Random musings on 40 year old teenage angst and uncertainty

Golden_Eagle-Soaring

Some days I feel grounded in myself, my family, my friendships.  I soar, wings wide, feeling secure and confident in who I am, in knowing I have the emotional intelligence and control to handle feelings and situations as befit a nearly 40 year old adult.

Other days, I falter.  I feel like my wings don’t work.  I feel blown by the winds of emotion and uncertainty; like a teenager, unsure of myself and lacking the life experience and perspective needed to ground my behaviour and feelings in an intelligence of any sort.

Why is it that I so often find myself taken back to those teenage feelings of angst and uncertainty?  Sure, now, I recognise them for what they are; I know I can mostly control them and rationalise them and they feel far less raw or all-consuming.  But still, they are there.  Do we ever escape them?

Parenting is harder on days I falter.  Not to mention on days when the children demand more of me than I can give them; when tasks need doing that aren’t about them and that need my thoughts focused elsewhere and their presence where they don’t want to be.  I question my own judgement.  My self-control falters.  My mental energy is not sufficiently focused.

Those days need all my effort to manage.  And when I have some space, I employ the tactics I have learnt work for me to bring my feelings to the fore, analyse them and pick my way through them to the things I need to do to move past them.  I work hard to stop myself wanting to run away from the feelings and the implications – the often uncomfortable-feeling actions needed to sort things out with others, big or small as those things might be.

I have often wished I wasn’t so analytical – approaching life with more levity and less reflection.

But the reality is that I am who I am.  There is little value in wishing I were otherwise. Nor will mentally running away from hard things, small or large, solve anything.  Strength of character and self-esteem come from facing and dealing with situations, even if they don’t feel comfortable.

Just recognising the feelings, and what I need to do about them, allows my wings to spread once more, to feel the lift of the currents.

And as always, tomorrow is a new day, a new opportunity.  Parenting, more than anything else in my life, has taught me that.  We are not perfect, we will always be flawed, but each day we can strive to be the best we can be and pick ourselves up again when we don’t quite make it.

Keeping the connection alive: Relationship 101


tides ebb and flowIt’s interesting, isn’t it, how relationships ebb and flow.  Just over a year ago, Mr H and I split our weekday jobs into diametrically opposed roles: he would keep working, focusing on his career and bringing in the dosh; I would stop working and do everything else.

On the face of it, you could say I have a cushy life.  We live comfortably without me working.  With Littlest H now at pre-school every morning, I have time (in term) to myself I can decide what to do with.  If there’s a snow day at school, a child is ill or there’s something at school I’d like to attend, my life isn’t turned upside down.  Yes, some rejigging is required, and things I planned to do go un-done, but in comparison to the stress created by the nanny calling in sick or figuring out how to be at home to attend a school event without missing meetings I couldn’t really miss, it’s pretty manageable.

And yet, such a stark split of roles is tough.  Especially as a reasonably feisty, independent woman who enjoyed working and having financial parity with my partner, and who also has a pretty highly honed radar for female stereotyping.  It certainly took a while for us to get used to the new arrangement, without me feeling defensive about perceived expectation of ‘little woman’ behaviour, or a lack of understanding about just how much juggling there is in managing the day to day commitments of two kids. (To give an example, after a typical logistically-challenged day early on last year, that ended with tired, awful children, when Mr H arrived home to discover no milk, he questioned how I could not find time to get more.  A rare reaction, I might add, and rarer still since that particular instance and my response…)

Most of the time I can genuinely say I am happy managing the kids and the household by myself Monday to Friday, although I’ll admit I count the hours to Friday nights.   I’m used to it; we have our established routines and they work well nearly all the time.  I love hearing about the kids days first-hand and being the person ferrying them here and there and getting to know their friends.  I love being part of a community of mums who support each other through good and bad days, emergencies, building work, appointments or just the need for time out or a rant.  It’s also easier now I have some time in the day for decent exercise, as that keeps me sane (Mr H’s hours mean I can’t exercise early morning or evenings).

But I can’t pretend it hasn’t felt a bit dull and mundane sometimes too.  I love my children dearly, but the level of conversation is more “Mummy, I have a joke.  What is it Littlest H.  What do you get if you have a farmer?  I don’t know Littlest H, what do you get.  A farm.  Get it, Mummy?  Isn’t it funny, Mummy?” than discussing whether Cameron is right to call a referendum on Europe or even gossiping about the latest workplace drama or thorny issue.

