Twenty-two years

Twenty-two years ago today I got married. At the time I was working in the IT department of a bank, having left the company where I met my husband-to-be just a couple of months before. I had worked hard and was eager to further my career. Colleagues who knew us both had expressed surprise when we announced that we were to marry; I had no such doubts.

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One piece of advice that I remember being given was ‘Don’t marry because you believe you can live happily ever after with this man, only marry if you don’t believe you can ever live happily without him.’ Over the last twenty-two years there have been times when I have not felt as content as I would like, but there has never been a time when I have felt that my life would improve if he were not by my side.

I do sometimes think that he may feel a bit short changed with how things have turned out for us. He married a determined career girl and we spent five years working hard, socialising with colleagues, doing up our home and taking many weekends away to walk the hills and dales of our beautiful land. He could not have foreseen how I would change when the midwife placed our baby daughter in my arms.

I had fully intended to return to work. By the time we felt ready to have a child I was back at the company where we had met, and had pre-booked a full time place at a local nursery close by for when my maternity leave ended. I envisaged us sharing the drop offs and pick ups whilst still being able to meet the demands of our jobs. How naive I was about parenting.

From the moment I first held our daughter I trusted nobody else but my husband with her care. I left her for the first time when I went into hospital to give birth to her brother sixteen months later, returning the same day that I could continue to care for them both. Two years later I gave birth to their little brother at home. With three pre school children to look after it was clear that I would not be returning to full time work any time soon.

The children consumed my life. Just as I had poured my all into progressing my career, now I determined to be the best mother it was possible for me to be. My husband provided support and balance in parenting style; he has always been fun parent to my more serious approach. We have worked as a team and raised three amazing kids of whom I am very proud.

There were suggestions over the years that I could return to outside work. For a time I was able to log some hours for a client at home; I even did a few weeks at their site. These tentative steps ceased when I took the decision to home school my youngest son prior to him starting secondary school. Our local village school had failed all three of my children, but he had suffered the most. That year and a half as his teacher was exhausting, challenging but incredibly rewarding.

Life is a series of chapters, the experience of which changes us as people. I have been happier married than I was single, yet I am glad that I had those few years on my own that I may compare and recognise the improvement. I would not have missed parenthood for the world, despite the fact that the exhaustion of the early years has left me scarred. It was right for us though not to rush into having children. Those first few years of marriage are happy memories.

Parenting teenagers is another chapter as our children assert their independence and we are able to spend more time together as a couple again. Having spent so many years capitulating to the demands of my family I now find myself emerging from the shell of motherhood with demands of my own. At times it feels cathartic, at others quite scary as I wonder at the person I have become.

Still though, how can I be anything but grateful to have a husband by my side who, as he left for work this morning whilst I slept on, left me this card with a cup of tea by my bedside.

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I know that I am blessed in many ways, and I never stop thanking God for granting me so much more than I deserve.

 

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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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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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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The Best Christmas Ever

It is coming. I can duck, dive, weave and hide but I cannot avoid it. Yesterday, as I walked through our village to the gym, I saw the first decorations glittering outside a house. To misquote Eddard Stark, Christmas is coming.

I used to love this time of year. I would bake my huge fruit cake in October ready for the children to ice and decorate on Christmas Eve. Throughout November I would make copious present lists and place numerous online orders. I would write more cards than I needed to send; spend days composing and rewriting my annual update, carefully choosing photographs that I felt depicted each family member’s year. I enjoyed this preparation and looked forward with excited anticipation to the big event.

As the day approached there would be dinners out with friends, celebratory drinks and house parties to attend. I took pleasure in putting on my glad rags and heading out into the cold, dark night to drink and chat with my lovely friends. The children would take part in organised events at school and their various activity groups, bringing home goodie bags of sweets and small toys. It was a joyous time.

And then it all started to go wrong. Little things happened that took the shine off the anticipation. That general feeling of wellbeing and joy slowly dissipated. Friends fell out and would not accept an invitation if another was to be there; the children were less keen to partake in organised events; I was asked by one recipient of my annual update to please stop sending it. The relaxed, happy expectation leaked away to be replaced with stress and confusion. I found it harder to please even those I felt close to; I began to worry about everything.

