Why I am banned from grocery shopping

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I wonder why it is that certain subjects get blogged about by many people at the same time. Today there seem to be a few of us thinking about our grocery shopping experiences; what exciting lives we do lead.

My husband banned me from grocery shopping soon after we got married. He was shocked to discover that I bought only what I felt like eating at the time, with no thought for the future including the next day. I would wander up and down the aisles, filling my trolley with whatever caught my eye and looked tasty. I never planned meals and rarely bought basic ingredients. Most appalling of all in his eyes, I did not consider cheaper brands or stock up on items when they were on special offer.

I saw no problem with eating breakfast cereal for dinner, toast topped with whatever I happened to find in my cupboards, and bananas. I always bought bananas. My cupboards usually contained a variety of boxed and tinned goods, coffee and packets of biscuits. When I ran out of food I would go shopping again. Normally I went because I was hungry; apparently this is not a good idea.

Occasionally I would invite friends round for dinner. On these rare occasions I would hunt out a recipe and hit the supermarket with a list of  ingredients, many of which I had never heard of before. I was always trying to cook a dish for the first time when I was feeding somebody else, with varying success. As my flat had an ancient oven that belched smoke (I wasn’t yet aware that they should be cleaned occasionally) the suggested cooking temperature did not always produce the expected results. As far as I am aware, I have yet to poison a dinner guest.

My husband assumed that I would know how to shop and cook, I have no idea why. The first meal I fed him was a slice of pizza that I found lurking in the freezer section of my fridge, a baked potato and some tinned vegetables; impressive huh? I had no interest in acquiring cookery skills when I lived with my parents so left home knowing how to scramble an egg and toast cheese but little else. As a student I ate a lot of bread products and those ubiquitous bananas; obviously I survived. As I have been trying to lose weight since I was sixteen, food was my enemy and the less I had to do with it the better.

My husband can cook. In the early years of our marriage, when we were both working full time, he cooked at least as much as I did. When the kids came along though, and I became a stay at home mum, I was required to take on the role of family food provider. Now that I had babies to feed I started thinking about balance and nutrition. Too many mushy bananas are not good to deal with when processed by nappy wearers.

My husband still did not trust me to do the grocery shopping though. During the baby years I struggled to leave the house due to the need to shower and put on clothes. Also, I did not have a car. I would give my husband a list of food to buy and he would pick up provisions when he was out and about. This arrangement worked fine for both of us.

And then all the big supermarkets started to introduce on line ordering with a home delivery service. For this to work I had to plan out meals a fortnight in advance and let my husband know exactly what I needed. He would set up the order and I would stay in to accept the crates of groceries and put the food away. Suddenly I was organised with a rolling fortnightly menu that rarely changed; how boring this felt.

I sometimes miss those early dinners of a bag of cookies from the in store bakery and a banana eaten in front of the TV. I am still constantly trying to lose weight. If any kids are reading this, don’t be fooled into thinking you get to do what you want when you grow up. My husband may have killed my ability to be impulsive with his practical and efficient ideas, but it is my teenagers who nag me about my continuing inclination to adopt odd eating habits. I may now be able to produce a variety of nutritious meals from scratch each evening, but the only time that I truly enjoy my food is when the preparation has been taken on by somebody else.

A square peg in a round hole

I am currently feeling alone within my family. Throughout life we are all constantly changing; recently I have come to feel that I have diverged from the place that my family has moved to. It seems at times that I no longer fit comfortably and easily within my own family unit.

It could be an age thing. It is said that age is just a number, that we are only as old as we feel. If this is the case then I have reached my dotage. Such a view could be partly a result of living with teenagers who regularly berate me; who ask me about the pet mammoth I had when I was a child. More than that though, it is the ache in my bones and in my soul.

The media tries to convince us that we are young for longer now that life expectancy has increased. I have no wish to be young again. Youth was a painful time filled with insecurity, pressure to conform and a need to be seen to succeed. I could never be all of the things that those who cared wished me to be, despite how much I tried back then. Age has given me the confidence to be myself, the experience to realise that there are many routes to achievement. I have learned that success is a subjective concept.

