New Year

Happy New Year!

There, I’ve said it. I do wish you all good health, much happiness and strength to cope with whatever life throws at you. It just takes me a little while to get to the point where I feel able to relax enough to send out the greeting. I cannot relax until I am safely out the other side of the festive season.

I coped better this year than I managed last year. Not that such a thing would be hard given the personal implosion I suffered last year. Actually that would be the year before last now wouldn’t it? You know, given that we have been through the whole turn of the year thing? Oh well.

Talking about the turn of the year, I thought it would be different this time around. Now that my children regularly stay up to beyond midnight for, well, reasons, I thought that we might see the New Year in together. It was not to be. After the champagne, the music, the party food and the film, my husband and I agreed that we were in need of bed more than anything else. Lest you fondly imagine that anything romantic may have been going down, rest assured we were asleep within seconds of heads hitting pillows. At 10.30pm on New Year’s Eve. Boring? Yes. Enjoyed New Years Day more than a lot of my hungover friends? Yes.

So, having got up bright and early with a reasonably clear head, I undecked the halls. My reluctance to acknowledge Christmas until I am forced to do so meant that my children put up and decorated our two Christmas trees. Had they not done so there was a risk that I may have avoided this task altogether. I assisted by draping tinsel around various bits of furniture and innocent house plants. I found places for the themed candles and ornaments that we put out at this time of year. The bulk of the work though was done by my kids.

Not so the undecking, that I did alone and quickly. I have been known to tidy the lot away on Boxing Day so keen am I to move on. Bah humbug as they say.

Anyway, this year the decorations lasted until New Years Day. I had the house back to looking unfestive by lunchtime, and felt much better for it. Now that we have got all that out of the way I can start looking forward.

I do not really hate Christmas. What I find so hard are the expectations and obligations that have become a part of the whole thing. My natural urge to hide makes the whole bonhomie of the season a challenge. I could happily spend the two or three days in front of the television, dressed in my pyjamas, eating pizza with my loved ones. One of these years I am so going to do that.

Husband worked through all but the three shutdown days. The kids did whatever teenagers do all day when they are sequestered in their rooms. Now that we have got through and out the other side though we can enjoy what is left of the holidays. This weekend we will be getting away for some family time.

This is perfect for me. The weather may be foul but a New Year has started with all the positive energy that fresh starts bring. For a little while there will be no demands from others to fulfil any expectations. We five can run away together and have some fun.

So now I can wish you all a Happy New Year with heartfelt sincerity. I have a lot of plans for the coming months and am feeling good about what lies ahead. I hope that your year turns out to be magnificent.

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Rebuilding

I wake up feeling happy and rested, then life happens and somehow it is my fault. Sometimes it actually is, but not always. Sometimes I am just being treated badly. So why do I allow that to happen? Do you see what I did there? I swung the blame back around to me.

The blame game is one that will always be lost. I didn’t start to play it until I became a mother in my thirties. As a teenager I would feel guilty that I wasn’t growing into the person that my mother wanted me to be, but I knew for certain that this was okay with me. I knew that I didn’t want to hurt or upset her but neither could I be the person she was trying to raise. I didn’t want to be that person even if it would please her. It was not someone I could ever be satisfied with.

In my twenties I was focused, determined and fiercely independent. I wasn’t always happy but I had autonomy. I was often in a relationship where I was naturally the submissive, but that was my choice. That was where I felt comfortable. If I didn’t like the direction that I found myself heading in then I bailed out. I left a few casualties along the way but I still recognised that, ultimately, I had to please myself. I had to find contentment with what I was and where I was going. This was more important than trying to fit in, I did not feel a need to be what other’s wanted or expected.

My husband made me very happy. He made me laugh with his wicked sense of humour and dark observations. He was clever, witty and unfailingly kind to me. It was not all springtime and roses but we had a solid base to build on. We were a team and accepted each other for what we were.

So how did all of this change?

Motherhood. I could not have foreseen the impact those amazing little people we chose to create would have on my aspirations and outlook. I did not foresee the impact their arrival would have on how the world treated me. Suddenly I was inundated with unasked for advice and criticism. Suddenly everything that happened was assumed to be my fault.

