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.

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.

Transition

Birch is wondering whether it would be fun to walk by himself. The big children walked quietly into their new classes for a taster morning at their new school, and we walked round a rather dingy three bed semi for rent, a bit like our old one but not so nice. We are in transition. We are always in transition, just sometimes it’s more obvious than others. This time last year we were making the change from a family of four plus cat to a family of five. The cat is currently on holiday but we hope he’ll come back and be our “plus cat” again. We miss him.

Maybe that’s the trickiest thing about times of transition. You don’t quite know what you’ll miss when the change comes, you also know you’ll never get there, which is to say that you never get to a place of no change, at least not this side of the Big Box.

It did feel like a lot was changing today. Myrtle was pleased to be in purple rather than green. She still seems so small but she set her chin purposefully and in she went. What a fantastic thing, to watch your children face a challenge and have what they need to take it on and come out the other side, smiling. They both had a good morning at their new school. Myrtle found a girl who shares her birthday so obviously they will be friends. I think it was harder for Red; he’s going into year five where the friendships are firmer and the new children will always feel new. He is one of three new starters in his class which may help, and the teachers didn’t put the new kids together which is a good sign. They felt welcome, and Red’s class had a discussion about a book we have at home (The Giving Tree) so he was well prepared.

I am so relieved and very thankful. They are going to be OK. It’ll get harder, but won’t ever seem quite so scary again. And they turned out to be resilient and courageous. It wasn’t too much. It won’t be for me either.

Still waiting on the land.

Scrupulous

The little girl ran to the first beanbag, turned and threw it to her friend who was sitting by the bucket. She turned again and ran on to the next one. Her aim was good. Straight to her friend and into the bucket. The last one went off course a little bit, but it was close enough. She crossed the line, well ahead of the other children. The ones who ran back to the bucket each time. A ten year old child, old and mature by primary standards shrugged and awarded her the “1st” sticker. A beaming parent lifted her off her ground, planted a kiss on her plump cheek, effusive with their congratulations.

I guess it’s human instinct. The aim is to win so humans find ways to win. The aim is not to play fair, stick to the rules and still win. Not really. Not when it comes to it. Maybe a sticker isn’t enough to compromise your integrity for. I wonder what would be.

It’s so ugly. That’s the closest word I can think of. And it’s everywhere. How do we preserve the innocence, the cleanness of those other children? With seriousness and focus they picked up their beanbags and ran with them to the bucket. Their intensity and gravity seems comical in an activity so inane yet here is a tiny piece of beauty. It is about to be challenged. There were enough children and parents watching, the cheating was so apparent and so generously rewarded, the conclusion is hard to avoid. If you want to win, be audacious. Cheat. It might be worth it.

It was a tiny piece of beauty. At the end of each of the races on sport’s day there was a slight sense of bewilderment. So this is what they had been practicing for, and now it’s done. It didn’t seem to matter much after all. A slight shrug. Did I win? Should I care if I didn’t? Or if I did? Why did I have to put that hat on and then step over that rope? Is it important to be able to jump whist in a bag? These are small children, mostly their loveliness still intact. This is something to hold on to. Tomorrow is the Key Stage 2 Sport’s Day. I wonder if there will be any left.

I am not sure everyone we are dealing with in our project is demonstrating the beautiful integrity small children show. It’s nothing major. Mostly in the handling of the wood pile. Perhaps in pondering if they can make money from us, without having to run back with the beanbag.

Still waiting for the beneficiaries to sign so we can buy the land. Maybe next week. That’s ok.

Time to turn, with a small shrug, and keep waiting. It doesn’t matter. I’m looking for beauty, not stickers.

Monotony and Contentment

Someone once said (to me) that they crave monotony and so they would hate to do what we are doing. This has played on my mind a bit, and led me on to thinking about contentment.

On the spectrum of monotony vs novelty (I spent some time wondering what the opposite of monotony was. This is my best guess so far.) I reckon I fall on the side of novelty, but not near the extreme end. Change can be good, it can be fun to try new things. But if life is in a comfortable place it can be a change for the worse. Hard to know until the change happens. I would say, I like my novelty in bite sizes portions. When we discovered we were having Birch we both thought of all the changes this would bring, including moving house. It was much more manageable in terms of brain power to decide to manage one change at a time. Turns out we were right about all the changes that would follow, but one at a time is enough.

It is probably a good thing that Ben loves novelty and change. When I told him about the monotony conversation he was pretty much aghast. Crave stability, certainty, consistency, but not monotony! Another word for boring. Music without tune or harmony. Not really music at all.

I think what change brings, and what not changing protects against, is not knowing how you’re going to get through the day. One of the biggest challenges when I had Red as a new baby was not knowing when he would sleep (not really ever), when it would be possible to both boil a kettle and drink a cup of tea. There was nothing predictable in our day so it was really hard to pace myself, navigate a route from beginning to end. Before a big change, it’s a bit the same, you don’t know the shape of your day so it’s hard to envisage getting safely through it. However, since having Red we have moved house four times so far. What you learn is that there is no escaping monotony. There’s no running away from it. Whatever place you’re in, there will be the same jobs to do, the same routine. It takes a few weeks of heavy sat nav use to find your way around and then the roads are familiar, the coffee tastes the same.

There is importance in noticing these things. If we were doing this to escape monotony we will fail to escape. If we think this path in and of itself leads to contentment we will find we are wrong. This is excellent news. Contentment is a decision which can be taken at any point. We don’t need to finish in order to get there. If we wait until then, it will elude us. If we can achieve it now, it will travel the road with us.

For contentment to travel at our side we need to accept the monotonous and provide the harmony for ourselves. This is something Ben is really great at. It is something to strive for and to enjoy as a choice.