Project Awesome

Making my life more awesome

Free at last! But what to do…?

The symptoms of my depression have been getting worse over the past week or so.  I feel much more anxious.  I feel tired.  I feel like crying quite a lot.  I feel like a miserable failure at most of the things which matter to me. I am irritable.  I am unmotivated and I don’t really enjoy doing much.  It’s not fun.

It’s not very surprising either.  There’s a lot going on at the moment: the background stress of the threat of redundancy and the unsettled atmosphere at work, and the return to the pressured school day.  And it feels as if every day there is a new and overwhelming challenge: I arrived home to a letter stating that I had claimed free dental care that I am not entitled to, and as well as being asked to pay for it, I am being charged a penalty of £94.  My entitlement to free dental care and prescriptions has, I think, come with my entitlement to tax credits.  My circumstances have not changed and I did not realise I had to pay: no-one told me.  I need to appeal but I am too tired.  And the night before last I was up for an hour and a half with Big Girl – she woke up feeling sore and uncomfortable and crying with the pain.  I ended up ringing the out of hours GP (God bless the NHS!) and getting her sorted and back to sleep, but the worry, the sense of impotence, the disturbed sleep: the cumulative effect of these challenges is that I am not sure how much more I can carry.

So, here I am at home on a Friday – it’s my day off work and now the girls are at school, it’s an opportunity to have a little bit of time and space, and to get my house tidy and make life a little more ordered. But I also want to lie around doing nothing.  Or, more to the point, I want a break from the effort required to do anything.  I am, always, responsible.  I am responsible at home for ensuring we have food, clean clothes, an environment where Big Girl and Small Girl can be happy and healthy and feel loved and secure.  I am responsible for getting them to school on time and making sure they do their homework.  I am responsible for establishing a good bedtime routine and making sure they sleep.   I am responsible at work for dealing with complex and unresolveable problems, for keeping customers happy, for working with staff in other departments to achieve goals.  My job is actually impossible and unachievable, but I am not sure what level of lack of success is acceptable.  So I would like a break from all this responsibility, just for a while.

Depression is often described as a black dog in your life.  I am not sure how best to use today, my free time, to make living with this dog feel easier.  I could be productive, get things done now so I don’t have to worry about them later, feel productive, feel competent.  Or I could have a rest, have a break, be kind to myself.  There is something about the very act of doing nothing which is beneficial: I am proving to myself that my life is not unmanageable.  If my life were so very pressured, I would not be able to spend an hour watching Doctor Who. If I can spend half an hour lying quietly on the sofa, it must be ok.  And so, I must spend half an hour quietly doing nothing to remind myself that actually, everything is ok enough.  It is a discipline worth practising.

I’m not sure it has to be an either/or question.  I can be productive and spend time resting.  I can do things which need to be done but which I also enjoy – or at least don’t mind doing.  Part of the pleasure of these Fridays is that I am alone and, whatever I choose to do, no-one interrupts me: no arguments or requests for drinks or demands that I pretend to be a donkey.  In itself, this freedom from external accountability is something to cherish.  I can flow around my house, entirely in charge of my destiny, answerable only to myself for what I achieve.  So I wonder if, perhaps, it’s not so much what I do that matters, as how and why I do it.

Advertisements
1 Comment »

Under pressure

Small Girl started school last week.  Aside from some tears on Monday morning, and the usual complaining about having to get up in the morning and not being allowed to wear pyjamas all day, she seems to be enjoying it.  And I love seeing her beaming face when I pick her up each afternoon, as if being collected by me is equivalent to a lottery win.  But she’s only four-and-a-quarter, so she looks tiny and it’s quite a lot for her to adjust to.  She comes home exhausted every day but struggles to settle to sleep.  And Big Girl, now in Year 1, is also adjusting to more structured learning and a new classroom and a new teacher.  So we’re all pretty tired.

Getting two children dressed and to school is not much different to getting one to school and one to nursery, except you can’t pass off a pyjama top as school uniform in quite the same way that you can pretend it’s nursery clothes.  But during the chaos of the summer holidays, lazy days at home and trips out and juggling arrangements for the girls and never quite being sure what day it is, I forgot quite what the school routine is like.