I trained as a computer programmer. To get a computer to perform a function the programmer writes a piece of code. The computer will then do exactly as it is told; good code achieves the desired result. Children are not like that. No matter how closely the child rearing instruction books are followed those little people retain their character, personality and free will. Of course there is a correlation between genetics, upbringing and societal interaction, but the way the mother is treated suggests that it is all down to her. It is not, not all of it.

Somehow I wasn’t able to act on this knowledge as I had managed in my earlier life. My mother and my various spurned boyfriends may have made me feel guilty for the way I treated them but I knew that, in the long term, it was the right think to do for all of us. Somehow I allowed motherhood to subsume my independence, confidence and autonomy.

When I say motherhood I do not mean the children themselves but the society in which we lived. I allowed the views of wider family, friends, acquaintances and educators to make me feel that I was falling short of the ideal to which I aspired. My kids were developing into exactly the sort of individuals that I could admire, but they were not always behaving as other’s thought that they should. I allowed myself to become a victim of the blame game and it made me miserable.

So now the children are older and I have time to reflect. I have recognised where I went wrong and am trying to move on. I am trying to retrieve my autonomy and allow myself to be the person that I can live with. I am finding barriers in unexpected places.

Friends are chosen and can accept change. Those who cannot will move away. Again, there have been some casualties, but those who have accepted my shift can be valued all the more for having done so. Closer to home the task is harder. It turns out that my biggest critics are now my family.

Looking back at my teenage self I can understand where my children are coming from. In their eyes I will look very old. They have never known my intelligent, independent self. They see me at my worst; for this I recognise that I am indeed to blame. If I wish them to hold me in any sort of regard then I need to offer more than mothering. I need to show them a side to me that is nothing to do with them, and that is hard. Their ingrained preconceptions of me as nothing more than a cook, housekeeper and chauffeur may be impossible to change. They have their own lives to lead and are unlikely to be particularly interested in mine.

The wider family do not always understand what I need from the life I lead, that I do not wish to be what is expected from a typical, middle aged housewife and mother. I want to stand atop a mountain and drink in the view, ideally with my husband by my side. How I look, how I am seen matters far less to me than what I see.

This is the next shift that I need to make. I need to stop living my life as an attempt to gain credits from others, including my family. I need to stop participating in the blame game and return to moulding my life around what I can feel comfortable with.

Does that sound selfish? If it were all about me, me, me then it would be. I am, however, still the submissive. I want to be a good wife and a good mother. What I also need is to be the sort of person that I can relax with, and she is not a doormat. She does not achieve great things that others admire, but she does make her own decisions. If I can be happy with what I am then those around me will benefit. Nobody wants to live with a misery, especially one who does not appear to have anything to be miserable about.

I have had a difficult year but feel as though I am moving towards a better place. I feel as though I have worked through what was going wrong. The next step will be to ensure that I do not shut out those I love as I move forward.

As the New Year approaches and I reflect on what has gone before I can see that I am not to blame for all that has happened, but that I should not have accepted the role of victim so passively. First and foremost I must be able to live with myself. As I work towards that I will do what I can to ensure that I do not climb the mountain alone.

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Panic attack

Monday morning just before 6am. I could have slept in today, what with the children being off school for the holidays. My body clock does not understand this change in routine. My husband left a cup of tea on my bedside table when he left for work so I sit up to enjoy it, firing up my social networks to see what the rest of the world has been doing. And there it is, a simple status update. I have tried so hard to make my loved ones understand the impact that such events have on me. I see the exasperation in their faces, that they think I am making an unnecessary fuss, that I should just stop behaving like this.

If only I could.

*

Anxiety is something that we all experience from time to time. Most people can relate to feeling tense, uncertain and, perhaps, fearful at the prospect of certain events or situations that they find stressful. This type of short-term anxiety can be useful. For example, feeling nervous before an exam can make you feel more alert and enhance your performance. However, if the feelings of anxiety overwhelm you, your ability to concentrate and do well may suffer.

When you feel under threat anxiety and fear can protect you from danger by triggering the release of hormones such as adrenalin. Adrenalin causes your heart to beat faster to carry blood to where it is most needed. You breathe faster to provide the extra oxygen required for energy. You sweat to prevent overheating. Your mouth may feel dry as your digestive system slows down to allow more blood to be sent to your muscles. Your senses become heightened and your brain becomes more alert.

