A typical week

Contributing to Perfection Pending‘s Blog Hop

Perfection Pending

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      

Daily life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Intermission

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Birthday Cake

On being boring

My son came back from work today in fine form. He and his colleagues had spent the afternoon dismantling faulty computers and rebuilding them from parts that still functioned as they should. He enjoyed the banter as much as the engineering; a good day at the office. My son is fifteen and on a week of work experience.

His dad is working nearby and my son has mentioned a few anecdotes picked up along the way. Apparently my husband has been known to complain to tech support; apparently he can be quite demanding. I laughed when I was told this, recognising the attitude and the description, but my son frowned at my reaction. He had divulged information from a secret world that I could not understand. I do not go out to work; I am boring.

How many blog posts have I now written about my recent neurosis? How much am I repeating myself, indulging an issue that is slowly being resolved? There are so many other things going on around me, and I have taken enough small steps now to feel that I have made progress. The mountain is being climbed; perhaps it is time to start thinking of other things as I ascend, before my sharing becomes tedious. Perhaps I have reached this state already and need to move on.

This is a good sign. I am no longer reeling under the impact of unexpected and uncontrolled feelings. I am no longer having to pour all of my energy into just going through the motions of my day. I am coping and I am healing. I am thinking of other things.

It is not unexpected for a teenager to find their stay at home parent dull and exasperating. With their burgeoning plans and hopes and dreams it is understandable that they should look at my life and wonder. I appear largely content to cook and clean, wash and iron, stay in most nights to read or write and go to bed an hour or even two before midnight. They must wonder at how I can feel fulfilled with this life I lead, and conclude that I am indeed dull.

I will not share with them, or anyone else, the world that exists inside my head. I invent characters whose lives unfold in complex and relentless detail; I write tale after tale in my mind, the adventures fantastical, magical, improbable. My characters may have skills or super powers; wealth and achievement; they may have survived a childhood of poverty yet overcome this to silently seek a ruthless revenge on those who tried to hold them down. My stories are convoluted and intricate; my heroines strong and unbeatable; most of all they are mine, never to be shared but never humdrum.

Perhaps, in a few years time, when I feel that my services are no longer required by my children, I will take up a new interest. Perhaps that is what I have already done here. I do not feel either the need or the desire to write down the fictional, fantasy adventures that entertain me in my head, but I do like to write. I enjoy pouring the words into my computer, playing with the expressions and fine tuning the narrative.

So, I read and write; walk and work out; cycle and swim; take care of my home, my family, my hens; dream my dreams. If I am enjoying how I am spending my time then that time is not wasted, and I have never felt that I have too much time on my hands. I always have more tasks that I wish to complete than I have hours in the day to tackle them. If others look on my life and wonder at what I do then perhaps it is because I choose not to share; perhaps by asking the question they show that they will not understand.

I do not expect my life to look interesting, neither does it need to. So long as I am not bored then I can live with being considered boring. I have my thoughts and schemes and interests. However my life progresses, so long as I can gain enjoyment and fulfilment from the experience, the actuality need not be noteworthy.

“Dance as though no one is watching you,
Love as though you have never been hurt before,
Sing as though no one can hear you,
Live as though heaven is on earth.”
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The family unit

Much is written in the media about attaining a work/life balance, the rights of the working mother, equality in parenting and the role of the father. A family is no longer assumed to be made up of a stay-at-home mum, a working dad and a couple of kids. As a member of one of these seemingly archaic units (okay so we were greedy and went for the extra child) I am sometimes made to feel that I am failing feminism by choosing not to go out to work. I admit it – I live off my husband’s income. Some would suggest that this makes me a parasite.

I was fortunate enough to grow up in a stable and loving home. My mum always engaged in paid work but, until her children were old enough to take care of themselves for a few hours each day, she did not work for anyone else. She was always there for us (and she still is); it was my dad who was the main breadwinner. He would take an interest in his children’s lives, but left it to my mum to ‘bring us up’.

Despite these parental role models I was vocal and determined in my desire for gender equality. I took the RAF to task at my university’s Fresher’s Bazaar for not being willing to accept me for student pilot training just because I was female. I was determined to do at least as well as any male recruit when I went out to work. I was good at my job and I was going to be a success. Being a woman would not hold me back.

Then I had a baby.

I still feel rather sorry for my husband over what happened next. He fell in love with and married an ambitious, outspoken professional. We spent the first few years of our married life working hard, playing hard and advancing our careers. My biological clock demanded a baby, but we had the workplace nursery booked and my plans were unchanged. Then the (male) midwife put my baby girl in my arms. From that moment on I trusted no one else with her care.

My husband is a great dad. He has never felt the need to grow up (other than to take full responsibility for providing us all with the very comfortable life that we lead…) and will still happily mess around with the kids. However, if I was not going to go out to work and he was then, however exhausted I felt, I was expected to get up in the night to see to the babies, to do the housework, cook the meals and generally take care of us all. This seemed fair enough to me.

Over the years our roles have become more ingrained. I once tried to paint the walls of one of our bedrooms. He found a strand of paintbrush in the drying paint, a portion of wall not properly covered, the track marks of brush strokes made with over thick paint, and suggested that he should do all of the home decorating thereafter. Early on in our relationship I ironed a couple of shirts for him, and he has not picked up an iron since. We each do our jobs around our home with little crossover.

I would still consider myself to be a feminist. I have made a lifestyle choice that suits my character and circumstances and do not feel obliged to conform to anyone else’s stereotype. I feel hugely privileged to have the choice to live my life this way and realise that it is my husband who has allowed it to happen. I feel fulfilled in being able to run a contented home and support my kids in the way that I feel is best for all of us. It would not suit everyone and I would never try to suggest that it is the best life to lead, but it suits us.

In my younger years I could never have imagined myself wanting to live this life. Perhaps it shows that we cannot predict how we will feel when we experience events that are truly life changing. My husband can drive me mad at times with his small, irritating habits and his taste in music (I mean, Frank Zappa?!?), but after twenty years I still believe that marrying him was the best decision I have ever made.

The modern family unit is often complex and diverse. I would guess that those which work are the ones that have adapted and accepted, without resentment, the choices made as individual circumstances have changed. Attempting to conform to an imposed stereotype in order to meet the expectations of others is unlikely to be sustainable and is a recipe for discontent and discord. Each family needs to work out what suits them, respecting the needs of each individual. Whatever the media may say, a successful family unit cannot be prescribed.

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