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.

 

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Progress

Did I mention that I had a busy week coming up? Having reached the half way mark I feel that I am on top of things, but only just. I have worked my way through the mind storm that blew up over the weekend, which I wrote about on Monday, and moved on. My husband is treading carefully around me. He recognises that I was hurt; I feel loved.

Yesterday was his birthday so we had a family celebration. It would seem that age is inversely proportional to the volume of presents received, but a cake was baked, champagne drunk and we had an enjoyable evening out at a local pub restaurant. It is becoming increasingly rare for my whole family to choose to spend time together which made this special.

Since the weekend I have been thinking about how just a few words can be misinterpreted causing unintentional pain. My daughter put on a new dress for our evening out and looked fabulous. It skimmed her figure perfectly, defining her waist. I commented that it made her look slim, which she immediately took to mean that she normally looks the opposite. It seems that I made a mistake mentioning size.

Are we particularly sensitive about the things that matter to us, or about the things that society values? I was hurt by the suggestion that I was wasting my time writing, despite the activity being of benefit to me and thereby also to my family (a happy momma is an aid to all). My daughter, despite being slim, healthy and beautiful, frets over her size, probably because it is discussed by her peers who see it as important.

However much we recognise what matters and what is superficial, it can be hard to live within a society that is critical of our choices. I wonder if this is one of the reasons why I find it so hard to cope with social gatherings; my way of thinking goes against the conditioning of so many.

My mother worries about my weight because, to her, how a woman looks will determine her standing in society. If I question her views then she takes this as a personal slight, a criticism of how she is. I know that she loves me whatever I look like, but the superficial is important to her and she will never be able to comprehend how little it matters to me. I say little because even I cannot dismiss it entirely. I can tell myself that it does not matter, but struggle to shrug off the influences I have lived with throughout my life.

Yesterday I attended a Parent / Teacher evening at my children’s school. My youngest is choosing the subjects that he will study for his GCSEs so it was important that I attend. I thought long and hard about what I should wear, how I should present myself. I did not wish to embarrass my son when so many of his classmates would be present, and I wished to appear competent and interested in front of his teachers. On this occasion, how I looked mattered.

I sometimes think that I would like to live in a small cottage in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by beautiful countryside but no other people. I could indulge in long walks, write to my heart’s content, and not worry about how I was perceived by anyone else.

Real life is, of course, not so straightforward. I wish to be with my husband and children, and they gain pleasure from the company of others. When I do get together with my friends for walks I benefit from their company. I am not an island.

I have progressed enough to understand my need to cultivate a greater acceptance of how others think and feel. I rail against what I see as attempts to change me. What I need to be working on is accepting that others choose to grant importance to how they are perceived; these differences need not be seen as criticism of my choices. Just as my mother cannot comprehend how looks matter so little to me, so I must not judge others harshly for caring about such things. What difference does it make to my life if they value how they are coiffed and costumed?

Today there is a cold, thick fog oppressing the countryside around my home. Tempting though it is to stay snug and warm inside, I will venture out to the gym. I will feel better for a little exercise, especially after last night’s delicious but indulgent meal. Improving my health will take time and work. At least this week I feel that I have taken a few small steps towards improving my mental well being.

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Not an island

A simple opinion knocked me for six this weekend when, after a busy day, my fifteen year old son informed me that I do not manage my time well; and his Dad promptly agreed with him. I am still trying to gather the scattered thoughts that this has generated. They are churning around inside me, refusing to be tied down in any meaningful way.

I tried to talk it through with them at the time. I remained calm and rational, but the result was not positive. My husband gleefully warned his son that women are bundles of hormones to be treated with caution. This made me want to lash out at him, an act that would only have served to reinforce his point.

I wonder if this is how toddlers feel when they throw a tantrum. The small world that they inhabit does something that they feel is grossly unfair and they do not know how to deal with it. They scream and kick and cry because they know of no other way to handle what is going on inside their heads.

It can be hard to find the words to adequately convey the multitude of emotions that conspire to overwhelm when a flippant or critical remark hits a nerve. I do not fully understand why I was so hurt by what was said. I have been judged by my son’s standards and found wanting before, yet been able to shake it off. Timing is crucial.