These changes make your body able to take action and protect you in a dangerous situation either by running away or fighting. It is known as the ‘fight or flight’ reflex. Once the danger has passed, other hormones are released, which may cause you to shake as your muscles start to relax.

This response is useful for protecting you against physical dangers. The response is not so useful if you want to run away from a stressful situation where there is no physical threat. If you have no need to physically run away or fight, the effects of adrenaline subside more slowly, and you may go on feeling agitated for a long time.

If the anxiety stays at a high level then you may feel that it is difficult to deal with everyday life. The anxiety may become severe; you may feel powerless, out of control. Sometimes, if the feelings of fear overwhelm you, you may experience a panic attack.

A panic attack is an exaggeration of the body’s normal response to fear, stress or excitement. It is the rapid build-up of overwhelming sensations, such as a pounding heartbeat, feeling faint, sweating, nausea, chest pains, breathing discomfort, feelings of losing control and shaky limbs. It can be a frightening experience.

If something distressing happened to you in the past and you were unable to deal with your emotions at the time then you may become anxious about facing similar situations again in case they stir up the same feelings of distress. Some theories suggest that you may inherit a tendency to be more anxious, and so it is a part of your personality.

Anxiety can have an effect on both your body and your mind.

Physical effects

Short-term:

  • Increased muscular tension can cause achiness.
  • Rapid breathing may make you feel light-headed and shaky.
  • Rising blood pressure can make you more aware of a pounding heart.
  • Changes in the blood supply to your digestive system may cause nausea.

Long-term:

  • Fear combined with tension and lack of sleep can weaken your immune system, lowering your resistance to infection.
  • You may experience digestive difficulties.
  • You may feel depressed.

Psychological effects

Anxiety can make you more fearful, alert, on edge, irritable, and unable to relax or concentrate. You may feel an overwhelming desire to seek the reassurance of others, to be weepy and dependent.

The way you think can be affected: if you fear that the worst is going to happen, you may start to see everything negatively and become very pessimistic. If your anxiety is severe then you may find it difficult to develop or maintain good relationships, or simply to enjoy leisure time. Sleep problems may make your anxious feelings even worse and reduce your ability to cope.

For some people, anxiety becomes so overwhelming that it takes over their lives. They may experience severe or very frequent panic attacks, or have a persistent sense of anxiety. Some people may develop a phobia about going out or may withdraw from contact with people, even their family and friends.

*

Like many mental issues, understanding the causes and effects does little to remove the stigma attached. We are expected to just get on with it, to accept what is happening and stop making such a fuss. Others cope fine with far more challenging situations. We are at fault.

I have to make choices. I can try to take control, look after myself, and risk seriously annoying my loved ones in the process. Or I can try to do what is easiest for everyone but me, and thus risk a recurrence of this panic. The thought of that makes my heart beat stupidly fast, the nausea threatens to overwhelm me.

I don’t yet know what I shall do. I want to escape but where could I go? I feel such a failure for not being able to deal with this rationally. Sometimes just keeping on living is so hard.

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Guilt

I am feeling guilty. This is what I associate Christmas with now, guilt and obligation. How bah humbug is that? I am a miserable person, a miserable excuse for a person. And I feel guilty about that too.

This year I made a concious decision not to send many cards. It used to be that I would send out quite a few dozen, many containing my carefully crafted annual update full of news and family photos. I knew that round robins got a bad press so I tried hard to make mine an honest letter to my friends, to people who I thought would be interested in how we were doing. And then I was asked by one of the recipients to please not send her the update. I felt crushed.

Why did such a simple request hit me so hard? Naturally I acquiesced to her request, but sending a card that said nothing more than To- and From- felt impersonal, sterile, unnecessary. So this year I haven’t. This year I have sent only a few cards, plus even fewer brief notes pointing people to my on line life. This is where I hang out now. If anyone is interested in how I am doing then they are more than welcome to meet me here.

Except not everyone has a computer, not everyone is comfortable interacting on line.