But before all that, before I began to feel that I was a square peg in a round hole, sometime in between the joy that it had once been and the drudge that it is threatening to become, before it all started to go wrong for me, there was The Best Christmas Ever. For three days running I was as relaxed and happy as I believe it is possible to be.

It started on Christmas Eve, after a typically manic December. We closed the curtains to keep in the warmth, turned on the corny Christmas music and filled the oven with party snacks before starting the little family party that had, over time, developed into an annual ritual. It was a time together between the plethora of parties and socialising with others. The children were still young enough to enjoy the company and attention of their parents. We chatted and ate and messed around together before snuggling up on the sofa to watch a funny film. Afterwards I read aloud ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas  and we all settled down for our long winter’s nap to allow Santa to visit (we had been good, of course).

Christmas Day started early with much excitement as presents were opened and happiness reigned. This day was even more special than usual though; this was the only Christmas Day we have ever experienced when it was just the five of us.

With only us to please it had been agreed that we would forgo the big turkey dinner and let the children choose what we ate; they chose pizza. With only us to please there was no need to get dressed so we spent the entire day in pyjamas. With only us to please we could do what we wanted, when we wanted, so we spent the next two days watching the entire, extended edition of the director’s cut of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy on DVD. Each film was around four hours long but we still managed to watch loads of the extras as well. How they managed to film grown men alongside each other looking so wizard tall and hobbit small was impressive.

Between disk changes we would dash out to grab food from the fridge, refill drinks and take comfort breaks. Other than that we stayed sofa bound, in our pyjamas, with the curtains closed for the entire time. It was fabulous. I don’t believe I have ever felt so snug and happy as I did over those few days, alone with my family, eating what we wanted when we wanted, the rest of the world ignored.

It is not something that would be easy to repeat. My children have become less satisfied with me as they have grown older. I am no longer regarded as amusing, but rather foolish and behind the times. We can still spend time together and enjoy that time, but the underlying antipathy towards me from one teenage child or another rarely goes entirely.

Last year I tried to recapture the spirit of the season but it all went wrong. I tried to turn back the clock, but it cannot be done. For now, my wishes are no longer heard or are not regarded as important. My family have their own ideas about how they wish to celebrate, and much of what they do involves me only as a facilitator.

And so to this year. If we choose to have a cake it will be shop bought. Only my nearest and dearest feature on my very short present list; I have yet to place any orders. Cards will be sent to just a few people; I have not prepared a Christmas update and am undecided if it would be worthwhile. I have declined all invitations to outings; my children will organise for themselves any that they wish to attend.

The day will happen and I am steeling myself to cope with whatever expectations my family have. I will cook the big dinner if it is required and try to fit in around the plans that are now made without consultation. I will make the most of any moments when we can recapture the joy that can still be shared if the five of us choose to spend time together, but I will try not to expect such times to happen for fear of disappointment.

Last year I did not manage to get through the festive season unscathed and it took me many months to recover. This year I will be more aware of the catalysts that bring me down and work to manage them. There are some things in life that can neither be avoided nor changed and I must cope.

Alongside all of this I will hug the knowledge that we once enjoyed The Best Christmas Ever. I have that happy memory, and January brings a whole new year of opportunities to explore. Life moves on and, just as Christmas was once a time of joy, it may become so again. I will do my best to go with the flow and keep my head above water. Who knows, I may even find a new way in which I may celebrate that I can enjoy.

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Virtual hugs

One of the things that I like about blogging on WordPress is the sense of community that I feel exists amongst bloggers who follow each other regularly and take the time to comment on posts. I do sometimes submit a comment and then afterwards worry that what I have written may be taken the wrong way. Once I have released it into the ether I lose control. I am a worrier and I worry that it may not be read as I meant. Still, I continue to comment because I love to get comments on my posts. It makes me think that someone might actually be reading them.