So, wake up at 6.  Get up and eat breakfast, hoping the girls will sleep until I’ve finished.  Experience, again, the minor disappointment of interrupted coffee.  Get dressed while fending off demands to play on the tablet before they are dressed.  Encourage children to get dressed.  Ask if they’ve put their knickers on yet.  Put their knickers on for them.  Negotiate around use of the potty and/or toilet and whether they want to eat breakfast at home before going to breakfast club at school. Put more clothes on them.  Explain why they aren’t allowed to wear pyjamas to school.  Brush their hair and teeth.  Get my lunch out of the fridge.  Ask Big Girl to put her socks on.  Ask Big Girl again to put her socks on.  Ask Big Girl how many times I’ve asked her to put her socks on.  Put her socks on for her.  Advise Small Girl that if she doesn’t wear her school shoes she will be walking to school in just her socks and they will be dirty and uncomfortable.  Explain that they can’t take huge cuddly toys to school with them because I don’t want to carry them to work with me.  Remember that I haven’t fed the guinea pigs yet.  Put on my shoes and coat.  Check the bathroom tap is turned off to avoid a repeat of the flooding incident a couple of years ago.  Feed the guinea pigs.  Ask the girls to put on their coats and book bags.  Walk out of the door followed by children wailing about various things including cold legs and being hungry and tired.  Try to encourage the children to walk to school without screaming at them.  Explain that Small Girl can’t have a carry because she is at school now and needs to walk, and that yes, she is tired, because she didn’t go to sleep until late last night.  And that yes, she might feel poorly, and if she is poorly her teacher will ring her and I’ll pick her up.  And yes, if Big Girl is poorly, *her* teacher will ring me, and I’ll come and pick her up.  And if they are both poorly, I expect their teachers will work out between them who will ring me, and I’ll collect them both.  And then we get to school and there’s some reluctance from one or the other to go into breakfast club, but we manage it.

And finally, I’m released.  And I walk to work feeling like I’ve already done a working day, and then, like a pinball, fall into a world of customers and complaints and problems and emails and phonecalls and priorites and meetings, and a to-do list which is never done.  And then I’m spat out again, back to school to pick up my two children and usher them home and convince them to, eventually, stop climbing trees and cartwheeling so we can get home, and disagreements over who is going to carry their coats and book-bags and directives to avoid standing in dog poo, and a desperate desire for them to walk at a reasonable pace home, and then into the house and shoes off and arguments about whose turn it is on the tablet and making tea and making a mess and then the usual long drawn-out saga of bedtime – overtired but not sleepy – and my need to make my lunch for the next day and get uniforms out and hang up laundry and fill the dishwasher and, finally, I crawl into bed, and I really haven’t stopped all day.

All this is compounded, just now, by announcements last Thursday of redundancies at work: voluntary redundancies at first and then, probably, compulsory redundancies.  Some people are pleased to have an opportunity to leave earlier than they had expected and some people are planning to leave with a better deal now, rather than waiting for compulsory redundancies. I do not want to lose my job.  I have working arrangements which suit me and a job I can do and I work with people I like.  I have a mortgage to pay and not much to fall back on.

I’m not really anxious about this yet.  But there’s constant back-ground stress.  Work feels very uncertain, lots of questions and people discussing what might happen.  Everyone is at risk.  I hope that my job is at less risk than some, but we don’t know how things will pan out, and even if I do keep my job I may lose some of my flexibility or my part-time hours or my guarantee of a return to full-time hours if I wish.  Terms and conditions are being looked at, and we may have to take a pay cut.  And if I do survive, there will be far fewer people to do the work, so my job is very likely to change.  While this could be an opportunity to find new and better ways of working, it feels very scary.

Working to get through each day with enough food and clean clothes available, and then hoping to keep my job plus, last week, trying to influence government policy on refugees, means that other issues, anxieties, concerns, disappointments are, to an extent, left untouched.  I go to bed each night and sleep, weirdly, deeply but badly, and wake up feeling tired and ten steps behind myself already, before I even start.