I got a card this week from an elderly uncle who has, in the past, been a recipient of my annual update. His card said more than just To- and From-. He also told me how much he enjoyed reading my update each year. This year I do not have one to send and I do not know if he ever goes on line. He will hear from me, but may be disappointed at the shortness of my message.

I feel guilty that I have allowed the comments of one person to knock me down. Others will miss out on something they enjoyed receiving because I could not grow a thicker skin. How can I ever expect to be a writer if I cannot cope with negative feedback?

Next year I will produce a round robin, even if only for the two or three people who have specifically told me that they enjoy receiving it. I will not feel obliged to send cards to those whose only contact with me is a To- and From- with no news. I will not feel obliged to send cards to those who follow me on line and who require no update as they have access to my news in real time. I will endeavour to keep in touch with those who eschew social networks but who make the effort to talk to me in other ways.

I am not happy with how my card writing has gone this year, neither am I happy with my present buying. Yesterday I wrapped all the gifts that I have been amassing over the month. My elder son did not give me a list and I have neglected to hunt out the little puzzles and oddities that normally fill his stocking. I have placed a few last minute orders on line, but his space on the floor on Christmas morning will look bereft if these are not delivered before the big day. There will be nothing to keep him occupied as the others tear into their parcels, ordered early with the help of lists.

I have learned useful lessons this year. I have learned that I should be concentrating my efforts on those who offer me support throughout the year rather than those whose relationship to me makes me feel an obligation towards them. I must also try harder to shrug off mental setbacks, although that is easier said than done.

I still have time to write a few cards, to contact those who enrich my life. There is still time to set aside my guilt and allow myself to try for a merry Christmas. I can only hope that those who seek to bring me down have more pressing matters to divert them. I really must try to grow that thicker skin.

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Preparations

As often happens at this time of year, my life seems to have stepped up a gear. I have a long list of jobs that I need to complete in the next few days if I am to meet other’s expectations. I am not good at coping with obligations that I did not agree to but are presumed accepted.

After the initial wobble when December arrived and I realised that I could not realistically hide under my duvet for the entire month, I have been coping with the preparations for Christmas reasonably well. It will be very low key in our house this year, but the event will be marked. There has been some irritation from my children that I am not displaying the expected enthusiasm; sorry guys, I’m doing the best I can.

I had an added challenge this week as my daughter is attending a conference at a university 160 miles from our home. I have written before about my dislike of driving but, on this occasion, I had to balance my antipathy against the worry I would have to deal with if I sent her on her own by train. The compromise we arrived at was for me to drive her there the evening before and stay overnight in a cheap hotel to remove the pressure of having to complete the journey in a set time. This worked well and I actually rather enjoyed my time away.

With three children and a husband to consider, it can be hard to spend time with just one member of my family. Months can go by without this happening, although I have benefited from two such occasions this week.

On Sunday my husband and I had a meal out together, just the two of us. We do not have regular date nights so this was a rare treat. Admittedly it only came about because we had to bring my daughter home from a Black Veil Brides concert that was due to finish after the last train home had departed. As a trip to the city was necessary we decided to make use of the need to travel and park by indulging ourselves. I still had to cook a dinner for my sons before we left, but it was good to spend time alone with my husband. I almost felt young again.

The late return home after we had collected my daughter, followed by the need to get up for school the next day, meant that I had four hours sleep on Sunday night. This was not the best way to ready myself for the long drive on Monday evening.

I had prepared the family dinner in advance so that all my husband had to do in order to feed himself and our boys was to reheat the contents of a couple of pots. I was impressed on my return to find that they had been washed.

My daughter and I planned to eat on arrival, although I brought along a packed meal just in case we suffered delays or could not find a suitable eatery. I worry a lot about potential problems and feel better if I have contingency plans.

The journey up was exhausting. I am not used to having to drive in the dark and the traffic was very heavy. The unknown roads were confusing at times, despite the many maps and detailed directions that I had printed off. As I had to concentrate hard on my driving I needed my daughter to act as navigator. As a non driver, she struggled at times to understand what it was that I needed to know.

However, we reached our destination after about four hours and were able to walk to a restaurant from our hotel. After a delicious meal we relaxed for an hour or so before settling down for an early night. I slept better and for longer than I normally do at home.

