Lockdown Learnings

March now seems like such a long time ago. Can it only be 5 months since everything was thrown up in the air?

I entered lockdown pretty terrified about what it would mean for us as a family. There was no mourning for a lost social life, I don’t have one. No regret over cancelled holidays, I no longer even have a passport. No panic over childcare, that all falls to me.

My terror was pretty specific to ‘if school is cancelled then we have nothing’. I don’t think we had ever had the luxury of being able to take the time to sit and reflect at how we had gradually shrunk our lives, reducing what we do, who we see and where we go in a desperate bid to grant smudge the capacity to cope with school.

It wasn’t working. She finds school traumatic. She doesn’t have the abilities to function in a mainstream secondary and even in assisted provision was barely managing. This barely managing was manifesting as increasingly demand avoidant, dangerous and violent behaviour especially at home. In layman’s terms if things were/are bad my 14 year old daughter beats the shit out of me and trashes our house.

The thought of being locked down with my abuser without even school as respite meant early lockdown battered my mental and physical health. As a key worker, G still had to work. I was left with a 14 year old and a 6 year old to home educate, 2 Open University modules to finish, attempting to keep some freelance working coming in, and going back out again, and all the usual life admin and domestic gubbins.

To begin with the juggle worked. With school off the cards smudge’s anxiety reduced and we had fun, we made it work. G had annual leave over Easter and this ‘new normal’ was ok chez macp. Until it wasn’t.

I got hurt, g got hurt, I got scared, really scared and poor puff witnessed everything. Our carefully constructed attempt at familial harmony fell apart.

And there was no help. There is no help. We have school, CAMHS and social work involvement but nothing is actually being done, no supports have been put in place, we are all on our own. Except we’re not. We have to tell tales, report back, go over the trauma, expose our hurt and shame poor smudge over and over again. With professionals who offer nothing in return.

And yet, we’re preparing the girls to go back to school having undergone a bit of a monumental shift. Having come to the realisation that shrinking all our lives and sacrificing so much to facilitate smudge’s schooling would be an acceptable trade off if she was gaining anything. Only she isn’t. She isn’t receiving any kind of academic education, all interactions with her peers end horribly and ultimately cause her trauma and I can’t think of a single positive from her last academic year. This realisation changes everything.

Smudge has a bit of a softer start, building up her time over a few weeks. We’re going to watch closely and at the first hint of her not coping we’re pulling her and demanding a meeting to discuss an alternative. What that alternative looks like remains a mystery. But I am not inflicting another 2 years like the last on any of us.

I also spent Thursday afternoon putting the Social Worker firmly back in her box. Laying down the rules around not shaming smudge for behaviour which is completely beyond her control. I am done with watching my girl attempt to shrink herself, contorting her body into smaller and smaller shapes to reduce the surface area for these professionals to cover her in shame.

I have detested lockdown. It has come close to breaking me. But I am grateful for it. Without a period like this I don’t think I’d have ever come to the decisions that I know stand the best chance of working in smudge’s best interests and of maybe making it a little bit more possible to attempt to build a life which isn’t solely focused on one member at the expense of 3 others.

Oh and incase you were wondering:

My home educating did not recommence after the Easter holidays.

I only passed my university modules because my final assignments were cancelled and the modules were graded on all the work I did before my children were at home all the time.

I have continued doing the tiniest possible amount of freelance work. I haven’t done any of the things that I optimistically and laboriously plotted out in my fancy goal digger planner at the beginning of the year.

And for once I say all this without a single hint of shame, guilt or regret. I’ve kept two children safe during a pandemic.

 

 

Schoolhouse Blues

This is my second go at one of my children starting school. I should be a pro. Only it’s different. Like every single bit of parenting nothing that we did with the eldest works with with youngest. Nothing with no.1 has served as any kind of preparation with no.2.

When I sent the eldest off to school it was safe in the knowledge that we were about to begin the prep for adopting a second. There was of course all the ‘my wee girl is so big’ sentimentality but no finality. I was excited for her starting her education and thrilled about the prospect of a wee bit of time for myself before we did it all over again with no.2.