I don’t think I noticed that mundanity last year.  Alongside the novelty of being with the kids, there were plenty of ‘projects’ that kept me occupied – redecorating, the allotment, planning a home-building project, writing this blog and children’s stories.  It’s only struck me since I started setting up a business with a friend this year.  It feels so purposeful, so constructive, so stimulating to be thinking about the world outside my domestic enclave in a pretty tightly circumscribed corner of Surrey.

But it hasn’t really changed anything about the roles Mr H and I have.  It won’t, as the whole point is for me to find fulfilling work that fits with family life.  In a way it’s harder – the volume of time I need to work on the business competes with time to spend with him, so the need to schedule ‘us-time’ is almost more important.

Being brutally honest, our set up has put a big strain on us, and we’ve fallen into lazy habits that haven’t helped.  Mr H is knackered when he’s home, and rightly puts his limited energy into the children first, who clamour for his attention.  Then there are the outings or social engagements, exercise, and sometimes it feels like we come last.  Not by planning or design, just by circumstance.  Us can feel like a mostly practical, sorting-out thing, a managing-our-lives thing.  A co-existence, not a fulfilling, positive relationship.

Last night we went out for dinner.  Just the two of us, to our favourite local haunt. I think it’s the first time we’ve been out by ourselves since mid December.  It’s been too long.  We’ve let our commitment to weekly date nights, or at least weekly ‘cook together and eat/chat without putting the telly on’ nights, slide.  It shows in our snippiness and lack of connection.  It’s easy to get lazy, but that connection is so important – I’ve seen at close hand what the loss of it has done to other relationships.  Without it, all our relationship is is a vessel for the children’s lives and our own separate existences.

Family life with young children, at the age when careers break through or risk being left behind, is tough.  You’ve survived years of sleep-deprivation. The time, money and energy for things you used to love doing are harder to find.  The fun of life requires more effort.  But allowing a lack of effort towards one’s relationship to slide into routine is a big risk.

So in a way I feel thankful we had a row on Thursday that triggered a rearranging of commitments to go for dinner last night.  Because we talked, we re-connected with each other’s lives and each other’s feelings.  We acknowledged the situation we’re in, the risk and the need to do it differently. We discussed ways to achieve regular date nights that don’t get canned by unavoidable work commitments or opting for the easy way out of tv and laptops.  We’ll book in some fun things to do together.  The ebb will return to a flow.

No doubt we will face another ebb at some point, but I am certain we are strong enough, and have open enough communication lines (albeit sometimes at higher volume than we’d like), to turn it around.  It might be relationship 101 to stay connected, but it can be all too easy to forget.  Marriage was never meant to be easy, but it definitely needs to be fun.  Time to bring on some more fun, I think.  Nevermind the Year of the Snake, let’s make 2013 the Year of Fun.

Me and my mate Coffee

Me and my mate Coffee go way back.  We met in my teens, but we didn’t become best buddies until my thirties.  Till then I had other friends to hang out with and make me feel good – I could easily go a day without seeing her and not feel bad, often even longer.

When I reached the big 3-0, things seemed to change.  Our friendship really grew, the buzz when we met intensified.  As we’ve got closer, I’ve realised if I can’t have the real Coffee, I prefer to have none – instant friendships just don’t hit the mark.

When I fell pregnant with Little H, we didn’t get along so well for those first few months.  Inbetween retching I mourned the loss of a dear friend.  Luckily Coffee had some tricks up her sleeve, and came back to me in the third trimester without quite the same buzz but just as much character as ever.

Since having the kids our friendship has really blossomed.  I can’t get enough of her. Every morning I look forward to seeing her.  I really notice when we don’t have time to meet.  So do my family and other friends.  Lunchtime is just too late, and I’ve learned through the years together that seeing her in the afternoon leaves me sleepless from all the excitement.  Perhaps that’s her play to make me even more desperate for her company the following morning.

Occasionally I try to wean myself off our friendship – I mean, surely me being such a needy friend can’t be a good thing, can it?  But it’s proved too hard.  She lures me back into our old habits and I think “Why not? What’s so wrong with Coffee anyway?”  People say she’s not good for me, but I’m not so sure.  Some days, nurturing our friendship is all that keeps me going.

The great thing is we love all the same haunts.  She’s a great lover of café culture. She really comes into her own in the best establishments – strong and full of character.  We avoid the places where the real Coffee isn’t appreciated, hiding behind the pale shadows of her instant relatives.