The next morning we spent a pleasant enough couple of hours exploring the university campus before I left my daughter to find her own way into her conference. It was obvious from the many students on site that I was something of an anachronism but, having made the journey, I wished to see what the university had to offer as it is one that my daughter may consider applying to. She showed signs of irritation at my behaviour at times but coped well.

After a picnic lunch I then had to face the drive home on my own. Nobody seemed to have missed me and I was back in time to cook the family dinner. My daughter texted me to say that she was having an awesome time and had made friends already so I do not need to worry about her for the rest of the week.

My week, meanwhile, must continue apace. School finishes for the Christmas holidays on Friday and I still have letters and cards to sort as well as presents to wrap. With one week to go I am struggling to keep my mood up.

However, I am coping. I may not get to the gym as planned, or manage a walk this week, but I should be able to tick off all the essential tasks on my Do List. I also plan to do more writing as that is a guaranteed mood lifter. How grateful I am to have found this outlet for my vacillating emotions.

My house is a mess so I shall now tackle some chores before I face those festive tasks. I hope that your preparations are coming along as you would wish. One week to go and counting.

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Learning

Yesterday I completed a six week long psychology course that I signed up to through Futurelearn, a subsidiary of the Open University, that offers a variety of free, on line courses. On completion I was offered the opportunity to sit an external exam which could lead to a qualification. Although not exorbitant, the cost of this was enough to put me off the idea. I have no need for any extra qualifications.

Over the years I have earned the right to include a long string of letters after my name. I use none of them. If I were applying for a job I guess I would list the various accreditations on my CV, but they are no longer relevant to the life I lead now.

I signed up for this psychology course purely out of interest. It is the first time in my life that I have studied with a respected organisation, in this case the University of Warwick, purely for pleasure. The exams I studied for in my younger years were carefully selected to offer me the best chance of getting a well paid job. I get the impression that this approach and aspiration has fallen out of favour.

When my children’s school asks them to consider careers they are encouraged to think about what they enjoy. Whilst I think that it is important to take into account personal interest and ability, I also believe that the usefulness of the qualification should have some significance in the decision making process. It costs a great deal of money to go through higher education these days. A university education has become much more of an investment than it was in my day.

Had I chosen courses that interested me then I would have studied philosophy with, perhaps, a few modules of psychology and sociology thrown into the mix. I have always been fascinated by these subjects. Because of my interest I do a lot of related reading in my own time. I took modules in philosophy at university and excelled at the subject. I had to work stupidly hard at my main degree subject, computer science. The study of philosophy never felt like work.

I didn’t, however, consider that I could land a well paid job with such a degree, and that well paid job mattered to me. I wanted to be able to afford my own home, a car and to travel. For that I needed money. As a student I hated not having enough money. It instilled in me a determination to do whatever it took to earn enough to pay for the life I wished to lead.

I was also lucky of course. When I was going through the system a university education was still funded by government. By the time I graduated there were jobs available and house prices, although climbing, were nothing like as stupidly high as they are now. No matter how hard they work, my children will not have as easy a time as I had getting themselves established.

Perhaps this is why they are now encouraged to pursue their interests more than a potentially high earning career. Perhaps the days of debt free, home ownership have gone except for the uber wealthy minority.

Of course, economics fluctuate wildly over time. When I was studying, unemployment was high and jobs scarce so I knew that I would have to work hard at a sought after subject if I was to get to where I wanted to be. By the time I qualified though, the Thatcher boom years were in full flow and I undoubtedly benefited from that. Whether or not your politics considers her rule a triumph or a disaster for the country, those of us who were starting out when she was in power had the opportunity to reap rewards at the time.

I encourage my children to think about how they will use their qualifications when making choices. If they are going to incur a huge debt then they need to consider how they will pay it back, and whether it is worth getting into debt in the first place.

I have friends whose intelligent children have opted not to go to university because they do not wish to live under the shadow of a massive student loan. With the government currently selling off these debts, it is unclear how interest rates will be affected and how much will eventually be needed to pay them off. I can understand why a university education no longer looks so attractive.

I find this quite depressing. Whilst I do not consider further education to be a right, it seems sad that some of the most academically able choose not to attend purely because of the huge cost. With so many graduates unable to find jobs the incentive to get a degree in anything other than a sought after subject diminishes.