This time I am eviscerated. Both of my girls are at school. The loss of my status as a mother of small children pains me.

We have decided, me reluctantly, that our family is complete. So my youngest starting school marks an end. An end that I am in no way ready for or welcoming.

My eyes were opened by my eldest starting school. I know how fast they mature and change from here on in. The independence that comes from nowhere and leaves me redundant. Monday to Friday now belongs to the routine. It leaves little time for life and none for the spontaneity which for us meant joy.

The youngest is in her element. Happy in her new role. Ravenously hungry for the challenges, opportunities and adventures heading her way.

The eldest is delighted that her younger sister is imprisoned as she is. Hopeful that school has a civilising effect, taming the wee wildling from tormenting her every waking hour.

And me? Well I’m papering over the cracks. Only really admitting how I feel on paper. Smiling and pretending that I’m thrilled with uninterrupted hot coffees, all the extra time I’ll have.

Only I don’t want extra time, well not this much. Yes it will be wonderful to not have to try and squeeze work into such constrained times. To be able to pick up a book or a pen in the middle of the day before the exhaustion sets in once they are finally in bed. It’s just that the house is empty, the living room too tidy and all this quiet is oppressive.

Once again I’m marvelling at the agonies of parenting. Do it right and you give them all the tools, skills and ability to leave you bereft and broken with the ache of missing them.

Get your filthy paws off my fundamental human rights.

This is not a #youknowme 1 in 4 story. I’ve never been pregnant. Never will be. My abstinence, timing, contraceptives or luck weren’t what prevented drama and hard decisions. My inhospitable womb is responsible.

Despite how much I desperately wanted to get pregnant I fiercely defend abortion as a fundamental human right and categorise it as healthcare.

No-one should be legally compelled to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term. No-one should be forced to continue a pregnancy with the knowledge that their child will be born to die or be profoundly impaired. No-one should be compelled to play Russian-roulette with their physical or mental health in the hope that everything will be ok when all medical evidence and experience suggests otherwise.

Individuals must be given the agency and ability to make the hard, heartbreaking and life altering choices than any pregnancy can bring.

I was pro-choice as a teenager comforting my 15 year old friend who’s mother gave her no option but the termination. I was pro-choice in my 20’s when I accompanied another friend to a clinic and tucked her safely into a blanket fort to heal. But it’s in my 30’s that I’ve become confident and unashamed to shout that I am pro-choice.

Partially, because I am witnessing and navigating the long lasting impact and damage of inadequate early years care. My eldest daughter is massively affected. Read up on attachment disorder and containment theory and then bear in mind that we believe that this damage was inflicted while my daughter was within foster care.

This propaganda of utilising unwilling individuals as incubators before handing babies over to a fit for purpose system, which is caring and nurturing is bullshit. So called pro-lifers aren’t concerned about the life of any children.

On the 31st of July 2018 there were 14,738 looked after children in Scotland. 2% of Scottish children. Looked after is the official terminology used by Scotland’s national and local government bodies to describe children and young people in the care of the local authority.

Even with legalised abortion our services are in crisis, desperate for more foster and adoptive carers for vulnerable children and young people.

I would be really interested to see how many of these so called pro-lifers are doing the training, checks and opening their homes to the children who are in desperate need.

How many are out there campaigning for vastly improved sex education, free and easy access to contraception and engaging with the parents of these teens? All proven to reduce rates of teenage pregnancies.

How many are supporting rape crisis centres, refuges, child poverty charities, campaigning against the governments austerity cuts and educating themselves about the myriad of mystery that having a womb can entail.

How can you claim to be pro-life when there is a wealth of evidence that prohibiting abortion kills women?

My personal option is that a foetus is not a life. Life is something which is completely in the power of the individual carrying that foetus. When that individual acknowledges and accepts that they are forever beholden to that wee bundle of cells. For some that will be the instant a test confirms their suspicions. For others there was no life, no baby, nothing but the abject horror of possibility.

I’m pro the life of that teenager violated by a family member.

