A grand day out

“We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner!”  (JRR Tolkien, The Hobbit)

So yesterday I went on an adventure. Not a trip to Alaska such as my neighbours are currently enjoying, or even a trek to some misty mountains such as I used to enjoy with my husband. This adventure involved a drive of less than two hours to the city of dreaming spires, where I had arranged to meet up with a friend who I hadn’t spoken to in over twenty years.

If you have been following my blog for a while then you will understand what a challenge this was for me. I chose to drive to a city that I did not know. I chose to spend time with someone outside of my immediate family. I chose to do all of this on my own.

Naturally I planned as for a military campaign. Maps were googled, routes and alternative routes noted, car parks checked out along with buses and exact charges, so that I could ensure I carried the correct change. I was nervous but determined. I felt like a right woose for finding it such a big deal.

In the event all went smoothly, even the weather smiled on me, and I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with my friend. It was interesting to see Oxford, even if it did seem stupidly busy and full of people. I guess I am not a city person. We walked, explored, had a delicious lunch in a lovely, old pub, and we talked and talked and talked.

Each time I do something like this I wonder why I do not make the effort more often, yet time and again I find reasons to stay at home. In many ways it is easier for me to go off on such adventures on my own. When members of my family are with me they will often criticise my nervousness, which exacerbates the problem. On my own I can check and double check everything without fear of irritating. I can miss a bus to walk back to my car and check that I locked it, thereby enjoying my day out more, knowing that all is as it should be.

So many of my friends live lives filled with travel and activity, I love to hear of their experiences. I keep my life sheltered in comparison, exploring little other than my little corner of the world on foot. I reach out via the internet, but it is not the same. I cite cost and family commitments, but suspect that these impediments are not as insurmountable as I sometimes suggest. I am making excuses, even if only to myself.

The adventures that my friend talked of involved sea water kayaking along uninhabited coastlines, remote mountain skiing, encountering bears in their natural habitat, finding wolf prints outside his tent. As someone who is scared of cows and off lead domestic dogs I would not wish to indulge in the activities he enjoys, but it did make me feel that I should be able to find the courage to at least leave my home more frequently.

In many ways though I found it easier to explore a city where I would know nobody. I like to be invisible, to go unnoticed. My fears revolve around criticism and letting others down. Too often I feel that I am not being whatever it is that they want of me, and I react by trying not to be anything at all.

Meeting up with an old friend I could relax. We were meeting to catch up with each others lives so I could be what I am, it was that which he would be interested in. With no expectations to live up to, and no plans to spend time together regularly (although hopefully we will get together again before another twenty years have passed) I could be myself.

I would rather spend time alone than feel obliged to act a part. Being able to relax in such fine company was fun though. I have interesting  friends; it would be good to spend more time with them.

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Thoughts are the shadows of our feelings

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I am coping with life as best I can, because that is all any of us can do. And some days are fun and funny, sunshine and roses, smiles and warmth. Other days I struggle to see beyond the clouds, even when I know that they shall pass. Most days I drift, the hours pass by as I try to make them count. I clean, I cook, I am there when required, and I write.

My role is one of support, my lack would be noticed more than my presence. The friends I meet up with for walks, my wider family, they have their own lives to lead. Would they miss me if I was gone? Perhaps there would be moments of sadness, but I am a shadow, appearing briefly before they move on into a different light.

I have yet to experience the loss of a close family member, a death. My mother once called me a cold fish for my lack of feeling and I carry that thought, untested for now. I see grief in others and wonder how I shall cope when the time comes.

I have lived through the passing away of grandparents, aunts and uncles, even a few cousins over the years. I cried for some, but not with the passion I felt at the death of my daughter’s teenage friend. The depth of her family’s loss touched me to the core. I felt that deeply, yet moved on.

I rarely cry over films, getting more upset at animal cruelty than that involving people. Animals trust and love unconditionally, whereas people can be so selfish. Is my lack of feeling selfish and cold? Is it a result of the armour I have built to survive?