Our conversations are at their best when they’re accompanied by a big wedge of home-made cake, although sometimes we just sit together and read the paper.  I think our friendship will last a lifetime.  There’s just no-one else who makes me feel the same way.

 

 

Love ya, Coffee.  What would I do without you…

Re-finding the mojo magic

It’s a funny thing, mojo.  I think having kids mutates it.  The moments that fill my ‘I love my life’ mojo cup have changed.  Or so I thought.  But this week I’ve asked myself, have they really, or is that the illusion I hold onto to love my life rather than wish it were different?

Take my new sparkly shoes.  Aren’t they GORGEOUS?

And check out the lovely posh make up in front, all new and full of the promise of nights out, especially when coupled with sparkly feet.

Add a hairdresser trip to sort out my wild-lion-on-a-bad-day look…

…And a soupcon of London cool (‘scuse the sex shop photo, but it’s actually the front of La Bodega Negra, an uber-cool Mexican taqueria in the heart of Soho, inside below, complete with gimp suit behind the restaurant reception desk!)

And voila, my twenties mojo resurfaces.  You know, that mojo that lives in the city, knows where the cool hangouts are, stays out late drinking fabulous cocktails (bugger the hangover) and having conversations not about kids or domestic life or hardworking husbands or schools or the mother’s juggling act, and then goes dancing.  Mojo that ends with pictures like this:

 We used to have loads of these – us on a night out, looking a bit rosy in the cheek.  But, as we realised when asked by the fabulously fun women we were out with, the last time we went out properly like this together was at least seven years ago.  That’s a loooooonnnnng time.  Plenty of nights out separately, but together and in the big smoke – that’s a whole different babysitter ballgame.

And do you know what, it felt brilliant.  My sister-in-law asked me if the evening made me feel old.  Quite the opposite – it made me feel young – young, alive and happy.  I wasn’t a mother, I was me.  The me that loves letting my hair down and going a bit mad, especially with Mr H. Not the comfortably middle class domestic me who stays local, has an allotment, mostly socialises with gorgeous but pretty similar / similar lifestage people, and chooses the cultural or physical options like opera or ballet or hiking or biking for any time Mr H and I get together sans enfants.  Now, I’m all excited about using up some grandparent looking-after-the-kids points to go up to London and go out clubbing and stay with our new friends without rushing back for sitters or horribly early bouncing children.

Funnily enough though, re-finding that mojo hasn’t diminished the joy of its family and domestic life mutations.  Nor has it made me resent where my life is now. I love my life – I have a gorgeous husband, two beautiful children (even if they do wind me up immensely too often to think about), a nice enough house in a good town, a load of amazing friends and right now, some pretty exciting personal projects on the go, whether finding my voice through writing, learning to swim freestyle for my first triathlon or exploring a potential business opportunity with a dear friend.  Do I wish I were a young Londoner myself again?  Not really.  Way more angst, sore heads and shopping than I can be bothered with, let alone haemorrhaging money every weekend (ahem, let’s just ignore the haemorrhaging children represent…).

But last weekend did teach me something.  It taught me it’s important to indulge the old mojo every so often, even more so to do it with Mr H, and, when possible, up in the thick of life, in the big smoke.  Not to play it too safe, not to always take the more sensible options.  Not to forget we’re still young, the big 4-0 on the horizon or not.  There’s life in the old girl yet…

#lostinthisworld

I’m not much of a one for exploring my technology – I just use gadgets for the things I know I want to do – but still…is there no end to this brave new world of social media?

Every time I venture onto Twitter or into WordPress’ admin area, I find yet another thing I have never come across before. Take today.  I went onto Twitter to say thank you to a new follower (I’ve noticed this is a lovely etiquette on both blogs and Twitter, which makes me feel good about human nature and reciprocity), and while browsing her blog, I noticed references to ‘Instagram’ pictures.  Deep, weary sigh. Oh no, what have I missed this time.   Instagram joins hashtags, Pinterest, Tumblr, StumbleUpon, Reddit and all those other sharing sites, not to mention a plethora of time-saving, funny or just plain cool apps I no doubt should have on my iphone or ipad.