So I’m very excited about this forthcoming weekend.  It’s the first full week of school and, as I don’t work on Fridays, my first day where I’ll drop both girls off at school and then go home.  Their dad is picking them up tomorrow and dropping them back at school on Monday.  So I have a whole child-free weekend with very little planned.  I’m going to read.  And sleep.  And read.  And run.  I might meet up with friends.  I’m going to eat good food without arguing with anyone about it (this isn’t true.  I’ll probably eat toast all weekend).  I’m going to live in a clean and tidy house for three days (this also isn’t true – I’ll do some frantic cleaning on Sunday evening and wonder why I didn’t do it sooner).  It’s going to be a mini-break from my normal life and all the pressures of the past week.

All I have to do is survive one more school run…

Leave a comment »

A week of two halves

I’m in the middle of a strange week, bookended as it is by my wedding anniversary on Monday and Ex-Husband’s wedding on Saturday.

I’m not really bothered about either event.  I’ve moved on. I’m happy. My life is full of interesting things.  Except, kind of, I am.  The date of my wedding anniversary is burnt into my brain.  Every time I wrote the date on Monday, there was a spark of recognition followed by a little sinking regret and disappointment that things didn’t work out how I’d hoped.  And while Ex-Husband’s wedding is nothing to do with me – two people I don’t really care about entering into an ill-advised union – I realised yesterday that I hope he has a horrible day and spends it thinking about the people who aren’t at his wedding, all the friends he’s lost by behaving like a dick.

So when I say I’m not really bothered that he’s getting married, what I mean is that I’m choosing not to be interested.  I decided to forgive him, to let it go, to walk away from the hurt he caused me.  And that takes practice, and sometimes it needs a bit of patching up.  I am way past the grief I felt at the time.  But like a scab which itches, or a broken bone which heals but aches when the weather is cold and damp, sometimes I am reminded more strongly of the scars that I think will always be with me.

Still, while the girls are away being bridesmaids, I’m having a pretty good week.  Yesterday I went out with a friend for curry.  Tonight I’ve been for a run and watched West Wing.  Tomorrow I’m going to the cinema and on Friday I’m going climbing.  And on Saturday, I’m going on a mystery coach trip with my friend Karen.  We considered crashing the wedding in giant hats and offering up reasons why Ex-Husband and his girlfriend couldn’t be lawfully married, but decided an adventure would be more fun.  We’re getting a coach quite early in the morning to an unknown destination.  We’re spending the day there, going on the coach to an hotel, then on Sunday going to a second mystery destination.  It could be amazing.  But even if it’s terrible, I think it’ll be that kind of so-bad-it’s-hilarious story which can be more fun in the long run.  I am very excited and considering only ever going on mystery coach adventures for all my future holidays.

So, the juxtaposition of remembered grief and eager anticipation, the contrast between what is now and how things were, gives me a sense of hope.  I know I’ve surived this far, and grown and flourished, and that I am surrounded by good friends and I think, I’ll probably be ok.  Even if I do feel wobbly from time to time.

Leave a comment »

Adventures into a Brave New World

On Friday I cleaned out my bathroom cabinet, removing burnt-out candles, packets of Gavison which expired in 2011, emptied tubes of stuff, baby nail-scissors, plasters which are no longer sticky and baby shampoo we no longer use.  Into the space I managed to fit all the things which were lurking untidily on the shelf behind the toilet (apart from a few months’ back-copies of the Saturday Guardian magazine.  I recycled those), making my bathroom an almost-pleasant place to be.

Yesterday I tidied and cleaned all the work-tops in the kitchen – washing all the bits and pieces which can’t go in the dishwasher and therefore pile up on the side, and all the recycling which was waiting to be washed and thrown away, and tidying away toys and felt-tipped pens and bits of plastic wrapping which was hidden under the felt-tips.  My kitchen now looks quite peculiar: if you stand in exactly the right spot it looks shiny; if you stand anywhere else you see an oasis of tidiness in a desert of mess.