Pro the life of the desperate mother who has just been given an incompatible with life diagnosis on a much wanted and already much loved child.

Pro the life of my friend who ‘thinks’ that they used a condom on a drunken one night stand. Who absolutely can’t have a baby 2 years out of university and in the very early stages of launching a stratospheric career.

Pro the life of the already beaten mother who can’t afford or face the idea of adding another child to her burden.

I celebrated when the Republic of Ireland repealed the 8th. Now I’m badgering my MP to stand with Northern Ireland and making sure that he knows that I won’t allow the UK government to continue to breach it’s international human rights obligations. The link is here if you agree with the United Nations that the rights of NI women and girls are being violated and want to ask your MP what they are doing about it.

A wee update

Well that was a bit of an unplanned hiatus. Most days I sit down fired up, ready to write. Only to be horribly distracted, pulled in several different directions by one thing and another and as always writing is an easy thing to let slide.

That isn’t to say that I’ve been stagnating. Lots of things bubbling away.

I start an Open University degree course in English Literature and Creative Writing in October and I am beyond excited. I am so far beyond excited that it closely resembles absolute terror.

This is something that has been a secret dream for a very long time. But I’ve allowed self doubt and fear to prevent me even looking too closely into it. Not any more.

I might, heavy emphasis on the might, be considering setting up a business. I’m still at the weighing up the pros and cons stage. I’ve got all the skills, experience and knowledge to set myself up as a Virtual Assistant. Ultimately, it’s what I’ve been doing for the last 3 years.

I’ve even gone and got myself a client. But whether or not I decide to jump in with both feet might need to wait until August. I’ve got the 7 weeks of no school and nursery of the summer holidays to endure between now and then.

Even I’m not daft enough to consider setting up a new business and dealing with both my girls all day every day. So while I’m pondering and plotting I’m doing a bit of the background work. My key learning thus far is that I really do not like Linked In and that I am spectacularly bad at thinking of names!

I’m not powering through the books but I’m reading more non-fiction this year. A couple of highlights have been The book you wish your parents had read by Philippa Perry and Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez.

Philippa Perry filled me with hope that I haven’t irreparably damaged my children. While Caroline Criado Perez brought me back down to earth with a bump and let me know that regardless of any damage I have done both children are screwed as they’re female!

The eldest daughter is continuing to cause massive concern. Her mental health is so poor and we are really struggling to get help. Another strongly worded letter went off to the GP this week requesting that someone starts to lead the process. We are currently being passed pillar to post with each service claiming that another service is best placed to help. All the while leaving a 13 year old child very unhappy, completely unsupported and in real pain.

All the time that she is unhappy, unsupported and in pain she is creating havoc. We’ve had truancy, self harm and we think that she cracked my husbands rib. All in the space of a week.

Is it any wonder that I’m struggling to find the time to write?

Run for your lives

It will surprise no one to know that I have always leant towards the dramatic. “Run for your lives” was my childhood catch phrase. Oft repeated as I tore around the garden sporting a cape made from an old curtain and fully prepared to assist Wonder Woman in the foiling of dastardly plans.

I am the living embodiment of making a mountain out of a molehill and a drama out of a crisis.

Unashamedly.

I do really well in a crisis. I’m majestic under pressure. It’s the mundanity of daily life which I crumble under.

There is, isn’t there always, a downside. I am prone to panic. My imagination knows no bounds. Helped along by my extensive reading, watching and listening to post apocalyptic, dystopian and the end of the world fiction.

Should my long suffering husband be 10 minutes later home than expected he’s dead. No not in a threatening I’m going to hurt you way. In a horrible accident, police at the door, sobbing widow way.

Now a sensible person would use the tracking app thingy to locate him or phone to check in. I carefully and methodically begin planning his funeral. Agonise over how I am going to tell the girls. Break out into a cold sweat at the thought of navigating the parents in law without an ally. All because he’s stuck behind a tractor on the A96.

I am conscious that this probably isn’t terribly good for my mental health. Let alone my cortisol and adrenaline levels.

