Project Awesome

Making my life more awesome

Yellow doesn’t really suit me anyway

Along with my colleagues, I spent most of today attempting to be motivated by our annual(ish) conference.  We had two guest speakers: someone who was involved with the British cycling team, and a former world-class runner.  This was followed by two hours of clapping endless streams of other people receiving awards, which was more than a little demoralising.

The sprinter talked about different people who have inspired him on his athletic journey, and about teamwork, and showed us a clip of him winning a race.  I imagine it must be nice to be paid to show people clips of your successes and then be applauded for them, thirty years later.  When I have an Olympic medal to talk about, I’ll let you know.

More interesting was hearing about how the British cycling team went from winning one Olympic medal in 76 years to being arguably the best cyclists in the world, and the strategy which achieved that.  Some of this was unsurprising; other parts involved reference to your inner chimp.  What stayed with me was her comments on commitment.  If you ask cyclists if they are willing to commit to winning the Tour de France, most of them will say yes.  But if you ask them to commit to missing school holidays and all their children’s birthdays, to losing pounds of weight and eating a special diet, to training for six hours a day, very few cyclists will commit to that, to what it really takes to win the Tour de France.

As soon as she mentioned missing holidays and birthdays, I recoiled – I cannot imagine choosing to miss that time with my children.  And I realised that it’s ok not to want to commit to winning the Tour de France.  Actually, I’ve never wanted to win the Tour de France, beyond the obvious fact that I’d like to win everything in the world ever.  Cycling is not my thing.  But aside from that, there are many other things I don’t really want to commit to just now.  And maybe that’s ok too.

I spend a lot of time feeling inadequate.  I don’t engage with world events much; I am not fighting poverty, campaigning about injustice, working to solve climate change.  I am not writing a novel.  All I am doing is working and bringing up children, and I’m not even doing those things well.  I only have one life and I feel I am wasting it.

But in reality, looking after a three- and nearly-five-year-old is hard.  It’s time-consuming and demands energy, and I want to do it well.  Just now, that is what I am committed to doing.  Whatever sacrifices it takes, I’m there.  I’m committed to my job, because it gives me an opportunity to make a difference for the people I work for, and even there I need to focus on doing the bits where I can make a difference and achieve something.  And I’m committed to Quakerism, because when I sit in Meeting, in silence and when listening to people speak, I believe in the potential for goodness, and I believe there is some hope.

When I was younger, I was busy.  I was changing the world.  I stayed up late talking and doing.  I was hard-working and creative and I had dreams and ideas.  And one day I may do that again.  But just now, I’m committed to the things I need to do, and the things I can do, and to doing them well.  The Tour de France, and everything else, will have to wait.

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Welcome to the brand new Mondays

Today was the first Monday in a long time that I was statutorily obliged to be anywhere at a specific time.  I don’t work on Mondays, so it’s always been my slow-getting-up morning with the girls after a busy weekend.  Last week Ex-Husband dropped Big Girl off at school and then Small Girl off with me.  So I did have to be awake and looking competent by 9 am, but nothing beyond that.  Today I had to get myself and two children to the school gates by 8.55 am or face an Unauthorised Absence mark.  My anxiety about being responsible for a permanent blemish on my daughter’s school record, along with my habit of making them run to the train station while shouting ‘we’re going to be late and miss the train and then we won’t be able to go’ every time we try to go anywhere, is likely to lead to years of punctuality-related therapy for my children in approximately thirty years’ time.

Today started off well but quickly went downhill.  In no particular order, Big Girl did not want to get up, Small Girl cried and refused to eat breakfast, tipped a bowl of cereal, a cup of milk and a cup of apple juice on the floor and did a poo on the carpet and Big Girl demanded to wear her sparkly shoes and take Minnie Mouse to school.  I was not happy.

But once we were out of the door we were fine.  Some mornings both children cry and refuse to walk anywhere.  Other times, like today, all I have to do is chase them down the street pretending to be a giant crab and shouting ‘I’m going to eat you, crab babies’.  I hope I never see anyone I know on the way to school.

Once Big Girl was safely at school – uneaten, unpincered and well before the bell rang – Small Girl and I set off on our ‘just us’ day together.  Last week, our first of these days, saw us trying to go to gymnastics and failing miserably.  Who would have guessed it’s moved since we last went three years ago?  Today we went to the shoe shop and a pet shop and out for coffee and cake.  I can tell you that looking after one child is far easier than having two.  I can listen to her, and watch what she’s doing, and give her my full attention, and it feels lovely.

Except that, well, isn’t it *tiring* to just have one child all day? They demand your full attention, and there’s no-one to entertain them, and I’m not really patient enough to engage with *all* the demands of a three-year-old without the distraction of her older sister.  Still, that’s what tv is for, right?

