Project Awesome

Making my life more awesome

As long as your happiness is not dependent on afternoon tea. Or small children.

Yesterday I was 35. I remember being very excited about approaching 30 – I’d done interesting things in my twenties and felt I’d spent the decade well, and we had plans for a fabulous life.  And then suddenly I found out I was expecting Big Girl and everything changed.

And, it turned out, changed more dramatically than I could have anticipated.  Here I am, stepping into the second half of my thirties a divorced mother-of-two.  My thirties have *not* gone to plan.  And 35 feels significantly different to 30.  30 still felt young.  While 35 doesn’t feel old, somewhere over the hill – but not *far* far away – is middle age.  And I’m not sure how I feel about it.

My birthday was lovely in parts.  Big Girl and Small Girl argued about who would get to open which of my presents.  Astonishingly, neither argued strongly for it to be me.  Birthdays have always been an opportunity to celebrate the person whose birthday it is, to make them feel loved and special, particularly when the person whose birthday it is is me.  And, for ten years, I had someone doing that for me.  This is my third birthday after Ex-Husband, and the first one I had no-one come and spend the day with me to help me celebrate myself.  I missed it.

We went to Uppermill, a little town in Saddleworth which is really quite lovely.  We played in the playground.  We teetered across stepping stones, Small Girl giggling all the way.  We went for afternoon tea, my treat to myself to make myself feel special and celebrated.

Except we should have booked.  Afternoon tea needed to be booked 48 hours in advance, because it has some items which are not on the menu.

I did not cry.

But I wanted to.  I wanted to cry until someone realised this was important and fixed it for me.  Because it’s my birthday, and I’m a single mum, and have to look after myself, and this was my attempt to make something from the horribleness of being alone because my husband left me, and we’ve come such a long way, and…

The woman behind the counter stood impassively as I said none of those things.  I ordered cake and chocolate milkshake for Big Girl and Small Girl, and a cream tea for myself.  Small Girl refused the chocolate milkshake because she is contrary, and neither of them actually wanted their cake, and Big Girl just wanted to eat the maltesers from the top of my cake, and my birthday seemed to be sliding into a disaster.

It’s time to stop living a shadow-life, one where I congratulate myself on living bravely despite my circumstances. To ditch the notion that there is a life I was entitled to.  To stop comparing my life to how it *should* be and enjoy what it *is*.  I had lots of lovely presents and cards yesterday, and 61 people wished me a happy birthday on Facebook. I got to spend a day with my beautiful funny girls balancing on stepping stones and exploring and eating cake.  In the evening I went out with friends, drank cider and performed something I’d written at a live literature event.  I am not a victim of anything.

I think it’s true that I have been brave.  What happened to me, when Ex-Husband left, was shitty, and carried on being shitty for quite a while.  But my life now does not, generally, require extraordinary courage.  I’m not a delicate little flower battling against huge odds.

And I do not need special treatment from women in cupcake shops.

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The pursuit of silence. And failing at this.

There’s something rotten in the state of Denmark‘.

Or, perhaps, ‘I can feel a (small) disturbance in the Force‘.

Whatever.  My life feels out of kilter.  Something feels wrong.  I’ve lost my sense of peace.  And I’m not sure why.  It may be that, having finally got divorced, I suddenly find myself without the thing which has been the main purpose of my life for the past two-and-a-half years.  It feels slightly like I’ve been navigating white-water rapids, only to find myself becalmed in the ocean.  I like it, but it’s *weird*.  It may be that I’ve finally managed to find a builder to give me a quote for some work which needs doing to the house, and spending money makes me anxious.  Or perhaps it’s because I’m going on holiday next week, and I’m a littler nervous about it.  Or it could just be that I’m not getting enough sleep at the moment, and I’m really tired.

I thought I would spend some time in silence, trying to work out what was going on.  Quakers are advised to try to spend some time in silence every day.  I find this hard.  By the time my children are actually asleep, I have so little free time left and so many things I need and want to do that it is painful to give some of that time over to sitting doing nothing.  It’s hard because it takes a degree of discipline and focus, neither of which I have in abundance.  And, although I have on occasion found spending time in silence incredibly beneficial, found answers, found a sense of wellness, I often find myself sitting thinking, ‘This is pointless. It isn’t working.  I’m wasting my time’, as if silence is a utilitarian pursuit valuable only for what it produces.

So tonight, when Big Girl and Small Girl were in their bedroom – definitely not asleep, but in their bedroom and not unhappy about it – I decided to try to find some space in my head.  I sat on my sofa and breathed and tried to bring my attention to ‘here’ and ‘now’ and to settle down into silence.

This is challenging when your children are playing at Father Christmas upstairs.  Big Girl was being Father Christmas and Small Girl was the recipient of her bounty.  I tried to monitor, vaguely, their general state of happiness, and whether the occasional sounds of pain required attention.  It’s difficult to do this and also think about ‘that of God within me’, but not impossible.

