There and back again – me

Although I was only in Berlin for five days, and have been back home for over a week now, the sights and experiences of the trip are still uppermost in my mind. It feels as though I have learnt so much in that short space of time, not least about myself.

It would seem that, despite my inner desire to avoid conforming to societies expectations of how a wife, mother and woman should behave, I am still overly indecisive and submissive. The former I can understand based on my day to day experiences over many years. The latter I find more irritating but suspect that it is an innate part of my character. I dislike conflict and wish to please.

When I am on my own and my decisions affect nobody but myself I have no problems choosing a course of action. As soon as I become responsible for an outcome that will impact anyone else I become anxious. I fear other’s opprobrium should things not turn out well for them.

My husband is hard to please. It is rare for him to offer praise or satisfaction over anything; with the exception of food, his default setting appears to be disappointed. With my inbuilt desire to please I experience a sinking, crushed feeling every time something I have suggested disappoints. To avoid this I try to get him to take responsibility for his actions so that I may not feel to blame. I have developed a habit of avoidance, indecision and deferral.

Society is all too willing and eager to judge mothers harshly for their actions and results. Between media advice that is thinly veiled criticism, the education establishments desire to churn out clones, and the competition that seems to exist between some women over their own and their children’s behaviour and outcomes, I have felt blamed for a plethora of choices over many years. It is hard not to feel cowed and defensive at times.

In Berlin I was being asked to make simple decisions such as choosing a restaurant; I just couldn’t do it. I tried hard, but there was an inner voice squealing at me that I had no idea what these places were like and it would be my fault if I opted for what turned out to be a bad experience. Of course, none of us had prior knowledge of these places. I knew, however, that I would not be concerned about outcomes so long as it were not my responsibility. I do not like that I was so incapable of dealing with something that, in this situation, mattered so little. My friend would not have reacted as my husband would and I was forcing him to take me on as a follower rather than an equal.

My fear of being blamed for bad things also manifested itself in my desire to leave vast swathes of contingency time when we travelled. I chose to get to the airport with hours of spare time, preferring to wait around rather than risk missing a flight. I imagined all the traffic delays and accidents that could result in us having to rush; I had a deep seated fear of how I would ever face my husband if he had to pay the exorbitant cost of replacement flights if we missed those we had pre booked so cheaply.

I had not realised until this trip just how submissive I am. My inclination to follow has left me unsure of how to lead; my children showed more ability at navigating baggage check in, security and boarding. All I seemed good for was packing, ensuring we knew our times and route, buying cups of tea and taking care of passports and paperwork which I checked and rechecked constantly. Travel tickets that needed to be bought from machines, even withdrawing cash from ATM’s, was left to my son as I feel panic if I do not understand what to do next and fear losing my card or money and the difficulties that this could present.

I find it hard to believe that I once traversed the globe alone without any of these concerns. When did I become so anxious? I can see how the habit of following has developed along with my desire to please those I love, but to have become so incapable of simple decision making is an irritation for me and must annoy those who are forced to help me out.

Within our home I run much of the time keeping and organisation that ensures we are all where we need to be at the correct time and with whatever we need. I forward plan and build in contingency as best I can. Once I step outside though it would seem that my confidence evaporates and, with that, many of my abilities. I have developed a phobia of letting others down.

None of this detracted from my enjoyment of the trip because, at every stage, there was someone to pick up where I could not cope. I may have exasperated my children at times, but they accepted my concerns and apparent lack of ability as how I am. It frustrates me though that I have allowed myself to develop in this way. I know that I am capable and that my fears are unfounded; people will generally be more forgiving of failure than I give them credit for. I know that I should not take the negative comments that are sometimes made so much to heart.

My newly honed awareness of these issues offers me the opportunity to work on improvement. I suspect that my husband would prefer me to be more innovative; he married an independent career girl and has ended up with a useful doormat. If anything is going to disappoint him then it may well be that.

Just as I have started the new academic year with the aim of improving my health and body shape, so I now wish to work on improving my mindset. Breaking a habit can be tough; developing a thicker skin even harder. It is obvious though that I am the only one who can modify what I have become. Most of my problems exist only in my head and in the way I perceive and react to my day to day experiences. Only I can do anything to counteract what I have allowed myself to become. I will learn this lesson and do my best to improve.