I wonder sometimes who would miss me if I were gone. My absence would inconvenience; the jobs that I do must be done and would fall to others, who would likely find them mind numbing too. The one thing that I and I alone give is a mother’s love. Nobody could care for my children as I do.

I wonder if I am as cold and uncaring as some may think. Am I reflecting back my own experience or is it an innate part of me? Have I buried the warmth and love that I once felt so deeply to protect it, or to protect myself? I wonder how I feel; I wonder if I feel.

Do not criticise me for my perceived lack of emotion, if I do not act as you would. Too often I feel almost more than I can bear and struggle to cope. I bury, gloss over, make light of what is happening. I may not see life as you do, but I have not lived your life. And you have not lived mine.

 

Understanding Ithaka

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I start each week with a fierce determination to make it better than the last. I rarely feel satisfied with my accomplishments, although I am not sure why this should be. I am trying to get to some place that even I cannot fully picture, let alone actualise. The best I can do is to take small steps that feel like a move in the right direction, that give me a feeling of satisfaction rather than despair.

Last week I had four good days in a row. I put down a lot of writing, ate sensibly, met up with a friend for a walk and kept on top of my duties to my family. I wasn’t demanding too much of myself and I was feeling good. Then, on Friday, it all started to slip. Over the weekend I had a major slide and yesterday my mood totally crashed. I cannot explain why any of this happened, there were no specific triggers. I knew that I had to get myself out of the pit so I did what usually works: I immersed myself in a book.

A good book is such an amazing piece of portable magic. Curled up on my sofa, ensconced from the demons that whisper insidiously inside my head, I travelled back in time and across an ocean to live alongside a twelve year old girl whose family had messed up due to the death of her sibling when she was a baby. Donna Tartt’s ‘The Little Friend’ is a rich and engrossing read. It has it’s flaws, which I may cover elsewhere, but it gave me enough food for thought to enable me to process my own issues. It did it’s job for me.

I considered writing a post about how I was feeling on Sunday, but decided against. I was feeling depressed, but I do not consider that I suffer from depression. I have friends who do and I am in a much better place mentally. That I can pick myself up so quickly suggests mood swings more than illness.

Many years ago, when I was being treated by my doctor for ME, it was suggested that I might benefit from counselling as mental issues were a possible factor in this recently recognised malaise. I was granted six sessions under the NHS and went along because I wanted to talk to somebody, anybody, about how I was feeling, the storm in my head. I had been living in England for some time and was struggling to make friends. Although I had a lively social life, I found the English distant compared to my native Irish.

Growing up in Belfast it was common to call in on friends or family unannounced. When I first moved to England and started to get to know people from my place of work I would do this, and soon picked up that my behaviour was considered odd. I learned to phone ahead, to check that it was convenient before visiting. It made me feel that I was not welcome.

What I needed back then was a close friend, a confidante. I had plenty of acquaintances, but none who I could talk to about how I was feeling. Thus, when my doctor suggested the councillor I swallowed what scepticism I had and agreed to give the proposed treatment a try. It proved to be an interesting experience.

From my personal study of psychology and sociology I knew how counselling was supposed to work. It was unfortunate that the counsellor assigned had serious issues of her own. By the fourth and final session (I cancelled after this) she had unburdened herself and I realised that I could be a sympathetic listener, drawing her out, encouraging her to share. When we parted company I knew more about her than I wished, whereas she knew next to nothing about me. Perhaps I should have considered a change in career.

I found strategies for dealing with my own issues independently and life moved on. Now that I am, once again, having to deal with my demons I yearn for that still elusive confidante. My sister remains the only person who seems to understand what goes on in my head, but she lives in another country and has her own life to lead.

My mood swings may well be to do with age and the stage my family is at. Although the manifestation of my social awkwardness may be atypical, I do not believe that my neurosis is unusual. I wonder do most people simply have someone that they can talk to, or is the world filled with people struggling alone. Am I simply less concerned than most about admitting that sometimes I find the act of living tough?