And today I sorted through all the things attached to my notice-board, removing party-invitations from two summers ago and Small Girl’s hospital wristband from when she broke her leg aged 11 months (now aged 4 years old) and a pile of letters from school, and vouchers and coupons dating back to 2011 and recipes I haven’t cooked since I cut them out of a magazine two years ago, and can therefore probably assume I never will.

I’m not sure quite what has sparked this fit of tidiness, but it feels almost like nesting.  In late pregnancy with Big Girl, I decided I couldn’t give birth until I had cleaned all the skirting boards in my house, my reasoning being that lots of people would come to my house and might judge it not fit to keep a baby in, and that I would probably not have chance to clean them again for a while.  I don’t know about the first point, but I’ve definitely not cleaned most of them since.

I’ve not been hiding a third pregnancy, no matter how much my children would like me to provide them with a baby.  But it does feel like there are new things coming.  It’s the start of the summer holidays, so much more time at home with my children for the next few weeks, and opportunities to potter around tidying (while my children create mess in other parts of the house).  And in September Small Girl starts school, which means I will have child-free Fridays at home. I have romanticised visions of myself using this time to create a clean, calm, well-organised home, shopping for the food we need for the week ahead, changing sheets, hoovering and tidying and sorting laundry, trailing domestic bliss in my wake.  I want to get ready for that, even if we all know I’ll really be binge-watching West Wing for the six hours between dropping the girls off and picking them up.

And I’ve recently been doing some more dating.  I went on three dates with someone who turned out to be a local councillor for a party I have spent my entire life viewing as the source of all – well, most – evil.  Despite this, I liked him very much.  I also went on a date with a single dad who had far more compatible political views and had a very pleasant evening, but nothing more.  It’s been interesting to see what a range of people are out there, and try to work out what I’m looking for.  And comparing how I feel now to how I felt last time I tried dating, 18 months ago, I feel ready for a relationship.  I feel slightly more able to trust people, and willing to give up some of my free time to spend with a boy if I like them (apparently these things are crucial to having a successful relationship).  So while I’m not planning on changing my domestic habits to appear more attractive to a men (and let’s be honest, no-one with a real thing about tidiness is likely to go out with me), I would like my home to reflect the best of myself rather than the worst.

I am realistic about this.  I will get bored.  I will make a mess. I will end up shoving everything in bags and putting it in the cellar, until I am unable to get into the cellar to read the meter, find the car seats or get out the barbecue.  Eventually I will just brick up the door to the cellar, like Henry being shut up in a tunnel because he didn’t want to get his shiny paint wet, and in a hundred years’ time it will be discovered by a future owner of my house, who just thought there was something peculiar about the shape of the kitchen.

But until I get to that point, I’ll see how tidy I can be.

Leave a comment »

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.

1 Comment »

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.

Leave a comment »

Achieving

Completing the Manchester 10k last Sunday was quite an experience.  So many people were running for charities (I started just behind a man wearing a lifeboat costume who lost me quite early on, much to my disappointment), and it felt as if all the supporters, spectators and organisers were working together with the participants to get us all to the finish.  People came out to stand and watch and clap and cheer.  Small children high-fived us.  Charity volunteers held up signs saying ‘Smile! You paid to do this’ and ‘Run like someone called you a jogger’ and passed out jelly-babies.  I ran the first 4k then alternated running and walking until a stitch hit at around 6k.  I tried to pick up the running again for the last couple of kilometers and then, finally, went for what was intended to be a sprint finish, but probably looked more like a desperate stagger across the line.  It was incredibly emotional – the culmination of a few months of training, the support of family,friends and random strangers, and a sense of achievement and relief.  I was delighted to have  actually finished the course, and in about 15 minutes less than I had hoped to, and elated and exhausted all at the same time.  I found my family and we went for food, and then cake and cocktails.  I’m now looking for another 10k to run – now that I know what a 10k feels like, I think I could run it faster and, probably, with more running and less staggering.