Preoccupation with youth is not new. I think of Dorian Grey, fictional but still someone to whom many can relate. History and literature recount many examples of powerful, old men who took younger and younger women to their beds in an attempt to feel young again themselves. How many marriages break down for just such a reason, and not one that is only confined to men?

Ageing is not something that I fear. I watch others as they try to hold back the years with cosmetics, procedures and clever tricks of concealment. It is not what is on the outside that makes me feel old, it is the person in the mirror who stares back at me through my tired eyes, weary from never being quite enough for those around me. It is the being that I am inside rather than the body that carries it around.

I feel as though I have lived through several lifetimes already, and am now expected to find the strength to demurely live through more. I do not claim to have had a hard life. Always there will be those who have had things much worse and somehow come through. This knowledge does not invalidate how I feel, although it does add an element of guilt.

Do I sound self pitying? I do not feel sorry for myself and do not expect anyone else to. I wish to be supportive of those I love, but the principle reason for my existence is not to sit at the bottom of a pile pushing them ever upwards. The expectation that I will always put up and shut up is crushing my spirit.

This Lent I have been taking the time to consider my well being, both physical and mental. I have enjoyed walks in the fresh air, beautiful views of the countryside around my home. I have visited the gym, taken long swims that offer me thinking time, been mindful of my consumption. Left to my own devices I can easily work with my body and mind to improve my health.

What I cannot work out is how to change the way I am treated. I do not know how to persuade others to act more gently or kindly towards me. I retreat into myself as an escape from the hurt that they inflict when they mock and deride me.

As with most personal blog posts this is a snapshot of a detail, not a panorama. It is a particular issue in a life filled with variety. For now this has bubbled to the surface, but it will sink again if other aspects of my life distract. I find it sad though that I am currently at my happiest when I am alone. My family has moved to a space where I do not feel that I am welcome.

I created this family, have held it together; perhaps that is why I feel so despondent when I see that I have diverged from their path. I need to work out a way to carve out a space for myself, to return to their fold.

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Using time and words wisely

When they were younger I used to love having my kids off school for the holidays. Their organised activities would take a break alongside the demands of academia meaning that we could do whatever we wished whenever we wished. It was a chance to visit museums, play in the park, climb a mountain, go for long cycle rides and picnics. It was a time to do new, fun stuff all together.

These days my kids each have their own ideas of what constitutes fun and it rarely involves me. I have found my own ways to enjoy myself, but having them off school impacts my day in ways that they seem unable to comprehend. They assure me that they do not need me, get annoyed with me if I am perceived to interfere with their plans, yet expect me to respond to their whims when it suits them. Their demands for food seem never ending, and if I am here then I am expected to provide.

This week, the February half term break, has always been a challenging holiday to make best use of. The lingering, winter weather is unpredictable and many places of interest have yet to open their doors to the public for the season. We plan a trip to the seaside later in the week but may struggle to spend much time outside without risking being blown or washed away in the current stormy conditions.

When my husband takes time off work he likes to be active. Not for him a lazy afternoon, curled up on a sofa with a good book. He will not take a computer away with him so is without the sudoku puzzles that occupy his down time at weekends. Having paid to go away he will want to be up and out and doing. He will be cross if our boys spend too much of their time on line, for that they could stay at home. He wishes us all to make the most of our time away.

When I think of an ideal short break I picture books, writing, long walks and good food. I enjoy people watching, experiencing new places, idly chatting about the minutiae of all that I observe. I want to store it all up and then savour the sights, sounds and experiences that I have absorbed at my leisure.

We had a still and sunny day on Sunday after a long period of wild, wet weather. I suggested that we take a walk and two members of my family opted to join me. It took us over an hour simply to get out of the house, worse than when I had toddlers to organise. The walk was well worth doing, enjoyable and relaxing, but I question why such a simple activity seems to require so much effort to make happen.

Yesterday, for reasons that I can no longer remember, I had organised dental check ups for myself and my boys. Why I thought this a good way to spend a morning off school I do not know. Once more, getting everyone out of the house was the challenge, mainly because I have a pathological dislike of being late. I would hate anyone to think that I consider my time more valuable than theirs and therefore that they should be willing to wait for me. I managed to get us to the appointment on time but arrived stressed. It was not a good start to the day.