Having spent the last three days getting through my latest storm I am now behind on a great many tasks. My house is a mess, I have stories unwritten and my urgent ‘do’ list grows ever longer. In three days time my children break up from school for Easter which will throw my everyday schedule into disarray. With important exams approaching stress levels are high and finding the balance between offering personal space and support tricky.

Life is the journey not the destination. I appear to be travelling without a map or a compass. I never did like surprises.

Ithaka (C.P. Cavafy)

 

 

Memories and other fictional stories

The Remember the Time Blog Hop has not vanished, but it has changed from weekly to monthly. It also has a brand new badge! This month’s theme is: write about your earliest memory. 

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My first, clear memories are not my own. They are photographs in an old chocolate box, carefully stored away in my parent’s wardrobe. They are points of discussion when family members get together.

‘Do you remember when…. ?’ and often I do. But I think of that time as a moment in a long distant childhood. My memories are not ordered chronologically, but by merit or significance in a life that is now gone.

My cousin shared a photograph on Facebook of all the young cousins standing outside a house. I think I remember that day, but cannot be sure. I remember the photograph clearly, how my sister hated it because she was the tallest and disliked her height, how the youngest would not stand still while the image was captured. Do I  remember when it was taken though, or a copy of the picture that was given to my mother, that I have looked at many times since?

I have a photograph of my brother, in the driveway of our parent’s house with his first motorbike. I remember that day, desperately wanting to ride behind him after he offered my sister this privilege. I am told that he used his motorbike to transport him to and from school, yet I can only recall when he was at our childhood home during university vacations, not when he lived there full time. I do not recall seeing him in school uniform; we have no photographs of that. My memories are muddled, disordered, yet my feelings from that bike day seem clear.

Times captured in photographs, music or significant events stand out. There was the night when my sister and I made too much noise after lights out and my father, who left it to my mother to discipline us, came up and shouted angrily, reducing us to tears. There was the day when our garden was being dug over for a vegetable patch, and we threw clods of earth onto a neighbours path. My mother beat us for embarrassing her with our inexplicable behaviour.

I remember locking myself in my bedroom when the handle had been removed to allow the door to be painted. I pulled out the exposed mechanism from the inside and then could not replace it. I had to drop it out the window to allow my mother to release me. What age was I then? I have no idea.

Sometimes I recall an event that I remember as having happened when I was perhaps eight or nine years old. When I put it into context alongside a song or a recorded historical event, I realise that I must have been twelve or thirteen. I recoil at the idea that I was still so childish at that age.

There are memories that are mine and mine alone. Events that involved other family members, but which they do not recall. What was significant to me passed them by, or has been interpreted quite differently in their minds.

When older family members talk of events from their children’s childhood, their recollections are often at odds with those held by the now adult child. It makes me distrustful of my own memories. At what point do we start to weave our prejudices and subsequent experiences into what we think we remember from before? Life may be linear but memory is not.

I have worked hard to give my children happy experiences to look back on, yet recognise that what they remember from their childhood is unlikely to be what I hoped and intended. Already my daughter mentions events that affected her negatively, yet cannot recall activities that were planned so carefully for her benefit.

In my head my first memory is of lying in a carrycot on the back seat of my father’s car with my brother looking down on me. If I was young enough to be in a carrycot then surely I was too young to form a lasting memory; I do not even know if my father had a car when I was this age. Could a memory be formed many years later from events that I have merely been told happened?

It can be lovely to get together with an old friend and recall shared history, reminiscing, reminding each other of the detail of forgotten escapades. How much is this weaving together of good times gone by an act of creation? How much is memory affected by where we are here and now?

Lent: what can I do, not what can I do without

I woke up to blue skies and sunshine on Saturday, the first day of Spring. I have a vase full of freshly cut daffodils from my garden brightening up my kitchen; there are signs of buds and leaves emerging from the bare, woody plants in my garden.


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New life, a promise of warmth, a chance to relax and enjoy the view from the back of my house as the seemingly endless grey skies of recent months finally lift.

