Project Awesome

Making my life more awesome

Yes, I’m advocating drug-fuelled competency

This weekend I have felt like a competent parent.  Like Ofsted ratings, this classification system is somewhat misleading.  Unlike Ofsted ratings, where ‘good’ means ‘satisfactory’ and ‘satisfactory’ means ‘you wouldn’t really choose to send your child here’, ‘competent’ is about as good as it gets when it comes to parenting.  You may have a moment of brilliance, elation, where your child tells you you’re the best mummy in the world, or you feel you’ve exceeded all your expectations of yourself, but this feeling lasts minutes at best before your child breaks down in tears because you’ve given them the cup they asked for when they really wanted a different one, or tells you they won’t be your best friend any more because, well, really, who knows why?

So ‘competent’, for a whole weekend, is pretty good.  Yesterday we had a lazy day, pancakes for breakfast, then a trip to the park to climb about in the woods, eat ice-cream, play on the swings and visit the animals in the aviary.  Then home for homework, tea and bed.  No shouting, no nagging, all reasonableness and patience.  And both girls slept in their own beds until 6 am (I made a half-hearted suggestion that they might like to go back to sleep for another hour, but really felt I’d had as much sleep as I could reasonably ask for).  Today we made it to our Quaker meeting in good time and they (mostly) behaved well, apart from Small Girl having a wee on herself and one of her friends during the Children’s Meeting.  And we chose Big Girl’s birthday present, braved two lots of Christmas Markets and played on a playground and walked home, all with not too much complaining, and then they watched Frozen and we ate hot dogs, and they went to bed, and to sleep.

So where has this competency come from? Well, back in September I started taking anti-depressants.  I’d felt tired since my operation in July and had been waiting for it to clear, and had no energy – starting to think desperately about bed at 8pm – and no motivation to do anything.  Nothing was fun any more.  I thought perhaps there was something physically wrong with me, my thyroid or my iron levels, and then I had one of those days where I cried all day about nothing, and felt like a shit parent, and thought perhaps my children, and the rest of the world, would be better without me looking after them.  Recognising those symptoms, I made an appointment to see my GP, who did some blood tests to rule out any other causes, but agreed that it sounded like depression.

Within a week I noticed improvements.  I had not realised quite how bad things had been until they got better.  I went downstairs into the cellar, where I dry my laundry, to collect socks for Big Girl’s school uniform, and thought I would take all the other pairs of socks upstairs to put away.  This was the first time in a while that I’d done anything other than the absolute minimum necessary for that day.  And the next day I realised I was encouraging the girls to walk home from school by playing games (I tell them they must absolutely not walk *that* way, pointing in the direction of home, and they run off in gleeful disobedience.  It’s the joy of reverse pyschology, where we’re all in on the joke) rather than nagging, shouting and begging.  I was still tired, but now functioning.

And then a couple of weeks ago I got on the bus and felt that everyone was talking about me, and that they all hated me.  I was rational enough to know that this probably wasn’t the case, but the paranoia was still quite disconcerting.  I felt incredibly anxious about work and struggled to make decisions or cope with any jobs which involved two or three different steps to complete them.  So I rang my GP again, and she suggested that I try a different dose.  And here I am, finding life is working, and that I can be a better parent and a happier person, and I’m more able to cope with setbacks. (For example, this week Ex-Husband texted to let me know that he has got engaged to the woman he effectively left me for. I did appreciate the thoughtfulness of him letting me know himself rather than leaving me to hear from someone else, and then I hoped they would both fall into a hole and die.  I quickly amended this to hoping she would fall in a hole and die because I like getting child maintenance and child-free weekends from him, and I’d be sad to lose them.  However, though it did give me a wobbly day, and I’m sure there will be a few more if they ever actually get married and I have to listen to my children talk about being ‘Daddy’s bridesmaids’, there was no crying, and now I’ve moved on.  Not quite to the point of not writing about it on my blog, but enough that it’s only a small aside.  Go me!).

I am quite pragmatic about anti-depressants.  My life can be challenging at times – I’m a working single parent to two small children and I don’t have a car.  If my brain stops working as it should, I need to do something about it, so I can function well.  If, for whatever reason, my brain is not keeping enough seratonin for long enough, I’ll take some medicine to help it get back on track.  I wonder if there comes a point where brains get so overwhelmed or worn out by long-term stress or sleep-deprivation that they just stop functioning effectively, and need anti-depressants to remind them of what they are supposed to do.  (This may be made-up science, also known as ‘not science’.  I’m not a biochemist).

I hope that at some point my brain will regulate its own chemistry without help, but for now I’m happy to have fun with my children, and cope with mean people making snide comments when I queue-jump the enormous line of people waiting for the toilet to avoid an unpleasant incident (“She’s going to do a poo.  Would you like to do a poo in your knickers?”), and face the prospect of marshalling twenty mini-princesses at Big Girl’s birthday party next weekend, and ensure we have enough food in the house and our clothes are washed and we have Christmas presents for lots of the people we love, and all the other things which make up life in our house. And I’m happy to have the help I need to achieve that.



Becoming Friendlier

Last weekend was incredibly Quaker-ish.  I had a visit to discuss becoming a member of The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). I read the book of this year’s Swarthmore Lecture, a lecture given by a Quaker to Quakers on an issue of importance to Quakers.  I went to my Quaker meeting.  I went out for lunch with some people from my Quaker meeting and talked about Quakerism.  It was altogether very satisfactory.

