Sunday, 30 September 2018

Big girls don’t cry

Are you a crier ? Do you break into tears at the slightest provocation ? That Dogs Trust commercial can set me off. Not proper heartfelt tears mind, those self pitying ones that are more about being tired and questioning whether or not I'm a good enough person for a pet to want me to adopt them. I also cry when I'm angry. This is not good. When I am trying to make a point and the only way I can do it is to sob or swear (usually both) I'm not at my best.

This year has been challenging. It's been tough in so many ways. Emotionally - I've had bereavements and relationship breakdowns. Practically - returning to full time work has been a huge adjustment for the whole family and I continue to marvel at the capacity for Hubbie and the boys to adapt in order to accommodate me.  Physically - I've been plagued by nothing serious, but small things requiring physio or rest (which I don't do often). In all of this time I kept going without taking the time to stop so I didn't cry. Well not properly - the occasional foot stamp and sob, but nothing major.

I usually have at least one weekend in the year when I take a break for myself and go somewhere nice and unwind. I sleep as long as I want to, spend time doing what I want to and just generally take it easy. I had planned to have that time away in April, but it didn't happen. Then I was going away in May instead and the car broke down so my relaxing evening became anything but. In a last ditch attempt to do this I was supposed to have a break this weekend and be back in time for my son's birthday. I really need this. Anxiety levels are critical now and the seal finally broke on the tears that haven't been cried all year.

At Soraya's funeral I cried during the short service at the crematorium - quiet personal tears. I had gone to the funeral on my own because Hubbie was at another funeral the same day - not a great start to the year for our family. It was a long day, sad and exhausting. For months afterwards I visited her partner and son to see how they were doing and would go home drained and tired from witnessing their grief. There isn't space to cry when the person in front of you is grieving so much and needs support. I would come home and Hubbie would hold me tight. No words, actual human contact and comfort from strong arms and a genuine concern for my wellbeing. Still no tears.

When I cut off my hair in her memory I felt incredibly sad and missed her so much. Facebook memories would remind me of something she had commented on or I would see a photo of us together smiling and laughing. The pain I felt for the friend I had lost then became about those around me who were hearing for the first time that they have cancer. I went straight into practical mode again. I needed to know I could be useful. It's all very well having feelings, but they don't get things done. Except I did have an overspill of feelings that were directed at entirely the wrong person

I'd love to say it was like Notting Hill where Julia Roberts looks at Hugh Grant and says, "I'm just a girl standing in front of a boy asking him to love her," but it was far less dignified than that. This wasn't cinematic it was ugly, snotty, uncontrollable emotion. The kind that has been locked away for so long that it's just pouring out like a burst dam. It was so ugly in fact that rather than a reassuring hug or a soothing, "there, there, it's ok," I got nothing. Nada. So the tears stopped again. They have to don't they ? Being practical and not crying is the only way I can get on with things and make sure I don't fall apart. Until I do.

Now I'm a bit like one of those inflatable beach balls that you know has a hole somewhere because it's a bit soft and squishy. It's slowly deflating every time you use it, but you can't quite locate the leak. I am filled to capacity with sadness and tiredness and tears, but I can't find a safe space to put it all. It seeps out when I'm talking to someone and makes no sense at all. Who on earth would get that upset about such insignificant things ? Surely that's not normal. Hubbie doesn't judge or criticise, he wraps his arms around me and holds on as long as I want to. No words, no explanations.

I wanted to stay somewhere nice this weekend. I wanted to wake up late and go for a run. I wanted to just rest my eyes and my body and my mind. It wasn't to be. I also wanted to be around for my boys. To spend time with my family. To remember what it is to be a wife, a Mum, a daughter and a sister.

What I want and what I get aren't the same. Sometimes that is for the best.

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

How did I do today ?

It's all about the feedback. Not the sound you get when you hold a microphone too close to a speaker and it feels like your head is going to burst. Or the high pitched pips you hear when your mobile phone is too close to something electronic. The kind of feedback that is asked of you on the back of commercial vehicle, 'how is my driving ?' Or those cards they hand out to you in shops with a code - some even print it on the receipt so you don't lose them. It seems to be important to let companies know when they are doing well or badly. Of course customers will pipe up pretty quickly if things go wrong - often on social media. I refer you to our long drawn out dispute with Corgi earlier this year which was conducted almost entirely on twitter when they didn't respond to numerous phone calls.