Anyway, today one of the blogs that I follow mentioned me in a post as a new friend. Wow! I feel as if I have been given a virtual hug. You don’t believe me? Go check out It’s Time to Close the Internet. Everything Has Already Been Written. | Are You Finished Yet?. Actually go check out this blog anyway, it’s great.

I can be a bit particular about my personal space so virtual hugs are perfect. I mean, I love it when my kids hug me, although as they are now teenagers this is an increasingly rare event. I can also cope with a show of affection from my other half, but I am not a hug everyone in the room with ease sort of person. When in company I generally crave an invisibility cloak so that I can people watch without garnering any attention.

On the internet though, I like attention. I have been so busy with my NaNoWriMo writing that I haven’t managed to be on line so much over the past couple of weeks. I hate to miss posts from my favourite bloggers and there have been some link ups that I really want to take part in but haven’t yet managed to squeeze in.

However, I am loving writing my ‘novel’. I put quotes around that because the words that are emerging may provide a rough first stab at a plan but are nowhere near good enough to call anything other than imaginative outpourings from my over stacked brain. I think I may be feeling so good just because my head is lighter having got all those words and ideas out.

I went for a lovely walk today with a friend and came back with so many plot tangents to consider as as well as damp, muddy boots. I wanted to write but I had to sort dinner and laundry and sit down with a cup of tea. I am seriously considering getting up at stupid o’clock tomorrow just so that I can write before anybody else needs me. Not that my truculent trio actually need me, but thinking that they might gives me a sense of purpose.

It feels as though my head acts like a toilet cistern (lovely analogy there don’t you think?). I write and write and write until my head has unloaded and I feel good. Then I go about my day, and my walk or swim or just browsing the internet fills me up with more thoughts that I want to write about. Is it any wonder I forget why I went upstairs, or to unload the washing machine?

I have made an effort this week to do some other things too, like visit the gym and talk to my sister on the phone, before I sit down to create. Except then I am bang in the middle of this intricate plot that I have mapped out when I am called away by some family member who has appeared unexpectedly because those two hours didn’t seem to happen. Writing causes time travel folks, always forwards.

If you are reading this because my new friend sent you across then I hope you don’t feel disappointed with my eclectic musings. Rest assured that my regular readers (hi big sister) are always welcome too.

"Writing", 22 November 2008

Growing up

It came to me this morning what is bothering me about the life I am leading: being a grown up is not what I expected it to be. I thought that, when I grew up, I would be able to do what I wanted.

As a teenager I used to get so frustrated that my parents had power over me. I had accepted the much repeated mantra that I needed to gain qualifications if I was to enjoy a reasonable standard of living for the rest of my life. This meant that I was financially dependent on my parents until I was well into my twenties. I had to follow their rules.

I kept going, and it was a struggle sometimes, because I dreamt of the day when I would move away. I would buy my own house, which I bought and furnished in my imagination many times, and I would be free. I would be able to start living my life. Up until then it felt as though I was killing time.

There is no doubt that I felt an incredible sense of elation when I moved away and then bought my own place. I worked and partied and travelled as I had planned. I was also incredibly lonely at times.

Then I got married. Don’t get me wrong, I wanted this and was much happier being married than I was living on my own. I adored, and still adore, my husband. What I hadn’t envisaged when I was younger, living in my parent’s house, was that I would not be free to live as I wanted when I was with someone else. It wasn’t just my parents who would expect me to fit in with their rules.

These past few weeks I have been feeling better about the way my life is going than I have for quite some time. I feel that I have managed to retake a little autonomy. Except the results of that selfishness are now coming to my attention and I am having to suppress a growing sense of irritation. If I don’t wash the dishes then they remain unwashed; if I don’t clean the house then the dust and cobwebs soon build. Nobody else in the house will think to do anything about the mess, and I can see that this is my fault because I have never attempted to delegate these tasks.

