Comparison

Today I did some painting. I’ve only just started to learn about how to use watercolours and I’m not rolling in natural talent. That’s ok, it’s not the point. Until it didn’t feel OK.

A curious thing happened a week or so ago. I’ve been doing online tutorials for about a fortnight and one evening we thought it would be fun for three of us to do one together. The other two people were two of my favourite people. Laid back, not at all competative. It was just a nice thing to do whilst hanging out in an evening. Except that then for me it wasn’t. No one said it, but at least to me my picture was obviously the worst. It was a picture of a goldfish and we were all doing the same thing. On mine the eye was too small. The shape wasn’t quite right. It was not good to look at it. It didn’t feel good to have painted it. Instead of being a fun, relaxing thing, it felt like a sad thing. I didn’t paint again until today.

That was pretty silly. My paintings are never going to be good enough to go on display, I’m not aspiring to be a great artist. I am realistic. I was just enjoying splashing paint around and watching the colours blend and swirl. And the comparison was entirely in my own head. On the actual evening, the comments went as far as “it was fun how he did the tail”, and “I like how the colours have mixed on his tummy”. Still I thought mine was awful. Maybe objectively it was. I certainly took the least amount of time to do it which is probably relevant to the outcome. I wonder why we ruin things by comparison. Which is to say, I wonder why I took all the fun away for myself by comparing my picture with the others. Those feelings were mostly internal and came entirely from me and three fish pictures. I also wonder if I could manage to not look at all three and think mine was the worst. I’m not totally sure I have control over that, which is a real shame as I would like to consciously decide not to mind. I suppose I’ve got over it and gone back to the paint pot and carried on. Maybe sometimes life just hurts a little and we need time to heal. I think I’m missing something.

A good thing that has come from the experience is that I’ve realised that I most enjoy quick painting, sploshes of colour and quick brush strokes. I’m just not a slowly and carefully sort of person. I never have been. It would be good to develop more of that; I have been trying and I think I’ve made some progress, but when it comes to things for fun that might not be my focus. That’s lead to the discovery of Steven Cronin’s watercolour tutorials on YouTube. They are really fun. He’s a great slosher of paint and I like how a lot of his pictures look. And I quite like how some of my paint-along pictures look too. Something I noticed quite quickly is that my pictures never look the same as his. I don’t think this is only because of his talent and experience. I think it’s also because we are different people so we make different things. I wonder if that’s why it hurts when I compare my pictures with others. Inside there is a connection between my picture and me. If my picture is a worse picture, perhaps I am a worse human. If that’s the connection I’m making no wonder it hurts. What an odd connection to make. There are some violent criminals who are excellent painters, and some extraordinarily altruistic individuals who don’t paint at all. And even that is a false dichotomy, trying to make good people and bad people, let alone tying that to a random skill like the wielding of a paint brush.

Instead of concluding that I am a poor painter and a bad person I should conclude that I’m just a person who enjoys playing with paint and that that has nothing to do with some unhelpful assessment of my value as a person. Maybe I can also realise that comparison is generally unhelpful and unnecessary but that it is hard to avoid. In which case, time to heal is no bad thing and can come with a little more understanding. It’s all about growth, after all.

Obviously the picture I’ve used is the one I think is the best that I’ve done. In the hope that people say “oh, that’s a nice picture”. Alas, growth takes time…

A little more to life

It’s been a while. A while since we had any news, and since I wrote here. The exciting thing has been that I’ve been writing elsewhere. From that point of view it’s been an exciting few weeks, in amongst the early winter vomiting bugs that so often stalk school playgrounds at this time of year. We were not spared. On the plus side, I was not the parent carrying the child who was carrying a sick bag out of school this week. Neither was Ben; we had had our turn. That kid was not going to get it all in the bag.

A few weeks ago I was feeling like my horizons had narrowed. I was seeing a lot of the same four walls. I really enjoy writing, messing around with words on a page. But you need a lot of self motivation to do that by yourself and with only four walls I was lacking motivation and inspiration. Then I had an idea.

