Project Awesome

Making my life more awesome

New pastures

Four years ago I started writing this blog, trying to make sense of what had happened to me, the awful trauma of Ex-Husband leaving me, and how to live an awesome life even if it wasn’t quite the one I’d expected to have.

I think I’ve done that now.  I wouldn’t describe my life as ‘awesome’ – that sounds a little tiring – but it’s pretty good.  I have two lovely children who only rarely have poo incidents.  I have a very interesting job which keeps me busy.  I have friends who I see less often than I’d like.  I have a nice enough house which is tidier than it used to be.

I’m not in recovery from tragedy any more.  I’m just living.  This isn’t my story any more.  I’m starting a new story: writing about depression and dating and parenting and the special joys of single parenting and everything else, over here.  I’ve really appreciated all the support and commenting from people here and on Facebook and I hope you’ll follow me on my new blog.

Thanks 🙂

 

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My house is like an Irish Wolfhound

Being responsible for my house is a bit like looking after a huge dog.  You take an Irish Wolfhound out for a walk and, as long as you are paying attention, everything is fine and the dog is under control.  But as soon as you get even slightly distracted, the dog is away, pulling on the lead, galloping joyfully to chase that rabbit it’s just seen (yes, yes, it’s a carrier bag caught in some brambles.  The dog knows this really.  But it is *pretending* it’s a rabbit, anticipating the chase, oh yes, it’ll show that bunny who’s fastest), dragging you along behind it.

As long as I keep up with my housework, keep everything tidy, do my cleaning each weekend, I am just about ok.  But it takes one thing – a cold, some building work, a run of bad nights’ sleep, Ex-Husband breaking his leg and the children being here constantly for a few weeks – and the mess takes over: unopened letters; washing waiting to be sorted; detritus washing up around the edges of rooms like seaweed on a beach; the kitchen table buried; toys everywhere.

Yes, those toys.  Where *do* they come from? My children, of course.  My children love to play with their toys.  They like to empty baskets of soft toys onto the floor.  They like to empty out two boxes of games into one pile and then move on.  They like to take books off shelves (my books, their books, any books they can find) and pretend it is luggage.  They like to cut pieces of paper up into ‘tickets’.  They like to spread snap cards across the floor.  They do not like to tidy up.  They are like cats, winding round your legs: playful and affectionate, but not entirely helpful.

And then there’s me.  I contribute more to the problem more than I resolve.  I am wildly untidy.  Those unopened letters are sitting around because I haven’t put them away.  I would rather read facebook than tidy.  I think I’ll do things tomorrow.  I get distracted half-way through doing a job.  I stay up until midnight and then complain that I’m too tired.  I don’t teach Big Girl and Small Girl to put things away when they’ve used them.

So: I’m trying to walk an Irish Wolfhound with two little black cats twining round my legs, checking Facebook rather than watching where I’m going.  It’s true that it’s hard to look after two small children, work, run a home and have an interesting life.  But this feels like a problem largely of my own making.  Just for now, I don’t have any solutions, although I do, finally, have a dishwasher.  There is a machine in my kitchen which makes dirty things clean so that I don’t have to.  That’s progress enough for this week.  Next week I’ll think about training the cats.

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It’s taken a while to feel I can say this without betraying everything I have ever thought

After Ex-Husband left me, and for a long time after, we argued about contact arrangements – when the girls would see him, and for how long. I *think* he had believed the girls would live with him, and that we would all be happier with that. I *think* he thought that I struggled to be at home with two children under two because I didn’t like it, rather than because it is hard to look after a toddler and a tiny baby, surviving on almost no sleep.  He did not expect me to challenge his plans, to fight the idyll he assumed he would walk into.

So for a long time we argued about what arrangements would be best for the girls, exacerbating and complicated by my grief at being separated from my children, at not being a constant in their lives, and the terrible sense that something which could never have happened, had.

And so, for a long time it was unthinkable that I could want anything other than to have my children with me. Slowly I came to appreciate the opportunities my free time afforded me: to sleep, to go out, to do grown-up things. But still, I would have preferred to have my children with me. To feel anything else would have been a betrayal of them, and of the months of fighting. And to have admitted feeling it would have undermined the credibility of all my claims that they needed to be with me.