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After my few days away over half term I came back wanting to write, yet found that I was too busy with chores and children, mess and disorganisation. When I eventually sat myself down to put words into my computer they poured out of me like a flood. I found time for little else until the need to create abated. Flitting from one extreme to the other in this way creates rush and stress, I need to find balance.

With Lent approaching I have been considering how I can improve. I do not plan to give anything up, to fast, but instead I will try to focus on the meditative side of Christ’s retreat. I am thinking about what I can do in order to become a better wife, mother, friend, person; what can I do rather than what can I do without.

With the advent of Spring comes an increase in family activity and additional demands on my time. If I am to become the person that I wish to be then I need to look after myself better, to be mindful of my own well being. This is not about navel gazing but rather of searching out ways to improve my health and thereby my ability to give.

My hens are starting to lay more eggs after their long, winter rest. This evening, Shrove Tuesday, we will use their bounty and feast on pancakes.

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My husband will take up duty at the stove, heating and tossing the batter, while I try to persuade my children to choose the savoury fillings before moving on to the lemon and sugar, sticky syrup or chocolate banana that they favour. Tomorrow, Ash Wednesday, I will begin yet another quest for self improvement.

As with many new beginnings, my desire is strong. Unfortunately, in recent months, my resolve in these matters has proven to be disappointingly weak. All that I can do is to keep trying; moving forward is the only option, time travel only goes one way.

This Lent I will be trying to establish a daily routine that enables me to restore balance to my life. I have not been making best use of my time and the knock on effect has been heightened stress as I have been unable to maintain standards in certain areas that matter to me. I have also been neglecting my health which has drained my energy levels. I will be looking at this little graphic and reminding myself that each of these areas requires attention, not just the one that appears the most desirable at a given time.

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There are so many things that I wish to do, but if I am to tread gently through this life then I must ensure that I remain mindful of both myself and others. We reflect and absorb what goes on around us, affecting all by how we live.

I feel that I am in a better place now than I was a year ago. I am learning to avoid damaging situations, even when others do not understand why I must act as I do. I am learning to stand up for my right to be me.

This Lent I will try to use the inner strength that I am building on to quietly offer more to those I care about. Small steps, mindfully taken.

‘Tread gently and remember that we are both inhabitants and stewards of nature in our neighbourhoods.’ 

So what do I do all day?

As a stay at home mum there are plenty out there who love to comment on my lifestyle, choices and use of time. There is the obvious and predictable ‘So what do you do all day?’ To be honest though, most people are more subtle.

Some share such unasked for nuggets of thought as ‘I would get bored at home all day’ or ‘Have you thought of going back to work?’

Others point out opportunities that they seem to feel I am missing out on such as volunteer positions in areas of interest, or clubs and societies that they believe I would benefit from joining.

They mean well. They sincerely wish to help. These are friendly, caring people who have my best interests at heart.

The only problem with all of these well intentioned comments is that they suggest I have too much time on my hands. Please allow me to make an announcement people: I do not have nearly enough time to achieve all of the things that I wish to do. If you could arrange it for me, another half dozen hours each day would be great thanks. If you can’t manage that then I need to be more efficient with all that I already try to do in order to fit it all in.

I know that I am in the fortunate position of being able to choose how I spend a large chunk of my week. Once I get the food, cleaning, tidying and laundry sorted each day I can tackle my ‘to do’ list. There are ongoing jobs in the house and garden to see to, my hens to keep happy and a running list of tasks to complete for family members. After that I move onto the things that I choose to do for me, and it is here that I never have enough time.

I want to visit the gym, go for walks, swim, meet up with friends, read books, watch films and write. I cannot get all of these done in the time available.

Take this week as an example. I wanted to write three short stories for three challenges. So far I have written two, one of which I was pleased with and one which I felt I had to rush, but which I will submit for the useful feedback. I still hope to find time to write the third but I am not sure when I will be able to squeeze this in.