This morning I am grateful to have the chance to relax. My husband is at work so, until my children emerge from their slumbers, I have a peaceful house. I can settle to write.

My writing has taken a short hiatus after a busy few weeks. Much as I have enjoyed entering the various challenges that I have chosen to take part in, these have not always fulfilled their initial promise. A story I wrote last week was read only a few of dozen times in a field that attracted a couple of hundred votes. My effort was not even considered by most. When the numbers start to matter it is time to step back, I see little point in me writing if it is not purely for my own pleasure.

I have new ideas though, for stories and for how I wish to present them. I also have new ideas about how I will manage the evolving dynamics of my family. It is good that we have a few days away to look forward to. I will have a room with a balcony view of the coastline and no requirements to cook for a couple of days. I may not be able to devote as many hours to my books and my writing as I would wish for, but I will have the opportunity to feed my imagination and replenish my soul with the beauty and power of the sea.

I will also have the opportunity to talk to my family about how they treat me. I find it so much harder to find those sorts of words than the ones that I write down.

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Le Failfish turns seventeen

My daughter has a nickname, Failfish. It came into being several years ago during one of the convoluted conversations that teenagers have with their friends, where they all end up thinking something is the funniest thing ever and afterwards cannot explain why. Or that is how it was sort of explained to me. I can’t say I that I really understand either how it came about or why it stuck, why she wanted it to stick. As they get older there is more and more going on in her life that I am not party to or do not understand. I think this is what happens as kids grow up.

It is not totally accurate to describe it as a nickname as I have not heard her friends call her by it, but she does sometimes use the name to refer to herself. I am puzzled because I cannot see how it can suit her. My daughter does not fail. She is one of the most driven people that I know.

Today is her birthday. In the wee small hours of the morning, seventeen years ago, my husband drove me to our local community hospital where we expected to welcome our first child into the world. On arrival the friendly midwife examined me, called an ambulance, and I was whisked off to a large city hospital some miles away. My husband was not allowed to travel with me. It was the most upsetting part of the birth process.

He caught up with us in the delivery suite and was present for our daughter’s birth, just before sunrise. The look on his face as he held his first child in his arms for the first time is one of my most precious memories. There couldn’t have been a more proud daddy. He has been a wonderful daddy to all three of our children.

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That tiny baby, who had to be monitored through her first thirty-six hours due to temperature and breathing difficulties, is now healthy, active and taller than me. Apparently we look alike but she has my husband’s willowy frame rather than my dumpy one. She also has his brains but my determination. It is quite a combination.

I like to think that we are reasonably close as mother and daughter. Being the eldest, she has always been the child to lead and her brothers have willingly followed. It has made my life a lot easier bringing them up that she could generally be reasoned with even if we did not always agree over the best course of action.

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Motherhood defined me for so many years, yet it is only one stage of the life I have lead. My daughter is starting to get this, to recognise that there is a person underneath the being who always has and always will care for her. I value her empathy and willingness to offer support and encouragement when our beloved boys find my foibles frustrating.

It is not just the well being of her mother that she looks out for though. As the eldest child she has always been the leader, the explorer. She has the ability to calm and bring under control the family storms that brew from time to time.

It is fascinating, as a parent, to watch a child develop and grow. My daughter has never been a follower, choosing her friends wisely but forging her own path. As her taste in clothes and music have developed, as she has chosen how she wishes to present herself to the world, it has been noticeable that she has not copied those around her. The look may not be unique to her but it is unusual amongst those she chooses to be with. She has never been a clone.

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And all of this delights me. The scientist who wishes to be a doctor also writes prolifically. Her penchant for rock and metal music, for Dr Martin boots and black eyeliner, does not preclude her from donning khaki’s and walking boots and heading into the hills with her tent and a few friends. She has never limited herself by the ideas that others may have of her.

I am immensely proud of all three of my children. Today though, on her birthday, I am thinking in particular of the child who turned me into a mother. I have always encouraged my children to think for themselves, to be themselves (everyone else is already taken), to ask questions and to stand up for what is right. My daughter is also loyal, loving and caring.