But slowly I have begun to look forward to my free time. I miss my children, especially when I am around other people’s children. A girl comes to Quaker meeting who is two weeks younger than Small Girl: her toddle and her developmental stage are so reminiscent of Small Girl that I feel hot sharp tears when I see her and my children are gone. But there is a joy to the pure pleasure of missing them, experiencing love for them apart from the wearying challenge of managing them, feeding them, caring for them, keeping them happy and loved.

And today felt like a gift, a tightly-wrapped pass-the-parcel of treasures. After the girls were collected at 9, I headed to Quaker meeting with no real plans. There’s something about this freedom from obligations: nowhere I have to be and no-one to please, or even think of, but myself, and I can feel tension ebbing until I want to cry.

An almost-silent Meeting was followed by coffee and conversations with people I don’t know but hope might become friends. And then an unexpected invitation to lunch with Friends* resulted in a further lovely couple of hours chatting and sharing and eating chocolate brownies. And then I went to the cinema to watch Begin Again, a ‘musical comedy’ about relationships ending and being redeemed, and finding happiness in life after a broken heart. I’m not sure it will receive critical acclaim, but it spoke of where I am and where I’ve been. And I stepped out of the cinema into a warm, sunny, breezy afternoon, feeling that I have been given a fabulous present.

And then I realise I have wildly misjudged timings and I’m likely to be late for the girls coming home. I’ve had no tea, and we have no bread – and barely any food – in the house. And some little shits are blowing chewed up paper through straws at passengers on the tram. The present is opened, the party is over and it’s time to take off the paper hats, tidy up and go home. But I’m left with the sense that perhaps the universe loves me, just a little bit.

* I am probably the only person who recognises this as a joke, let alone thinks it funny. Quakers consider this a normal way to refer to others involved in the Religious Society of Friends, and non-Quakers will just assume it’s mis-capitalisation. But still, I amuse myself…

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Broken plans

I texted Ex-Husband earlier to check arrangements for him picking Big Girl and Small Girl up tomorrow morning, as they were due to be with him from then until Tuesday evening.  Despite living in Lancashire, various roads are being closed tomorrow to allow the Tour de France to pass through (Are we in France? Are we?) and I wondered if this would affect him.

Not as much as his broken ankle, apparently.  It’s in a backslab (this is a half-plaster cast which is put on when you first break something, for those of you who have suffered fewer fractures than me) and he’s got a fracture clinic appointment on Monday, when he will know more.  But he doesn’t expect to be able to have the girls overnight or during the day by himself at the moment.

I do wonder when he was planning to tell me that his plans had changed? Had he just got back from hospital, and it was a coincidence that I had contacted him just before he could tell me?  Or did it not cross his mind that I might need to know that I would be looking after the girls?  He is having them during the day tomorrow, and then bringing them back for tea. Tomorrow night I was supposed to be meeting up with friends for a games night.  On Monday afternoon I was being visited by Quakers to talk about my application for membership, which can’t be done with children around.  I’m having a dishwasher delivered on Monday and paid extra to have it delivered in the only slot between my lie-in (also cancelled) and my Quaker visit.  I am now paying extra to have it delivered at the least convenient time to be stuck in the house with two children.  And then I was planning to go out for dinner and shopping with my sister.  I have now cancelled all these things, along with my opportunity to cook interesting food and eat it without anyone complaining, and to travel to places without a child sitting on my shoulders, a child crying that they are tired and can’t walk, and a bag full of nappies and shit (only occasionally literally, mainly during potty-training).

You may be thinking that I sound quite selfish.  Ex-Husband has a broken ankle and I am complaining about the inconvenience *I* am suffering.  This is true.  Mostly, I am very sympathetic to other people’s problems. But when Ex-Husband left me, I had to learn to separate myself from him, that we were no longer on the same side and that he no longer cared about my interests, and I could not prioritise his.  After ten years of trying to put him and his needs first, it took conscious effort to make his life none of my business – ‘not my circus, not my monkeys’ as one of my friends likes to say.  It was almost an amputation – learning to live without something that had been a central part of my life.  I killed, very deliberately, my concern for him, so that I could carry on with my life.