My husband goes out to work and thereby supports us all financially; it is only fair that I should look after these housey jobs. My kids have their school work and social lives; getting them to do much else is too often a harder battle than doing the jobs myself. They point out that I am home all day and they are not. But still, but still…

I find myself longing for an escape. for the ability to do more of the things that I want. And then I look out from my privileged, little bubble and I feel huge waves of guilt for thinking these thoughts. I have it so easy with my loving family around me and my financially secure life. I feel so selfish that I am not permanently happy and grateful.

My kids are growing up. All too soon they will be moving out and I will long for their messy bedrooms and impenetrable demands. I will be able to buy myself a new item of clothing without my daughter asking if I needed it (in her eyes, it is she who always needs new things). I will be able to cook dinner for a time that suits me rather than trying to accommodate the needs of others, who cannot decide if they wish to go somewhere until the last minute, but will blame me for their inability to attend if I have not yet fed them. Yes, I will have more freedom, but I know I will miss their never ending demands.

I used to think that, when I grew up, I would be able to go out when I wanted, stay in when I wanted and eat what I wanted. These days going out is a major, logistical exercise that requires multiple permissions and forward planning. I always seem to put someone else out with such requests for cooperation. When I eat what I want I put on stupid amounts of weight; if I then try to cut down my daughter berates me. My parents controlled me with the knowledge that I was financially dependent on them; my husband and kids control me with guilt.

This is not what I thought being a grown up would entail. Cooking and cleaning; dishes and laundry; living my life quietly and without fuss whilst supporting those I love. I read back on that and I think about how good my life sounds; how good my life is. But still, but still…

Perhaps a part of it is that I have not changed inside. I look my age (at least) and have the aches and tiredness that go with that increase in years. I have an older generation’s expectations weighing me down and a younger generation’s demands filling my day. If I grab some time to do what I want (which I have been doing more often lately) then the price I pay is a backlog of tasks that must eventually be completed. And a voice inside is telling me that this is all my fault because I have allowed it to happen.

Does being a grown up mean living unnoticed, without emotional support? Whilst the things that I fail to do cause inconvenience to others, the things that I achieve are expected so not noteworthy. What makes me feel good: a fabulous view discovered on a long walk, an insightful book, a piece of writing where the words mange to convey the feelings I am trying to express; I try to share my inner satisfaction and encounter blank looks from those around me. My attempts to join in with their wordplay are increasingly met with irritation. I am required to be seen but not heard.

Perhaps we never really grow up, we merely grow old. Perhaps I am longing to have my achievements recognised and lauded as I did when a child. Perhaps all that has changed is that I have learned to act as expected, for most of the time anyway.

It is the weekend. I have a house to tidy, an oven to clean, laundry to sort and meals to cook. I have taken on the responsibility of a family and raised my children to act as they do. If I ever feel unhappy with my lot then it is up to me to orchestrate change. Perhaps accepting that is a part of what growing up means. Whilst the child in me throws herself on the floor in a hissy fit, I will get on with the jobs to hand with as good a grace as I can muster. But still, but still…

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For my daughter

You are beautiful, but it is not your beauty that defines you. After that first, perfunctory assessment it is your wit and empathy that will colour opinion. Never compromise what you are; if others do not appreciate your worth, move on.

I realise that, although I have encountered many of the issues that you must face, my experiences will have differed from yours. I grew up in a time and a place far removed from that which you must experience. I do not ask that you do as I say, although I may ask you to consider a point of view alongside others.

Be aware that, however irrelevant other’s may appear to you, their counsel may contain some nugget of wisdom. Learn to listen that you may proceed mindfully. There are lessons to be learned in even the most obscure of places.

Your thoughts and feelings are valid; do not allow others to diminish their worth. The things that matter to you should not be dismissed as irrelevant just because they are not appreciated by those you encounter as you move through your world and this life.

Strive to be the best that you can for your own edification and satisfaction. Others will come and go but you will always have to live with yourself. Take care of your body and your mind; they are the constants in the ever shifting sands of your life.

Sow seeds of kindness and generosity; the rewards you reap may take time but will be plentiful. Do not be afraid to let go of those who tether you to a place that limits your ability to flourish. Make your own path if those that exist do not take you to wherever you wish to go.