I have not travelled abroad in many years. In my younger days, before I was married, I would think nothing of embarking on adventures to the far flung corners of the world. I would book flights or travel by boat and train to unknown continents and countries, happily assuming that I would be able to sort out cheap accommodation wherever I ended up. Many of these journeys were undertaken alone.

As a student I was always travelling on a tight budget. I would sleep on whatever transport system I was using, in a tent or find an incomplete building in a resort and curl up in my sleeping bag in a corner. Sometimes I would stay with friends of friends; if I had acquired company then we would hitch lifts in lorries or from passing strangers. I wished to see as much of the world as possible before what little money I had ran out.

I had no interest in package holidays that involved pretty clothes and sunbathing. I wanted to explore, experience new cultures and see how other people thought and lived. As well as Europe I visited Africa, the Middle East and finally, just after I started work, had a more luxurious trip to Australia. I found the long, cramped flight hard to bear and it marked the end of my globe trotting.

Had my husband been keen to go out into the world with me then I guess we would have continued to travel, but he seemed happy to explore our own country. So long as holidays involved days spent walking long distances up and down high places, followed by a copious supply of good food, he was content. I was in love; if he was happy then so was I.

We have never taken our children abroad, but they are starting to explore the world for themselves. They have each made initial forays into Europe with school, and my daughter has just returned from a month in Africa with Scouts. Last summer I flew alone for the first time in twenty-five years when I made the short hop across the Irish Sea to visit family. It reminded me that travel itself can be fulfilling and fun.

I no longer crave excitement as I once did but recognise that pushing myself just a little beyond my comfort zone is good for my inner health. So long as I do not have to cope with those who bring me down I can still blossom and enjoy new situations, scary though I may now find the prospect. Thus I took the decision to break my habit of reticence and travel abroad this summer; just me and my older two children, even if only for a few days.

It feels as though a part of me that has been lying dormant has been awakened. I no longer have the confidence that I once had, but the interest and appreciation of difference is still there. My day to day life is so insular and I wish to expand both my knowledge and my outlook.

This vague plan would not have come to fruition had a friend not made the generous offer to host us in his small apartment. As seasoned campers we will be fine with the facilities available, but I am so aware that we will be invading his space. Having said that, I am as excited about having the opportunity to spend time with him as with seeing the city. A proper catch up with an old and dear friend is a rare treat for me. I look forward to our discussions at least as much as the sight seeing.

To prepare for our visit my friend provided us with a DVD explaining some of the history of the city we will be exploring. I have always enjoyed history and am eager to learn more; this is also the main reason for taking my children. An appreciation of European history from a non British perspective can only help them to understand how we got to where we are today.

I am being offered a gentle reintroduction to exploration and discovery with an informed and friendly hand to guide me. I am stepping out into a world that was once mine for the taking rather than hiding behind my husband’s preferences and desires. For five days I will have the opportunity to be me; I am intrigued as to what I will discover.

Thus, in a couple of weeks time I will have a fascinating city to experience, a friend to spend time with, and a chance to reveal how much of the person I once was remains. It should be an interesting trip.

English: The Fall of the Berlin Wall, 1989. Th...

Emerging from hibernation

These past few days I have woken up to a world covered by a heavy frost but with a weak sun trying to burn through the haze. Winter may not yet be done but there are the first signs of spring in the garden with the trees starting to grow their buds and the early flowers coming into bloom. Even my chickens are laying a few more eggs.

As if to herald the promise of new growth after the long sleep of winter my own life is becoming busier. I have a run of appointments over the next few weeks as I attend to the maintenance required to keep my body sound and presentable. Today it was a trip to the opticians where I discovered that, unsurprisingly, I needed a stronger prescription to allow my eyes to relax more whilst reading. The young and friendly optician assured me that this was nothing to worry about, just an age thing. I think I knew that without the reminder.

With the sun trying to break through the haze and the bitter east wind finally blown through I decided to walk into town for my appointment. What a good decision that was. The trees are still bare of leaves and the fields soggy after recent floods but the paths were dry and the walk delightful. The lanes were quiet of traffic and only a few cyclists and dog walkers passed me when I left the roads to make my way into town. Fishermen lined the river and I even saw a pair of swans. It is a lovely day here in sunny Wiltshire.

