Project Awesome

Making my life more awesome

Little by little

This morning I ran my third Parkrun.  I got a new best time, and I think I ran more consistently, and I had a coffee afterwards with someone I know and someone he knows, so it felt like a good start to the day.  This was followed by a long stint in the bath reading the Saturday Guardian magazine, and now I am lounging around in my pyjamas eating chocolate.

One of the things I enjoy about running is the sense of accomplishment it gives me, of challenging myself and meeting that challenge, at my own pace.  Often I settle into a comfortable pace and then realise I could try a little harder, run a little faster.  I suggest to my legs that perhaps we could, if we wanted, pick up the pace ever so slightly.  And then I congratulate myself on just doing a little more than I thought I could.  It’s very affirming, and I am grateful to my legs for the valuable role they play in improving my self-esteem.

I also find, in Quakerism, that sense of challenging myself to try a little harder.  ‘Advices and Queries‘ is a little booklet with a gramatically dubious title, produced by British Quakers.  It poses questions and offers advice but is not prescriptive: the introduction says that “we are all therefore asked to consider how far the advices and queries affect us personally and where our own service lies”.  It encourages me to think about where I would like to develop or stretch myself, what things I could do differently, but there is no pressure to conform.

I have been thinking recently about what I’m doing with my time and how to balance the different parts of my life, and the extent to which I see the point in doing any housework.  I was looking through Advices and Queries during my Quaker meeting last week and came across no. 26, which seemed to speak to my questions:

Do you recognise the needs and gifts of each member of your family and household, not forgetting your own? Try to make your home a place of loving friendship and enjoyment, where all who live or visit may find the peace and refreshment of God’s presence.

So things are worth doing to the extent that they increase our enjoyment as a family and as individuals.  Housework which contributes to a peaceful and refreshing environment is beneficial.  And although my primary relationship to and responsibility for Big Girl and Small Girl is as their mother, I try to do this in a manner of loving friendship as much as possible.

  • Recently I’ve been feeling that I need some quiet time to myself at the end of the day.  When Big Girl is in bed, she wants to ‘just tell me something’ or hurts herself or wants me to help her with something.  Every time she shouts to me I come to the bottom of the stairs to hear what she is saying, disrupting whatever activity I was involved in.  Usually I am doing something like hanging up laundry or getting clothes ready for the next day or loading the dishwasher.  I am not enjoying myself or having a party.  But I would like to finish my jobs in peace and, possibly, then enjoy myself after a day of caring for my children and responding to demands and complaints and needs at work.  So I’ve bought a gro-clock.  This is after only about four years of people suggesting it, so I hope friends feel I have been listening.  During sleep time, the clock face is blue and has stars on it.  When it’s an appropriate getting-up time, the face turns yellow and the sun comes out.  So when the sun is on the screen, they can ask me things.  When the stars are out, I’m available for emergencies only.  Of course, they can still climb into my bed when I’m asleep in it, but they can’t get me up until the sun comes up.  Probably.  So far it seems to be reasonably effective and I am delighted.
  • It is far more efficient to sort the laundry once a week or so and put everything away than spend ten minutes every day rummaging around for pants and socks.  This reduces stress and frees up time for playing and sleeping.  I’m planning on teaching the girls how to sort their laundry with me, although they mainly see laundry-sorting as an opportunity to roll around on my bed in the middle of all the piles of sorted clothes.  It’s a work in progress.
  • I have been asked why I tidy up when visitors are coming if I’m not bothered by the mess.  This question was posed by someone who cleans a lot and has never been to my house, but still, it’s a good question.  Now I have an explanation.  I want people to feel peaceful and refreshed when they come to my house.  I’m not bothered by my mess, but that’s because it’s mine and I’m used to it.  It’s much nicer to go to a house where there’s space to sit on the sofa and there aren’t bits of guinea-pig hay and toys strewn around the floor causing mental distress for those not used to this degreeof mess.  And there’s a tendency to equate messiness with dirtiness. I think it’s courteous to save visitors the anxiety of wondering if they may get typhoid drinking a cup of tea in my house.
  • If there are clean bowls and plates and cups ready in the morning, and school and nursery clothes are set out, there is much less shouting and much more kindness in the morning.  It’s worth running the dishwasher before I go to bed to give us a better chance of a peaceful start to the day.