I found it hard when my children started judging me. For so many years they looked up to me for love and guidance, believing the answers that I gave to the many questions that they asked. As they grew older they came to realise that there are people in the world who do not hold the same point of view, that their parents may not always be right. As they learned to think for themselves, to question what they had been told, they started to pass judgement.

Teenagers can come across as abrupt, appearing to believe that the opinions they have formed are always correct, and those who disagree are wrong. Some adults of my acquaintance have never grown out of this stage, but most gain life experience and recognise that few issues are black and whit; they understand the varying shades of grey. This is a lesson that I try to pass on to my children, that they need to listen and try to empathise even if they do not agree.

Perhaps I have expected too much empathy. What is important to me, how I choose to spend my time, appears incomprehensible to my son; and also, it would now seem, to my husband.

I felt angry that I was not being granted the autonomy to decide for myself how I would spend each day. Of course, there are tasks that I must complete; as housewife and mother I have certain responsibilities. Beyond this though I had assumed that I was free to choose for myself.

Perhaps the real hurt came because what I had been doing revolved around my writing. I had believed that they realised how important this activity has become for me, and accepted that it is a time consuming process. They do not need to share my passion for it to be valid.

I spent much of Sunday off line, working hard in the garden in an attempt to drive the demons out of my head through sheer exhaustion. It did not succeed, although at least I now have a tidier garden.

As time passes the issue fades into the background, superceded by other, more pertinent matters. What is left is my disappointment that I do not have the support that I had taken for granted. This hurts, that in their eyes my personal enjoyment and satisfaction are not justification enough.

A part of me wants to ignore what they think but I cannot deny that their perception of me matters. It is hard to be considered foolish by those we love.

I suspect that they would prefer me to spend less time writing and more time doing the things that they see as worthwhile. Changing my behaviour to please others in this way goes against so much of what I encourage my children to do, to be themselves.

I have a busy week ahead so time management will matter. Do I compromise, capitulate; or do I ignore their views? I wish to live peacefully with them, but also with myself.

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Waiting out a mind disturbance

I have been thinking about friendship, about the ebb and flow of friends. I do not consider myself to be a particularly good friend. I do not invest enough of my time in maintaining the bond that close friendships require.

Relationships are rarely evenly balanced. There may be give and take on both sides but these do not always match expectations. Resentments can grow when effort appears to go unappreciated, or when demands are perceived to be too great. I have walked away from people in the past because time and again they asked for more than I felt comfortable giving. I find it easier to give than to take, but can only offer so much for so long.

I do not blame the people that I have walked away from but rather my own requirements from the relationship. I suspect that I am not an easy person to befriend with my regular need for solitude and my social awkwardness. What I am capable of giving may well not be what the recipient requires.

Over the past few days it has felt as though the internet has not been my friend. My main source of information and communication has not been providing me with the satisfaction that I have come to expect. I suspect that I am asking too much. Walking away is a possibility, taking a break from going on line. This is not a solution though if the problem lies closer to home.

I have a favourite t-shirt which has this image on it.

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I try to live my life like that, enjoying the journey rather than focusing too much on an end point, a result. In so many areas throughout life we are encouraged to strive for something rather than taking time to notice the good things to be enjoyed along the way.

Last month I decided to sign up for the 100 Happy Days challenge (detailed here http://100happydays.com/ ). I am struggling to continue with this, to pick out a different aspect of each day to focus on. I am undecided if the challenge is proving to be counter productive given that my inability to post each day is making me feel that I am failing.

It is not that I am feeling particularly negative, rather I am suffering a disturbance of my inner peace or balance. Non specifics are bothering me and my usual sources of calm are not helping.

I can walk away from others, from the internet, but I cannot walk away from myself. Zen Dog’s little boat has reached choppy waters.

I must find ways to hold on whilst minimising the damage. I know that this too shall pass.

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So what do I do all day?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tasks and time

It started off a good week. A visit to the gym, a chat with a friend. I was still feeling poorly though. Turns out I was ill at the end of last week, not just tired and old. Still, I was feeling positive and getting on. It was fine.

I managed a walk with a friend on Tuesday. The sun came out and I was feeling a little better. I allowed myself reading and writing time, a glass of wine in the evening.