I have been attempting lots of mindfulness and distracting myself with gratitude lists and the like. It has had absolutely no impact.

About a fortnight ago I was having a bit of a wobble. In an effort to attempt to settle to sleep I put on radio 4, only to hear a news report about the escalating conflict between India and Pakistan in Kashmir. Immediately, I go straight to – do they have nuclear weapons? Shit I think they both do. I’m now navigating my way through the post-nuclear landscape to Tesco to get a shopping trolly and head out like in Cormac McCarthy’s Road.

Sleep was not going to come. I switched on the light and wrote. A big list of worries. It was a much easier list than those gratitude ones I had been agonising over.

Climate change.

Brexit.

School places.

The employment prospects of my eldest daughter – she’s 13 at the moment so I have a while to worry about this one!

Will we ever chose wallpaper for the bathroom.

India and Pakistan. Syria. Sudan. Yemen. All the other places where my limited geographical knowledge lets me down.

All featured on the list. The very act of writing them down released me of the need to continue to bounce them around my head. I slept better than I had in ages.

My new bedtime routine has me skipping to bed. Where I perch, pencil poised ready to list all the things that want to keep me up at night. I’m having such fun. As was my husband, laughing at me.

Although he shut up pretty sharpish when I threatened to put him in the blue suit when the grey suit looks much better open casket. It would appear that actually telling people you have spent large chunks of time planning out their funeral doesn’t lead to them sleeping quite so soundly.

I know how this ends

My TBR (to be read) pile is less of a tidy stack of books and more the contents of over half the bookcases in my house, a huge wordery wishlist and at least 75% of my local library. I will go to my death bed clutching a book and bargaining with the Grim Reaper for just one more wee chapter.

I absolutely have favourites. Books that I adore and attempt to foist on anyone who stands still long enough for me to push them into their hands. However, I very seldom revisit. Occasionally the notion will take me, only to be quickly overridden with the realisation that I already know how this ends.

My list of rereads is tiny: Good Omens, The Ocean at the end of the Lane and World War Z are the only ones which spring to mind.

The obvious exceptions to this rule are kids books. I reread some of my favourites to my eldest and now I’m counting down the bedtimes till I get to read them all again with my youngest.

We’re currently reading Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone. She adores the films and the book is one which my husband read to my eldest so I’ve only read it once, about 20 years ago.

Wow, it’s good.

With all the brilliance of Alan Rickman, Dame Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, etc. on screen it is easy to forget just how magnificent a story this is. I’d forgotten far more than I remembered and I am loving rediscovering all these nuggets of JK Rowling’s genius.

All the foreboding, the clues that make sense only now I know how it all ends and the sheer scale of imagination. I’m in awe of the worlds that a good writer can bring to life. The threads that weave together to create this magnificent embroidery.

The first reading of a book for me is all about the story. What happens next, a race to the finish. What I’m discovering with this reread is that knowing what happens next means I’m able to pay attention to the mastery of the story telling. Freeing me up to look for clues, new discoveries and hidden gem. I’m loving it.

Even the exquisite delayed gratification of restricting myself to one chapter a night. I’m savouring this.

It’s almost making me consider rereading some of my favourites. I just need to work through the wee pile beside my bed first and maybe a page of that wordery wishlist. Just don’t let me anywhere near the library…

Feeling the overwhelm: Could pleasure seeking respark your joy?

I work from home, only have two children and am fine with our house being clean-ish but chaotic. I should have hours to spend as I please. Time to spend on activities to revitalise, refresh and rejuvenate me.

Except I didn’t. I spent very little time doing anything which brought just me any joy. All my focus was on other people. All my joy was derived from the happiness of others.

I know that I’m not alone in this. My friends, sisters and the equally exasperated women I encounter are all saying the same thing “we never get any time for ourselves”.

But we do. An Oxford University study has shown that we have lost some leisure time since the 1970’s. But we’ve only lost 2.46 hours a week. Leaving us with 113 glorious hours of free time. So why are 81% of women reporting that they have felt overwhelmed or unable to cope?