There are no easy answers. We cannot be held accountable for the times into which we are born, all that any of us can do is to work hard to make the best of the situation in which we find ourselves. I wish that I could offer my children more, but ultimately they will have to find their own way and cope as best they can.

Whatever they choose to study, I hope that they retain a love of learning. It is possible to pursue what interests them as well as that which can be practically useful. Learning for learning’s sake can be a very satisfying pastime.

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Inequality

This post was inspired by a writing prompt on Tipsy Lit.

There are so many people striving for equal rights, vocal and strident in their fight to be granted the same opportunities as others. Except we are not all the same, we are not born equal.

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Children pick up on this from an early age. Primary schools and sports clubs appear reluctant to reward youngster’s achievements, yet the children themselves are well aware of who amongst them is the best at running, football, gymnastics, maths. By rewarding all or rewarding none, hard won accomplishments go unrecognised. By trying to avoid labelling children winners and losers, none reap the benefits.

Inequality exists. Being fair does not necessarily mean demanding equality.

Should we instead be striving for an unbiased meritocracy? Allow the fastest, the strongest, the brightest to be selected for roles that require these attributes. Do not try to open up to all challenging disciplines that are unsuitable for an individual’s abilities.

Discrimination based on gender, skin colour or sexual orientation makes no sense; discrimination based on talent, strengths or ability, in certain circumstances, does.

But what of the opportunities to explore where talents may lie in order to allow them to be nurtured? The inequalities created by wealth distribution can be the hardest to overcome. In a world of stiff competition and scarce resources  it can be hard to offer opportunities for all from an early age.

It is inevitable that some who may have been great will slip through the net, but can we do better at offering opportunity to the most able based on merit rather than background and upbringing? How do we change a natural inclination to choose what is seen as a good fit when we are naturally drawn to prefer those who reflect back our own personal preferences?

Look around at your friends, those you have chosen to spend time with. Do they share your general views, opinions, interests, lifestyle or abilities? Do you enjoy their company because you have much in common and can share, laugh and commiserate with ease?

It may not matter that the talented surgeon who can return the sick to health is the antithesis of all you hold to be important, so long as he is willing and able to do his job to the best of his ability. Would you be able to look beyond what to you are repugnant views when selecting him for a job though? If you had to choose between him and another who was capable if not quite as brilliant, would you be inclined to select he who you simply liked better, who appeared more acceptable based on your own prejudices?

There are the obvious inequalities that we can all fight to eradicate because they are nonsensical, but perhaps the more insidious and equally damaging discriminations should be vying for our attention too. If we are to offer the best opportunities to the best people then selection cannot rely on the personal preferences of an homogeneous selection board. We would need to find a way of shaking up established practices and accepting those who are the most capable, even if they did not conform to an accepted type.

If we choose to strive for equality of opportunity based on defined achievements then we step into an unknown where we may be the ones who no longer fit.

Neighbours

An elderly couple lived next door to my parents when I was growing up, at least I think that they were elderly. Looking back through the eyes of a childhood memory it is hard to know what age the adults around me were when I was young. My parents were old, their neighbours were old, but this couple really did seem elderly.

They had a grown up son so, unlike just about all the other neighbours, no children lived in their house. As a result I never saw inside it. When I grew tall enough to clamber onto our garage roof I caught my first glimpse of their back garden. They had surrounded it with tall hedges and trees for privacy. If they saw me as I surveyed their realm from my hard won vantage point then I don’t suppose they appreciated the curiosity of their neighbour’s young child.

They were, however, friendly towards me. If I was playing in our driveway when they returned home from work each evening then we would greet each other. Sometimes the gentleman offered me a stick of chewing gum, a treat that did not impress my mother. I was interested in them because they ran a shop. It was located near to an aunt’s house and my mother had pointed it out to me when we went to visit this relative. I enjoyed playing shop with my toy cash register and was fascinated by this unknown domain.

I do not remember how it came about. Perhaps I asked outright, maybe they offered following my insistent questioning, but I was invited to join them at their work one day. It was not the highly exciting few hours that I had anticipated. Perhaps I was not even there for that long.