Don't get me wrong I don't condone the vigilante style of feedback where someone will call out a company or individual abusively in order to get something for free. If I've had a bad experience I'll contact them directly first. It's only when they refuse to respond that I take it public in order to engage them in a conversation offline. I am also very fair and give credit when I've had a positive experience. A public recognition of good service or a kindly gesture is only fair when companies get so much flack.

So why don't we operate the same model for behaviour ? I took the boys out to see a show last night and when we got home I told Hubbie they had been really well behaved and enjoyed it. We always check in with each other like this and give a 'report' about our kids to each other. It's part of the deal with our shared parenting approach. If the boys know we are a team it makes them feel more secure, but also means they are less likely to try and outwit us with that old chestnut, "Mum / Dad said I could." It doesn't mean they don't try it on, but they are always aware it's unlikely to be a successful tactic.

Possibly the most common form of feedback we employ - which I understand is universal - is the, "how do I look in this dress ?" type. This is fraught with danger, but thankfully Hubbie has a pretty good approach to this. He is honest, but not brutal. Previous partners have been perfectly happy for me to wear a skirt that was too short or a top that is too tight, but Hubbie is aware that while he might like it, the outfit isn't necessarily for his benefit. Mind you recently I tried on a dress and declared, "my boobs are too big for it." and he responded, "No they're not. The dress is wrong." See why I married him ?

Of course asking for feedback doesn't mean we're always prepared to deal with what's said. I am aware I have many faults and the people who love me find ways to address those without hurting my feelings. I don't want to be criticised, but I do want to be told if I'm hurting or upsetting someone else by my actions or words. I do try my best to be kind and a decent person. However I am also aware that I can be petulant, unreasonable and downright moody. However I want to be seen as kind, thoughtful and rational. That's not always easy when people have known you a long time and know what you're really like. So I ask for honest feedback from those I trust. Who I've known a long time and would expect the same from me.

I'm not going to hand out cards to people asking them to rate how I did. I'd rather the people who matter know I'm doing my best.

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Turning over a new leaf, or conker..,

I've been home late a fair amount recently. Either because I've been seeing family and they live a fair drive away or I've been to a show and it's finished late. So when I get back the boys are already in bed, sometimes asleep and always looking adorable. The cat miaows at me as if to say, "what time do you call this ?" and Hubbie catches me up on the post-school antics. It's how life is now I'm a working mum. This is the first time I've been at work full time since I've been a mum. I'd always worked flexible or shorter hours to fit in with childcare before and since Blue Bear came to live with us I've been home full time. It's a big adjustment for all of us, but so far it seems to be fine.

There are some things about being a stay at home parent that I won't miss. The main one is the school gate. Not the actual gate you understand - that hasn't done anything to offend me and is quite pretty really. My boys used to race on ahead and hide behind it and jump out to shout "Boo !" at me when I was on the school run with them. No it's the banter in the playground between parents. I will greet people with a smile when I'm on the zebra crossing without breaking my stride. I'll happily have a quick, "How are you ?" while still moving and sometimes I'll even walk alongside a parent I know. What I won't do is the standing 'chatting' with arms folded ignoring entirely that there are small children all around.

Then there's the whatsapp group of doom. Where one parent will ask if anyone has found their child's jumper and 30 'don't have it hun' messages will pop up. I have muted our group now as I can only stand so much inane chat about the new PE kit not being in stock. Also, don't ask other parents how to explain where babies come from on a class whatsapp group. I am completely honest with my kids. They weren't delivered by the stork, Mummy didn't swallow a magic seed and  Daddy didn't 'give' her a baby FFS ! They both know that Brown Bear grew in my tummy and Blue Bear in another mummy's tummy. Thanks to an episode of friends they now also know they came out of the tummy through a cut the doctor made. See, learning is fun kids !

I am less than keen on having a 'social' with people I only know because our kids are in the same class. I've got friends and they are lovely and we have things in common. I prefer not to spend my evening listening to people complaining about the school or asking me to confirm if what they understood to be the times of forest school are correct. Of course the other side of this is the gossip. At the end of last term a few parents told me they had heard my kids were leaving the school. When I asked who they had heard this from they became coy and refused to tell me.

