Project Awesome

Making my life more awesome

From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs…

I had a medication review this week for my anti-depressants. I’ve been struggling recently, feeling anxious and irritable and stressed at work and at home. And I’ve been so exhausted that I’ve been going to bed as early as possible, which takes over the time available to me for things like hanging up laundry and loading the dishwasher, which in turn makes my home life feel more pressured and me feel less competent and capable. In short, my life feels like an out-of-control disaster and I feel like a rubbish parent. But, as I explained to the doctor, work is quite stressful and I’m a single parent to two small children, so it is probably normal to feel under pressure. The GP suggested increasing the dose of anti-depressants and said that my life does sound quite challenging, and asked if I have support?

I do have very supportive friends and family. Big Girl and Small Girl go to their dad’s house regularly for two or three nights and I have almost no anxiety when they are with him. My parents will come and help if I need them, my sister babysits and talks to me about my children, and I have lots of friends who will help me in various ways if I ask. I feel very lucky. But I don’t feel that I have all the help I need. It’s quite hard to say this; it could seem that I’m being a bit needy, or criticising the amount of help my friends give me, or being passive-aggressive, or indirectly asking for help. But the reality is that I don’t have enough time to do all the things I need to do, evidenced by the state of my kitchen.

Sometimes I think I would like some ‘magic time’ – a couple of extra hours a day which no-one else has, between work and school, where I can get things done – do the laundry, tidy, sort, have a quiet cup of tea between the demands of customers and the demands of my children. There is a way to get this magic time – by buying other people’s time. I’d like someone to come in each day and empty the dishwasher and reload it, empty the washing machine and hang up the clothes to dry, put away the clean clothes, do any ironing, hoover and tidy. But I don’t want to spend money on it, or organise someone to come round, or deal with someone else being in my house.

There are lots of things I do ask for help with – things I don’t know how to do, or am not tall enough to do, or which require more than one person or a car or a different perspective or a sense of style. But it doesn’t seem fair to ask other people to give up their time to help me with other things, day-to-day things. I would be asking them to sacrifice their free time so that I could have more free time, and everyone has other things going on – children to look after, jobs, parents, their own DIY and housework.

One of the difficult things about being a single parent is having no-one to look after you and no-one to make sure your needs are met, or even recognised. This weekend, feeling incapacitated by my depression, I have started looking after myself. I realised, or decided, that my girls are now big enough to learn to have some respect for me and to put their needs second at times. This is not in the context of me being a selfish monster, but rather of having put my children’s needs ahead of mine almost constantly for five years. So today, after I had got their breakfast and they had eaten it, I told them I was going to eat my breakfast and drink my coffee and have some peace and quiet and read the newspaper. Small Girl wanted to be with me, and I told her she could, but that I was being quiet and not talking. And, mostly, I got some peace and quiet. They played with their toys and I explained that if they argued over toys I would take away whatever they were arguing about. Big Girl likes me to help her with almost everything. If she needed help or wanted to ask me something, she had to come to me. It was, largely, successful. It’s much easier at the weekend when we don’t have to go anywhere or do anything, but at least it’s a start.

I still believe that one day I will be domestically functional. One day my house will run as smoothly and easily as when Ex-Husband was here and doing all the housework. And every time I visit Ikea I know that if I can just find the right storage systems my home will be transformed. If only it were that simple…

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Finding strength

We Quakers – I like to say this now that I’ve been accepted into membership – worship in silence.  We sit, arranged in circular rows around a table with a vase of flowers on, and wait quietly.  We are waiting, together, for God, or the Light, or the Seed, or some kind of shared spirit of love (depending on how you think of God, or if you conceive of a literal deity at all) to speak to us.  When someone feels led to share something, they stand up and speak, and everyone listens, and then they sit down again and everyone reflects on it.  Good practice is that people do not respond directly to what has been said, and that people only usually speak once during a meeting, and it is always supposed to be something you feel ‘led’ to share rather than a nice idea you’ve had, or an interesting story you think people would like to hear. ‘Quakers’ got their name because, back in the 17th century, they would often feel so strongly pushed by the spirit of God to speak that they would be visibly shaking.  And even now, while some people seem calm and confident when they speak, others are clearly speaking because they feel they must, and as they come to the end of what they have felt urged to say, there is a sense of winding down, of coming to the end, almost abruptly, of the words they have been given.