And then, ‘It’s coming home, it’s coming home, it’s coming…’  My neighbours are watching the World Cup. Loudly.  Earlier they sang along to the national anthem.  Loudly and not so tunefully.  My walls are pretty thin.  I hear a banging noise and try to establish whether it is coming from next door or my children.  I think, if God exists as a conscious entity who likes to engage with people, I hope there’s grace for people who try to do some kind of praying-ish while the World Cup is on, and God would take into account my distraction by the sound of football and loud swearing from next door.  If God doesn’t exist at all, or only as some part of me, there’s probably no grace for World Cup distraction and I’ll just have to live with it.

And then I realise that the sound from my children has been growing, incrementally and insidiously. Slowly, they’ve moved from happily giving and receiving imaginary presents to screaming and laughing wildly.  It’s a bit like the apocryphal boiling frog experiment – there’s no obvious noise threshold crossed until you realise the neighbours’ dogs (the other neighbours…) are barking angrily, and you go into the bedroom and discover one child’s bed has been completely stripped and the contents of the room are piled onto the other bed.  And what was supposed to be quiet, calming pre-bedtime play has descended into chaos without me really noticing.

No silence for me tonight. But at least I’ve tried.

 

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One down, five to go

There are many things that it is inadvisable to attempt on your own.  Moving a heavy table, for example.  You probably *can* do it, but you’re likely to damage your back, or the floor, or the table.  Possibly all three.  Or hosting a children’s birthday party.  It’s just not easy to make cups of tea for the parents, and manage party games and stop your child crying because they didn’t win pass-the-parcel, all at the same time and with any semblance of grace.  Equally, decorating can be done by one person, but it’s incredibly boring and involves a lot of running up and down ladders.

So why, this weekend, did I find myself putting on Small Girl’s third birthday party *and* repainting my lounge, both single-handedly?  The five or six adults who came to the party are all good friends and I could have asked any of them to help out, but didn’t. (Though they ended up helping out anyway.  Because they’re my friends and they’re nice people).  And when I mentioned decorating, another friend suggested having a painting party, in a manner which suggested she would definitely turn up as long as there was alcohol available.  Yet I didn’t take her up on it.  But let’s be clear.  This isn’t a complaint about how hard it is doing things on my own own because I’m a single parent.  This is a complaint about how hard it is to do things on my own because I’m too stupid to ask for help.

And here’s why:

  1. I’m too proud. Or something like it.  In the couple of years since Ex-Husband left, I have had huge amounts of help from many wonderful people.  But now this single-parent-life is starting to feel a bit more normal, I want to stop feeling dependent.  I want to believe I can manage my life on my own.  Clearly I *can*, because I do.  But possibly I don’t always *have* to.
  2. It takes effort to arrange people helping.  I’d have to ask people, to start with.  And then there would be organising times and dates to do.  I would need to actually plan how best to do the painting, and where to put all the different things from my lounge.  It *feels* easier just to do it myself.  For about ten minutes.  And then I wish there was someone to pass me the paint tray while I’m standing at the top of the stepladder.  And possibly make a cup of tea.
  3. What if they don’t do it how I like?  I mean, I’m not good at decorating, but what if they are worse? What if they get paint on the light switch because they can’t be bothered to cover it up properly? I would have to live with mild irritation at the badly-done job for possibly years. (I have been living for years with the irritation at the wonky painting-round the-ceiling done by Ex-Husband due to his incompetency and/or laziness at not masking-taping round the ceiling.  Now I’ve done the job myself and discovered quite how hard it is, and I have my own wonky paint to look at).
  4. On the other hand, if people came to help, I would have to do things properly.  For example, I *know* it’s dangerous to stand on the top step of stepladders.  But mine are too short for me to reach to top of my 3-metre-high walls without standing on the top.  In addition, they are old and quite rickety.  But still, I’d rather balance on the top and get the job done than wait until I get hold of some taller ones.  (After explaining this to a friend at work and seeing the horror on his face, ‘buy new stepladders’ has moved up my ‘to-do’ list).  It would actually be safer to do this sort of thing with other people around, as there would be someone there to phone an ambulance if I fell off, which felt like quite a possibility at times, particularly when I was still painting at 11pm (which I wouldn’t have been doing if I had help as we would probably have finished and started drinking beer by then).  But still, if I had to explain myself to other people, there would probably be a lot less bodging going on.
  5. I’m not actually sure that people even do this sort of thing any more. We’re all busy people.  We all have jobs and lives and families.  I feel slightly awkward about asking my friends, who spend all week at work and, for quite a few of them, their weekends decorating their own houses, to come and help me decorate mine.  Particularly as my free time is so limited that I would struggle to repay the favour.  I’m just not sure whether people who are not students want to go and paint their friends’ lounges.