In order to participate in one of the challenges I was required to read over thirty short stories, so that has been my reading this week. I haven’t had time to open a book since the weekend, and I have been leant one that I really want to read. I need to clear this as I have agreed to do a book review for another on line site, so when my copy of that arrives it will take priority.

On two mornings this week I met up with friends for walks, getting rather wet in the process given our recent weather. It was great to catch up with these lovely ladies, but in choosing to walk I have not been able to find time to visit the gym or swim. I miss my relaxing swims as they give me an opportunity to think about and plan my stories.

I am sitting here writing again when I should really be prepping dinner, thus my early evening will be spent on that task. It all fits so long as I do not plan any relaxation time, so no films until the weekend.

Now of course, I could just not write. I am not required to read or exercise. So long as I keep the house ticking over most of the things that I do are for me. I am well aware that there are many people who do not have my freedom of choice, who have to go out to earn a living or who have young and demanding children to care for. I am well aware of the privileges that I enjoy.

My point is that I do not need more to fill my time, I already try to squeeze too much into each day. I have no idea how my friends find the time to go to their clubs and societies, I guess they just give these higher priority than some other things they may also consider doing.

That is what it comes down to after all, priorities. I have hobbies and interests that eat time. I derive satisfaction from creating stories, maintaining this blog, joining in with discussions on the writer’s communities on line to which I subscribe. I do what feels right for me, whereas others do what feels right for them.

So what do I do all day? As much as I can squeeze into the few short hours between when I get up in the morning and when I go to bed at night. At the end of each day, if I have created a new piece of writing with which I am pleased then I feel that I have achieved something. Perhaps tomorrow I will find time for that workout and swim.

However you choose to fill whatever free time you have, I hope that you derive enjoyment from it. Such time is never wasted.

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Bootstrapping

I made a bad decision last night. For her birthday I had given my daughter two tickets to see Coriolanus – National Theatre Live at our local cinema. I told her that she could bring a friend or that I could go with her. I assumed that she would prefer the company of a friend and, on the night, a whole group of them went along and had a fabulous time. Apparently the show was stunning.

I feel old and foolish amongst my children’s friends. I worry about embarrassing them, cramping their style, ruining their enjoyment. Why did I make assumptions without talking to my daughter? She told me afterwards that it would have been fine for me to have been there, that another parent attended. I missed a show that I really wanted to see because I did not simply ask if it would be okay for me to go.

It is another dampener on an already down week. I still feel tired and achy despite attempts to rest up. I had nightmares about my husband last night which is a sure sign of negative thoughts, he has done nothing wrong.

Last term I completed a short psychology course which looked at how our brains process information in real time. Studies have shown that most decision making is comparative, that how we perceive things to be at the time of the decision drives the choices we make. As an example we looked at a study of how happy people judged themselves to be.

Imagine that there are two islands. In one island everyone has got an abundance of everything; material possessions, good schools, good hospitals; everything is great. On the other island things are very different, people are much poorer, their lives are much more materially different in every regard. According to Easterlin’s paradox, if these islands are separated from each other and don’t know of each other’s existence, then the average well-being of people will be about the same. However, if the islands communicate then those in the rich island think, ‘thank goodness I’m in the rich island’ and those in the poor island think, ‘I wish I was in the rich island’.  So they all think that they are equally happy until you show them each other. Perhaps for happiness, the perception, the judgement, is all that there is. Is there really any more to being happy than thinking you’re happy?

Being aware of other’s lives helps us to put our troubles in perspective, but the fact that other’s are having a harder time than us does not negate our own feelings; they are still valid. Just because we live on a richer island than others does not mean that we will always be happy. It does mean that we can be made to feel guilty for not being happy.

When I first learned to program computers I was told about Bootstrap programs, small chunks of code that could be used to call other programs and restart a computer. When software problems occur it can be useful to clear working memory and start again, which is why the first thing to do when a computer misbehaves is to switch it off and then on again in the hope that the problem will simply go away.