Today I spoke in meeting for the first time.  In the silence I was reflecting, and suddenly felt that perhaps I would share something.  There was a nervous, sick feeling in my stomach and some sense of inevitability – not that I was compelled against my will to stand up, but that it was what would happen.  Despite feeling apprehensive, I realised that the very worst outcome would be me giving a rather dull description of the state of my life at this time.  I looked round to see if anyone else was going to stand.  I counted to five.  I looked round again.  And I stood.

My current state-of-life is one of pressure and overcrowding.  I feel sometimes, when I’m with my children, as if I’m being nibbled away by tiny crabs.  Their demands, and my anxiety about whether I am meeting their needs, can be exhausting.  Work is draining because I deal with people who experience domestic abuse and who think about suicide and who are stuck in unenviable situations, sometimes of their own making but often not, and people who ask me to help them when I don’t always have the resources or influence to do so.  And dealing with colleagues and establishing who should be resolving problems can be very challenging.  And then my house is full of toys and mess and books I probably will never read again, and baby items I hope not to need again, and clutter and chaos.

Since starting to attend Quaker meetings I have been drawn to the idea of simplicity – something I long for with the hunger of someone who knows they are unlikely to ever find the thing they seek.  I want it more *because* it is so alien to me.  I am trying to let go of all the things which fill my life and hold me back and weigh me down in order to make space to grow into, to do the things I want to do.  I am relinquishing responsibilities that are not right for me, and which often fail to fulfill anyway.  I am trying to let go of the inaccurate ideas I hold about myself so that I can live as myself rather than as someone I’m not.  And I’m trying to clear out some of the things I no longer use so that they can be used by someone else rather than being wasted in my house.  It feels like stealing, morally rather than legally, to keep something for myself which I don’t need or want, when someone else could be getting use or pleasure from it. So I’ve given my film SLR camera, which was a very special birthday present from my parents but hasn’t been used for at least ten years, to my brother’s girlfriend and now, rather than feeling guilty about not using it, I am enjoying imagining how much she will use it.  And some other things I was unsure what to do with because of their emotional link to Ex-Husband – well, my Warhammer models have been given to a friend’s teenage son, who tried to convince his friends that Warhammer was not completely uncool by virtue of the fact that I had played it.  This may be one of the best, if seriously misguided, compliments I have ever received.  And I sold the Magic cards back to Ex-Husband.  This was a bit weird, because he had originally bought them from a friend to give to me, back when we first started going out.  So essentially he has paid for them twice.  And it was a strange to be carrying out a financial transaction with him.  But I think someone might as well be using them, and he might as well be happy, and it’s an investment in us having a positive relationship even if I could have got more money selling them on ebay.

After I shared this, I sat down and reflected on the experience.  There was no bolt of lightening, no dove descending from heaven to land on my head, no feeling of euphoria.  But I felt glad to have spoken, because it will always be easier to do it again.  And after a while someone else stood up to speak, picking up the theme of simplicity, sharing his own reflections and the quote that “a simple life, freely chosen, can be a source of strength”.  It spoke to me, and felt like confirmation that I had been led to speak.  And afterwards other people came and talked to me about their experiences and their struggles to live more simply, and I felt drawn further into this community of people moving together towards the life they feel called to.

We Quakers – it’s how we roll.

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Because I didn’t have enough to do already…

I was never sure guinea pigs would be a good idea.  And when they first arrived home, it seemed that they really weren’t.  They hated being picked up, and ran away every time I tried.  And when Small Girl tried to hold hers, she cried and said he had bitten her.  But slowly, with lots of advice from friends, they are getting used to us, and we are getting used to them.  And I’ve decided I quite like owning guinea pigs.