At some point, will I be able to treat him like I would any other person: to try to help him if he needs it, to wish him well and hope for good things for him?   The wounds are perhaps too deep for that – some things may be beyond redemption and resurrection.

For now, I’m fighting my frustration at my plans being upended by trying to find the positives: more time with my children, of course.  And I’m fortunate that nothing was arranged which couldn’t be cancelled.  More time at home to (a) tidy my kitchen ready for my dishwasher (a dishwasher!) to be installed and (b) read the library books I borrowed today.  And the frustration seems like a good excuse to open the bottle of Blackberry and Elderflower Pimms I was saving to drink with my sister on Monday.  That’ll do for now.

 

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Fish sans bicycle

So I did some more dating.  I met a nice bloke and we dated for a couple of months.  Last time I was single, I’m sure only Americans dated.  But now we’re all at it.

Last night I emailed him to tell him it isn’t working for me. I really don’t know why.  He should be perfect: interesting, geeky, patient, literate, knows how to use an apostrophe.  We have a nice time together.  I like him.  But for some reason, it isn’t clicking.  It just doesn’t feel right.

It became apparent early on that I have some issues.  Every time he referred to us as ‘we’ I felt physically sick.  This doesn’t surprised me – I’ve spent a long time training myself to say ‘I’ rather than ‘we’ since Ex-Husband left, and I’m not sure how I feel about getting back into this ‘we’ business.  I’m not keen on commitment.  ‘Probably’ and ‘maybe’ and ‘possibly’ have become three of my most-used words while talking to him.  I didn’t want to meet his family or friends, and I can’t really imagine involving him in any of my life which involves anyone other than me.  It’s been painful disentangling Ex-Husband from my family and my social life.  Why would I re-entangle anyone else?  I have serious trust issues.  The normal things, and then some quite mental ones.  He has a four-year-old.  Or so he says.  Does he really? Does he really agree with me on various issues, or is he making it up? His flat looks quite temporary – has he really split up from his ex?.  Given my history, and the experiences of friends I have made since my ex-husband left me for someone else, it’s not surprising that I worry about these sorts of things, but it is quite tiring.

Part of the problem is my lack of free time.  I have three blocks of two nights without Big Girl and Small Girl every four weeks.  To make a relationship work, I think I would realistically need to spend one of those two evenings with whoever I’m seeing.  But I also want to see my friends.  And I need time by myself to do all the other things I love doing (and occasionally some housework) and it just doesn’t add up.

Part of the problem is my attachment to romantic notions of singleness (which I know is not a problem many people have).  I like being single.  I like the idea of going out and doing astonishing things, unhampered by attachments, like Joan of Arc riding into battle on a big white horse.  But (a) it didn’t end so well for her and (b) I do already have two small attachments and (c) I’m not sure there are hordes of people out there waiting to flock to whatever banner it is I would be carrying.  There’s a risk that I’ll just end up wandering around, lonely and carrying a flag.

But ultimately, I think, the issue was that, here, now, he wasn’t right for me.  If I had been excited enough about seeing him, I think all this would have been surmountable.  I don’t feel regretful – I think I’ve made the right decision.  But I am frustrated that this has not worked out; that I’ve met someone who should be perfect for me and yet appears not to be.  That we are offered stories of romance and happy-ever-after, but in reality inhabit lives which are far more complicated.  That I wonder if I am damaged beyond repair.

However, I’m young.  I’m not even thirty-five.  I’ve only been single for a couple of years.  For the first time in my life I have a good idea of who I am and what I want.  I have things I love doing.  I want to write – currently about mermaids and time-travel and also possibly something about fairy tales.  I’m applying for membership of the Quakers, and I am engaging with ideas and action and growing.  I still really enjoy sewing while listening to Radio 4.  I want to enjoy this.

 

 

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Happy birthday to me…

I was up at 5 this morning, watching The Grinch with Small Girl.  My children, obsessed with this film, will probably grow up remembering it as some kind of special family tradition and insist on us watching it every year at Christmas.  I *like* making new traditions; unfortunately I *don’t* like The Grinch (“The Grinch didn’t like it; he didn’t like it a lot”).  Sadly, I am destined to spend the rest of my life not just watching it but reminiscing about it.