I didn’t get to the gym yesterday. My left knee hurts, I have other tasks demanding my attention. It is raining again.

Why does my mood dip in this way? Am I doing anything wrong or is it just how I am? I keep busy, active when I feel up to it. So often these days I do not feel up to it. I wonder if I am just making excuses.

Today I need to cook and clean. The days go so fast. All those hours stretching out in front of me, available for accomplishment and progress. I find myself feeling despair as the clock ticks past 2pm and I realise that I have so little time left before my kids get home from school and my productive day finishes. I love my kids, spending time with them, but why do those hours when I need to be achieving go so fast?

‘What do you do all day?’ my son asks. I explain to him but he doesn’t listen. Same old, same old, nothing worthwhile. I bite back the retort about food and laundry and a pleasant environment in which to live. We have had this conversation too many times already.

It is not that I am madly rushed, nor that any of what I do is so hard. It is the relentlessness of the tasks that can never be completed. There is always more dust, more mess to sort out. A woman’s work is never done. Why is that only said about women?

I know, I know that I am privileged and I would not choose to change my life. Still though, still I want more time just to breathe. I who have so much more time than most, who can choose how I spend my day. I do not do so many of the tasks that I should because I need to open my wings and fly.

‘You should manage your time better’ my son tells me. He is right and I try. I try to set aside days for the house, days for my health, days just for me. But those hours go by so quickly and the day is gone, tasks incomplete, dreams set aside. When did time start moving so fast?

I write lists in an attempt to ensure that what is important gets completed. I have whiteboards on the fridge, a family diary, prompts on my computer. Always I am working towards multiple goals, aren’t we all? Does everyone feel as exhausted by the effort to keep on top of these never ending tasks as I do?

I will get on, keep pushing that boulder towards the top of the mountain. Perhaps progress is slow because I stop too often. The view is amazing.

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I am linking up with Perfection Pending.

Perfection Pending


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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Not just on a Monday

I am linking up with the Manic Mondays Blog Hop!!

Perfection Pending

After a fun and restful weekend I had a few things to catch up on this morning. Actually, I have the same things to catch up on most mornings. These are just a some of the joys that can be experienced when sharing a house with teenagers.

First off, on school days, I need to drag myself from my warm and cosy bed in order to check that they are awake. This has to be done with some stealth because, you know, they are perfectly capable of getting themselves up in the morning and do not need Mom to wake them. Except sometimes they do. Sometimes the alarm just doesn’t go off (of course it was set the night before, it’s not their fault!). Thus I can be found tiptoeing silently through the darkened house as I check that there is a light on in each bedroom.

Once I am sure that they have woken up I can grab myself a cup of coffee and return to my bedroom. It is unwise to try to converse at this time of the morning. Teenagers have a lot to think about first thing and none of it is any concern of Mom’s. Unless something major has been forgotten, in which case I am expected to sort it out in the five minutes before they leave the house. I find it is best if I keep my head down and leave them to it until they are just about ready to go.

Once they have banged the door behind them I can start my day proper. I wander through their rooms, turning off lights, folding back bed covers and gathering abandoned clothes from the floors and laundry baskets. Sometimes these jobs have been done by the capable teen, but they lead busy lives with important tasks to complete; like homework, computer games, chatting to friends, Tumblr updates. Locating all those abandoned socks and placing them in a basket for washing is not high up on their priority lists. Luckily for them there is a reasonably efficient laundry fairy to ensure that their wardrobes always contain clean clothes.

Next up I start the daily hunt for dirty dishes. If teenagers are one thing it is hungry, always. After school snacks, early evening snacks and late night snacks all get carried up to their rooms on plates which then vanish from sight under piles of paper that I dare not tidy away in case a homework goes missing. They assure me that they have a system, which works until they lose a particular book. Thankfully for all concerned I have a good record of finding these missing books, often cunningly hidden in full view on their desk or bedroom floor.

Cups of tea and glasses of water are finished and the crockery abandoned in the strangest of places. I find mugs on window ledges when I pull back curtains, empty glasses on shelves in every room. Mugs also gather on the table in the landing, or on the floor of almost any room in the house. I gather these up and transfer them to the dishwasher. I am so grateful for my machines.