What is it I’m not doing that means I miss out on all these developments, or indeed missed the gene that means I absorb them by osmosis? Am I blinkered or just not looking in the right places?  I will admit to not being brilliant with sources of up to date popular culture type things – I mostly listen to BBC Radio 4 or Classic FM, with the occasional lunchtime foray into Radio 1 for Littlest H and I to bop along to something a bit more lively over our marmite sandwiches and soup.  I don’t buy girlie mags or watch trashy TV (X factor excepted), and even if I do, I forward the ads.  I’m not working, so I don’t commute past ads either, and for whatever reason the conversations with my female friends (which, let’s be honest, as a stay at home mum with a hard-working husband, is pretty much the only type of conversation I have nowadays, if you discount those of the how was school today, no mummy can’t make a lifesize elephant before supper darling, will you JUST GO to the loo variety) tend not to cover much about cool new social media goings on. It’s all we can do to connect on Facebook to be quite frank.

Just how do people have the time for all this knowledge gathering, let alone all the sharing, updating, reading, commenting and exploring?  I’m going to have to get the nanny back just so I have time to manage it all.

I am enjoying it though, all this discovering.  It feels a bit of an adventure, albeit quite a lazy one.  I will admit (again) to an initial rolling of eyes and twinge of distaste about engaging with the ‘mummy blog’ community.  I have a thing about being labelled as a mother and then put in a box as a result – yes, I am a female who has kids, but that doesn’t define who I am or what I think, and the ‘mummy blog’ moniker smacks of stereotyping to me. Luckily, I managed to get over myself and realised I found the good ones hilarious, heartwarming, reassuring and even useful.  And by then I was sinking a good two or three evenings a week into this new-found world, incurring the wrath of a tired husband as I eeked out the minutes till bedtime.

And that there is the challenge, isn’t it, with all this online adventuring.  What happens to real world relationships and adventures?  Do they get sidelined for more comfortable sofa-based exploration, or is the latter fitted into the downtime?

Personally, I mostly do blog / twitter stuff in the evening when the kids are in bed and Mr H is still at work.  But it’s so easy to slip into bad habits.  I’ve had a couple of moments absorbed in a new post / tweet on my ipad, when the volume winds up, behaviour goes downhill and my kids basically tell me to stop getting distracted and focus on them.  I certainly don’t want them to think that is ok, that the online world is more important than the real world we inhabit, and, goodness, wouldn’t that be an easy trap to slide into?

I haven’t experienced this with my children directly as yet – they are still very much in the real world of scraped knees, today’s best friends and deliciously messy play (delicious at school or nursery, mind you, torturous at home).  Who knows where communication technology will be when they are deeply immersed teenagers.  Maybe teenage Little H will message her friends direct from her brain via chips in her hairclips, with a webcam in groovy spectacles to video chat with mates as she walks along.

But hopefully, fundamentally, at that point she and Littlest H and their friends will still remember they are real people leading real lives in the real world, and that interacting with other humans face to face is by far the most fulfilling way to have relationships. Yes, building an online community is a wonderful privilege, but it’s real world friends and family who give you a hug when you need one, take your kids off you when you need a break, make you laugh when you might otherwise cry and go out and get thoroughly plastered with you, quietly sharing each other’s pain the next morning.

On which note, best I get back to those mummy blogs. Kids are in bed, no friends being ditched, no husband to talk to, a pile of admin best ignored, so no angst necessary 🙂

To hit or not to hit

I’ve been wrestling with this question for some weeks now.  Not about us and our kids, you understand, as on that line both my husband and I stand firm and united, but between the sprogs.  More specifically, how we can best help Little H deal with her little brother’s unprovoked and out of order outbursts of hitting.

It seems so unfair that he lashes out and she gets hurt, without any reversal in the pattern.  Sometimes, of course, there was provocation, and that’s different – still not a great reaction but a bit more understandable.  But most of the time, he does it for no other reason than boredom, frustration, tiredness or downright limit-testing.   I was hoping it would be a short-ish stage, but it seems to be continuing and given we parents aren’t the main sufferers of this one, I don’t feel we can ignore it until it goes away.

Of course we try to head situations off at the pass as much as we can, or step in, remove him and try to get him to realise its not acceptable behaviour in a (mostly) calm and firm way. We’ve also tried to help her understand that physical games with a rambunctious little brother will often go way further than she wants, so think before she starts them.  But it feels like we haven’t been able to equip her with any strategies that work.  She tries to copy us, telling him it makes her sad, asking him not to, distracting him, but he usually ignores her and carries on, especially if he’s cross and in red-eyed temper-mode.  The thing she has never done is hit back.  And therein lies my struggle.  Is it right to give her permission or ‘encourage’ her to hit back and give him a bit of his own medicine?