The early start was also unfortunate as last night I watched the first Weeping Angels episode of Dr Who.  I’d fervently avoided it because I’m scared of everything, and everyone is scared by it, so it seemed logical.  Except I didn’t like having holes in the storyline, and a couple of people said it wasn’t that scary really, and I realised that nothing so far had really scared me.  And it wasn’t that scary really.  It was tense and their faces are pretty alarming just before they attack, but it was fine.  So it’s just coincidence that I was still awake at 2.30 am, right?

Tomorrow is my birthday.  I’m going to be 34.  I thought I’d look back to my posts from June 2012, as I could remember nothing about becoming 33.  Turns out I should be grateful.

It’s been a funny year.  Some things I expected to change haven’t: I did assume I’d be divorced by now, and my house is still a tip and I still haven’t made a meal plan.  But some things have changed which I didn’t expect: I am happier and leaving some of shittier parts of my life behind, just a little. I’m starting to get attached to going to Quaker meetings.  Small Girl is starting to sleep.  I’m happy being single and don’t really see room in my life for any relationships more significant than the ones I already have. I’m watching Dr Who.  That I would never have expected.

Traditionally, for me, birthdays are a time for setting goals, making plans, thinking about what I want from the next year.  But things have changed so far and so fast, that I’m just going to wait and see.

I’m hoping for less vomiting than last birthday though.

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Feel free to tell me if I’m being over-sensitive. No, wait, don’t.

I bought ‘Stick Man’ by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, the creators of ‘The Gruffalo’, on Friday. Big Girl loves it – it has a lovely rhythm and lots of rhyming and repetition. Oh, and Father Christmas. And it’s got a dog in it, so Small Girl is happy. Really, what’s not to like?

Well, let me tell you… And here’s a warning. If you haven’t read it yet and you’re planning to, read no further. I am about to give away most of the plot.

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So, there’s this stick man. He’s a stick who lives with his family in a tree, until one day a dog picks him up and runs away with him. Stick Man is not happy about this. His unhappiness is further compounded by being thrown in a river, built into a swan’s nest, used as a mast in a sandcastle, made into a prosthetic arm for a snowman and finally picked up and put into a grate, ready to be burnt in a fire. And then Santa turns up and rescues him (I did say there were spoilers…).

So we cut back to Stick Lady’s wife and three children, at home on Christmas Eve and looking very sad: “Stick Lady’s lonely. The children are sad. It won’t feel like Christmas without their Stick Dad”.

And here we are. Apparently my family is inadequate and my children are going to have a quite frankly shit Christmas because they won’t see their dad (although perhaps this is made up for by the fact that their dad isn’t a stick. Maybe it’s better to have a dad who you don’t see on Christmas Day but who is at least human and doesn’t get run off with by a dog).

And yes, I know, it’s just a story. But approximately 25% of families are single-parent families (according to Wikipedia, anyway). I don’t really believe that what my children have now is the best they could have had, and I wish they weren’t in a single parent family. I see the effects the separation has had on them, and how much they miss their dad, and the damage caused by going back and forwards, and I just wish they didn’t have to deal with it. Still, I try not to let them think there is anything wrong with their situation, or feel that it is anything other than normal.

So let me introduce you to Alex.

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Sometimes Alex lives with his dad. Sometimes Alex lives with his mum. He has two bedrooms, two kitchens, two special chairs, two phone numbers: two different but happy lives. And I doubt I’m giving much away if I tell you that Alex loves his mum and his dad, and that they both love him, wherever he is. For separated parents whose children see both parents, ‘Two Homes’, by Claire Masurel, is probably more use than Stick Man. And it even has a dog.

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Come back Big Girl – all is forgiven!

Big Girl is back tomorrow evening.  I have missed her desperately.  Well, kind of.  The world is not right because she isn’t here.  But actually, it’s a lot easier.  It’s kind of nice just having one child.  Except for those moments where I’m going to bed and I think about checking on her before she’s asleep (my nightly ritual – it’s not just about making sure she’s warm. It’s about seeing that she’s still there, and feeling like I am an actual parent rather than someone who has accidentally been left with some children to look after) and then realise I don’t need to. Or when I see something I want to show her and she’s not here to see it.