Being alone with a couple that I barely knew felt strange. Once I had inspected the drawer where they kept the money (they did not use a cash register) and looked around at the bikes, repair kits, spares and random toys that they sold, I was at a loss as to how to amuse myself. I suspect that they were at a loss as to what to do with this young child and regretted agreeing to have me there.

I wanted to touch too much inside so was allowed to play on the street so long as I did not stray from view at the front. It was hard to amuse myself alone though. I wondered why I had thought that this would be such an exciting treat.

At midday the lady cooked a hot meal in a little kitchen out the back. With my father at work and we children at school each weekday, our hot meal was cooked in the evening. I thought that this was how everyone lived. I was not invited to join them so hung around aimlessly as they ate. The smell of the food was not appealing and I was pleased when my mother appeared to collect me soon after.

My mother felt obliged to make a purchase now that she had entered her neighbours territory; perhaps this was why she had never taken me in before when I had asked. I had spotted many toys that I coveted on the shelves but she did not wish to spend much on the overpriced goods. The cheapest item on offer, a puncture repair kit, would have provided limited play value, so it was suggested that I accept a small doll. Even though I did not often play with dolls I was pleased to be given something new.

This visit to the shop satisfied my curiosity and taught me that the unknown is not necessarily fun. I had been bored and nervous of these virtual strangers who had seemed so different outside the brief encounters at our homes. I knew that they had done me a favour and was grateful for their kindness, but I had not enjoyed my day.

I continued to greet these neighbours as they came and went but I watched their habits with less interest as I grew older. I found them odd in so many ways, although I suspect they were merely of a different generation. My parents would choose to go out on an enjoyable walk whereas this couple took a purposeful, evening constitutional. The only visitor they ever seemed to have to their house was their son.

I remember when the gentleman died his wife decided to learn to drive. She had bought herself a licence before tests were required but had never been behind the wheel of a car. I watched as her son showed her how to use the controls of the little automatic mini that she purchased. When she drove it was wise to stay well away. Although she could make the car move forwards she struggled with reverse. Eventually she damaged her little car trying to back it out of her narrow driveway. She gave up on her attempts to drive soon after this.

As my life moved forwards I lost interest in my parent’s neighbours. When my sister and I were little we had seemed to know so many of them as they had children our age with whom we played in the street. By the time I reached my teenage years I was socialising with others who lived beyond.

I do not remember what happened to the shop. It was on a road that has now become quite fashionable with boutiques, coffee shops and restaurants. My parents still live in the same house in another part of town, but most of those they knew have moved away.

The first job I took, while still at school, was at a checkout in a local petrol station. I learned how to use a cash register and that I hated such work. I could cope with the stress of deadlines as all that was needed was my time and effort. Queues of impatient people were beyond my control.

It is only now, looking back, that I wonder about these people I lived amongst yet knew so little about. The media likes to suggest that we are less neighbourly these days. Back in the day I lived next to a house for more than twenty years yet never saw inside.

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A typical week

Contributing to Perfection Pending‘s Blog Hop

Perfection Pending

Monday: I am up and ready to face a new week, not so much manic as stoic. This week I really will do better. I load the dishwasher, switch on the washing machine and leave my wonderful, labour saving devices to do their thing whilst I visit the gym. Perhaps on this day I will manage not to eat more than I know is good for me. By the time my kids return from school I am tired from dealing with the myriad of chores that the weekend produced. I am in no mood to prepare dinner. I get through this and an early night is in order.

Tuesday: I am resigned to the fact that yet another week did not start quite as well as I had hoped. I reassure myself that the week is young and I have time to sort this out. Once I have caught up with the housework, laundry, on line learning course, personal writing and chores that I couldn’t face yesterday, I am ready for that easy pasta dinner that my children have come to expect on this day. I settle to enjoy a glass of wine. Time to relax.

Wednesday: I plan to go to the gym again but may not make it. Perhaps I did not sleep so well, or have a task list to deal with. I will either make myself go and feel accomplished but weary, or stay home to tackle my backlog and then feel guilty that I am not looking after my health as I should. Neither offers personal satisfaction. This day of the week feels rushed and unsatisfactory. Not so much a failure as a lack of anything worthwhile.

