Round and around...

posted on: Wednesday, 13 July 2016

And so my children break up from school for another year.

The last few weeks have been...what can I say? Tumultuous.

I have this interest in how humans (by this I mean myself) handle stress; I am always the one who - when someone says they feel overwhelmed or have a dreadful cold - remarks: 'ahh, you must be stressed' like some sort of modern-day soothsayer. What do I know? I guess my key observation has been that stress is a constant in my life, even though in the traditional sense I am not under stress (I am not a firefighter or a police woman, I don't face danger on a daily basis).

I place myself under stress. I don't really know why I do this, I should probably get reprogrammed but I see that consistently I succumb to the affects of stress. I am a stress head, highly strung, wound tight. I am married to someone who is the direct and polar opposite so I know how different I am. Things that really ought to be pleasurable and life-affirming can even become stressful to me. It's a curse.


For the last few years, as I have described at length, I have attempted to manage this with life style changes and a-l-h-o-t of soul-searching. It has worked to a degree but still, every now and then I get a physical reminder that I need to chill the f**k out.

This is how it went. In the dark gloomy winter months following Christmas I was holed up writing my book. Life felt like it had much work and little play in it. My husband was away a lot of the time, I was enjoying the new (white) house but often there was an empty space at the table of four. My daughter got a boyfriend; countless demands entailed as she navigated - and still navigates - the waters of young love. My son became disillusioned with his friends, fights ensued, he became withdrawn and sad. I went on writing and cooking and cleaning and driving them around, all the time wondering quite what had shifted in our nirvana. This is how it goes I told myself; life is a series of phases. I spent a lot of time counselling them and thinking about them and shouldering every little set back in a way that frankly, was disproportionate. I get too involved. By the time I realised that it was kinda too late and the stress monkeys had come to rest on my shoulder.


The remedy was to plan lots of summer fun - yes summer would be the salve, this is just a winter thing I told myself, so I poured over the calendar and booked up concerts and events and holidays and proceeded to count down to them. Now it's July, we are splat in the middle of my summer of fun. Off to Amsterdam at the weekend with my daughter and her buddy - to visit her beloved Godmother. This is all good.

The school term took its toll, we had some uncertainty at the end about my son changing schools (he hasn't), I finished my novel and endured a long month until I got the feedback from my tutors, like I was on death row. The weight of not knowing whether this creative endeavour was any good, whether the toil had been worth it sat heavy. I found out last week that I did OK; more than OK. I am delighted. They liked it, I passed the first year and I got a distinction! Hurrah, so it turns out I did a good job and I then spent a good few days wondering why other people's approval is so important to me. This in itself is an indicator of the effects of stress; why not just bloody well enjoy it?!

We went to Glastonbury - first ever time at the biggest of festivals - it was incredible! I could write an essay on the reasons why. The most fun I have had for a long time. And the nicest of people. Plus  seeing Adele and Coldplay in one weekend was awe-inspiring.


So now, we have nine weeks of school holidays (yes, nine) and a schedule of events to keep us busy. I can honestly say that I am so tired I feel like I could lie down for a week. But I don't. There's stuff to do! People to see! My sister in law from Dubai came to stay with her children so we lived in a communal harmony, two mums, four kids ranging from 15 to 2. It was a reminder of how far we've come! Lovely to have her here and it showed me that it takes a village to raise a child.

In amongst this I go through strange, almost maniacal moments of frippery; internet browsing for sandals, lusting over summer dresses. I long for the opportunity to wake to a guaranteed sunny day but alas the British summer is true to form; contrary. The nation is in a spin and I shan't write about our politics for fear of reprisal, just noting the vitriol directed at my friend Tania when she did is enough to make one's head spin. The public are testy, volatile, there's meanness that has set in like weed. This sort of thing makes me sad. People are anxious. And others are triumphant and gloating. It's a heady mix.

The thing I think about the most is my Florida and my palm trees and the snippets of plans I have to better my novel next year when I return for the second part of my Masters. The future is bright. The toils of parenting will die down and I will return to a state of equilibrium just in time for the winter to set it!

It is just me who goes in these cycles?! I doubt it...

all images via crush cul de sac


Five years on...here's what I think now...

posted on: Monday, 20 June 2016

I was looking back over old blog posts. I have been writing here for a long, long time now; nearly seven years, so it's an interesting little jaunt down memory lane to see what I used to think about stuff. I happened across this post, written in 2010, which has had, over time, a gazillion hits (one of my most popular ever) and I thought: wouldn't it be funny to see if I still agree with myself?! For those who knew me then; have I changed?


Ageing gracefully?