As for that nickname? I must ask her why she put the male article before it. Perhaps it is just another way in which she refuses to be defined by convention. Perhaps she uses it in an ironic way, against the hipsters who once used it and moved on.

For all her independence my daughter is not a rebel. She understands the need to conform in certain situations, to be community minded and a giving member of society. What defines her though is her determination to be the best that she can possibly be in whatever interest she chooses to pursue. For all her teenage procrastination she gets things done. This mother could not ask for a better daughter.

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So I said I wouldn’t talk about this

I’m on a diet. I wrote about this earlier in the week and promised that I wouldn’t go on about it too much. Day 5 and here I am going back on my word. Oh well.

The cutting back on food has actually been going fine. Not so the exercise. I have only managed to get to the gym on one day this week. A mixture of me trying to be an awesome mom and my kids conspiring to prove what a waste of time this is has resulted in much of my week being wasted. Plus I have been trying to succeed in one of my other determinations for this year, to keep my house in better order. I have had a little more success with this.

That one day at the gym though? The muscles in my arms have yet to forgive me for making them push, pull and lift those weights. Funny how I can feel so good after a workout and then suffer for days afterwards. Not funny at all really. When I mention it to the family they smirk and tell me it is because I am old. Thanks guys.

Yesterday was not a good day. Yesterday I woke up feeling ill, really ill. Sweats, shakes, nausea and dizzy ill. And all I could think was, is this because I have been eating too little and trying to do too much? I’m trying to improve my health here, not get ill.

So I gave myself an easy day to rest up and allowed myself to eat a normal dinner. I also eschewed the wine, almost unheard of for a Friday night. I still feel a bit ropey this morning and have no idea if my change of diet was anything to do with how I felt. And my arms still ache.

With a bit more free time than expected yesterday I inevitably went on line and, thanks to a friend, came across this http://100happydays.com/. Wavering between ‘Is this really cheesey?’ and ‘What a fun idea’ I decided to sign up. Assuming that I manage to stick with it my twitter feed is going to contain some random photos over the next few months as I find something that makes me happy each day. Today I am happy because I have time to write.

Living with three teenagers my weekend mornings do tend to be quiet. Given the chance my not so little darlings sleep until close to midday. Even when they wake earlier they stay sequestered in their rooms. It is the perfect opportunity for me to retire to my writing space. I tell myself that I am doing them a favour by choosing such a quiet pastime. I suspect that my motives are less altruistic.

I should also make some time for reading. When I was away last weekend I started a book that my daughter bought me for Christmas, ‘Infinite Jest’ by David Foster Wallace. So far I am enjoying it but it takes a lot of concentration. It is not a book that I can just pick up and set down quickly, or read large chunks of at a time. I am hopeful that, if I can persevere, it will be worth the effort. It is taking some effort to read though.

I like having a mix of books, some easy and some more challenging. I want to stretch my mind and explore new styles. Sometimes, however, I just want to curl up and escape. Perhaps I should try reading two books at a time so that I can pick up whichever I feel able to cope with. I wonder if I would be able to make this work.

I had hoped to watch a film with my little family yesterday evening but my elder son was out at the gym. He is much more disciplined about working out regularly than I seem to manage these days, he tells me off for not managing my time better which I find quite ironic given how he is with other aspects of his life. He and I often have great discussions about the films we watch so I did not want him to miss out. Perhaps tonight we will all manage to keep the evening free.

Meanwhile it has finally stopped raining here in soggy England. As news of the polar vortex has drifted across the pond I have felt rather guilty about mentioning our weather. There are always others having a harder time.

Today looks like being a good day. The sun is out, I am feeling much improved and husband is in the kitchen preparing what will be our dinner later. I will have to allow myself to eat that. Well, it would be ungrateful not to.

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Memory

After just over a week of fairly intense but ultimately satisfying creative writing, the word count on my NaNoWriMo story reached the half way mark late yesterday afternoon. To celebrate I gave myself the evening off. I have found that, when I am writing, the time just disappears. I am keeping up with the essential tasks needed to keep my little household ticking over but am managing little else.

