The bad mother

Perfection Pending

This post is part of a parenting Blog Hop over at Perfection Pending

I felt like the world’s worst mom on Friday, and I suspect that my youngest son may concur with this opinion of my mothering skills. I would ask him except he is fast asleep, snuggled up in bed with his favourite teddy bear, on a Monday morning in term time. Even teenagers taller than their mothers benefit from a favourite teddy bear when they are ill.

On good weather days my son will sometimes cycle to school. As he is one of those computer game playing, stay holed up in his room type teenagers, we actively encourage this rare exercise. On Friday he set off in the morning with a friend, the second time in the week that they had cycled in to school together.

Being early in the year my son has had a full winter to lose whatever semblance of fitness he managed to acquire last year. As we live on a hill he finds the final mile home tough. After a busy day at school he just wants to get back to his computer, and the prospect of traversing that steep hill is off putting.

The routine has been the same in previous years. When his fitness levels are low he will sometimes phone to ask me to rescue him; to drive down to the cycle path, load him and his bike into the car, and bring them back the easy way. As I am not easily persuadable, especially when I know that he will benefit from the exercise, he will claim that he feels ill.

This has worked on a fair few occasions. However, when he started to get ill from just cycling three miles along fairly flat terrain, and recovery took about fifteen minutes from entering the house, I grew wise to his cunning. When he called for assistance I refused to collect him, an act that caused a great deal of complaint but no lasting damage. As his fitness improved so the calls for help diminished along with his journey times.

I guess we all know Aesop’s fable, ‘The boy who cried wolf’. Last Friday he texted to say that he was ill and I told him to cycle home. He told me that he had a headache and couldn’t cycle so I told him to walk. In my mind I was being harsh but fair, tough love. Except this time he really was ill. He tried to get home and couldn’t do it, so he phoned a friend. Friend’s mother rescued him, a kind and generous act that I humbly thanked her for the next day. The guilt I felt cannot be expressed.

As soon as he got home son went straight to bed and slept through until the late morning, a straight seventeen hours of sleep; it was obvious that I had messed up. He has had a fitful weekend, barely eating, with long periods of rest. Every time I see his pale face and dark ringed eyes I inwardly berate myself for not taking notice when he called me. What sort of a mother am I that I will not believe my own son?

My other two children are more circumspect. They remind me that their brother is one of those people who cannot seem to cope with illness. Whereas they will generally be stoic, he fusses and complains over the slightest ache or pain. It has always been hard to know when he really does have anything wrong with him; there is the regular suspicion that he simply wants to avoid the training session or have the day off school. He certainly claims illness more than anyone else in the family, yet is clearly not an unhealthy child.

I feel guilty for not believing him and guilty that a lovely neighbour had to rescue my son. I know that neither of these things are major issues, but mother guilt is so hard to cope with. I messed up and my son suffered.

Have you ever made a decision about your kids that proved wrong? Finding the correct balance between offering support and teaching personal responsibility can be a challenge.

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A small postscript to this sorry tale. Lest any of you fear that my son may be spending his recovery time playing on line games, worry not. For no reason that we can fathom, the hard drive on his computer died on Saturday afternoon. It will take at least three weeks for a replacement machine to be delivered; he is not a happy boy.

Best laid plans

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Perfection Pending

In case anyone missed it, yesterday was Saint Patrick’s Day. As an Irish girl living in a foreign land I am, of course, enthusiastic in my support of my home country. I mean, I wouldn’t want to live there again, but I am more than happy to lay claim to my Irishness from a distance at every opportunity that presents itself.

Over the weekend the boys in green did us proud by winning the Six Nations rugby championship after a hard fought game against France in Paris. Yesterday, another slightly less illustrious rugby match was played, one that I used to support from the freezing cold stands at Ravenhill in Belfast and which fostered my continuing mild interest in the sport. The school that my niece now attends came up trumps winning the Schools’ Cup final. My understanding is that they were worthy victors in another close fought match.

I wanted to wish my friends and followers a Happy Saint Patrick’s Day so, with my love of Teddy Bears, was delighted to find this little video which I spread around my social media sites: Irish Dancing Bears. After a wobbly start to the day, by evening I was feeling good, ready to celebrate, looking forward to continuing with my many and varied plans for the week ahead.

Except this morning I woke up feeling dreadful. Not mentally dreadful this time but physically, so now my plans are in disarray. I had to cancel the appointment I had made with my gym coach as I could barely make it downstairs for a cup of much needed tea, let alone think of attempting a workout. The swim I had planned is not going to happen this afternoon, and it remains to be seen if I can summon the energy to craft a story I hoped to submit to a challenge later.