Five years away, when I was the other (right?) side of forty, I thought I knew what I felt about ageing. I mean I knew in principle; I was not for surgical intervention, I was generally speaking happy with how I looked. Then, I did not face the point of comparison of having a smooth-faced teenage daughter who can rock every fashion going! I did not lament the loss of my youth. I knew I was ageing, but I see now that I did not start to age truly until I hit forty! It might have been coincidental, it might have been that I recognised the deterioration when I could associate it with an age that was, as society dictates, 'older' or 'mature'. I would say that the difference between then and now is that then, my preoccupation was with how I looked and now it is with how I feel. There is this stark awareness that the decline I have seen in my skin, my joints, how stable my weight remains, how grey my hair would be if it weren't dyed; there has been seepage in these things. I look older, I have more wrinkles and sun spots, I ache when I don't do yoga. If I wear high heels I know it the next day. But emotionally I tread a different line. I think a lot about being well and how long that lasts in later life. I think about mobility and health and being able to live life fully when I am old. I ponder whether I will wear head-to-toe beige and not mind. I suppose it's a whole deeper understanding of all of the elements. So to age gracefully - yes, but with caveats. I don't want to look boring. I don't want to look old and asexual. I want to maintain vibrancy. I figure I will do this with clothes, good hair, a healthy demeanour and a sense of humour...

Shopping as favourite?

Yes, absolutely no change here. I still love clothes (see aforementioned statement on ageing gracefully) I still shop. I always will. I will never wear head to toe beige.


Should mothers work?

Mothers should do whatever gets them through the day. I have evolved my thinking on this issue to a significant degree, I have studied what mothers do and how they feel about it and I would say that of all the themes in my book, this is one that features most persistently. I worked for years - all through the times when my children were small, through the tricky illness-ridden years when a sleepless night and a bad cold would spell disaster for my working day; no childcare! I then stopped working and did the full time mother thing and that was an equally as challenging process. Neither is perfect, both are flawed. This fact angers me sometimes, I wish it were easier for mothers, per se. I find myself saying to other mothers - usually over coffee - 'why must it be so hard?' in an exasperated tone and I think they look at me and think: 'get over yourself!'

Once the status quo of 'career mother' has been in place for let's say ten to fifteen years there are those who occupy a space in motherhood that one must earn. When I meet these mothers (and arguably I am one) I find they exude something of a sense of panic as their children grow up and leave. Sometimes they have more children, sometimes they put so much in to the curation of their existing children and their accomplishments that I note a disproportionate preoccupation. An unhealthy focus. When I experienced this I felt like I was circling the drain as the bath water spirals around; it will all drain away eventually and what you're left with is an empty bath and a scum mark round the edge! One to consider...

The medical profession?

I know a lot of doctors. Hands down they do one of the hardest jobs and they certainly don't have all the answers. The thing I wish though was that there was more trust, more encouragement to people who are unwell (and by this I mean have ailments; persistent colds, bad backs, stress and anxiety, I am not talking serious disease) to take ownership of their status. The answer is, generally speaking, not from medication or surgery. There is an overuse/abuse of antibiotics, bad backs are often postural, habitual, muscular, anxiety can come in phases and is linked to how you live, what you think, how you react to events. I see now the endless fascination I had with chronic pain and the treatment of it. I can ascertain now that the requirement was for me to change. The solution was me. It was not with the medics.


Pushy parenting?

Since I wrote my last missive on this I have seen pushy parenting take on a whole different gear. As children get older and as mothers with disproportionate interest start to sense the stakes are high, there is a ground swell of pushy parenting that frankly has taken my breath away. It's tricky. Children need pushing. But children don't need bulldozing. And most importantly I have learned that parenting can not be conditional; love can not be conditional. It's not right to make success in exams, sport selection, friendship groups conditional on parental support.

Cooking a meal from scratch?

I am a fully paid-up subscriber to this. Family meals, as I have said before, are the lynchpin of much goodness in my daily life. Good food and caring about good food is one of the self-help skills that should form part of what we all do. If you don't care what you eat, how can you expect your body to work properly? And as for ready meals? Over time and as my repertoire has extended, they don't feature any more...


Going to bed at 8.30pm?

A distant memory I am afraid. With a teenager in the house, 10pm is considered an early night. But I am ruthless about getting her to bed by that time. Something ironic: I don't think I would ever go to bed unless I knew my kids were in bed. It's a mental block.

Having the right shoes?

Always.

Making a good cheese sauce?