A few weeks ago a parent I have known for a few years and who has helped me out a lot told me she had said something to another parent. It was an apologetic message confessing she had told this Mum that Blue Bear was adopted. I don't know why it came up or how it was relevant to the conversation, but I was thrown. It isn't exactly a secret, after all the school know and a lot of parents who knew us at the time he came to live with us know already. What we had chosen was to not tell the parents in his class unless it was relevant. It hasn't been up to now and it continues not to be.

We have been asked to provide baby photos for the topic this term, 'all about me.' This is one of the things we were told about during our assessment to become adopters. How we hold and present his past to him in a way that is manageable and not overwhelming. Blue Bear wasn't with us when he was a baby so while I can get photos of him we were not in his life at that point. I have spoken to him about his early life and answered all his questions honestly. We saw his foster carers recently so we had a chat about how he lived there when he was a baby. He doesn't remember it, but it is important to hold that part of his past safely for later life when he will have more questions.

I realise that when people ask questions like, "where was he born ?" "why are his eyes blue ?" "is he like his Daddy ?" they aren't necessarily being intrusive. However, I am protective of this little boy and his past and I don't want anyone to feel sorry for him or to look sideways at me and say, "Oh, you're so good." As if adoption was an act of pity or charity. My kids don't need sympathy, they are amazing and loved and precious. I don't describe them by how they came to be in this family. They are so much more than that.

Brown Bear is a force to be reckoned with. He is smart, funny, a talented sportsman and is fiercely protective of his brother and cousins. He has a quick wit and is frustratingly direct. He has obsessions which take over his whole life (Rubik's cube, fidget spinners, Panini stickers, etc.) When he is with boys he's one of the lads and in the company of girls he listens and observes and is kind. I think he could be a leader of men (and women) in the future.

Blue Bear is my little park ranger in training. He will stop to pick up conkers, acorns and pretty leaves on the ground. He loves animals and overcame a fear of dogs to now asking if he is allowed to stroke them (so long as they are not too big). He will make sure no one steps on a worm on the ground and if I want to motivate him to leave the child-minder I can say, "hurry up there is a snail crossing the path and if we don't get there in time it will have gone." He will be out like a shot to watch the snail.

When I come home and go into their bedroom, I watch their sleeping faces and lean in to kiss them gently so they don't wake up. Blue Bear doesn't move much. Brown Bear opens his eyes, smiles at me with his fingers still in his mouth and goes back to sleep. I tiptoe out so as not to wake them.

I love these two boys so much more than I ever could have imagined.

Then it's time to go to bed as I have to get up early to go to work again in the morning.

Saturday, 8 September 2018

How much is too much

It's been a long and tiring week. I've been up at 5am most days and have still been at work full time and also had a few late evenings. It's fair to say the boys have barely seen me and Brown Bear has been playing up to get my attention. It was yesterday that I realised that others think I'm doing too much. Friends have been messaging to check if I'm ok, they've been offering to hug me and Hubbie suggested I should lie in instead of getting up early at the weekend. If I have things to do it's just easier to get up and do them early - if I'm going for a run I'd rather it's at the start of the day, however, I'm not always at my best first thing.

I was told I worry too much. Of course I do. It's a side effect of anxiety, but actually I have always been this way. I can't recall a time when I didn't worry. As the oldest child I was always worried about my siblings. It was my responsibility to look after them a lot of the time and I would get the blame if anything happened to them on my watch. I also blamed myself if they got injured or if anyone did them wrong. I don't know why. I was also the typical worried first time Mum, protecting Brown Bear with a tigress' instinct. Woe betide anyone who fell foul of me in my first year of parenting, I was permanently worried. Then there was the whole adoption process and Blue Bear coming to live with us - that was fraught with worry. It's only now - more than three years later - that I can breathe and look at him and smile with happiness that he's happy and funny and boisterous like his brother. I do still worry, just about different things. It's who I am.