I am a big fan of dungarees. Dungarees are what I feel best in if pyjamas aren’t an option. I have enough pride to recognise that there are a lot of situations in which pyjamas are not an option. Then I discovered Lucy and Yak. And now I just wear dungarees. As well as the dungarees, the ethos of this company really resonates with me. They set up the best way they could, with the view that they wanted to make choices that were for good rather than profit, although they still have to make a profit. They did the best they could and now they are making it better, bit by bit. This fits with how I feel about life. A little better, bit by bit. Not perfect, knowing that sometimes there are better choices but trying to move towards them even if I’m not quite there right now.

My idea was that I could write their blog: find out about the fabrics they use, issues in the fashion industry, look for feel good news, maybe some short stories. Broaden my horizons, find out about stuff I might not research otherwise. And they said yes! So if you check out their blog, that’s me! 🙃

We are still waiting on the land. Waiting for the trustees to agree to a survey and valuation which will provide an independent view on whether our plans would trigger the overage clause (and if so a big bill – hopefully it will tell us how big..). Then we hope we will know if this plan can move forward. Can’t help wondering if they are playing a game with us.

In the meantime, there’s more to life.

Single parenting

Ben was away with work last week. This happens two or three times a year and is typically for just over a week. We manage. It is not easy. It is a lot less easy with a third small creature although I am very aware that the bigger two are now really quite helpful and pretty good company. It struck me as I sat at my spinning wheel while Red discussed the merits (or lack of them) of the characters in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory that there is less loneliness in Ben’s absence than there used to be. The addition of a baby to our family has brought so much. Including a little more pressure when Ben is away. That isn’t something I want to share with Red.

Several years ago, in between having a new baby and Myrtle being a baby (in my mind, the Easier Year or So) a friend asked me if when he was away I gained an idea of what it might be like to be a single parent. Having not thought about that I replied thoughtlessly, that for me there was an element of increased selfishness, some self indulgence when parenting alone. That was a really dumb response. I am ashamed by it.

I’m aware that it might be tricky to get the right tone on this. I intend to be neither patronising nor smug. What I am is full of admiration for parents who bear that burden by themselves.

It is hard work when Ben is away. Physically hard work, but also and much more, mentally and emotionally hard work. Clearing up dinner, having also made it. Doing bedtime for each child rather than just one or two of them, or there being the option of not doing bedtime at all and leaving it to Ben. Having to mediate each argument, kiss each sore knee better. And then there are the times when a child is poorly, or when I’m poorly. I’m very thankful there haven’t been too many times like that. Having to decide on calpol or calling the doctor by yourself is really scary.

I realise these are just the immediate things. There are other things, so many other things. Times when another parent might be expected, asked about, questions asked that might be difficult to answer. That hurt to answer. Times that are miserable alone but have a funny side when you can share them. So many things I haven’t thought of.

Thing for me is that although I am physically alone when Ben is away, I’m not really alone. He’s on text a lot of the time. If things really got serious I could easily call him. I know he’s thinking of me, hoping we are ok. There for me.

That is an enormous difference. All the difference.

I don’t really know what it’s like to carry all the burdens on my own. I am very grateful for that. I can see just enough of what it must be like to recognise a little of what it is those parenting alone are managing to do. Here I acknowledge that with admiration and respect.

If she did it again, she wouldn’t

Ben likes to hang out at the land, if he gets the opportunity. We don’t own it yet. It would be nice if we were close. Maybe we are. Just waiting on the trustees. Maybe they meet twice a year. That would make sense.

In the meantime Ben has been making friends with the neighbours. They bought their bit of land at the same time our vendor bought ours. They built a house on it. She said if they did it again.. they wouldn’t do it again. Too stressful, too hard.

So I was asked the question again. Do I really want to do this? I guess there are challenges she hadn’t anticipated, difficulties she hadn’t thought of.

