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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