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.

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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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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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The pursuit of silence. And failing at this.

There’s something rotten in the state of Denmark‘.

Or, perhaps, ‘I can feel a (small) disturbance in the Force‘.

Whatever.  My life feels out of kilter.  Something feels wrong.  I’ve lost my sense of peace.  And I’m not sure why.  It may be that, having finally got divorced, I suddenly find myself without the thing which has been the main purpose of my life for the past two-and-a-half years.  It feels slightly like I’ve been navigating white-water rapids, only to find myself becalmed in the ocean.  I like it, but it’s *weird*.  It may be that I’ve finally managed to find a builder to give me a quote for some work which needs doing to the house, and spending money makes me anxious.  Or perhaps it’s because I’m going on holiday next week, and I’m a littler nervous about it.  Or it could just be that I’m not getting enough sleep at the moment, and I’m really tired.

I thought I would spend some time in silence, trying to work out what was going on.  Quakers are advised to try to spend some time in silence every day.  I find this hard.  By the time my children are actually asleep, I have so little free time left and so many things I need and want to do that it is painful to give some of that time over to sitting doing nothing.  It’s hard because it takes a degree of discipline and focus, neither of which I have in abundance.  And, although I have on occasion found spending time in silence incredibly beneficial, found answers, found a sense of wellness, I often find myself sitting thinking, ‘This is pointless. It isn’t working.  I’m wasting my time’, as if silence is a utilitarian pursuit valuable only for what it produces.

So tonight, when Big Girl and Small Girl were in their bedroom – definitely not asleep, but in their bedroom and not unhappy about it – I decided to try to find some space in my head.  I sat on my sofa and breathed and tried to bring my attention to ‘here’ and ‘now’ and to settle down into silence.

This is challenging when your children are playing at Father Christmas upstairs.  Big Girl was being Father Christmas and Small Girl was the recipient of her bounty.  I tried to monitor, vaguely, their general state of happiness, and whether the occasional sounds of pain required attention.  It’s difficult to do this and also think about ‘that of God within me’, but not impossible.

And then, ‘It’s coming home, it’s coming home, it’s coming…’  My neighbours are watching the World Cup. Loudly.  Earlier they sang along to the national anthem.  Loudly and not so tunefully.  My walls are pretty thin.  I hear a banging noise and try to establish whether it is coming from next door or my children.  I think, if God exists as a conscious entity who likes to engage with people, I hope there’s grace for people who try to do some kind of praying-ish while the World Cup is on, and God would take into account my distraction by the sound of football and loud swearing from next door.  If God doesn’t exist at all, or only as some part of me, there’s probably no grace for World Cup distraction and I’ll just have to live with it.

And then I realise that the sound from my children has been growing, incrementally and insidiously. Slowly, they’ve moved from happily giving and receiving imaginary presents to screaming and laughing wildly.  It’s a bit like the apocryphal boiling frog experiment – there’s no obvious noise threshold crossed until you realise the neighbours’ dogs (the other neighbours…) are barking angrily, and you go into the bedroom and discover one child’s bed has been completely stripped and the contents of the room are piled onto the other bed.  And what was supposed to be quiet, calming pre-bedtime play has descended into chaos without me really noticing.

No silence for me tonight. But at least I’ve tried.

 

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My only consolation is that this should be the last time I have to do this.

Last Monday, Small Girl decided she didn’t want to wear her nappy.  Although she hasn’t taken to previous attempts at potty-training, I was willing to let her run around in knickers for most of the day and see what happened.  Mainly what happened was weeing on the floor.  On Tuesday she weed on the floor in the morning, had two accidents at nursery, and did a poo on the floor when she came home.  But the path to potty training Big Girl wasn’t always smooth, so I was willing to persevere.  On Wednesday she did a poo *and* a wee on the floor in the morning, had another accident at nursery, screamed at the mere mention of the potty and did a final dirty protest before bedtime, to make her feelings clear.  On Thursday she went to nursery in a nappy.