In the eyes of the optimist, we are realists. In the eyes of the realists we are pessimists. I’m sure we haven’t thought of everything that will be a problem, of all the challenges that will come our way. But we expect challenges and problems. It’s taken most of a year not to buy the land. And that’s just the beginning.

Yes, I still want to do this. I just hope we get the chance.

Best guess

It is really hard to know how to help other people. And for other people to help me. Online, at least for me, the advice is right but what they mean is not. The advice about helping someone who is depressed seems usually to involve listening to them. This is right, if it means listening to what someone says helps them. For me, it is not right if it means expecting me to do the talking. On dark days the doors are shut; it doesn’t feel like a voluntary thing but rather a statement of my reality. Any kind of opening takes the kind of effort required to heave open a great oak door, barring the entrance to a castle that hasn’t moved for centuries. Opening the actual front door feels like that, opening my mouth feels similar. The words lurk somewhere down below in one of the twisting tunnels into which it is not quite possible to peer. Even then, those words aren’t about what’s wrong. I don’t need to talk through a problem. There is no problem, just not enough chemicals in my brain of the right sort. Not a lot to say about that. So I’d much rather hear you talk than do the talking myself. Actually that’s always the case, but typically that’s more to do with introversion than depression.

Perhaps there’s an underlying issue here which can be seen as a tendency to make assumptions and to assume everyone is the same, or could be viewed as a need, in order to give generic advice to make fairly sweeping generalisations. I have also come to wonder to what extent we make assumptions every day about how someone is feeling, what they mean, which come from our own experience and interpretation of the world and may not relate to the person we are hoping to be helpful to. It’s happened a few times here, where my intentions or implication has been interpreted differently to what I intended, and from my point of view a comment that was, I assume intended to be supportive did not really resonate with my actual thoughts and feelings. Or maybe that’s an assumption and there was a deeper point being made that I missed… I wonder how often it’s me that isn’t in line with how someone else is feeling, what they mean. In the end we can only make a best guess, alongside the right questions, with the intention to listen to the answer. I hope you’ll accept my best guess, while I endeavour to accept yours!

Clouds lifting

Today the cloud lifted. I’d been trying not to look at the cloud but it hung heavy and closed the doors for a while. I don’t know why, or quite how long it stayed or why this morning it felt better. I am glad it feels better. It was odd though. Suddenly I could run faster. I’m just finishing the Couch to 5k programme. It worked, now I can run for a good while and keep going. Yesterday I didn’t go for a run. The cloud was crouching too low, my legs were too heavy, doing anything was hard. Today I could run, and faster than last week, much faster than yesterday. Strange, the physical impact of something that I assume is primarily in my head.

At the weekend we were away camping with friends. It was nice, the place was pretty, the food was good. It was really hard. Somehow the doors were closed and only the dark colours could get through. A bit like when in Harry Potter the Death Eaters put a charm on the stairs so only those with the Dark Mark can get through. Eventually the jinx is broken but it’s pretty gloomy in the meantime.

It would be useful to understand why the cloud descended, and what made it blow away. I’m not certain there’s an answer. Perhaps there are factors. I found it very emotional moving out of my parent’s house and wanted to surpress that as much I could, for everyone’s sake. It was busy moving house, and everything takes a bit more effort, finding the things in the house, finding my way out of it. I’m really good at getting lost. Or maybe for a while my brain didn’t make enough of what it needs to make me feel happy and then one day it did again.

I think this is something a lot of people go through. It’s not the first, or the worst time for me. I’m really glad it’s past. At least for now.

Not in public

There are lots of things I like. One of them is watching tennis. Not such a good player but I reckon I could commentate. Except that it would be quite exposed. Not as much as the players obviously. We don’t always get to see them at their best.

Serena Williams was playing at the US Open finals on Saturday. She totally lost it when she felt she was being accused of cheating. I guess you’re so pumped up, so competitive and combative on court you’re already quite close to losing it one way or another. It wasn’t a good look.

