to imagine the feelings of rage and frustration it causes.  The feeling that you may never leave your child’s bedroom again.  The guilt at feeling so very angry at your child.  The fear that you are failing them by not helping them to get enough sleep.  The ongoing exhaustion.  The bleary-eyed trek down the hallway, again, at 3am.  The desperate terror that there may never be an end to it. And did I mention the exhaustion?

During the recent hot weather, my children turned into siesta-girls.  They’d fall asleep, wherever they were, in a pushchair, carried in a sling, around 4pm and sleep until we got to our destination.  The little nap meant they were impossible to get to bed, and then they’d wake in the middle of the night ready for a party, and then wake early.  One Tuesday night, after hours of trying to convince them to go to sleep, needing to get ready for work the next day, I walked out of their room and left them to it, employing the ‘go back in and shout at them every ten minutes’ approach to parenting, of which I am not proud.

But they did go to sleep (of course, I wanted to wake them up and apologise for being Shouty Cross Mummy) and I realised I *could* leave the room without Small Girl crying.  So the next night, I tried doing the bedtime routine, putting them into bed and leaving them to settle themselves, going back as necessary. And it worked, even without the shouting.

Bedtime still takes almost forever. It’s still tiring.  Big Girl comes to the stairgate and shouts that Small Girl is hitting her (“Are you in bed, Big Girl? She can’t hit you if you’re both in bed”) or laughing (“She’s allowed to laugh as long as she’s in bed”) or talking to herself (“She’s reading to herself. She’s allowed to read to herself in bed”).  Big Girl and Small Girl ask for a drink repeatedly.  Big Girl has started going to sleep wrapped up in her duvet on the floor, which is allowed as long as there’s NO MESSING.  Big Girl asks to be with me.  It’s not perfect. But a year ago this would have been unimaginable.

Of course, Small Girl does still wake in the night sometimes.  And they occasionally both wake up around 5 and come in bed with me, and *mostly* go back to sleep.  Though when I say ‘occasionally’, they were in bed with me four nights on the run last week.   But a change is as good as a rest, right?


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I have all this stuff, and I don’t know what to do with it

Let me tell you about it:

First of all, there are the things, stored in boxes in my cellar, souvenirs of my former life.  There are the letters we sent to each other.  Both wedding rings.  Ex-Husband clearly didn’t want to keep souvenirs.  My beautiful eternity ring, a present to celebrate my thirtieth birthday, our seventh wedding anniversary and my pregnancy with Big Girl.  These things aren’t so difficult: I’ll probably keep them, even if I never look at them again.  Then there are the other things.  I have an army of Lizardmen for our Warhammer battles.  I actually own a Stegadon – how many people can say that?  And then my Dungeons and Dragons books – 2nd edition, 3rd edition, 4th edition – and a box of dice.  And my Magic cards, hundreds of them, and the decks I built with them.

Some of this geekery Ex-Husband did introduce me to, but some of it I played before I met him, and it’s how I met him.  It represents a significant investment of my time and interest.  If I get rid of it, I will never replace it because of the cost.  And those Magic decks, the 60-or-so cards selected and put together to beat an opponent in various cunning and irritating ways? I thought them up myself and I’m proud of them.  But really, all this stuff – if I sell it, give it away, throw it away, it suggests that it was only part of my life because I was with Ex-Husband, that now he is gone I no longer need it because it was never really part of me.

Secondly, there are the people.  Facebook friends I know I won’t see again but can’t bear to delete.  One of Ex-Husband’s friends from school who I can’t imagine arranging to see but who I really liked.  A couple of people whose posts I like seeing but who are, probably, really Ex-Husband’s friends, and who I am not sure I can trust.   I wonder if they are reporting back to him on all my desperate, frustrated posts about Big Girl and Small Girl’s bedtime behaviour.  And some people who I thought, after ten years together, were friends with both of us, but who have gone strangely silent since Ex-Husband left.  I’m not sure I really want to be friends with people who cannot bring themselves to ask me how I am when I am abandoned by my husband with a four-month-old and a twenty-two-month-old.  I know it’s hard when friends split up, and you don’t want to take sides, but I had hoped for some concern.  Still, I can’t bear to delete some of these people because it seems unfair to lose them because Ex-Husband has left me, and because I feel, deep down, that I should hold onto every friend I have, that I should try not to lose any more people than I already have.