Today has also felt quite special.  It’s my divorciversary – the first anniversary of getting my divorce.  I stopped last night with friends who I haven’t seen for a few years, and spent the day with them and their children, and had a wonderful, relaxed time catching up, discussing politics, playing in the park.  It wasn’t planned to coincide with the divorciversary and it wasn’t something we discussed much,except as part of catching up on the past two years, and I’m spending the evening cleaning out my guinea pigs: a lovely-but-normal child-free Saturday.  I’d had vague plans to go out to mark the anniversary but they never quite came together, and I’m glad.  Firstly, the guinea pigs had got quite stinky, and now they’re not.  But, more importantly, the divorce no longer seems significant enough to need any kind of celebration.  A year ago it was a significant event, the culmination of a process which shut the door on a painful experience, but the celebration of that is in living this new, good, normal life I have, every single day.

Leave a comment »

Finishing what I started

I’ve just done my final training run before the Great Manchester Run this Sunday.  Because it would be illegal to go out running leaving a 3- and 5-year-old alone in the house, and because I like lie-ins, I’ve not managed to train as much as I had hoped.  But still, I’ve come to like running.  And here’s why:

  • All day after I’ve been out for a run my legs feel a bit more alive.  It’s as if they are saying “Hell yeah! I think we just did something!”
  • I like the feel of pushing myself mentally – there’s something good about making myself do a little bit better.  Often when I’m paying attention to what I’m doing, I find I’m going at a comfortable (a.k.a. ‘slow’) pace.  I tell myself to go a bit faster, and then I do it.  Then I feel like a champion.
  • It provides opportunities to spend hours mapping runs rather than actually running, giving a sense of productivity and achievement without any actual effort.
  • I’ve improved.  I’ll never be a great runner, but I’ve gone from staggering round a 2k run to (this morning) doing 5k, probably 85% running rather than walking for most of it. (Yes, yes, Sunday’s run is 10k and 5k is not 10k.  I know that.  I’m going to get half-way round the course and demand that someone brings me a cup of coffee).
  • I like the idea that if someone tries to attack me in the street, I’m probably fit enough to get away from them.  As long as they wait for me to put on my sports bra and are willing to slow down and walk every once in a while when I get tired.
  • As long as I finish the 10k, I’ll get a medal.  You can’t argue with a medal.

Quite a lot of people I know are doing the 10k on Sunday (and about 39,080 people I don’t know), so it’s nothing that special, but for me it is an achievement.  And it has a particular significance for me – I signed up for the Manchester 10k 6 years ago, raising money for Christian Aid, and then found out I was unexpectedly pregnant with Big Girl.  I pulled out because I didn’t want to put the pregnancy at risk, but as it was too early to tell people, said I was ill (and I was! I felt *so* ill!).  Six years later there’s been a lot of water under the bridge – two babies and a divorce – but I’m finally finishing what I started.

1 Comment »

Finding space for silence

It’s much harder to find time to be silent in between getting up, getting the girls up and getting to nursery and work on time, than it is when on retreat.  It’s hard to find the energy for silence in the evening between the chaos and stress of bedtime and the desire to be asleep, not forgetting to feed the guinea pigs and take all the poo out of their cage.  It’s hard to settle into silence with thoughts of a hundred things I need to do and arguments replaying in my head and emails to reply to and plans to make.  And the more often I give up on silence to do something more urgent, more achievable, the less rewarding it feels, the less I expect it to be beneficial, the harder it is to commit to doing it.

Until Sunday I’d had the girls non-stop for two weeks, including a weekend away with the Quakers which I helped to organise, and a six-and-a-half hours-each-way trip to visit my grandparents.  By Saturday we were all tired and grumpy.  Big Girl had been a bit poorly, and she and Small Girl were arguing.  Small Girl wanted constant attention and to be cuddled and picked up, which is fine except for when I am trying to make breakfast.  Or get dressed.  Or make a cup of coffee.  Any attempts to put her off for five minutes induced crying and clinging and attempts to climb up my body, all of which made me want to hide in the bathroom and lock the door, except that they know how to unlock the door from the outside. Sigh.