An operation on my ankle, and a period bed bound, gave me an insight as to why this might be. With instructions from the doctor to rest, I was relieved of all household and childcare duties. I worked from bed but the rest of my time was my own. I was miserable.

I had no idea what to do to spark joy. I watched hours of Netflix, convincing myself that an opportunity to watch all of the box sets was a great thing. It wasn’t.

Being stuck in bed wasn’t the problem. I was so disconnected from what brought me pleasure. I had no idea how to spend my time when all I had to do was please myself.

I brainstormed all the things that I could do to make me happy and started seeking joy.

I wrote letters to friends and family, delayed gratification but the flurry of post in return was joyous. I read, 9 books in 3 weeks. I wrote lists, journal entries and even a couple of short stories. I phoned people, not text, actual conversations. In short, I did things that I claim I don’t have time for when I’m on my feet.

It was heavenly.

Of course, I had to get back out of bed. I wasn’t dreading it. An idea was starting to form. It isn’t about the time devoted to pleasure it’s about maximising the pleasure in whatever time you have.

It’s easy to prioritise the needs of everyone else and much harder to take control and say “I need”. So start small.

I set my alarm 5 minutes earlier. This way I have time to disguise the dark circles under my eyes and apply an eyeliner flick and some mascara. It brings me great pleasure to feel pulled together and not see a wisened old crone every time I pass a reflective surface.

I’ve stopped talking the dog on our ordinary, boring route and now factor in an extra 30 minutes so that I can get to the woods or beach where walking him is an absolute pleasure.

I bought my husband fancy headphones. It was a completely selfish gift to give me peace while he watches tv of an evening. I spend those blissfully quiet, child free hours reading.

I grab myself a take away coffee at the supermarket. It’s amazing how much more enjoyable the weekly shop is when I’m adequately caffeinated.

I haven’t managed to add a 25th hour to the day. But these wee nuggets of genuine, completely selfish, joy make my days. And as with anything the more you go looking for joy the more you find.

Daydream believer

This year has started in a bit of a frenzy. I may have done the over committing thing and I’m spending quite a lot of time dashing between plates on sticks trying to keep them all spinning.

I’m reassuring myself that I’m not surrounded by broken crockery. Things are actually getting done. I am achieving more than I thought I could. There are casualties, of course there are, I haven’t read a book in over a fortnight, unheard of, and season 2 of The Marvellous Mrs Maisel remains unwatched and neglected.

Despite the no books I am reading, probably more than usual. One of my commitments is the Superlatively Rude Writing Course and you can’t write for magazines without reading magazines. Homework was never such a pleasure at school.

That said homework at school didn’t come with such crushing self doubt and stomach churning anxiety. There might be a bit more too it than luxuriating with a glossy mag and a cup of coffee. It is way beyond my comfort zone and I am having to remind myself constantly of Tara Mohr’s words on fear.

So I’m making the time. Prioritising my dreams and neglecting my fears. It feels good.

It’s the most ‘wonderful’ time of the year

Christmas is my absolute favourite. A small goth part of me wants to be all cool and claim that Halloween is my jam. But pretty coloured fairy lights, Bing Crosby, dedicated stationery and compulsory letter writing, a whole plethora of mythological figures, the sanctioned gluttony of the most delicious and decadent foods and the requirement to see and celebrate with all my friends and family.

Given free reign I would deck the halls with boughs of holly, have at least one Christmas tree in every single one of our rooms, of course there’s room for a wee tree in the bathroom and singlehandedly drain the national grid with the electricity requirements of bazillions of fairy lights.

One of the aspects of parenting I was most excited about was involving smalls in festivising. If toddler + glitter = carnage then bring it on. All the best dressed houses have glitter in the cracks between their floorboards. It’s fairy dust.

Christmas crafts, baking, trips to see the big man, carol singing, pantomime, sneaking into bedrooms to pop stockings at the end of their beads and basking in the glow of their joy as they rip into Christmas morning.

Only that isn’t actually anything like our festivities. Change and deviation from the routine must be minimised. Decorations must be contained to the living room and even then much lower key than I would like. Weeks of anticipation, build up and reminders that ALL IS NOT NORMAL will not be tolerated.