So I painted my lounge.  I started painting over the blue that was there when we moved in, and I really did feel like I was claiming the house for myself.  It also felt a little bit like I was moving – furniture pushed to the middle of the floor, and that weird echoey sound reminiscent of an empty house – but without all the estate agent fees or having to actually change my address anywhere.  I did feel a sense of satisfaction that I was doing it myself, and doing physical work, and actually doing it properly, with Polyfilla and everything, rather than bodging it.  And then, about ten minutes after I’d passed the point of no return, painting over the white paint as well as the feature wall, it started feeling like really quite a lot of work.  And then I realised that although I’d liked the sound of the ‘fashionably flat effect’ of the matt paint I’d bought, I actually preferred the look of silk paint.  This required me to carry two tins of paint back to the shop on the bus, exchange them and carry the new paint home again.  And then, when I’d finished the first coat, I didn’t really want to do any more painting, but I knew that if I stopped I wouldn’t want to start again, and I didn’t have much painting time left before Big Girl and Small Girl were due home, and I’m proud enough that I didn’t want Ex-Husband to see me fail at making my home my own, even though he almost certainly doesn’t care at all.  So I carried on balancing precariously on my dangerous stepladders, wishing I had some company and some help, and someone to share the joy of seeing something change and knowing you’ve done it.

I remember helping friends paint their home, quite a few years ago.  There were other, more fun things I could have been doing with my time.  But every time I visited them I saw the door I had painted and felt part of their home.  I think helping is a good thing.  It builds relationships and community.  And for ‘helping’ to occur, there needs to be people willing to be ‘helpees’ as well as helpers.

Let it be known that I am willing to make this sacrifice in order to build community.  And I have five more rooms to paint.  Bring your own stepladders.

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My only consolation is that this should be the last time I have to do this.

Last Monday, Small Girl decided she didn’t want to wear her nappy.  Although she hasn’t taken to previous attempts at potty-training, I was willing to let her run around in knickers for most of the day and see what happened.  Mainly what happened was weeing on the floor.  On Tuesday she weed on the floor in the morning, had two accidents at nursery, and did a poo on the floor when she came home.  But the path to potty training Big Girl wasn’t always smooth, so I was willing to persevere.  On Wednesday she did a poo *and* a wee on the floor in the morning, had another accident at nursery, screamed at the mere mention of the potty and did a final dirty protest before bedtime, to make her feelings clear.  On Thursday she went to nursery in a nappy.

I relayed all this to Ex-Husband when he came to pick her up on Friday, in the interests of information-sharing.  Well, I said “we tried potty training this week but she doesn’t like to use the potty, so it’s not worked”.  Close enough.  So I was quite surprised when he brought her home yesterday wearing a pair of knickers and, apparently, having had no accidents all weekend.  Ex-Husband explained to me that he’d put her on the toilet after every meal, and every three hours, and she’d been fine.  He said that, as she could clearly do it, it would be good to try to keep her in knickers.  He left and she pooed on the rug.

Being a good parent, I decided to persevere (again).  This morning we went to play at a friend’s house.  Not much strains on a friendship like bringing your child to someone else’s house and letting it wee on their carpet.  Particularly if you say ‘We’ve just started potty-training this morning!  I thought we’d do it here instead of at my house!’  So I attempted to put Small Girl on the toilet every thirty minutes.  She did not like this.  She did not like it a lot.  But, eventually, after distracting her with Captain Barnacles, she managed to wee in the toilet.  Hurrah!  And then we went home for lunch, and she did a wee in our toilet.  And then we went to the dentist and the shoe shop and to Ikea, and she did a wee in the toilet at Ikea.  I am considering making some kind of ‘places to wee’ list and seeing how many she can collect.

And then… And then she did a poo.  In the play area at Ikea.  Fortunately, it was contained by her knickers, and easily cleaned up, but perhaps I should have known better after our last Ikea misadventure. There’s really no good resolution to this sort of situation.  We’re in the restaurant.  We have dinner.  We need to deal with poo.  I don’t really want to leave our dinner to traipse off to the toilet.  But neither do I want to (a) sort out poo in the restaurant or (b) eat my dinner after clearing up the poo without washing my hands fourteen times in almost-scalding water.  Neither do I want to carry the resulting lump of poo, wrapped in baby wipes and tied up in a nappy bag,around in my bag.  There are *many* reasons why no-one likes potty-training.

And finally, when we got home, there was just time for one more wee on the rug.  In that shutting-the-door-after-the horse-has-bolted response which I hope all parents are familiar with, I stuck her onto the potty.  And she sat there long enough for another poo in the potty.  So today hasn’t felt entirely unsuccessful.  But I did feel a huge internal sigh of relief when it was bedtime and I could legitimately put a nappy on her.

Which she immediately did a poo in.  *sigh*

 

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