Do not rely on others for your happiness. Take personal responsibility for what you are and what you may become. This world owes you nothing, but offers so much if you choose to seek out and work for that which you desire. Learn from your setbacks; do not be cowed by challenges. There is often more than one way to achieve a goal.

Be open to new thoughts and ideas; consider carefully other’s reasoning and beliefs. It is possible to be respectful and considerate whilst maintaining one’s own integrity. When new information is uncovered, challenge the established dogma to ensure it remains as incontrovertible as you were led to believe. Changing one’s point of view is less shameful than fighting for a flawed premise.

It is possible to be practical and still follow a dream. Life is fluid and ever changing; take charge of yours. There will be times when events are beyond your control; do not give up or blame others. Your destiny is in your hands.

Do not be afraid to love, but give your heart wisely. A soul mate will not seek to change you, but will enhance what you already are. If you do not feel comfortable with what you are asked to be or do then desist. Others should not expect you to live by their standards; those who truly care about you will respect your wishes and love you for what you are.

Wherever you go in this life, whatever path you choose, know that you are loved beyond measure. I would change nothing about you other than to wish that you could see yourself through my eyes and thereby realise just how wonderful you are. I wish you nothing but happiness and personal fulfilment. I will always be there for you.

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Changing seasons

I was cold in bed last night for the first time in several months. Today I have donned a favourite, comfy, shapeless hoodie in an attempt to stay warm. It is raining outside so I am not inclined to venture out on my planned walk. Instead I have been catching up on housework and entertaining myself scrolling through my dashboard on Tumblr. That site is a time machine; I log on and the hours vanish.

There are so many things that I could and probably should do, but none of them are urgent or appealing. I will allow myself some down time; a chance to rest and snuggle after an active few days. Summer is ending and I must look out my warmer clothes; swap sandals for boots and add layers when I venture outside. I enjoy the changing seasons, the shift in outlook and expectation.

The long, sunny summer allowed me to open up the house for fresh air to circulate through windows and doorways. Home life merged between inside and out as we enjoyed meals on our patio and played games in the garden. Long, light evenings allowed family time and relaxation to gravitate around airy, outdoor living.

Now the evenings are drawing in and the temperature has dropped. Windows are closed and curtains drawn against the encroaching dark at an ever earlier hour each day. Evening entertainment revolves around screens and books and music. We become more solitary in our thoughts and pursuits, even when sharing the same space.

Yet I enjoy this time of year. There is change and hope and growth. Soon I will have a multitude of ripe apples and blackberries to make into cakes and crumbles; I will swap eggs from my hens for the fresh, home grown vegetables that my talented friends can coax out of their little plots of earth. We will feast on this bounty and walk off the energy given through woodland that is wondrous to behold with it’s kaleidoscope of colour.

I feel blessed to live where I do. I am surrounded by beautiful countryside and friendly people. However socially awkward I have become I am still accepted and greeted by those around me. I need only walk a short way to escape the trepidation that I feel when I venture out; to be surrounded by fields or woodland; to experience the beauty of a fabulous view.

After the long, summer break my family are settling back into a new academic year and I can spread my wings and wander at will through whatever challenges I have set myself. Or, as today, I can snuggle up with my thoughts and live my own life as I please, at least until evening when my duties return.

I will read my books, watch new films and allow my thoughts to wander. How dull must be the lives of those who do not create fictional worlds in their heads and then live out the lives of their characters. As I walk through the real and imaginary paths that I explore each day I am filling out the lives of so many who do not exist. As I create and develop my characters it feels as though I am getting to know new friends, even though the real me is never introduced to their worlds.

There are so many things that I want to do and see and be; most are within my grasp and close to home, all demand time and commitment. As I apply myself to making them happen (as only I can) I will do my best to make the most of this season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. I will also allow myself time to snuggle, although perhaps not too often.

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“Follow no path, make your own.”