I relayed all this to Ex-Husband when he came to pick her up on Friday, in the interests of information-sharing.  Well, I said “we tried potty training this week but she doesn’t like to use the potty, so it’s not worked”.  Close enough.  So I was quite surprised when he brought her home yesterday wearing a pair of knickers and, apparently, having had no accidents all weekend.  Ex-Husband explained to me that he’d put her on the toilet after every meal, and every three hours, and she’d been fine.  He said that, as she could clearly do it, it would be good to try to keep her in knickers.  He left and she pooed on the rug.

Being a good parent, I decided to persevere (again).  This morning we went to play at a friend’s house.  Not much strains on a friendship like bringing your child to someone else’s house and letting it wee on their carpet.  Particularly if you say ‘We’ve just started potty-training this morning!  I thought we’d do it here instead of at my house!’  So I attempted to put Small Girl on the toilet every thirty minutes.  She did not like this.  She did not like it a lot.  But, eventually, after distracting her with Captain Barnacles, she managed to wee in the toilet.  Hurrah!  And then we went home for lunch, and she did a wee in our toilet.  And then we went to the dentist and the shoe shop and to Ikea, and she did a wee in the toilet at Ikea.  I am considering making some kind of ‘places to wee’ list and seeing how many she can collect.

And then… And then she did a poo.  In the play area at Ikea.  Fortunately, it was contained by her knickers, and easily cleaned up, but perhaps I should have known better after our last Ikea misadventure. There’s really no good resolution to this sort of situation.  We’re in the restaurant.  We have dinner.  We need to deal with poo.  I don’t really want to leave our dinner to traipse off to the toilet.  But neither do I want to (a) sort out poo in the restaurant or (b) eat my dinner after clearing up the poo without washing my hands fourteen times in almost-scalding water.  Neither do I want to carry the resulting lump of poo, wrapped in baby wipes and tied up in a nappy bag,around in my bag.  There are *many* reasons why no-one likes potty-training.

And finally, when we got home, there was just time for one more wee on the rug.  In that shutting-the-door-after-the horse-has-bolted response which I hope all parents are familiar with, I stuck her onto the potty.  And she sat there long enough for another poo in the potty.  So today hasn’t felt entirely unsuccessful.  But I did feel a huge internal sigh of relief when it was bedtime and I could legitimately put a nappy on her.

Which she immediately did a poo in.  *sigh*

 

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We’re working together to make our house a home

So, having gained sole custody of a house and decided I’ll be staying here for a while, I’ve been working on my relationship with it.  Here’s what I’ve done:

I’ve bought some plants – Aldi’s finest.  Possibly.  I don’t really expect them to last long, because I have quite a slug issue going on, but it feels like a token effort.  I’ve also been looking at pictures of other people’s small gardens on Facebook and Pinterest, and am starting to feel quite excited about the possibilities.  Al fresco dining with a child-sized picnic bench, for example.  I’d feel slightly oversized all the time, which could be fun.

Aldi's finest

 

I’ve also ordered some paint tester pots from Dulux, following negotiations over acceptable colour-choices with my sister.  I’m not very good at painting, and get bored quite easily, but I’m hoping I’ve developed enough maturity over the past couple of years to actually clean the paintbrushes properly when I’ve finished them, rather than hoping someone else will do it.

I’ve finally found some kind of solution to my cleaning dilemma.  I don’t like cleaning.  I’m not bad at it, but I’ve always got things I’d rather do.  I’ve toyed with the idea of paying someone to clean my house, but they’re bloody expensive, and it seems like quite a lot of hassle, and I’d have to find someone willing to work in a house as untidy as mine without pulling a constant judgey-face when they talk to me about what needs doing.  So I’ve decided I’m going to pay myself to clean.  Two hours a week, for £10, which seems like a bargain to me.  Just cleaning: bathroom, kitchen, hoovering and mopping – no washing up and no tidying up, all done to my standards (low) and how I like it.  In return I get a clean house and a bit of money to spend on things like books and coffee.  Everyone’s a winner – ‘everyone’ being me, apparently.