So, when things were a little calmer, I thought I would try to have a little bit of silence, hoping to find a sense of peace to get me through the rest of the day.  I went to my bedroom.  The girls followed.  I explained that I was having some peace and quiet, and they were welcome to stay, but they had to sit still and be quiet – I want them to learn to respect my needs like I respect theirs, and to see how I practise my faith.  Small Girl got into bed next to me.  She wanted to sit on my knee.  I explained that she could sit next to me but she had to be quiet.  She asked me to pretend she was a dog.  I explained that she needed to be quiet while I was having some peace and quiet. Big Girl got into bed too.  She pretended that Small Girl was a dog.  Neither were sitting quietly.  So I decided to abandon my bedroom, leaving them playing at sleeping dogs, and make a new plan.

I’ve really struggled to find somewhere which feels conducive to silence, even when the girls aren’t in the house.  My attic should be ideal, being a room the girls aren’t allowed in without me, and being a lovely room, but it feels isolated from the rest of the house.  In the lounge I feel likely to be observed by passers-by, which is distracting.  My kitchen is… well, between the piles of washing up and the crap on the kitchen table, it’s not a place I choose to be.  And my bedroom is about sleeping and getting up and putting away laundry, but not about sitting in peace.  However, as I crept away to hide from my girls I found an unexpected solution – their bedroom: it has a door which shuts and it’s remarkably comfortable due to the piles of soft toys, clothes and bedding on the floor.  And it has almost no associations for me – in my mental picture of the house it barely exists.  In my mind, it’s more like a big cupboard than a functioning room, where I put the girls away at night, and store their clothes, but not a room I spend any time in.  I tucked myself away, sat and found calm, and then returned to my girls and their chaos: I’m not sure they realised I’d been away.  I visited again yesterday, while the girls were at their dad’s house, and enjoyed the silence, shut away from the world and the rest of my life – my own space for retreat.

2 Comments »

Everything is awesome…

Something strange has happened recently. When people ask me how I find being a single parent, instead of being very clear that although it has its benefits, this is NOT WHAT I WOULD HAVE CHOSEN, or bursting into tears, or getting very cross at the suggestion that I might actually like being away from my children, I have started enthusing.  “It’s awesome!” I say. “I do miss them, obviously, but I really enjoy it.  It’s a great way to be a parent – when they’re with me I get to do things exactly how I want – no arguing or negotiating with the other parent about bedtimes or discipline, and if I want to let them come into my bed every night (which usually happens), I can.  And then, when they’re not with me, I can do what I want.  I don’t have to negotiate about what I’m doing, or who is looking after the children, and if I want to stay out all night, I can and no-one cares!” Obviously I miss my children.  Obviously.  Although by the time their dad picked them up on Friday morning, I was very keen for them to go and be somewhere else for a while, asking someone else for food and then not eating it, complaining that it isn’t fair, arguing, crying and demanding peacekeeping interventions, when all you want to do is go to the toilet.

I still think my children would prefer to see Mummy and Daddy every day, and live in a house with both of us, and I am regretful that none of us are having that experience.  But previously when a two-adult-household parent expressed the slightest suggestion that that there might be some good things about my parenting arrangements, I would have to hold myself back from physically attacking them while screaming “How dare you suggest that I might like this? How can you think I would want to be apart from my children? This is the worst thing that has ever happened to me!  Not just to me! This is the worst thing that has ever happened to anyone!”  Now, I’m more likely to say that yes, too right, they should be jealous of my awesome life.

I haven’t got to bed before midnight this weekend and I’m nursing a tiredness-hangover.  I’ve spent an afternoon and evening playing board games with friends, pretending to rampage around Europe raising an undead army as Dracula.  I’ve popped over to my best friend’s house, who lives about 90 miles away, to do some charity-shop shopping and have lunch.  I’ve been for a run, and been to a wedding, which I had to run out of, Cinderella-like, to catch the last bus home (but then was kindly given a lift and avoided turning into a pumpkin).  I had an unexpected visit from my parents and bought a new washing machine.

And now here I am, living the dream.  6.30 pm on a sunny Bank Holiday Monday, and I’m in my pyjamas on the sofa, preparing to watch Paddington on DVD, on my own.  My children are away and I am making the most of it.

Yes, fellow-parents, you should be jealous.

2 Comments »