I like to use the analogy of this with my own way of living. When there seem to be multiple events getting me down, causing a cascade effect whereby it becomes hard to deal with even minor disappointments that I would otherwise be able to shrug off easily, I try to strip away all that is not needed and start again from basics. I remind myself that I live my life surrounded by riches: family, good health, comfortable home.

My problem seems to be my unwillingness to call up the other programs, to ask for support. The energy that it takes for me to overcome my discomfort at leaving the security of my home can be hard to find when I am feeling down. I am reluctant to talk about how I am feeling as I fear I will be berated for not recognising how easy a time I have compared to others.

I need hugs, not advice. I am generally well aware of where I have gone wrong.

As for the show that I missed, oh how I wish that these NT Live shows could be released on DVD. Having been unable to acquire tickets for the theatre, and foolishly forgone the opportunity to see it at the cinema, I would happily part with my money for a chance to enjoy the performance in the comfort of my own home.

Yet I recognise that I need to make myself leave my house more frequently and seek out other’s company. If decision making relies on our perception at the time then I need to broaden my experience of other’s reality.

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10 Common Misconceptions About Teddy Bears

 

1. Teddy Bears are inanimate objects.

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I cannot believe how many people seem to think that teddy bears do not have feelings. Have you ever looked into the face of a teddy bear? Your furry friend will be as alive as you need him to be. Just like magic and dragons, if you believe then it will happen.

2. Teddy Bears are just for children.

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Of course, a child will benefit greatly from having his or her own bear, but so will an adult. Teddy bears listen to your problems and do not judge; they are always there to offer a hug; they do not get huffy when ignored for long periods of time. Basically? They are the ideal companion at any age.

3. Taking a Teddy Bear out in public is embarrassing.

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No. Children are embarrassing. They say what they think to total strangers, throw up wherever they happen to be without even attempting to get to a place where their mess can be easily cleaned up. Children spill food and drink, throw things, including tantrums, wet their pants when a public convenience is just across the way. Compare this to your quiet, clean bear and tell me which is behaving better. If you must take children out in public then take a teddy bear along too so that the children can observe desirable behaviour.

4. Taking a Teddy Bear out in public is embarrassing if you have no children.

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I don’t understand this one at all. I have taken my teddy bear to lots of different places: teashops, restaurants, museums; on bicycle rides, boats and aeroplanes. I find that, when he is around, people smile at us. Isn’t that a good thing?

5. Teddy Bears can be cleared out along with other toys

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This just makes me sad. I have given a new, forever home to several rejected bears. Although it takes a while to gain their trust and convince them that they are here to stay these bears tend to be particularly loving, as if they feel they may be thrown out again if they do not do their job well. Old bears in particular just emanate wisdom and show so much gratitude that they have been accepted as a valued addition to my sleuth.

6. Teddy Bears are not fun to play with.

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Anyone who thinks this has obviously never played with a teddy bear. The games that they enjoy are endless, and they do not complain if they are always  the one chosen to die, lose or get hurt. How many other friends are always available, will do exactly as asked and put up with whatever role they are assigned without complaint?

7. A dirty or worn Teddy Bear is a health hazard.

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No. Just like a person, all he needs is a gentle wash. You would not put even the dirtiest, smelliest child in a washing machine; don’t do this to your bear either. Too much water plays havoc with delicate joints. Offer a careful sponge wash and respect the scars and lost fur; these offer a reminder of good times gone by. Old teddies are to be treasured. They may, however, appreciate the added protection of a warm cardigan.

8. Teddy Bears serve no useful purpose.

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Have you any idea how many bad dreams they chase away? Who do you think got rid of the monsters under the bed? Just because you cannot see how useful a bear is doesn’t mean that he has no use. Teddy Bears are so under appreciated, yet still they love and protect us unconditionally.

9. My friends will think I am childish for sleeping with a Teddy Bear.

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I do not know anyone who does not appreciate a softer side in a friend. You may be surprised at how many thoroughly mature, well-adjusted grown-ups harbour a teddy bear. Perhaps this is why they are thoroughly mature and well-adjusted. A teddy bear can teach you what love really means: being there when you’re needed.