Most days I can feel myself drawing towards the line over which I will lose it. I suspect one of the best things for me about having children is the opportunities it affords for developing patience. I didn’t think I had a particularly fiery temper, wasn’t aware of my threshold for patience until I had children. Now I see myself a little more clearly and can see where work is needed.

What I’m really glad of is that so far I’ve managed to not totally lose it in public. It must feel terrible to have lost it in front of millions, even if many concede that she had a point. And each day I’ll keep trying not to lose it. Sometimes I’ll succeed. Those are the best days.

Days pass

Funny the difference from one week to another. Last week, packing and managing some big emotions, this week unpacking and managing different big emotions. No wonder I feel tired.

We wanted to move to this area and I’m glad it has worked out, one way or another. But it was really hard moving out of my parent’s house. We treated our stay a bit like a holiday, at least when we were both there which was less often than you might expect. I really like my parents. It was fun to share this part of our life with them. Of course, we will still share our lives but it is different when you live together. There is good and bad. Mostly there was good, taken with a glass of wine.

It’s interesting to see how, because we are on the move more often, I may be noticing the passing of time more. A few months there, three months here and half a year has gone by. Having a baby makes you notice that too – so much changes for them in the first year. Today I’m glad of that. Birch has said “uh uh uh” meaning “make it all better” for a lot of hours today. It felt like a long one. But now the sun is setting through the bathroom window and the scented candle is bringing the tranquility it advertises and the day is past.

Enjoy the pie

So the summer ends. It was lovely. We did a lot of camping and went to Kent which is just about one of my favourite places to go and was as beautiful as I remember. Then we moved house and the children started at their new school and all of a sudden summer is over and a new style of life has begun.

We’ve taken a rental house as near to the new school as possible. It’s nice. The neighbours brought us a freshly made pie the day we moved in. The house is as close as is possible to exactly the same as the house we sold, complete with hatch (we knocked that wall down which made the hatch rather larger). That’s quite strange. It wasn’t like we thought that was the best ever house but it has worked out that we are in a replica. At least the furniture fits.

Children are amazing. They were nervous but it didn’t much show as they walked into their new school and began to find their way. Red said he didn’t have a snack on his first day as he wasn’t sure how that worked, but the second day he did. Good strategy: observe and then act. Myrtle went straight for the pancake; Isobel said that’s what you’re meant to do. Good strategy: check with a friend. They’ve both done so well. I am so relieved. Now I think maybe they can handle anything. I think maybe they think that now too.

The wait on the land seems a bit interminable. Still waiting for the mysterious trustees to meet and confirm that we won’t get a bill for tens of thousands as soon as we get planning permission. Can’t go ahead and buy before we know that so on we wait. And wait.

In the meantime, we will enjoy the pie.

A while ago I wrote…

A while ago I wrote… Tonight there is nothing to say. No news, no change, just family life. Somehow that seems the same really, as when there is news. What this is really all about is family life in the context of what seemed like an exciting adventure. Right now, it’s really boring. The solicitors all seem to be Out of the Office until the end of July. I guess they don’t have kids and are off on their holidays before the schools break up and the prices go through the roof. That seems bad. Supply and demand I suppose. It’s nice going on holiday with children, although a bit less relaxing and a bit more Work as Usual in a Different Place. Still it’s what I’d choose if it was still a choice. That’s good to know. I am not always quite so sure, just like most other parents I guess.

Good things come. In the end. After you’ve waited. This week I finished knitting a baby blanket. He’s been born a while but he kept us all waiting. I suspect his parents have been too busy not sleeping to have been waiting for a blanket, but still I’m glad I got it finished. There is not so much knitting time just now. At this point I feel I should confess that Birch is a great napper. I saw a mum of a seven month old who was thrilled her baby had napped independently for the first time today. Birch got that at four months. I should be even more grateful for that than I am. I am very grateful. It makes for good knitting time.

The land is a good thing. I hope it comes to those who wait. Seems like we’ve been waiting ages. It is a while.