All these snacks create crumbs, easily dealt with using my vacuum cleaner. Except the floor is still covered with those papers, books and magazines that I dare not move. I tentatively ease the cleaner around the small areas of carpet that are not hidden under debris, determining to come up with a suitable bribe at the weekend to make them sort out this mess. In their eyes of course it is not a mess but a filing system that I should just leave alone.

Sometimes I try to clean a little more thoroughly but this is generally unwise. Much as they like to have a tidy room, if I have moved a single thing then it is my fault next time anything is lost. Room tidying is best done with them in attendance and only when we are both in a good enough mood. Strength and resilience is vital.

As they drift in from their day, late afternoon, I will offer drinks and snacks and try to converse. I can never be sure how this will go. Sometimes they feel pleasantly chatty, but often I get the barely tolerant ‘It was fine‘ when I ask about their day. Such a response quickly conveys that their lives are none of my business and could I just leave them alone, which I do.

Until dinner time. I insist on a family dinner time.

Don’t get me wrong, I think my teenagers are fabulous. I remember hating being told to clean my room and keeping much of my life private; I do not have a problem with any of this. The fact that I can remember is, though, beyond their comprehension. Someone as old as me cannot possibly remember back so far as my teenage years. How can one’s parent ever have been a teenager?

In my children’s eyes I once had a pet mammoth and certainly never had fun or went to parties. When I look back at photographs of my parents or teachers taken when I was my children’s age I am amazed at how young they look. In my eyes they were always old, and I understand that this is how I now look to my children.

I try not to nag as I gather up yet another handful of mugs from a random location, or find the trousers that a son needed this morning abandoned in a heap behind a door. The trail of mud on the stairs that tells me a child had to grab a forgotten book from upstairs after they had put on their shoes to leave irritates but is easily swept. I try to support more than remonstrate.

My children will have time enough to learn better housekeeping when they leave home and have to pick up for themselves. When I am left with pristine rooms and a solitary silence I will miss this daily routine.

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

 

 

Warmth

Day 5 of my countdown to Christmas and I am thinking about how lucky I am to be warm. Stormy weather is forecast for today which, with the recent drop in temperature, makes it a day best spent hibernating. I am sitting at my desk, wrapped in a duvet, a warm cup of coffee by my side. I feel cosy and content.

My preparations for Christmas are starting to take shape. I do just about all of my shopping on line these days so have been browsing the internet and placing orders each evening. The interesting looking parcels and boxes are starting to arrive and the items on my ‘to do’ lists are gradually being ticked off.

I realise, of course, how lucky I am. We have never been a family that has gone overboard with gift buying, but I know that there are many people who would struggle to afford the presents that we exchange. We are blessed in so many ways with our health, each other and the comforts we enjoy. I am thankful for all of this.

I pulled a new book from my shelves this morning as I felt I was ready to immerse myself in another world. After reading a good book I require recovery time so do not always have one on the go. An ending, no matter how satisfactory, forces me to set aside the characters whose lives I have become involved with. Sometimes it can be a regretful goodbye as I do not wish to leave their world. A good book is so precious and powerful.

The book I selected this morning has turned out to be an excellent choice for where I currently am in my life. It was recommended to me by a Facebook friend who I have also met in person on a couple of occasions. I believe that I would enjoy getting to know her better should the opportunity arise so her recommendation was of interest.

The book is ‘Human Traces’ by Sebastian Faulks. I have had mixed experiences with this author. I would highly recommend ‘Birdsong’ to anyone, it is a rare and brilliantly written book. I also thought ‘Engleby’ was excellent, so powerful and thought provoking. ‘Charlotte Grey’ disappointed me though as I found it weak compared to his other tales. As Engleby proved, I do not need to like the protagonist, but Charlotte Grey’s behaviour did not strike me as consistent; for a supposedly clever woman she behaved foolishly. ‘On Green Dolphin Street’ was entertaining but lacked depth. It was not a bad book, worth reading, but not as good as some of his others.