By the time I had finished in town and started the uphill walk home it had warmed up sufficiently for me to remove my coat – a first for outside this year. My legs were too stiff from yesterdays workout at the gym to gambol like a lamb (and I am of course far too old for such antics) but I felt young and cheerful inside. What a difference a bit of fresh air, warmth and sunshine can make to one’s mood.

It is not just I who have become busier with the advent of spring. The warmer seasons are always active times for my children. The first camping trip of the year is approaching along with a school trip abroad and a more local activity weekend. Although they are capable of sorting and packing for themselves my kids still expect all that they need to be available to take. Thus I am required to keep on top of who is going where, when and with what. I also need to sort out who needs the services of the parental taxis. Thus far I think we are required to be in only two places at any one time. Sometimes it can get more complicated.

The first couple of months of this year have been a time of introspection for me but I do now feel ready to spread my wings a little and venture out into society. I am calmer and even a little more confident than at the start of the year.  It is not that anything in particular has changed other than my ability to cope. Whatever the reason for my minor meltdown over the festive season I seem to have come through. The arrival of the sunshine can only help with my mental rehabilitation.

Perhaps it is now a time to look forward, to allow a few buds of my own to grow. Who would have thought that a walk in the warmth and sunshine could have made me feel so positive? There is new life in the air and I feel ready to embrace it and live.



Our little corner of the world is currently experiencing snow. Although this happens most years it always seems to catch us unprepared leading to impassable roads, school closures and panic buying of essential food supplies. At my children’s school a recently arrived pupil from Russia would not believe that the school could not open because of what looked to her to be a mere sprinkling of the white stuff. She asked that a member of staff telephone her parents if she was really expected to stay at home.

Whilst I like to look out on the pretty scene that is created by a few inches of snow I am not a fan of  going out to play in it. Rather than face the cold I prefer to enjoy a self imposed retreat at home by a warm fire. If I have to go out I will be well wrapped up with hat, gloves, scarf and sturdy footwear. I will travel on foot as I flatly refuse to drive on roads covered with snow and ice. We live in a rural village so the local roads remain untreated whatever the weather. I will not take the risk (as I see it) of losing control of my car whilst driving. A car is a lethal weapon in careless or incompetent hands.

It is alleged that over 90% of all car drivers consider themselves to have above average abilities behind the wheel. If that is the case then I am one of the 10%. I refuse to drive in snowy conditions but I also try to avoid using my car generally. I can cite many reasons for this – to save money on fuel, to exercise in the fresh air, to make my little contribution to keeping the local air cleaner and to ensure that my children grow up understanding that it is possible to get from A to B under their own steam. I dislike driving on busy roads, along unknown routes or through narrow lanes. Most of the driving that I am required to do demands that I deal with at least one of these situations. And then there is the parking. I will walk a long way rather than try to manoeuvre my car into what looks to me to be a tiny space – particularly if there is a potential audience in the vicinity. Why I think that they would be interested I do not know.

My dislike of driving stems from a lack of confidence. I avoid driving when at all possible and can go for many days, sometimes weeks, without getting my car out of the garage. Thus I do not practice and my confidence is never built. Many years ago I regularly worked away from home and would spend many hours driving on motorways and through unknown cities without a thought. It is only since I have become a mother that driving has become an issue. I agreed to give up my car when I left full time, paid employment and, although this situation only lasted until the birth of my second child, I have never really returned to regular, frequent driving.

I am, of course, required to provide the child taxi service that is demanded of most modern parents. At times it feels as though my husband and children are the harshest critics of my abilities behind the wheel but, over the years, I have given them plenty of reasons to develop this attitude. I have the ability to take a wrong turn between home and a destination that I have been to many times before. I can get lost on a journey home despite having just driven that exact route to get to wherever I was going. When I do have to make a significant journey I prepare as though for a military campaign – maps are Googled, streets viewed, route lists printed out and key phone numbers noted – I am less likely to get lost driving half way across the country than to the other side of town but I still manage it.

In a years time my eldest child will be old enough to start learning to drive. I wonder if I will worry even more about letting her drive, and the potential dangers that I will envisage her encountering, than I do about driving myself.