What to do then with this time off that I granted myself? I chose to pick up a book that I received for my birthday several months ago and have been looking forward to reading. This turned out to be quite an intense and thought provoking experience in itself.

The book, ‘My Father’s House’ by Bethany Dawson, is set in Ireland, primarily the North, and revolves around a family whose son moved to Dublin and has not been in touch for over five years. It opens with his return to the family fold following news that his father is dying of cancer. I have so far read about half the book and have found the memories it evokes disturbing.

The author has managed to create a tale that captures Northern Ireland and family life in a way that I find uncomfortably too close to home. Just like the protagonist in the story, I escaped what I felt was a claustrophobic life and suffer guilt at having abandoned my perceived duty to my wider family. The part of the book that I have read so far suggests that unhappy memories are being suppressed; I cannot relate to that. If anything my guilt stems from the fact that I was loved so much yet felt suffocated by the expectations of those who cared for me.

Throughout my time in England I have come across other ladies around my age who were raised in Northern Ireland and still have large families living ‘back home’. They talk of missing the place, the closeness of the communities and the contact with the extended family members who were rarely far away. It was these aspects that I wished to escape. I felt smothered and unable to move without whatever I was doing being discussed and, too often, criticised. I longed for the freedom to do as I pleased without being held to account by those who loved me.

Northern Ireland folk are as friendly and welcoming as anyone could wish for. Families are close and supportive, yet much of what individuals personally feel or experience was never discussed when I lived there. There were so many things that were taboo, topics that were avoided, ignored or concealed. This book evokes these attitudes and I found reading about this familiar yet forgotten way of living difficult.

As ever I am aware that my antipathy towards such attitudes is at odds with the majority of those I know. I am the odd one out which I guess is why I wanted to leave so much. The book has opened up memories that have discomfited me.

Memory is a strange beast. Sometimes when I talk to my sister, who grew up in the same house as me and experienced the same people and way of life, I realise that we watched what was going on through different lenses. We did not talk freely of our issues back then, although when we get together now we can be more open. There were four of us living in that house and I sometimes feel that we barely knew each other.

There was love and there was support in abundance, but we each did our best to act out the role that was expected of us. We lived our personal lives in secret, and have generally continued to do so. Edited highlights are shared but so much of our daily thoughts and experiences remain unspoken and unknown.

The characters that the author has created in this book remind me of so many I knew. The guilt, the expectations, the resentments, the love. It is not a heavy or difficult book but, for me, it is raw.

Of course I cannot say if my experience is in any way typical, or even if any of my family members would feel as I do, but I am disturbed by this book because it opens up a box that I had not realised I prefer to keep closed. It uncovers my selfishness for leaving and returning only when I feel I must.

I have made a new life for myself and it feels far removed from the life I was raised to lead. The choices that I made were right for me but I must now live with the knowledge that, in doing so, I may have caused hurt. I was expected to marry and stay to raise my children close to what was considered my home. I feel guilty for escaping, guilty for not wishing to return. That is the price I paid for my freedom, but those who loved me also paid the price of loss and they were given no choice.

With half the book still to read I have yet to discover if there were other reasons for the protagonist in the story to break away. Perhaps my guilt is as much because my reasons were totally selfish. I needed to get out to preserve myself but this book has made me think about what my actions cost those I left behind.

As we do not talk about these things I will never know if my parents blamed me for leaving, if my guilt is even justified. I do know that, unlike many of those I speak to from similar backgrounds, I have never had any wish to return.

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My weekend

I believe that I may be unusual amongst my friends in liking Mondays. Don’t get me wrong, I very much enjoy the weekends. There is just something about a new week beginning that makes me feel positive.

With September drawing to a close I realised last week that I had been procrastinating about many of the tasks that I had decided needed to be done. Over the weekend I took myself in hand and set in motion a number of things that need to happen before these can be completed. I am now likely to be kept busier than usual for a few weeks to come.

