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.

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?

In every end there is a beginning

I lost my job this week. A job that I loved. For an organisation which I was so proud to be involved with, let alone employed by.

I had an inkling that there were questions around the validity of my remote working. I knew that had I been closer to Glasgow I would have found opportunities to extend my remit and help out with more of the face to face, feet on the ground administration of the small charity.

However, I knew, and remain confident, that I was providing a valuable, cost effective and efficient service. Only it would appear that the powers that be disagreed.

I wasn’t consulted or involved in the decision. On Monday it was presented to me all tied up and with a ribbon on the top. Only there wasn’t actually a ribbon, that might have softened the blow.

I’m gutted. Eviscerated with the shame of it. I’ll find another job. I’ll manage to get money coming in. The dent in my confidence. The wobble in my self-belief and newly seeded doubt in my abilities aren’t so easily remedied.

I’m acknowledging the queasy, cold sweat of this uncertainty. I’m not wasting it. If I’m already feeling the fear I might as well capitalise on it. Instead of seeking the familiarity of sticking to secretarial and admin roles I’m venturing out into the unknown and am planning to see if I can get paid for writing.

The terror that this fills me with, the plethora of questions that I need to muddle answers to and the tiny flicker of excitement that this could be amazing are the best sort of distraction.

It’s really lovely to have a cunning plan while I’m curled foetal position, mainlining dairy milk and writing elaborate lists of ways to fast track karmic payback on my less than appreciative ex-employers.

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.