With two similarly boisterous boys I don’t think I would hesitate – if you engage, expect to get thumped.  Obviously our boy needs to learn that lesson, but if we go against his sister’s natural un-aggressive character in encouraging her to hit back, are we changing who she is or setting her up to be a girl who uses her physical strength more easily than she should?  Will her hitting him back just mean he escalates and she ends up getting even more hurt, and him too probably? (Knowing him, I think this would be the case.)

This is probably the first parenting challenge where I’ve felt at quite such a loss, excluding the whole crying-baby-what-the-hell-can-I-do-to-help-them-stop-that-noise-piercing-my-skull-and-get-some-precious-sleep thing.  My husband thinks Littlest H needs to learn his actions have consequences: it hurts to be hit and that doesn’t feel good.  That’s true, undeniably.  And I do worry about him lashing out at other children as well – also totally not ok, not to mention somewhat embarrassing to be ‘that’ mother.   And if Little H naturally walloped him I might be tempted to turn a blind eye or use one of the old classics like ‘I told you so’.  But she doesn’t.

We need to help her by giving her some tools to help herself. And I want us to choose ones that set her up as best we can, not potentially have consequences for her as she goes further into childhood and independence, or that start something we can’t stop with a ‘that strategy isn’t working, darling’ type conversation later on.

A friend with two boys has taught her gentle older boy kung-fu blocking moves to defend himself against his pretty full-on little brother.  It’s definitely a good one to try.

As for other options, perhaps I need to read the book on my to-read list, ‘Raising Happy Brothers & Sisters’, to see if that has any gems.  And perhaps we do need to suggest hitting back, however reluctant I am and worried about what it might be starting.

What I do know is that we’re not the only parents going through this joyous experience.  And that tells me many siblings get through it to have normal childhoods and become normal adults (whatever that may mean).  I’m sure starting pre-school in a couple of weeks will help – they won’t stand for it.  Fingers crossed we don’t get too many dreaded calls from the head and he sorts himself out without storing it all up for home.

Any pearls from you lovely bloggers out there would be most welcome.  Right now, I’m off to check out kung-fu blocking moves on youtube.

The art of remembering

I smiled to myself when my petrol strimmer started beautifully, first go, today.  Why would it be any other way, it was my Dad’s strimmer.  He always made sure he bought the best he could find, with plenty of research thoroughly enjoyed in the process.

The small, sudden ways he comes to mind feel both sad and good.  A turn of phrase, a favoured outing, an old possession, a long-held bug-bear, a good wine; any of them and more can be the trigger.   The rush of memory often takes me by surprise, as does its strength.  But I am happy it happens, it brings him into the present.

I remember talking to a friend, who lost her mother around the same time, about my fear of him fading from me, from my memory.  She said she found comfort in talking to her mum, thinking about what she would say in situations my friend was facing.  I found that helpful.  I still do.

I find having photos up of him helps too.  I see him as I walk past, the kids see him, we talk about him.  We sometimes come across videos, but that’s a bit harder to take, hearing his voice, seeing him ‘in the flesh’.  But we have them, and I know that will be important as time goes by.

He’s present all over our house actually.  I love that his hand is in virtually every room – rewiring, moving radiators, building shelves, rebuilding kitchens.  He’s also present in spirit at our annual and family events.  His well-stocked picnicware basket, folding furniture and gazebo help us out no end at our annual summer BBQ.  Whenever we’re setting it all up, I always smile at his way of collecting more of everything than he could ever need.

Probably my favourite way of remembering him, though, is when we make ‘new’ memories.  We talk about what he would say or do in situations he loved or hated, sharing a quiet laugh at his loved and missed idiosyncracies.

Each small element keeps him present; keeps the synapses buzzing, the connections alive.  I can’t pretend the pain, worry, hope and despair of his fight with cancer didn’t happen and doesn’t still hurt to recall.  Nor that the savage, deep, raw pain of those last few weeks, days and minutes doesn’t still hit like a hammer to the chest when something triggers it. But, mostly, when he comes back to me, it’s for how he was in life, not those horrible times as he approached death.

I believe the art of remembering is to grab those small, positive memory rushes, sometimes fleeting, sometimes overwhelming, and savour them.  Stop and be in them for a few seconds.  To share him with our children; to talk and smile about him between us and with those who knew him; to miss him, to value him and what he was to us; to keep him alive as part of our lives and those of our children.

Love you, Dad.