And finally, thirdly, there are the photographs.  Endless photographs of my children, but also so many of Ex-Husband.  And Ex-Husband with my children.  In the old days, when reels of film were sent off for developing and a package of prints was sent in return (ask your parents, younger readers), I would have cut his head out of some of them and drawn moustaches on a few.  Those ten years together are still happy memories for me, as long as I don’t look too hard at them (I didn’t feel sad on my wedding anniversary this year but in the following days I remembered our honeymoon and felt a sense of loss).  And what about the baby pictures? I have a photo album which comprises of the first 13 days of Big Girl’s life and the first 18 days of Small Girl’s life.  When I put the rest of the photos in albums, which I hope to do before they leave home for university, do I put Ex-Husband in?  He was there, and he was part of it, and I don’t want to ignore this, but equally I don’t want to look at pictures of him.  This is a problem not covered in marriage-preparation or antenatal classes.  Someone should tell the NCT.

My sister tells me there are three different parts of my history: the part that was my life, the part that we shared, and the things I did because I was with Ex-Husband.  And maybe that’s how I have to tackle the stuff.  Warhammer can go because it makes me irrationally angry and I don’t need to go back to something which makes me throw strops to rival Big Girl’s tantrums.  Dungeons and Dragons I’ll keep because perhaps I’ll go back to it.  Magic, I can keep the decks I love and pass on the rest.  The people: I know, it’s only Facebook.  I’ll hide them, and maybe put them on restricted profiles, and perhaps one day they’ll just be gone.  And the photographs? Well, I’ve already started, because apparently my phone doesn’t have room for much more than 2000 pictures of my children, so I’m making some space. Ex-Husband stays in some pictures, but I’m enjoying being able to delete him in others, and knowing it’s an indicator that I’m moving on.


I don’t even know what day it is any more.

My newspaper was not delivered this morning.  Every Saturday I have the Guardian delivered, and proceed to read about a third of it, usually not including the actual news.  By the time Ex-Husband arrived at 10 am, and my Guardian still hadn’t, I was feeling quite irritated.  I would have to walk down to the newsagents to collect it, and they might have run out, and then they would say they would take it off my bill, but I’m never sure they actually do, and last time I went to complain because the magazine was missing, they laughed at me.  I’m glad, therefore, that I realised, before I left to complain, that the reason my Saturday Guardian didn’t arrive is that today is Tuesday.  It feels like a Saturday because it’s usually a Saturday when Ex-Husband picks the girls up from home.  I hope I remember tomorrow that it’s Wednesday and go to work.

My children’s access arrangements baffle me.  On Friday I went to nursery to collect Big Girl and Small Girl, and they weren’t there.  Of course, I panicked, that dull fear that rushes through me when my children are not where I expect them to be and I imagine a life without them in it.  Not that Ex-Husband would ever run away with them.  Just like he would never have left me with no warning that there was anything wrong.  And then the irritation, as the nursery staff explained that Ex-Husband had told them the day before that they would not be in because it was his day off.  And then annoyance, scrolling back through texts as I pushed an empty pushchair home, realising that we had arranged that he would drop them at home, and that I had forgotten this.  At least nursery think he is an inconsiderate arse rather than thinking I am an incompetent parent.  I probably won’t put them right on this matter.

Ex-Husband gets his random shifts about three weeks in advance, tells me when he is free to have the girls, and then we negotiate over when they will see him.  This is often quite stressful because there is no trust on either side, no shared understanding of the girls’ needs from access and very different priorities and perspectives.  And so I am living with one set of confusing and irregular access arrangements and negotiating a completely different set of arrangements a month ahead, often on little sleep and while trying to do a stressful job and look after two small and demanding children.  So yes, I get confused.

Ex-Husband’s training course comes to an end in a couple of months and then he will be onto random shifts until he gets a fixed shift-pattern.  I am hoping this will happen sooner rather than later so we can have one big discussion about access and then I will be able to plan ahead for nursery, and for the girls, and for my social life.  And so Ex-Husband and I will have less to discuss and less to argue about and more reason to move on and move apart.  And so I, hopefully, will only go to nursery when my children are actually there.


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