Firstly, it satisfies my need to do things in the most complicated way possible.  I like to research my plans on the internet.  And whatever pet you choose, there is always someone out who will tell you that the conventional way of doing things is not good enough.  I like to feel sure that I’m doing the very best I can at all times.  So, rather than buying a cage from a pet shop, I have made my own monster C&C cage which takes up a considerable amount of floor space.  On the one hand, this did take quite a lot of effort and anxiety and, as I am not particularly skilled at, well, most things, I’m not sure how long it will last.  On the other hand, being 150 cm by 70 cm, my guinea pigs have lots of room, and it only cost about £25 to make.  And because woodshavings contain dust which can irritate some poor piggies’ chests, I’m trying every single type of bedding available.  Just to be safe.  This is satisfying my inner geek considerably, and using up bits of spare brain energy which might otherwise be busy worrying unproductively about whether my children are eating enough vegetables and the state of the ice caps.

Secondly, they make my children happy.  Big Girl has Lucy, a chocolate-coloured guinea pig who is technically male, but we pretend is female because (a) Big Girl still prefers girls and if she absolutely couldn’t have a rabbit then she definitely wanted a female guinea pig, and (b) I couldn’t tolerate the cognitive dissonance of calling it Lucy but referring to it as ‘he’.  Small Girl has Nemo, who we can all agree is male.  Small Girl runs into the kitchen excitedly to tell me which guinea pig she has just seen and what they were doing.  They are learning to be patient, and to consider the guinea pigs’ needs, and to take care of them.  And every evening when we take them out of their cage to be cuddled, I get to have a calm conversation with each of my children while they are settled quietly stroking their pets.  Already it is becoming a special part of my day.



But the main thing I love about having guinea pigs is the experience of being responsible for something so undemanding, with such low stakes.  I like watching my pigs eating vegetables and seeing what they enjoy, but if they don’t eat it, I don’t get anxious about their diet.  I make sure they get cuddled but I don’t worry about whether they are going to be emotionally damaged by the way I look after them.  Although I’m still having anxiety dreams about them getting out of their cage and running round my bedroom, this is unlikely to happen, and it really wouldn’t be the end of the world if it did.  They don’t ask for snacks five minutes before dinner.  And if they did, I’d just say no, and they (probably) wouldn’t cry about it.  Instead of spending hours putting them to bed while I also need to be getting their school uniforms ready, loading the dishwasher and hanging up laundry, and feeling anxious about whether I should be helping them to learn to go to sleep by themselves, and feeling frustrated that they just won’t stay in bed, I put the lid on their cage, and it’s done.  I do not worry about whether they are fulfilling their potential and whether I am doing everything I can to make this happen (short answer: no, I am checking Facebook and watching West Wing).  Sometimes they poo on the floor and this is normal and to be expected rather than something I need to help them to stop doing.  I don’t need to encourage them to be kind to each other if they fall out, and they never tell me that it isn’t fair.  I don’t worry about whether they feel loved enough, or about how they behave when we’re in public, or deal with tantrums, or try to make sure they get enough exercise.  If I want to cuddle them, I do, and when I’ve finished I stop, and there’s no arguing about it.  The worst thing that will happen is that, at some point, they will die.  I’ll do my best to make sure it isn’t for quite a while, but we’ll all get over it.  Compared to the impact my choices have on my children now and into the future, and to some of the stress I experience at work, guinea pigs are bliss.

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Three new things for 2015

Apparently December doesn’t exist for this blog.  December belonged to the land of fifth birthdays and fifth birthday parties and Christmas, and a rigorous timetable to achieve everything I needed to (almost) without hysterical crying in the toilets at work.

So here in we are in 2015 with three new developments:

1. Bunk Beds: Big Girl has been asking for bunk beds for quite a while, possibly since she first learnt of their existence, and also growing.  As she was starting to reach the point where she was too big for her cot-bed (she couldn’t fit all her cuddly toys in with her, at any rate), and as the girls’ room is too small for two proper beds, bunk beds seemed the only solution.  My sister gave them both a new single duvet set in preparation, so I was committed.