Happy Birthday to me

Today is my birthday. I now have exactly one more year to sort myself out before I reach my first half century. I am not bothered by the ageing process; the adventure of life continues apace and I am learning from all my experiences. I have no wish to be a different age or to relive a time that has gone before. Neither do I harbour any massive regrets for decisions made; I am okay with where I am today apart from a few issues around the edges that only I am capable of dealing with. So that is what I need to do.

For today though, I will do my best to enjoy what I have got. Life has as many special occasions as we choose to celebrate and I will mark this day in a low key but celebratory manner with my family. I was surprised to see that the Google Doodle has been changed in my honour (everyone is seeing those cakes, right?). I rather like that.

I have plans for the next year. One of the issues I have struggled with through spring and summer is how to cope with truculent teenagers. My children are growing up, asserting their independence, and I am not dealing with this as well as I would wish. I need to shift my mindset and allow them to make the mistakes that they will learn from. I need to find my own way again after years of living for them.

I also need to get more comfortable with how I see myself. Three years ago, when I was feeling settled in a sort of comfortable, middle aged, cuddly mama look, I took the decision to home school my youngest son (Why I became an amateur teacher). Over the course of that fabulous year, as I watched my insecure little boy blossom and grow in confidence and ability, I had little time for myself. I was preparing lessons, pouring my heart and soul into his development, and with the remainder of my waking hours making sure that my husband and other two children got enough attention not to feel sidelined. There was no time for me; none at all. I ate, slept and functioned. I put on a huge amount of weight.

When my son returned to mainstream education I decided to deal with my lack of self care. I joined a luxurious gym and made sure that I went out for long walks and cycle rides. I gave myself lots of time for me. By watching what I ate I managed to lose the weight I had gained and a lot more besides. Within nine months I was slimmer and fitter than I had been in twenty-five years. I felt amazing.

I have long passed the window of opportunity to look fabulous, but what I loved about this transformation was the fact that I could put on the clothes that I liked and feel that they suited me. No longer was I trying to hide the bumps and rolls; I could wear close fitting clothes without feeling suffocated or worrying that I resembled the michelin man.

Much as I felt good about the way that I looked, the way that that I felt was cathartic. The improved fitness gave me energy that I hadn’t possessed in more years than I could remember. I was fitting in all of my activities, keeping the house running as it should and not suffering that feeling of everyday exhaustion that had become a fact of life.

I do not know how much of this was down to improved health and how much to the psychological benefits of feeling good about myself. Although my friends and acquaintances were making many complimentary remarks when they saw me, my family did not see the change as either necessary or beneficial. My daughter was not happy with my strict eating habits which worried me; I know that parents must be careful not to instil negative body image issues in their children. My elder son, who had taken to insulting me with the phrase ‘Du bist eine gross und dicke mutter’, was persuaded that this was no longer appropriate which was an achievement, but complements from teenage boys to aged relatives are an expectation too far.

Not that I felt any need for complements; in many ways those I received made me feel uncomfortably exposed. I was happier that my family had accepted me whatever my size and did not see me being larger or smaller as noteworthy. This has been particularly important in dealing with what came next. Having worked so hard to achieve the changes in my body shape I then, very gradually, allowed the weight to return. Not all of it and not so quickly as to be immediately obvious, but an insidious increase of a pound here and a pound there until I am now, once again, trying and failing to hide the rolls of fat under loose clothes.

Well, this won’t do at all. I know that I can do better and fully intend to sort myself out. Just as I gained time for myself when my youngest son went back to school, so I intend to use more of my time for myself when the summer holiday finishes for my teenagers in a couple of weeks time. They have shown me quite plainly that they prefer, nay demand, more space and freedom. I need to start looking at this as, not a rejection, but an opportunity for me to take the same freedom for myself.

Last time I did this it took nine months; this time I give myself a year. By my next birthday I aim to have lost the excess weight that is both physically and mentally dragging me down and to have found whatever it is that I am to become beyond being a mother to my children. I have allowed myself to live my life through others. This is  a deflation of my potential and places unnecessary and unreasonable demands on them. I can be more than that.

I have so much to be thankful for and so much to look forward to. For today though, I will do what I can to make this a happy birthday for me.

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