And it turns out that it’s quite nice to have a tidy house. I spent quite a lot of time this weekend tidying, discovering lost toys under the sofa, and the whole of my kitchen table, in preparation for hosting a barbecue – inviting friends round as part of my campaign to make my house feel like a home again.  Finally, aged 34, I learnt how to put my barbecue together and light it, though managed to leave the cooking to other people, and had a fabulous Bank Holiday afternoon with three friends and our combined seven children, eating food and having a lovely time.

Big Girl has also been contributing to the ‘love your house’ mission.  Just before leaving for nursery this morning she rushed to the toilet.  She washed her hands (good) but forgot to turn the tap off (not so good), so I came home to find water flooding into the kitchen through the light, and no electrics, and no idea what to do.  Fortunately, a friend found me an electrician who came and made things safe for me.  And as ‘replace light fittings’ was on my list of things to do, that’ll soon be one more job ticked off the list.  Once the ceiling has dried out, that is.

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There are many reasons not to go to Ikea with small children. I ignore them all.

The company I work for shut all its offices today, giving us an extra day off to thank us for working hard and voting it a good employer.  I like this – it feels like a proper, Victorian-style holiday where all the mill workers head off to Blackpool to take in the sea air.  Despite the girls being booked into nursery, I decided to have a lovely day off with them and take them to one of their favourite places: Ikea.  More meatballs and chips than sand and salt-water, but as they had been asking to go for a while, it seemed like a good idea.

Here are a few of the reasons why I *shouldn’t* take my children to Ikea:

  • They delighted in turning off all the lights in each of the little show apartments. I told them that Ikea like the lights to be on so that people can see what they look like and might actually buy them.  They persisted in turning them off.  I tried to turn them all back on before we moved on.  Small Girl managed to break one of the lights.
  • I pulled down a retractable blind to see how it worked and couldn’t work out how to put it back up.  This is quite embarrassing.  I hope someone will fix it.
  • Small Girl tried to open a cupboard in one of the ‘bathrooms’ which fell down and the corner banged her head, making her cry for quite a while.
  • Big Girl and Small Girl played at tea parties with the cups and saucers in one of the display houses.  My ‘putting back neatly’ skills are not up to much.
  • When changing Small Girl’s nappy, I smacked her in the head with my shopping bags.
  • I had to say approximately three hundred times ‘What did I say? If you listen to me and do what I ask we will have fun at Ikea.  If you mess about and run away we won’t have fun, and we will go home without buying anything’.  Firstly, never start a sentence with ‘What did I say?’  They don’t know.  They weren’t listening.  If they were listening, they clearly don’t care.  And you sound like everyone’s mother who has ever lived.  Secondly, this threat holds precisely no weight once you get past the checkout.
  • Big Girl and Small Girl both wanted to walk along the chest-high wall outside the shop.  I didn’t feel confident enough to let them both do it at once, so Small Girl went first.  Then it was Big Girl’s turn, but Small Girl sat on the pavement crying and refusing to move.  I didn’t want to move away from her as we were by a big road, so I let go of Big Girl’s hand and told her to stand still and balance while I got Small Girl up.  Despite being perfectly capable of doing this, Big Girl’s love of drama obliged her to fall off the wall and lie crying in the ivy and bushes.  Although her beautiful new Cinderella princess dress got wet, this was much better than the likely outcome had she thrown herself onto the pavement.

And here’s the *real* reason why I shouldn’t be allowed to take my children to Ikea.  Small Girl got lost.  I’d been watching them all the way round the shop, but it’s one of those places where they get a little ahead or a little behind (reasonably often one each way) and it feels like a safe environment to do that.  Except in the cookware section, just after I’d said to Big Girl “If you get lost, stand on one of the arrows and I will come and find you.  But you’re not lost, because I know where you are”, I realised I didn’t know where Small Girl was.  Big Girl and I walked on for a little bit looking for her, and then back again, looking more urgently, and then spoke to one of the members of staff, so that they could do a ‘missing child’ announcement.  And then we waited.