I understand. Life is unpredictable, confusing and hard to understand on the most boring and dull of days. Christmas is system overload for my eldest. It always has been.

As a tiny she was petrified of Santa. Not just wary but proper terror. The blood curdling screams she let out when Santa approached her at the supermarket silenced Sainsbury’s the Saturday before Christmas. I remain convinced people thought that at the very least she had lost a limb. She has never allowed us to put a stocking in her room. The thought of Santa coming into her room while she was sleeping took sleep completely off the table.

We now spread our Christmas over several days. Partially to minimise the impact. Partially so that we have plenty of time to deal with the inevitable meltdowns, dramas and crises.

This year we’ll do the meal, just the four of us, on the afternoon of Christmas Eve. There will be presents, probably a walk on the beach and a tonne of chocolate consumption on Christmas Day. Boxing Day will be for R&R&R&R – Rest, Relaxation, Recuperation and Repair. Then on the 27th we’ll head down to my parents, hoping that at least one of my sisters and her brood will have already gone home because she can’t cope will all the family all at once.

It’s exhausting. It’s exhausting because this is the final hurdle. We’ve been deep in firefighting mode since the 2nd of December. School starts to change. There is talk of dances – nope not a chance, trips to the pantomime with the drama department – cue weeks of trauma about who she will sit next to on the bus, PE morphs into Scottish country dance classes – traumatic to most teenagers let alone the socially impaired and this is before people stop wearing what she expects them to – her fury at a teacher having the audacity to wear a Christmas jumper and pudding earrings could probably have helped me power a good few of those bazillion fairy lights.

Balancing her needs for home to be a sanctuary with my desire to mummify the house in tinsel is hard enough. Throw an excited, Santa daft 4 year old into the mix and things get, well interesting just isn’t quite right, I need a metaphor around nuclear fusion.

I’m running myself ragged trying to meet the needs of two girls so diametrically opposed that it should be funny. Only we can’t laugh. The eldest is horribly paranoid and will flip out believing that we are laughing at her. The little one is so excited that if we start laughing you know she is going to join in. I’m confident that she is going to prove that the scene in Mary Poppins where Dick Van Dyke has tea on the ceiling is possible. There is enough DIY to do around here without having to repaint the ceilings after scraping over excited children off them.

So while it will always be the most wonderful time of the year, please excuse me if I don’t look full of the joys of the season, I’m spent. But I absolutely mean it when I say that I hope you have a magically marvellous Christmas and that 2019 is happy and healthy.

Mummy Manifesting

It took us a while to become parents. Years of trying, fertility investigations, treatments and adoption. My girls are very, very wanted and It is no secret that becoming Mummy was and is massively important.

The other day I caught myself mid rant. Miserable. Exhausted. Thoroughly fed up with the whole thing. I am not the mother I envisaged. Admittedly that lentil weaving, floaty skirted, zen mama maybe is a little unachieveable given my personality. But even so this short tempered, screeching, she devil is way too far in the other direction.

I do not want. No that isn’t strong enough. I completely reject the knackered, shouty, stressed mother I have become.  I spent years putting heart and soul into becoming a Mother. It was not for this.

I love being Mummy. I adore the house being filled with their laughter, sticky finger prints, plastic tat booby trapping every floor, socks of varying sizes all missing a buddy and all the apples in the fruit bowl missing just one bite. This is the life I dreamt of. This is precisely what I signed up for.

I’m going to be a lot more conscious of the mother I want to be.

Using a quiet and calm voice. The fact that this is way more terrifying when a small knows that they have done wrong is definitely a bonus.

Actively seeking out time with and activities with my girls. Spending time with them is a pleasure, a joy and a privilege.

Refusing to engage in moaning, bitching or embracing the negativity. We create the life we focus on. Yes there is always room for improvement. By concentrating on the good, the joy that they bring me and the smiles this becomes the story.

I am manifesting that zen mama. Although I’m still at a loss as to how you weave a lentil…