This doesn’t feel revolutionary, or a work of domestic genius – just a change in focus from aspiring to external standards of a well-run house, which I could never hope to meet, to finding ways to make our routines work for us.  And if I am working towards an increasing sense of peace and friendliness, I find things run much more smoothly than if I’m motivated by an unachievable domestic standard – my children respond better.  In the words of the lovely Dr Greene*, ‘I set the tone’.

*ER nostalgia never really goes away.

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Seeking myself

When my children are away, I have a tendency to feel a little deflated.  The past week and a half has been very full-on: we went on holiday to Butlins – beach, playground, swimming pool, lessons about not running by a swimming pool, bravery at venturing onto the flumes, shows, soft play, fairground rides (here’s my tip – if you have to take your children on big rides one at a time, take the bravest first onto the scary ones, and then explain to the more timid child that they really wouldn’t like it, and take them on something different), ice-cream, candy floss, puppets – non-stop fun.  And then straight home into Small Girl’s fourth birthday celebrations: on Saturday making a cake for her party on Sunday and unpacking; then on Sunday icing the cake, leaving for the party and dropping the cake upside down in the middle of the road.  The party, fortunately, was at a soft play centre, so didn’t involve too much organising, but when we got home Big Girl gave herself a small hair cut to add to the excitement.  Oh, and I also made a mermaid skirt/tail for Big Girl’s ‘Under the Sea’ dressing up day the following day, which had all but fallen apart by the time she got to school.  Apparently space blankets are not as robust as I imagined.  Having remembered how to get into school and work, with a streaming cold, and survived Monday and Tuesday, Wednesday was Small Girl’s actually birthday: lots of presents, a trip to the park, a visit to the supermarket to buy a birthday cake and for Small Girl to spend some birthday money, and then I discovered I’d lost my housekeys so had to call a locksmith out.  My family arrived and we had a barbecue, and then Thursday there was school and work again.  It has felt somewhat like a runaway train I couldn’t stop, an ordeal I am surprised to have survived.  And now my girls have gone to their dad’s house, and I feel like a ship with dead sails. I’ve been driven by my children’s needs and demands, and the requirement to produce food and clean clothes and a good birthday celebration, and now the wind has gone and I am becalmed.

I’m not sure if this feeling is a natural response to having been so constantly busy or if it’s a sign that my life is out of balance.  This feast-or-famine way of living doesn’t really suit my temperament.  I don’t want to spend all my free time recovering from and preparing to be a parent.  But equally I want to be able to enjoy the time I have with my children without feeling exhausted, and overwhelmed by housework.  When first I had my childfree evenings and then weekends, I was so busy, fitting things in, having fun, making the most of every moment.  And then I realised that actually I like having an evening in by myself, and need some space and time to relax.

But now I feel somewhat purposeless, unsure of where I’m going.  I feel like I’m drifting – not so much like a fallow period as wasted time.  I’m not actually doing anything – I’m watching old episodes of West Wing, which are onto their third viewing now, by myself.  I’m not growing or changing or learning anything.  I’m not making new friendships or deepening older ones.  I’m trawling Facebook hoping to feel connected to something and mostly just seeing that other people are doing things which look more fun.

I don’t think the problem is with how I use my child-free time.  I think it’s that I allow myself to get lost, subsumed, when I’m caring for my children.  Somehow I need to refind the boundaries between myself and my children: when I was on retreat, I found that I could distinguish between me and them, their needs and my needs.  Somehow I had become blended with them and blurry around the edges, and the time alone enabled me to become distinct again.  I think I need to find that distinctness again.  It’s hard as a single parent: my children can be demanding and all-consuming, and there’s that sense of competition, of someone biting at my heels – if I am not good enough they may decide they’d prefer to live with Daddy.  I have to make the most of them, because they grow up so quickly and this time is precious.  But equally, I cannot have them be my full life, because they are not always here, and because my hope is for them to grow up and away, and to become independent, and it will be harder to do that if I also want to cling to them as a source of my self-worth and identity.  I am pulled in many directions, and I allow myself to become ragged and thin.

I’m not sure how I can do this, but I think there must be a way: more silence; more community; more sleep; and a little bit of courage. I think I owe myself that.

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