Thursday: my day for meeting up with friends. If that fails to materialise then I go to the gym and somehow feel it is worthwhile. I have the time set aside rather than grabbed from other tasks and can enjoy the exercise. I may allow myself a little indulgence in the spa, and return home feeling relaxed. The rest of the day flows.

Friday: I am preparing for the weekend. I follow a timetable, a military operation that leaves me free to share the euphoria of my family as they end their working week. I am careful not to rain on their parade.

Saturday: I am fitting in with whatever plans have been actioned by others. Sometimes I am doing little more than cooking, dishes and laundry; other times I am required for taxi duty or activity preparation. Saturday evening is family time, if my husband can stay awake after his afternoon hockey match and the children are willing to join us.

Sunday: my day of rest. Apart from preparing dinner I may relax with a book or my writing. Even when my boys are working in the garden, I do not make demands of myself. On this day I indulge my desires. Guilt merges with bliss.

As a stay at home mom I have so much freedom to structure my week to suit myself, so why do I find that each day has a predictable routine? I have my aims, my goals; improve my fitness and therefore my health, keep on top of the essential tasks to ensure that personal pressure is minimised, work my brain as well as my body to allow for mental and spiritual growth.

I function best when I know what to expect, I do not like surprises. I do, however, need to guard against a dulling of the senses and complacency. Challenges that stretch make me feel good about myself, they reassure me that I am still capable of tackling the new.

For that is what the future is, always new, never predictable, always changing.

So long as others are not there to judge me I can push myself a little, try something different and feel accomplished. Perhaps the manic Mondays, or Tuesdays, or Wednesdays, are the ones that I will look back on and remember with more satisfaction.

It is the audience that I fear, the judgement more than the challenge. So long as I may remain invisible, whatever the outcome, I can gain from knowing in myself that I was stretched and made the grade. If my loved ones can share in my achievement, rather than smirk at it’s insignificance compared to what they are so easily capable of accomplishing, then it becomes all the more pleasing, but this is not necessary.

We each live our lives inside the cocoon of self. When other’s demands break through we must try to adapt and indulge without resentment. This can be so hard. I have never been the perfect daughter, partner, mother or friend but I have tried to be all these things and more.

Perhaps what I should be aiming for is simply to be a good person. I wonder what that even means.

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To read the other posts in this week’s Blog Hop, click on the link below

      

December

And so it begins. December. Today we can open the first door on our advent calendar and start the countdown to Christmas. Light the advent candle, deck the halls.

Despite having an enjoyable and relaxing day with my family yesterday, I felt jittery. After a pleasant and easy dinner, just before we settled down together to watch a film, I had to control myself to prevent weeping. For no reason. Nothing had happened to upset me.

I am fighting to overcome the dread that has settled in the pit of my stomach, that threatens to wrap itself around my heart.

Yet this will not do. The festive season will not go away and I have a family who will want to enjoy the build up and the event itself. Much as I would like to hide under my duvet for the rest of the month, this is not an option.

I need to find strategies that will enable me to cope. Perhaps if I exhaust myself at the gym each day I will be able to sleep, an elusive activity when I feel anxious. Perhaps if I avoid all gatherings and instead head out into the countryside to enjoy the stark, cold beauty of this time of year I will find solace.

There is only so much that I can choose to eschew without causing offence. I have no wish to cast a shadow on the bonhomie of the season. I want to run away and hide but am aware that my absence would tarnish what is a happy time for others.

A season of joy has become a season of obligation. The enforced sociability, the expectation of gaiety has stripped my resoluteness to the quick. I wish joy to the world, goodwill to all men, as I fight to quell the rising panic in myself.

So much negativity.

Throughout this month, as I open each door on my advent calendar, I will seek out a reason why this season is good, a reason that will help me to get me through that day. It is the anticipation of what is to come that I fear, not what is happening today.

So, what can I find that is good today?

In my garden there is a small flock of hens who crowd around me the moment I step into their garden. They follow me to the shed for the handful of corn that they know I will scatter for them to enjoy. They find happiness scratching over an area of freshly dug soil.

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These creatures rely on me yet demand so little. They always make me smile with their funny little ways. They tolerate my hugs and welcome me, even if it is only for the food that I provide. Their presence will help me get through today.