It was a fairly typical weekend in many ways. I picked up the children after school on Friday and took my younger son swimming. For a lot of the time we had the pool to ourselves, which was lovely. None of us had particular plans for the evening so we watched a daft but light hearted and funny film (Johnny English Reborn). I like it when we all sit down as a family to watch a film, not least because we can then discuss it together afterwards. On this occasion, however, my daughter could not be persuaded to join us. As she is currently swamped with school work and trying to sort out work experience placements I think she just needed some time to herself.

I didn’t sleep well so, rather than disturb my husband with my tossing and turning, got up stupidly early on Saturday morning. As is usual, my day was spent cleaning, tidying and sorting the laundry. The boys had a hockey match and my daughter went to the gym in the afternoon so I made the most of a quiet house to enjoy a couple of hours writing. This put me in an excellent mood for the evening. We had a late dinner and I then went to bed. I find that I now need at least a couple of early nights each week or I start to feel very run down.

On Sunday morning I took my daughter shopping as we are planning on redoing her bedroom. She is still sleeping on the bed we got her when she was eighteen months old. The mattress is no longer supportive and a couple of slats on the base are broken. We cobbled together a fix for these but a replacement is overdue. I had been putting this off as I had expected her to move out in a couple of years when she hopes to go up to university. However, she is going to try to get on a course that will take six years of study so will be returning home regularly for some time to come. I think we can justify spending some money to get her room as she would like it.

Most of Sunday afternoon seemed to vanish as I searched the internet for the bits and pieces we couldn’t find in the shops we visited earlier. Most of the things are now ordered so it was a successful enough day. I did manage to fit in a bit of gardening before I had to prepare food for the evening meal. I did not manage to tackle my pile of ironing so that is a job for today.

Sunday evening we had pancakes for tea which was a lot of fun; my kids love pancakes. I make up bowls of fillings and they sit round the island in our kitchen chatting and eating as my husband cooks and tosses the batter. My daughter is trying to persuade her brothers to join her in taking part in NaNoWriMo this year; I may even give it a go myself.

When all had eaten their fill I sat down with a glass of wine and some music to catch up with the on line news. The children had dispersed to their rooms and my husband was engrossed in his book; he is reading his way through George R.R. Martin’s series, A Song of Ice and Fire.

Our weekends are now so different to the way they used to be when the children were younger. There seemed to be years when we spent day after day driving the children to: football or hockey matches; taekwondo or judo training; swimming or music lessons; drama; dance; and, of course, the ubiquitous birthday parties. These days life is calmer and we have more time to ourselves. We also spend more time together as a family rather than rushing off in different directions to take part in the next activity.

Even so, when Monday morning comes I am happy to be able to spend some quiet time on my own. Perhaps this is why we need to have our children when we are younger and still have the energy for all the running around that is required. Either that or I have just grown used to being able to take life at an easier pace. I guess we adapt as we need to.

This week my daughter and I need to empty her bedroom in readiness for it’s remodelling. With the work still ongoing in our book room downstairs it feels like a lot of change. There are items of furniture, books and pictures being stored all over the house as we wait for jobs to be finished or items to be delivered. Having set everything in motion I now need to keep on top of the necessary preparation.

For myself though, I want to sit peacefully and write. I can only indulge myself so often; there are too many other demands on my time. I am enjoying a feeling of satisfaction that I have made progress with the tasks I had been procrastinating about, but the busyness that this has generated does not suit me. I like my thinking time and my quiet creativity. Having found this good place to be it can take a force of will to leave it.

If I can make a good start to the week then the rest will generally fall into place. The days seem so short though; I guess I must be enjoying myself.

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Daily life

A few months ago I wrote a post about my dislike of cooking (Not a domestic goddess). I am revisiting this theme because, in the last couple of weeks, I have come to realise that things are improving. It is not that the food I am preparing each day has suddenly developed into anything attractively delicious, but rather that my family seem to be showing a little bit more acceptance of what is put in front of them. I don’t expect compliments (although I did unexpectedly get one last week!), but I am gratified that there have been fewer complaints.

I think that there may be a number of factors at play here. My daughter spent a month of the summer exploring Madagascar. For a couple of weeks she was required to camp in remote villages, acquire food and prepare it on a small camp stove. To survive she could not be too fussy about what she would eat; as a vegetarian her choices were limited further.