I’m not really expecting it to be a completely joyful reunion. I hope she’ll be pleased to see me but I think she’ll just cry for Daddy and Grandma. And she’ll test the boundaries and I’ll have to be really firm, so she remembers how home works. And she’ll ask for things she has with Daddy and it will make me sad because I don’t really enjoy being reminded that she has another life that I’m not in.  And really, really, I’ll have forgotten how to make things work with two children.

And I think Small Girl will be pleased to see her, and I’m sure she will be pleased to see Small Girl, and all her toys.  Yes, all those toys that Small Girl now thinks are hers – there is going to be some trouble ahead.  Big Girl has a special handbag which she loves and carries round all the time.  Small Girl has been enjoying wearing the handbag for the past week while also pushing the toy buggy which is Big Girl’s.  I have a small toddler who doesn’t understand about sharing at all, and a big toddler who doesn’t understand that the small one doesn’t understand. It’s a fun age.

But it’s worth it, for that moment, just before bedtime, when I’ll look at my two beautiful sleeping children.  They’ll both be asleep and the world will be, once again, as it should.

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Paris 2013

This is not exactly how tomorrow was supposed to go.  Just less than a year ago, Ex-Husband and I started talking about the possibility of leaving both children with my parents for a couple of nights.  I should be heading off to Paris to celebrate my tenth wedding anniversary.

But you know what? I’m actually not that fussed.

Really.

My parents are coming to look after Big Girl and Small Girl.  I am going to York.  My best friend and I are going to Betty’s.  We’re going to the York Cocoa House.  There’s an outside chance that we’ll do something that doesn’t involve eating. It is going to be an amazing day.

I wouldn’t have guessed it wouldn’t matter. I’m not, in any way, over the hurt, the anger, the sense of betrayal. I experience the loss again every time my children are away from me. But that’s the loss of my children. I hope to learn to live with it but I don’t think I’ll ever get over it. I still struggle with having a failed marriage, and the loss of the future and the family I anticipated.  But I think I’m over him. I quite like being single. Suddenly I can see a world of possibilities opening up.

I expect next summer Big Girl and Small Girl will both go on holiday with Ex-Husband. Perhaps I’ll go to Paris then…

 

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Big Girl’s busy day

So it turns out that all I need to do to get my children to sleep (today, anyway) is wear them out. Today we have been to see Peppa Pig – a Max Spielman fun day where I paid £5 to force Big Girl to have her picture taken with a Max Spielman employee in an alarming costume. Then we had coffee and cake with a friend who has children almost exactly the same age as Big Girl and Small Girl. I’m not sure why I still believe, against all evidence, that taking my children to a coffee shop will be fun for anyone. There was crying. There was snatching. There was running up and down stairs. And that was just Holly and me.

After this we walked home, going on one of those merry-go-rounds, which Big Girl loved and then cried when she had to get off (Why do nicer activities lead to more crying? Is this fair? How many more years should I expect of this?). On the way home we popped into a table-top sale in a massive church, where Big Girl got to drive one of those red plastic cars which all children love and no house has room for. We also had a go on a prize-every-time tombola, which I later realised is just a way of selling all your jumble for a pound each and making everyone feel like a winner. I am stealing this idea for my next fundraising event. We won these attractive table-cloth clips, which I am hoping to dispose of when Big Girl isn’t looking.

 

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When we got home we decided to go to the local park (if I’d had any idea the weather would be so good we’d have gone to the zoo all day instead). It has recently had a make-over and has fantastic fountains. Big Girl ran around in them for half an hour in her swimming costume while Small Girl cried if the water touched her.

Then it was swings, slides, roundabouts, the ducks, lots of running around and climbing on rocks and balancing on walls and finally home for some tears, tantrums and a more manageably-sized Peppa Pig, some tea, a bath and into bed. And she was asleep within minutes quite happily.

Me? I’m not sure I could manage this level of activity every day.  But I might be willing to try.

 

Piccadilly Gardens photo © Copyright David Dixon and licensed for reuse under thisCreative Commons Licence

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