Is it possible to think too much ? I've always been told I do, so it's probably true. Of course I think too much. I wasn't one of cool kids, I wasn't popular and I was never a great beauty so I had plenty of time to think. I didn't have that instant appeal that cuts through having to make any effort. I learned to observe, to notice and to comment on life. My friend Ajay once said to me, "average looking people like us have to make more of an effort." I happen to think he's well above average looking, but that's not the point here. Really beautiful folk often don't have to try hard in life, with people flocking to them and being nice to them. The rest of us don't occupy that privileged place, so we have other skills. Mine is to analyse and try to make sense of the world around me. It's not for everyone.

For years I took offence at the assertion that I talk too much. I do, but I didn't like to hear it. I would fill silences with inane chat, make small talk and just talk over people all the time. I drove myself crazy with it, so I can imagine how much it bothered other people. It's not because I think I'm interesting or anything, it's nerves. If I have to keep filling the gaps with chatter it's because I'm uncomfortable. I have learned to stop and just let silence be. I also realised some years ago that people like to be heard so I learned to listen and reflect back what they said. It can be unsettling when they notice I haven't just been nodding along, waiting for a gap in the conversation to say my bit. I've actually heard what they've been saying and am responding to it.

I do too much. Ok this one I will admit to. I don't like to let anyone down so if I've said I'm going to do something I will do it. Even if it's to my own detriment. If it has a negative impact on those I love then I get annoyed with myself, but I will always try to do whatever I'm asked. This comes down to being unable to say no. I've read the books, I've got the prompts on the fridge door, I've even done mantras about it. I still struggle to say no. I practise on my children, it doesn't help. The people-pleaser part of me is much too established. However much I try, the instinct to say yes to everything is stronger than the realisation that I need to take care of myself.

So this week, when a friend sent me flowers and a message saying she was worried about me it touched my heart. Another assured me if I wanted to talk or not talk, be serious or silly she was there for me. When Hubbie said I needed to rest I realised he was worrying about me. When my Mum thanked me for taking the time to be around (why wouldn't I ?) it reminded me that I'm still her baby. More that anything it made me feel noticed. There was no criticism of me for not doing something or for being too much anything. It was genuine concern and kindness. I don't often need or ask for anything from others. I don't like to take or to impose.

How much is too much ? Well when it comes to feeling cared about it would appear there's no such thing.

Sunday, 2 September 2018

When will I ever sleep again ?

Last year I went to visit a friend who moved to Cornwall for a change of lifestyle after a serious illness and miraculous recovery. She told me that now her kids are all adults and she doesn't work full time she and her husband sleep in and get up late, "like teenagers." Of all the things I was jealous of; the view of the gorgeous countryside, proximity to the beach, living in Cornwall, having the freedom to just up sticks and swap houses with someone. The one thing I was most jealous of was that when I got up early in the morning to get to my meeting she was still in bed and didn't have to get up. 

Now I'm back at work full time my alarm goes off at 5.30am most days. I run every other day in preparation for the half marathon I'm doing in October and often I just autopilot my way to work. An early start suits me as I can get in before anyone else, work in a quiet environment and relax into my day. Then I leave in time to pick up my boys from school / summer camp / clubs. What is also means is that by about 8.30 pm I'm shattered. 

I go to the theatre a fair amount. Shows begin around 7.30pm so I'm fine for the first half, but to be honest unless it's an amazing (or very loud) show I'm unlikely to make it through the whole thing awake. I can function most of they day. I have to. Then at night I should recuperate. I should go to bed early and rest in preparation for the early start. However, I find I have a to do list that hasn't been looked at, never mind attempted. When the boys were away this week staying with grandparents I did a full day at work, went for a training run, watched a show at the theatre and was hanging washing at 1am. Even the cat looked at me in disbelief. Being judged by the laziest creature in the house - harsh ! 
So what I want to know is when do I get to sleep again ? I stopped sleeping when I had Brown Bear, well you do don't you ? Then when Blue Bear came to live with us he has serious sleep issues so I was up with him numerous times in the night. Now they both sleep fine - well Blue does wake up, but he calls for Daddy so I'm off the hook. I still find myself waking up frequently and looking at the time. It's exhausting ! 

Do I have to wait until my boys leave home to sleep ? Will I have to live in the country ? Am I ever going to get a night of sleep and wake up refreshed rather than creaking and groaning and wishing I had gone to bed earlier ? 

Who knows. 

I'd better go upstairs now. I've probably got washing to put away or something.