After some discussion on Facebook, my favourite form of procrastination when I want a decision to be made but am not quite ready to make one, it transpired that a friend had bunk beds she wanted to sell, and was willing to deliver them and help me put them up.  So I found myself last night trying to get Big Girl and Small Girl to sleep in bunk beds.

Big Girl, of course, wanted the top bunk.  Until she was actually in it, and then she wanted the bottom bunk.  Small Girl wanted to sleep in the top bunk, but she is too young.  There was quite a lot of excitement, and then quite a lot of crying, but eventually they were both asleep.  Tonight, again, there was a lot of crying, and about 20 minutes of repeatedly putting Small Girl back into her bed while she tried to leap out to look for treasure, until she got hurt and required a plaster, and eventually, eventually, she settled down and went to sleep.

Currently bunk beds feel like a regrettable necessity.  But they’ve also changed our bedtime routine.  Instead of having a story and drink downstairs and putting pyjamas on downstairs and then going upstairs and chasing round and cleaning teeth, and then settling Small Girl while Big Girl plays in my room, and then settling Big Girl, we do pyjamas and wees and teeth-cleaning upstairs, and *then* a story each in bed, and then I settle Small Girl while Big Girl sits on her bed being shushes, and then I go up and give Big Girl a cuddle.  It feels faster and more efficient and better-controlled.  And yes, currently about two hours of nightmare bedtime ensures, but once they settle into the new routine, I can imagine improvements.  Yes, just like I imagined the novelty of bunk beds would mean they would both lie down and go to sleep.

2. Guinea pigs.  Big Girl would like a rabbit.  So when someone at work was trying to interest colleagues in adopting some very cute baby bunnies, I did consider it quite seriously.  I consulted Facebook as always, and was told in no uncertain terms that rabbits were a lot of work, needed a lot of space and would probably destroy my house.  In addition, they are not great for small children as they are too big to hold.  Ah, but guinea pigs! Guinea pigs are lovely! And ideal for children! Big Girl and Small Girl know people with guinea pigs, and really like them.  I decided that we would get guinea pigs.  I told the girls that we would get guinea pigs, but not until after Christmas, and only when Small Girl stopped pooing and weeing in her knickers and on the floor, as there is a limit to the clearing-up that I’m willing to do.

It’s now after Christmas and Small Girl has (hallelujah!) pretty much got the hang of using the toilet, albeit reluctantly.  We took a trip to Tameside Rabbit and Guinea Pig Rescue with my friend Jo.  I wanted the girls to choose.  This is, probably, a mistake.  They would probably have been quite happy to come home to two cute little cavies, ready to give them names.  Instead they were faced with an overwhelming selection of animals who quickly all blurred into one.  Big Girl is about as good at making decisions as I am.  So they tried to choose two guinea pigs which had already been reserved for someone else, and then settled on the last two that we had looked at.  We’re now getting a hutch and all the essentials sorted, and I’ll collect them on Saturday while the girls are at their dad’s house, to let them settle in in peace and quiet.  I’m looking forward to our new arrivals, but wondering quite what I’ve let myself in for.

3. Three-and-a-half.  This isn’t technically new, because Big Girl was also three-and-a-half, about 18 months ago, but seriously, what is this all about? I love the toddler years, the ‘terrible twos’ (despite all the evidence to the contrary on this blog) – toddlers are funny and fascinating.  But Small Girl has suddenly turned into a monster.  Still cute, but a monster.  She says ‘no’ to everything.  She repeats what I say. I ask her to do something and she tells me to do it.  She screams if she doesn’t like something.  She snatches from Big Girl, and hits her (often with provocation, I would add in her defence).  And every time we go in a shop she wants *everything* she sees, even if she doesn’t know what it is, and whines.  I’m not sure where this has come from, but I’m hoping it’s a phase she’ll grow out of.  She’s lovely and funny and she and Big Girl are very kind to each other, and we have a lot of fun.  But, well, three-and-a-half…

Happy new year? I hope so!

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