In the grand scheme of things me being ill is not the disaster that it once was. I no longer have young children who need my time and attention; as co owner of our business I can grant myself time off work when needed, I have not been required on a client site in years. Being ill has simply messed up my own schedule and fuddled my brain. It is frustrating that my determination to make this week count has been scuppered so unexpectedly. I do not like surprises, especially ones that demand I do not stray more than a few feet from a bathroom.

At times like this I am grateful for machines. When I struggle downstairs to fetch myself another drink I can load and switch on the dishwasher, sort a pile of washing, then escape back to my bed to rest my aching head. I am also grateful for the home delivery service that will ensure my groceries arrive as planned. By the time my family return home this evening the worst of their detritus will have been sorted and the cupboards restocked. The house may not be as clean and tidy as I would like, I may not manage to achieve much for myself, but my little family should not be inconvenienced.

Why am I so concerned about not inconveniencing my family? A part of me thinks that I should just lie here until someone comes home and then wail about how awful I feel, try to drum up a bit of sympathy or appreciation for the efforts I go to making sure their lives run so smoothly. Of course, I will not do this. Mums are expected to cope, not to make a fuss. It would be an interesting experiment to see how they reacted if I suddenly demanded some attention, but I will not be putting them to the test.

I have walks with friends planned for later in the week as well as an important meeting at my children’s school, so I hope that this illness is short lived. I am impatient with incapacity; I do not show enough appreciation for my normally healthy body. Days such as today when I feel so dreadful remind me that I take it too much for granted.

Even assuming that I recover quickly I will now be playing catch up for the rest of the week; perhaps next week will be better. I would feel more positive about that thought if it did not recur on an almost weekly basis.

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Trying to keep moving forward

I feel as if I am fighting myself. On the one side there is the part of me that is feeling totally wiped out. My very bones ache and I so want to just curl up somewhere warm and rest. On the other side is the part of me that firmly believes that a lot of health issues are down to attitude. If I can keep myself going with a positive frame of mind then I will be just fine. I am tired but it is no big deal and I will recover.

I am guessing that my symptoms stem from my daughter’s all night party at the weekend. I have plenty of friends around my age who can regularly party the night away, feel weary the next day but, after a day or two of rest, go about their normal lives without fuss. I hate fuss but it seems that I do not cope well with such excitement.

If I were to mention the way I feel to any family members then I know that I would not get any empathy. I am the one who can lie around all day remember. Husband has work, kids have school and homework, all get a lot less sleep than me due to my unique habit in this house of going to bed early. If I ever dare complain about feeling tired it is speedily pointed out to me how easy my life is compared to theirs.

I take all of this on board and end up berating myself. I still feel exhausted but guilty for doing so. It takes me a long time to recover from a weekend such as the one we have just enjoyed, and I did enjoy it.

I am guessing that this all stems from underlying issues in my life that never really go away. When I was in my twenties I was diagnosed with ME. I was fortunate in that I was not as seriously affected as many, but it did change the way I could live my life. I had to be aware that when I started to feel run down I needed to take action before it got out of hand leaving me bed ridden. This happened quite a few times and was hard to manage, especially as I lived alone.

The doctor who treated me was sympathetic at a time when many thought the illness was imagined. He offered to put me on medication but also pointed me at research suggesting that well controlled diet, exercise and lifestyle choices could be more effective in offering relief. I am so grateful for his advice. Since that time I have been managing my well being by ensuring that I do not allow myself to get over tired, that I sleep and eat well, and stay moderately active.

The flaw in this thinking is how I coped when I had kids. Giving birth to three children in three and a half years meant that I went for at least five years without a decent nights sleep. And I got through because I had no other choice. I then went through a lot more years when I was socialising regularly with other mums; late nights, lots of wine, fun parties. And I coped.

I cannot help but harbour a niggling doubt that the supposed illness was all in my head. I feel guilty because I wonder if my family are right, if I am making the sort of fuss that I despise.

I do seem to need more sleep than most. I feel better when I am taking regular exercise and eating sensibly. None of this is indicative of illness though, it is common sense that a well treated body will function more effectively. I do not know if the extreme tiredness that I feel is typical of someone my age or a recurrence of my former malaise.

I will not be seeking medical advice about this because there is still no cure for chronic fatigue. If that is what this is then I already know how to treat it. Yet still it feels like a first world problem, it feels like a selfish desire for sympathy that I do not deserve.