Alongside this experience she has been showing a great deal more maturity in the way she notices how others are reacting and feeling (I wonder if her trip away helped with this). She realises that I am doing my best and is being more considerate. She is also developing her own cooking skills and can produce a meal for herself and her brothers if I wish to go out. There have even been occasions when she has done the washing up.

My elder son has reached the stage where it is hard to feed him enough. Satisfying his constant hunger is a challenge, but it does mean that whatever food is produced will be eaten. His complaints have not vanished, but have decreased markedly. Both children are noticing more often the efforts I put in to feeding them, even if the food produced is not always what they would choose to eat.

With these small improvements in my everyday life I have felt encouraged enough to make a tentative return to baking. This weekend I made bread for the first time in ages and it was pounced upon and consumed with enthusiasm. Requests for more were made and I felt gratified that the exercise had been worthwhile. The next day I spent much of the afternoon in the kitchen preparing a more interesting evening meal than is normal. It seems that, with just a little more appreciation being shown, I can gain some enjoyment from feeding my family after all.

Cooking is unlikely to ever give me pleasure in itself, but providing my family with something that they enjoy consuming is rewarding. Having gained these small successes I am now feeling uplifted enough to be encouraged to make other improvements in our day to day lives. If my family are capable of showing some appreciation of the food that I produce then perhaps they can also appreciate a more comfortable and appealing home. Perhaps it is worth my while redecorating a messy bedroom or getting some of the maintenance tasks that I have been procrastinating about seen to.

We support an organisation that works with families in Uganda. They aim to educate the mothers in improved hygiene, food production and storage, as well as in managing family finances, small business opportunities and rights to land. If the mothers can be kept healthy and productive then the whole family and community benefit. I sometimes think that I could learn a valuable lesson from this.

I am always inclined to put the needs of my husband and children before my own. Their happiness makes me happy so this makes sense to me. What I need to remember is that, on a day to day level, my mood and attitude affect them markedly. If I am feeling down then their home life becomes less pleasurable. They may act at times as if they do not notice that I exist, but the vibes I give out can act as a catalyst to their behaviour. When I am happy and full of energy we are all more likely to have an enjoyable, family time.

This week I will bake them another loaf of bread; I will try out that new recipe I found for bean burgers; I may even bake a cake. As my younger son told me at the weekend, not all of my cooking is a disaster and, even when it is, it doesn’t taste so bad that it isn’t eaten. Praise indeed…

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Intermission

A summer’s evening: glass of wine to hand, I sit with my computer. The sun has set; the dishwasher is on; my little family are occupied, each doing their own thing; a typical family, post dinner scenario.

Earlier this evening I dropped my daughter off at a friend’s house. She has been invited to attend an open air theatre show with a girl that she knows through their creative writing courses. I have not had the opportunity to get to know the family but, from the brief conversations we have had when I have dropped my daughter off on previous occasions, I suspect that I would like them a lot. They are my daughter’s friends; she has made good choices.

My youngest son has chosen to spend his evening watching a few episodes from our Red Dwarf  DVD box set. These shows never fail to draw laughs. My elder son eschewed this choice of entertainment initially but succumbed when it became clear that there were no better options. Aged parents will rarely be attractive company for their teenage children.

My husband has unspecified things to do. Having poured himself a glass of wine he has abandoned it on the kitchen worktop. I suspect it will not be attended to before he retires for the night. Setting off for work at 5.30am each morning demands an earlier night than most would consider acceptable. We have grown used to his habits.

I had a lovely birthday yesterday. So many of my family, friends and acquaintances sent me messages of good will. I had enough cards and parcels; presents and messages; physical and virtual indications of care to convince me that I was wished a good day. And I had one. I celebrated quietly with my family but was assured of other’s regard. It was truly heart warming.

Tomorrow is exam results day. However much I may feel concerned about my children’s reactions to whatever results they may achieve I am aware that the results are theirs; I am merely a bystander. Of course I care and am affected by the fallout, but it is not my ability that is being judged; I must put myself aside. Children will never understand that they are physically a part of their parents. What was conjoined may have been sundered at birth but the link is never truly broken. They where and will always be a part of me, and I feel their joy and pain as my own.