I managed, by pretending that we were mice being chased by a cat, to get Small Girl and I to school on time to pick Big Girl up (is it worse to get an Unauthorised Absence mark for being late in the morning, or to leave your child standing alone at school because you’re late to pick them up? I’m not really sure) and on to a soft play centre to meet a friend, and then home and into bed, both children exhausted – one by school and the other by the full glare of my attention.  Or something.

It’s a new kind of Monday and I think I could learn to like it.

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Even on a day like this, when you’re crawling on the floor…

This has been a difficult summer.

At the end of July I was booked in for another haeherroidectomy.  This was scheduled to take place while Big Girl and Small Girl were on holiday with Ex-Husband, to give me time to recover.  Unfortunately, due to his broken leg, he felt unable to take them with him.  Fortunately, I have fabulous parents, who will always help me when I need it and when they can. (If there is any possibility that you may become a single parent at any point, be kind to your parents.  You will need them.)

We stayed with my parents for a week.  I’ve always thought I’d make a good Victorian Gentleman Philosopher, sitting at a huge desk writing down interesting thoughts, with a housekeeper who occasionally brings me cheese sandwiches.  Now I realise I would also make a good Victorian parent.  Obviously not the kind who sends their children down mines, up chimneys or to the poorhouse because they can no longer to afford to feed them.  Rather, the kind who has a nanny, and children who are seen but not heard.  For the first few days after the operation I felt incredibly ill, and lay in bed sleeping and occasionally throwing up, and my mum would bring my children in to look at me, possibly to reassure them that I wasn’t actually dead, and forbid them from jumping on me.  Gradually I progressed to sitting up and, eventually eating, and then it was time to go home.

The following week consisted of taking the girls to nursery, sleeping, and trying to poo.

I had thought my third week of sick leave would be quite pleasant.  I had decided that I would be recovered enough to do some gentle pottering around, maybe leave the house occasionally, possibly have coffee with friends.  I hadn’t counted on Small Girl.  On the Monday, she was sick four times in one hour, on three levels of the house and on every pair of clean trousers I possessed.  On Tuesday she was sick outside her room at nursery when we went to pick up Big Girl.  On Wednesday and Thursday we were stuck at home, trying not to spread germs.  On Friday we went to the cinema to watch Sing-a-long Frozen.  It was not the week I’d hoped for.

Finally, Ex-Husband came and collected the girls.  He had looked after them for the day on a couple of Sundays, but this was the first time since he’d broken his leg that he had them overnight.  It was lovely to be able to go out, to sleep all night, to relax and to rest.

And finally, we went to Greenbelt.  Greenbelt is my favourite place in the world to be.  It’s a liberal Christian arts festival, and I’ve been almost every year since I was 19.  I stewarded until I was pregnant, and have taken the girls most years.  This year, Greenbelt moved from Cheltenham Race Course to the grounds of Boughton House, a stately home in Northamptonshire.  The new site is astonishing: fairy-light-strung paths through trees – big old trees that have lived for hundreds of years – and wide open spaces, ornamental lakes and hills and lawns.  We arrived on Friday, camping with my lovely friends Rachel and Chris, and wandered down into the festival to find the huge main stage and thousands of Greenbelters watching.  For the first time, Greenbelt really felt like a festival.  And the new site feels more like home than Cheltenham ever did.

However, this wasn’t a good Greenbelt for me. I hardly saw anyone.  I hardly went to anything.  We seemed to walk miles to get to anything, only to find things were closing just as we arrived.  I did catch up with some friends, but missed a lot of people I’d hoped to see.  It almost felt like a wasted weekend.

But Greenbelt is a bit like a family Christmas.  Just because you have a rubbish Christmas one year and argue with your sister, it doesn’t mean you never go home for Christmas again.  I may not have enjoyed much of Greenbelt this year, but I’d still rather have been there than not.  I love being surrounded by people who are kind and thoughtful and care about injustice and poverty and are talking about how to make things better.  Even if, for various reasons, I struggled to be one of those people this year, I’m glad I was there.  And I’m already planning how to make next year work better.

Really it’s just part of the way I’ve felt all summer: as if I’m crawling through my life, too tired, feeling poorly, everything too difficult, no energy.  Surviving.  Like I said, it’s been a challenging summer.

My girls are at their dad’s house just now.  He collected them yesterday lunch time and is bringing them back on Thursday in time for tea.  On Friday Big Girl starts in Reception.  I miss them, but I am glad of the break.  Yesterday I sat on the sofa, too tired to do anything, watching old episodes of Doctor Who (I still miss David Tennant’s Doctor) and slept for eleven hours.  Tonight I am going out for dinner with friends, and sleeping.  Tomorrow I am going to the cinema.  And sleeping.  I’m tired of crawling, and tired of feeling tired, and I’m ready for life to feel good again.

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