I guess I will return to my carefully managed diet and exercise, meditation and sleep. Even if I am not properly ill this treatment would be beneficial for anyone.

I wish that I did not feel so pathetic that I am looking to justify feeling unwell when others cope fine with far greater challenges. I wonder why I feel so uncomfortable with being kind to myself.

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Taking care of myself

‘Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live.’

I have been enjoying a couple of sunny days at home with my family and we have managed to complete a number of time consuming jobs around the garden. The most labour intensive of these was emptying out our seven compost bins, transporting the usable mulch to our borders and flowerbeds and layering the remaining material with straw from the chicken runs and grass cuttings from the lawn ready for another few months of decomposition. My husband and older son completed this task together, chatting away as they dug and barrowed and raked the heavy material.

My younger son’s list of jobs included washing down the garden furniture, cutting the grass and oiling the tables and chairs. He was not keen on being removed from his computer games but completed his tasks well and even stayed out to play football and mess around on the trampoline for a short time after his work was done. It was good to see him enjoying being outside. His mood is always so much more cheerful when he is occupied away from his screens.

I was left with the job of brushing off the areas of decking that we have had built down the slope of our garden. Once this was completed my husband oiled the wood while I tidied the chicken garden. My older son came with me to dig over and sanitise the ground where the now unused run had been, as my back was suffering from my couple of hours sweeping. He had washed out the empty chicken coop the day before so we are now ready to add to our flock if we can source suitable pullets.

It felt good to be working outside, particularly as we were all busy together and the weather was pleasant. With so many onerous tasks completed we came inside late in the day with a sense of achievement. The boys sat down for dinner feeling satisfied; I sat down wondering if I would be able to stand up again.

My body is showing many signs of ageing. I can exercise carefully so gym work, swimming, long walks and cycle rides are all fine. It is the hard labour that I now struggle to cope with; digging, carrying heavy weights or continuous bending. I am fortunate in not suffering from any chronic injuries but I find that my joints ache regularly and my back complains if I try to do too much. What is too much for me probably looks so little compared to the work that others can complete with apparent ease.

Other parts of my body are changing as I grow older. The texture of my skin is drying out and developing a dull, leathery appearance rather than the bright, supple look it used to have. My hair, which has been prone to greasiness since I was a teenager, no longer needs to be washed every day in order to look acceptable. If I sleep badly I wake up with puffy eyes.

I am not overly concerned with the way I look and choose to balance a lifestyle of healthy eating and regular exercise against the enjoyment I get from eating indulgently from time to time and drinking wine. I wish to take pleasure in living as well as being sensible with the only body I will ever be given. Good health is a great gift but there are some illnesses that cannot be avoided however carefully we live.

I have friends who suffer from unseen illness: fibromyalgia, myalgic encephalomyelitis, clinical depression. There are others whose chronic ailments are more obvious but equally challenging. As we age there is an expectation that health issues will develop. How we cope with them can have a big impact on how we are treated by others. Stoicism is often admired yet there is no way that we can judge the suffering of another. Pain thresholds and severity of condition differ between individuals and some will not wish to share how they feel. Others will allow their illness to be the ruling factor in their lives and expect to be treated with the sympathy and consideration that they consider their due.

It is too easy to judge what we cannot fully understand. Our ability to cope with pain or illness is as much to do with our mood as with our physical well being. The emotional support we receive as well as our attitude to the challenges we are dealt can affect outcomes as effectively as medication. The severity of an illness or injury and the ability of the sufferer to cope should not be judged based on how we ourselves have managed in the past with something we consider to have been similar. If we cannot offer gentle empathy and understanding then it is probably best to keep our peace.

Ageing is a chronic condition but need not be an affliction. I wish to celebrate that my body is continuing to serve me as I age, even if it does complain more than it used to when I ask it to work harder at unfamiliar tasks. I will listen when it needs rest but not indulge it too much. I do not wish to be ruled by the health advise that sometimes seems to suggest that we will live forever if we cut out certain pleasures. It is my view that pleasure is a necessary part of healthy living.

The most useful support that I received when I was feeling down came from unexpected quarters. Perhaps those who know me best found my difficulties hardest to deal with; they felt that they knew me and could not square the many privileges that I enjoy with my unexplained outburst of pain. It can be so very hard not to judge others, particularly those who seem to have so much. The longer I live the more I see that we must accept others as they are. I will be judged but need not take notice of these judgements. Spending time with toxic people can do as much damage as any other foolish lifestyle choice. I am responsible for my well being. I need to concentrate on taking care of myself.

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