Yesterday we opened a bottle of champagne in celebration of my birthday. Another bottle sits chilling in our fridge in anticipation of expected cheer tomorrow. A table at a local restaurant has been booked; a joyful, family occasion is anticipated. At the back of my mind niggles a fear that we are tempting fate in expecting events to proceed in a certain way. What if, what if, what if…

The unhappiness that I have experienced in my life has been triggered when I have felt that I have not lived up to the expectations of those I care about; when I have believed that I have let loved ones down; when I have not achieved the results that were demanded of me, even if only by myself.

Whatever my children become, I would wish for them self fulfilment and contentment. They are amazing young people and I love them unconditionally. Whatever grades an exam board awards them they can fulfil their ambitions if they have the drive and the determination to make it happen. And I will always be there to cheer them on their way.

As parents we desire the best for our children. There comes a time when we must let them go to make their own way, wherever that may lead. My children are expected to do well in their exams and, for their sakes, I hope that they do. Not for my sake though; let them do what they choose for themselves.

I will continue to sit, glass of wine to hand, and look over them. A summer shower patters gently on our windows as I await my daughter’s return. Life goes on.

The stress that the world piles on our young people to achieve a grade too often overshadows the importance of developing a tolerant, rounded and diverse personality; of becoming a good person, whatever that may mean. I wish only that my children may be true to themselves and find their niche in life, content with whatever they become.

So easy to say and so hard to do. I must listen to my own council and be true to myself. Those who love me will accept that.

This image shows a white wine glass (WMF Easy)...

Home

My daughter returned from her big adventure yesterday; I have missed her so much. From the day she left us, exactly a month ago today, to the morning before her return, we heard nothing from her. It turns out that she could have made contact on a couple of occasions, but chose not to. She was having the time of her life and wanted to maintain the break from home for the duration.

When she did text it was to say that we didn’t need to pick her up from the return coach drop off point; she had arranged a lift with a friend. This came as no big surprise and was not an issue; my daughter has been eager to extend the time she spends with certain friends from she was at primary school. It proved that she was happy and enjoying herself.

I have spent the weekend anticipating her return. Much as I try not to wish my life away, there are some occasions that I look forward to with such eagerness that I just want the days in between to pass. Her journey home started early on Sunday and I was avidly watching the on line departure and arrivals boards at the various airports she was to pass through, following her progress. I was unsure how smooth her journey would be after last week’s events at a key changeover point (Nairobi airport closes as fire crews tackle blaze) but all seemed to proceed smoothly.

And then she was home, bringing with her the joyful tales of adventure and fun; the stories of new experiences, friendships and mishaps that seemed amusing in hindsight. We poured over the photographs and mementoes, sharing the memories and misadventures. Even the tough times were recalled with fondness; it was the trip of a lifetime.

In her absence the dynamic of our family changed. I thought that it would go back to how it was when she returned but now I am not so sure it will. I cooked a big welcome home dinner; my youngest son baked a cake and a batch of cookies; from the moment I sat down my presence at the table upset my boys so I left them to enjoy my daughter’s return and ate later, alone.

I listened in to their conversation as I sorted the mountains of laundry, washed dishes and tidied away. I did not miss out on the tales but on the camaraderie. My family are a unit of which I no longer feel a part.

This will be a tricky one to negotiate. How horrid it would be for my daughter to find, after a month away, that we had fallen apart without her. I must somehow try to mend the chasm that has opened up. It was not this obvious until she returned because my gradual banishment was accepted, perhaps even desired by the boys. She will not take it so calmly.

And I am grateful for that. I knew that she was my ally, but she is valued by my boys as much as by me. I must work out a way to get by that will be accepted for all our sakes.

I love all of my family very much and want nothing more than their happiness. It is hard to observe that what makes them happy is me becoming silent and invisible. It is hard that my presence puts a dampener on their craic.

This is not about me or my daughter or even my boys; it is how we all interact when together. I need to try to work out why I have become such an irritation. We are all so happy to have our favourite girl home. I do not wish to spoil this for anyone.

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