I had bought ‘Human Traces’ when it was recommended but knew nothing about the plot until I picked it up today. It turns out to be about two psychiatrists, which is apt and interesting to me, particularly at this time. I am currently in week five of a six week, distance learning psychology course offered by the University of Warwick. Naturally I am interested in the subject matter or I would not have signed up but, even so, the course has exceeded my expectations.

I enjoy being made to think and the videoed lectures, interviews and reading matter certainly generate plenty of new thoughts. They have introduced me to concepts and ideas about how the human mind functions and how we, as humans, cope with and react to life’s variety of situations. I hope that my recent learning will enhance my enjoyment of a book that explores this subject when it was in it’s infancy as far as the medical establishment was concerned. From his previous books I deduce that Sebastian Faulks carefully researches his subject matter before spinning a readable and sometimes demanding tale around it. I have high hopes that I will enjoy this one.

As part of my course I have been doing a lot of thinking about myself and those I know. Not the introspective naval gazing that can be selfishly destructive and judgemental, but a more dispassionate appraisal of behaviour and why we act as we do. A six week, part time course with a little additional reading is only ever going to offer a taster for such a complex subject, but a little learning can be enough to stretch the mind. I may feel better in myself after physical exercise, but I do enjoy exercising my mind rather more.

The strong winds outside are doing their best to blow the last of the leaves from the trees, and into my garden that I so carefully raked and cleared of debris earlier in the week. I will not be venturing out today though, other than to care for my hens. Rather I will curl up with my book and allow myself to be cocooned in the warmth of my home. I will relish this comfort as I immerse myself in a new and hopefully captivating world.

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Teenagers

Living with older kids has a lot of benefits. Sure, for a peaceful life it is necessary to tiptoe around the easily offended feelings of volatile teenagers. A flippant remark taken the wrong way can result in a scathing comeback followed by that all too familiar, foot stomping exit from the room as the Worst Parent Ever is put firmly in their place and left to mull their inadequacies alone. Most of the time though, on a day to day basis, I have found that my life is easier.

For a start, they can travel unaccompanied. After many years of running the household with military precision to ensure that each of my three kids was fed, delivered to wherever they needed to be on time with whatever they needed for that activity, and then picked up and brought home again as required, it is a relief to be able to simply keep track of who needs to be where and when without having to leave the house. Sometimes I will still be asked to do a drop off, or to pick up one child or another, but most outings are organised by the kids themselves, including transport.

Play dates are a thing of the past. We still get plenty of friends calling round, and sometimes they stay for a meal or to sleepover, but again, it is organised without any need for my intervention. All I need to do is to make sure that we have enough pizza in the freezer and leave the TV room free for their chosen entertainment.

On a day to day basis we can now eat when it suits the adults on most nights as the myriad of late afternoon and early evening activities have been abandoned. If the kids have something organised then they can sort out their own food. Dinner time can be a respectable 7pm or later and caters for whoever happens to be home. Afterwards I can generally sit down to relax knowing that those who are out will make their own way back. I do not even need to be here when they return from school as they carry their own keys, although I do like to sit down with them at this time for a cup of tea and a catch up when I can.

I miss spending time with my kids. They retreat to their bedrooms at every opportunity, but I remember doing the same thing at their age so do not take it personally. It is rare to find an activity that all three will wish to join in with, but this does give me the opportunity to enjoy their company individually. It is easy to leave those who do not wish to take part at home alone; they have all outgrown the need for babysitters.

I still do a lot for my kids, but it is because I choose to do so, not because they are incapable. I am very aware that they need to learn how to take care of themselves as they will be preparing to live away from home all too soon. I choose my battles carefully; a messy bedroom may irritate me, but it is more important that they know how to prepare a meal for themselves.

On Day 3 of my countdown to Christmas I am therefore thinking positively about my children and how much I am enjoying watching them metamorphise from the little people I have nurtured to the grown ups they will become. It can be hard at times to adjust to no longer being at the centre of their lives, but the freedom that this has granted me can be enjoyed.

I do miss the impetuous hugs, the smiles and the little hand in mine when reassurance is required, but I am glad to have moved beyond the nappies, the tantrums and the never ending demands of the very young.

Knowing when to be there for teenagers may be a challenge, but at least for now I am still a part of their lives, even if less significant than I once was.

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