10. A Teddy Bear is just a lump of fur and stuffing.

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And you are just a lump of skin, bone, hair and yucky stuff. You are still amazing though, beautiful and valued. Do not reject what you do not understand, do not mock what others value and find solace in. As with any friend, you may choose whether to grant a bear space in your life or not. A teddy bear, properly respected, can be the best companion that there is.

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One last thing, if you do have a bear? Go give him a hug. And some cake. I have yet to meet any bear who does not feel that his life is that little bit better when he is allowed to share a slice of cake with his best friend.

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The very fine bear who accompanies me on all my best adventures, and who kindly agreed to allow his photograph album to be opened for this post, chronicles some of his escapades and offers words of advice on Facebook. If you would like to get to know him better, you may find him here Edward Gainsborough – Teddy Bear).

xx

Reflections on 2013

However much I may like or loath the various traditions and expectations that the festive season throws up, it is hard not to reflect on the year just gone as it draws to a close. Mine has been nothing if not turbulent, even if only in my own head. As this is the only place where I can experience my life, the impact has been significant to me. In the words of the Bring Me The Horizon song, ‘I can’t drown my demons, they know how to swim’. I have therefore been trying to learn to manage my vexations and learn to swim with them.

We all change over time as events and experiences offer us new ways to see things. I believe that I am in a much better place now than I was a year ago, even if the journey has been challenging. This coming year I wish to build on the good  things that I have discovered. I want to write more and better, I want to find a way to share the pleasure that this gives me with my family, even if it is only that they may benefit from my more positive outlook. They have been the ones to suffer most from my moods, which have been all over the place in the last twelve months.

One of the highlights of my year was undoubtedly my trip to Berlin with my elder two children in late summer. We stayed with a very dear friend of mine and he made the trip just unbelievably fabulous for us. The city itself exceeded all my expectations, but those few days were precious for the company and the conversation as much as the location. After what had been a difficult summer for me it was just the pick me up that I needed. I cherish the memories that we made.

Other than that there were highlights, such as a night away in a lovely hotel by the seaside with my husband for his birthday in the spring; and lowlights, mainly triggered by the struggle I had coping with my adored children no longer needing nor wanting the interaction that has dominated my life for the last seventeen years. I still worry that I should be encouraging them to behave differently at times, but recognise that my sphere of influence has diminished. If we are to continue to get on then I need to grant them the freedom that they demand.

My husband has continued to support my eccentricities, it amazes me how good he is to me. Thanks to his generosity I was able to design and have built a little library in the heart of our home where I can curl up to read, write and tinker on our piano (my skill on this beautiful instrument has not, alas, improved). Surrounded by my books this is the perfect space for me to relax and create. I do a lot less housework and a lot more dreaming than I once did. Having me happy benefits my family more than having a dust free home, at least that is what I tell myself.

I am grateful that a core group of friends have stuck by me this year, even though I have not made the effort that I should to get together more often. I have actively avoided socialising in what would be regarded as normal venues, preferring to meet up for walks in the beautiful countryside around our home. Despite my inability to offer these friends comprehensible reasons why my moods have been so volatile they have offered me valued company and support.

And then there have been my growing number of on line friends who have offered encouragement, empathy and virtual hugs. This community has provided validation when I have felt that I have been losing my reason. I am grateful to my outernet friends for accepting me despite not understanding why I am upset; I am grateful to my internet friends for their comprehension, and for making me feel welcome anyway.

After the reflection comes the anticipation. A whole, shiny, bright, new year awaits just the other side of midnight. I wish to improve my health and fitness, both of which I have neglected over the past twelve months. I wish to manage my time better that I may see more of my friends, keep my house a little neater and still allow myself time to dream. I have books to read, stories to write and countryside to explore and appreciate.

Most of all though I wish to hug my husband more. He has not understood either my erratic moods or my desire to devote so much time to my writing, but has supported me anyway. My life can only be managed by me but, with him by my side, it is all so much more enjoyable.

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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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