At work, we have a fire alarm test every Wednesday at about ten past ten.  Every week, it goes on just past the point of comfort, and every week we all start wondering if this is a real fire alarm and whether we should be heading out to the car par.  And then it stops.  This was like that.  The staff were looking.  I was waiting.  And there was a sense that she had been missing for slightly longer than was normal.  She wasn’t in the cookware section.  Nor in the bathroom section.  I remembered the news story a few weeks ago about a man who had tried to abduct a toddler in a shopping centre.  I tried to reassure Big Girl that Small Girl was find and the staff would find her.  I felt anxious.  I don’t know where my children are when they are at their dad’s, but I know he is looking after them and they are safe.  I didn’t know where Small Girl was, or if she was coming back, or if she was frightened. And it felt so very wrong.

The interesting thing is that usually at this point (Small Girl is a ninja who has got lost in Ikea pretty much every time we’ve been.  But, like the fire alarms at work, normally not for this long) I would start worrying not only about how I would live the rest of my life without Small Girl, but also how I was going to tell her dad.  Somewhere along the line, I’ve gained more confidence in my parenting, and less of a sense of connection and responsibility to Ex-Husband, and less of a need to answer to him or live in fear of his superior parenting skills.  Telling their dad that I had lost one of our children was not even a consideration.  Which feels like an achievement.

And then one of the people searching waved to me.  We hurried down to him and around the corner and I could see a small child, my small child, with two old ladies and a member of staff.  I hugged Small Girl, and I cried and she cried, more because she felt the situation called for it than anything else, I think, and then I cried some more.  And eventually I stopped crying, and we were ok, and we finished looking round Ikea.  Just a little more *carefully*.

The first time I cried in Ikea was, I think, the first time I went, with Ex-Husband.  I said that the map of the shop didn’t seem to relate to the actual layout of the store.  He looked at me as if I was possibly the most stupid person to have lived and pointed out that it was a *linear map*.  I cried.

The second time I cried in Ikea was just after Ex-Husband left me – ostensibly because I am too terrible to live with and he hadn’t loved me for a really long time, but really because he wanted to have sex with someone else.  Mutual friends of his new girlfriend told me that when she told them that she was having a relationship with him, she said that she didn’t see how me being left on my own with my two tiny children was her problem.  I cried with rage, hurt and a sense of impotency and injustice.  Quite loudly.  For quite some time.

The third time I cried in Ikea was when I met up with another single mum friend, again just after Ex-Husband had left me, and she suggested that I get tested for STIs.  Until that point it had never occurred to me (being ‘the stupidest person to ever have lived’, clearly) that he might have had sex with his girlfriend while he was still with me.  I cried so much that an old lady came and offered to hold Small Girl for me, possibly fearing that I might suffocate her because I was holding her so tightly.

And the fourth time I cried in Ikea was today.  My children took advantage of my emotional state to oblige me to buy them a large fish cushion each.  This is *really really* why I should never take my children to Ikea.

Seriously. Fish cushions.

Seriously. Fish cushions.

 

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I’d like to be honest, but…

Big Girl and Small Girl have been at Ex-Husband’s for the past few days.  For the first time in a while he dropped them off at nursery and I picked them up from there.  It’s nice not having to see him.  Big Girl was wearing a new t-shirt.  Across the front was written ‘The stars shine for you’.  Nice, eh?

When Ex-Husband and I got married, our first dance was to what was probably the closest thing to ‘our’ song: Yellow by Coldplay.  You know, that song which begins with the line, “look at the stars, look how they shine for you.” You can probably see where this is going, can’t you?

When I saw the t-shirt, I instantly thought of the song.  I find it hard to believe that he didn’t.  But I also find it hard to imagine he would have knowingly put our daughter in a t-shirt which references our first dance song almost word-for-word.  I am not sure which scenario I find more hurtful, that he would choose to do that, or that the song now means so little to him that he does not think of it.