I applied for membership in the summer.  As with most things Quaker, it’s very considered, and very slow.  First of all I wrote a letter to the Area Meeting (this covers five Local Meetings, and my Area Meeting is Manchester and Warrington) explaining why I wanted to become a member.  This letter was read out at the Area Meeting meeting (Quakers’ diverse array of uses of the word ‘meeting’ is remarkably confusing) and two visitors were appointed to come and see me: one who I know, from my Local Meeting, and one who I don’t.  The visit was arranged, and I was looking forward to it, and then Ex-Husband broke his leg, and it was postponed, and I had my operation, and felt very tired, and Big Girl started school, and then, finally, we made it.

The purpose of the visit is to ensure that I know what I’m getting myself into, that I have thought about what membership would mean, that I understand what Quakers are about, and that I have sincere intentions.  We talked about why I had started attending Quaker meetings, and my spiritual journey, and my experience of and involvement in the Local Meeting, whether I had been to any other Meetings, whether there were things I found challenging.  It was a really affirming experience – I enjoyed an opportunity to talk about myself and my experiences, and to talk about Quakerism.

Following this, my visitors went away and wrote a report on the visit, which goes back to Area Meeting for consideration.  I loved reading a summary of our discussions, and seeing how what I said had been heard by someone else – my observations and experiences as someone new to Quakerism can be quite different to those of a longstanding Member, and articulated differently by someone who speaks Quaker fluently.  Area Meeting will then discuss the report and any concerns they have, and then decide whether I can be a Member.  This may sound a little harsh, but having experienced (and loved) Quaker decision-making, I’m happy to trust that a good decision will be made well.

One thing which became clear to me during the discussion was just how much I lead a double life, and these two lives collide at Meeting like nowhere else.  To a casual observer, it may appear that I turn up at Meeting most weeks, sometimes with children and sometimes alone.  But watch more carefully and you will see: this week, alone, I arrive at Meeting on time, say hello to people as I arrive, sit quietly in the silence, and afterwards, have coffee, attend to the Meeting Library as I am on the Library Committee, chat to other Quakers about interesting things, perhaps go out for lunch with some Friends afterwards, engaging as an adult and an individual, and go home feeling peaceful and thoughtful.  Next week, however, I arrive a harassed harridan, having hurried Big Girl and Small Girl to the train station with threats of missing the train and not going, and then from the station to Meeting, trying to be patient with their interest in bridges and shop windows and trams while also wanting to arrive before Meeting starts, and then sitting in the children’s room for the first fifteen minutes (because they *really* don’t enjoy sitting in the main Meeting with all the adults), and then when the other children arrive, attempting to extract myself from the Children’s Meeting without too many tears, and finally sinking into my chair, into the silence, trying to focus and keep my mind inside the room rather than wandering to who I’d like to talk to afterwards and Big Girl’s homework and what we’re going to have for tea and a thousand other domestic concerns.  And then I set Big Girl and Small Girl up with their lunch, and try to eat my lunch, ruefully looking at what I’ve managed to scrape together for us to eat because I’m never really prepared for a packed lunch.  We usually sit with other famillies and it’s lovely to catch up with friends, and then Big Girl and Small Girl go to play with their friends, and I try to make sure I have a rough idea of where they are and if they’re safe and behaving well enough, while also trying to chat and also wondering if I should be putting away some returned library books, and still thinking about the train home and homework and dinner.  Attending another Meeting is valuable part of the process of becoming a Member, because it allows you to see the breadth of British Quakers rather than just your Local Meeting.  But for me, for the two ‘me’s, who each get two Sundays a month to attend, to be involved, and for Big Girl and Small Girl, who only get two Sundays a month at best to see their friends and participate in the community, sacrificing a Sunday at my Meeting to experience another meeting does not feel like the right thing to do.

In both parts of my life, Quakerism has become very important to me, as a community of like-minded people, as somewhere to belong, a new way of looking at the world, something which challenges and stretches me, something which gives me hope, and something which has played a large part in my transformation over the past few years.  It’s good to have found a new home.

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You may say that I’m a dreamer…

While my girls went away with their dad for five nights during the half-term holiday, I went on a mini-tour of the South-West: visiting some friends I like very much but see far too infrequently, meeting a baby, going to the sea-side, having a cream tea, being fed very well, and going to Gloucester cathedral.  Oh, and sleeping.  Five nights of gloriously undisturbed sleep.  Bliss!

But somehow, I was still tired.  I was yawning in the middle of the afternoon.  Having spent the past five years longing for more sleep, it wasn’t living up to my expectations.  I felt just slightly spaced most of the time. I even started muttering about sleep being ‘over-rated’.

And then my girls came home: late, tired and over-excited.   Big Girl went to sleep quite quickly.  Small Girl insisted on sleeping in my bed, in her clothes.  Big Girl woke me in the night.  Small Girl slept right in the middle of the bed, making it hard to really sleep, creeping towards me as the night progressed. And at 5am she was awake and wanting attention.  On the second night, Big Girl slept in my bed, and was very little trouble (and makes a lovely hot-water bottle, incidentally).  Small Girl woke up in the night, and I crawled into her bed to resettle her, falling asleep and waking up later to stagger back to my own, confused and tired.

I had forgotten, so quickly, what real tiredness feels like.  That constant headache, clinging to the top of my head. Lethargy.   An overwhelming desire to lie down with my eyes shut.  Irritability.  An inability to do more than the absolute minimum required to survive today.  It’s as if gravity has increased, but only for me.  It is hard to love a life of constant exhaustion.

And then, last night, both my children slept all night, Big Girl in my bed and Small Girl in her own.  I think my brain is happiest when I sleep with my children in the house.  My subconscious likes to know where they are, and that they are safe.  And, more than the sleep itself, I love the injection of hope it brings: that sleep is possible, even for me.

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