I’ve been thinking a lot about honesty recently.  It’s a Quaker value.  I think about my sense of humour, which often involves telling outrageous lies and saying mean things to people, working on the assumption that they will know I don’t mean it.  The older I get, the less hilarious it feels.  And I really struggle with being truthful without being hurtful.  For this, I think I need to work on the things inside my head, so I have fewer unpleasant thoughts to try to be honest about.

I would like to boil-wash the t-shirt and lie about it. Or lose it. Or chop it up.  Anything which means I never have to see it again.  I do not believe this would be Quakerly.  But it’s still quite tempting.

 

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Everything is terrible. Everything. Well, sort of.

I have PMT. Again. (My friend, colleague, and man-who-is-slightly-squeamish-about-female-oversharing, Simon, will point out that this is now the fourth time in two days that I have informed him of this).  You would think that someone, somewhere in the universe, would say ‘It’s ok, Ms. Awesome. You have done enough feeling miserable for one lifetime.  You are now excused from PMT’.  But no, I have spent the past few days feeling miserable and irritable and shouting at my children. And then, of course, feeling guilty for feeling so very irritated by my children.

It *is* hard, when your life is as difficult as mine.  I have no friends, my house is a mess, I am alone all weekend, and it is likely that I will die alone and be eaten by Alsatians.  Although none of these things are true, they *feel* very true just now  Well, my house *is* a mess, but there’s a fairly simple solution to that.

It’s been a funny few weeks.  I have felt like I’ve had lots of possibilities being thrown at me: I found a job I desperately wanted, and was offered an interview, my mortgage company agreed to consider giving me a sole mortgage – it felt like everything was open to me.  And then it all fell down again – the underwriters said no, and it turned out there was no actual funding for the job.

And now, two and (almost) a half years after Ex-Husband left, when I am finally starting to feel stable and happy, I am also able to see the damage the end of my marriage has done to me.  Every so often I discover that a fundamental belief I had about the goodness of the universe has gone.  This morning Ex-Husband picked up the girls.  He has a new car seat for Small Girl.  I say she is not big enough for it yet.  He says she is.  He takes away my baby in a car seat which I do not believe will keep her as safe as she needs to be.  I feel powerless to protect my children.  I cry all the way to work, bawling in the street in a way I have not done for a long time.  It’s not just my fears for Small Girl’s safety; it’s my realisation that the sense of efficacy I have always had, my belief that I can affect and shape the world around me, is gone.

And then, recently, I got out my flexible working contract and discovered that when I changed my hours at work, that was made permanent rather than temporary as I had wanted.  I had relied upon my right to go back to full-time work at any time as part of my argument for being given a sole mortgage, and for my sense of financial security.  But beyond that, I wondered if this had been done on purpose, whether my full-time contract had been taken away from me deliberately and my employers were trying to screw me.  This is nothing to do with the inherent evil of my employers – it was due to a misunderstanding and has been quickly rectified –  and everything to do with my fundamental ability to trust.  I cannot rely on the world to be kind to me. Neither can I trust my friends to actually like me or to continue to like me.  And, although I feel I would now quite like to have another relationship, I find it hard to believe that anyone would really want to go out with me, that anyone could like me that much, and that if they did, we would negotiate all the hurdles, all my fears and issues, that I could make another relationship work.

I know that these are irrational fears.  I’m not asking for sympathy or reassurance.  (Although if you know any funny, interesting, single men in their mid-thirties, I’d welcome an introduction).  I’m just not sure where the healing comes from.  I don’t know how I get past these things.  I have chosen to keep trusting people and so far I have not been let down.  I have set out to shape my life into something I want it to be.  I have chosen to look for the good things in my life.  But I still feel lonely and sad and afraid sometimes.  And I don’t think it’s just the PMT.

Perhaps I am learning to live with reality. There are people out there who can’t be trusted.  I can’t always control what happens to me or the people I care about.  This has always been true.  But in the middle of the cataclysm which caused all this destruction, I found compassion, graciousness, and faithfulness and extraordinary kindness.  I can hold onto these things and I can be brave and I can look for new goodness in an imperfect and uncertain universe.  It’s not over yet.

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