Less important; I guess I have deviated into different foods. I blame 'Deliciously Ella'. I think the focus of diet has changed and 'clean eating' has come to the fore. Incidentally I read a brilliant article in the Times that argued that the clean eating movement had facilitated the development of 'acceptable' eating habits that were infact not acceptable. Young women or girls who fixate on chia seeds and cashew butter or cacao nibs and spirulina may be harbouring the same tendencies as those with eating disorders but the Instagram-fuelled clean eating obsession gives a face to the behaviours and makes them cool. One to ponder. For me, clean eating has meant that I try harder to include raw stuff, we eat endless salads and kale and generally if I make a cheese sauce I feel an unwelcome modicum of guilt as it usually accompanies a stodgy macaroni cheese. What five years can do...


So what have I learned?

We all do our best. I do my best. It's not easy, but then it's not that hard either. I am always staggered by the extent to which we humans get hung up on the small stuff and think we know our own minds. Only to find that in fact the contrary is true. Go figure.

Here's to the next five years...


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Going the distance...

posted on: Saturday, 18 June 2016

I hate it when people drop out. I like stories of tenacity and rigour; people who keep going, face adversity, come out the other side. I apply this in most things, disregarding that to drop out isn't always a drop, it can be a gentle slide, a rational and considered shift; the right thing to do. I found out today that one of my colleagues on my Masters has deferred for a year; he was not able to finish his draft in time, like I did. This makes me so sad as he was great to have around and I have come to associate his writing journey with my writing journey. But equally I can see - as in I am grown up enough to appreciate -  that this was necessary for him. His reasons are important and the decision not taken lightly and deep down I kinda knew he wasn't in it like the rest of us, who were literally giddy with the fact that we'd finished.



I am always the one who is sad when people leave. I like everything to stay the same. But then I see that it's all part of the fullness of life and leaving is as vital as staying.

There have been a raft of parental decisions lately, easy ones and really hard ones, some of which leave me reeling with the possibilities after. I so want to get it right. I am the ultimate second-guesser so once I make a decision I have been known to stick by it even when I know I need not and conversely to go back on my word, even when that feels like sacrilege! It's not easy this parenting business. No one ever said it was. I can boil it down to caring too much about outcomes. I tell myself daily: let it go. But I never really truly feel that. Surely that's the definition of tenacity and rigour? Making peace.

I do yoga with friends once a week and after we go to a local garden centre for a coffee. It's just the place that is nearest and we refer to it as 'the old lady place' as it's full of grey-haired ladies who have cups of tea and buy bedding plants for their gardens. This week as we arrived there was a coach-load of old ladies arriving and I shamefully sprinted ahead to get the front of the coffee queue. They must have looked at me and thought what? That I am nuts? That they wish they could still run like me? That my generation are always rushing? As we stood, my friends and I, discussing how challenging the yoga class had been, one of the ladies interrupted and said she'd been eavesdropping and wasn't it interesting? She said that she'd been a fan of Pilates back in the day. I smiled at her and thought that she might have done what I do and rushed around fretting about her kids and whether she should have let her daughter go to a party or whether her son would have a bad day at school because he'd fallen out with a peer.

I suppose what I am saying is we all squirrel away, working at whatever we work at and trying to go the distance. And I am now in danger of being steeped in existential angst. I've said before that having an occupation is all - not necessarily a paid one - but a thing to do, an activity to draw on that bolsters the everyday. Something to occupy the mind.

Case in point: a mere few weeks ago I was riding high on the success of finishing my draft. I'd spent months writing and editing and thinking about it and was ready for a break. I have since spent weeks just chilling out, hanging about the house, catching up on 'stuff'. Now - well now I am bored again. The old feelings of quietness and loneliness are creeping back I note. I feel like I need to nip them in the bud! So I am going to look at writing some essays from the themes I've covered on the blog - you know the existential angst I am talking about; motherhood, parenting, love, friends, outfits, work, home...

The summary point is, you have to do what you think is right for you. That's all.

Happy weekend.



Go on, no don't...and the art of procrastination...

posted on: Thursday, 9 June 2016

It was bound to happen; I was so good for months on end and convinced myself that I never need to shop again. Clothes? Pah. Don't need any new clothes. Shoes, never. There's so much consumption I tell myself, I am over all of that. I would look to my cupboard and think: I have more than enough. And I do. But then the summer season starts, the weather changes and I am beset with the need for something bright and new! Personally I blame the British weather. We spend so many months in the greyness of the winter and it's cold and blah and there's nothing to do but get through it in jeans and boots. Then there is spring and I tell myself that summer will be a damp squib, I need not embrace the prospect of warmth and bare feet and exposed shoulders as summer really won't properly arrive. It's happened before; summer has passed us by. But this year, this month, there has been a run of sunny weather and we hope, we hope, we glimpse the possibility! Plus, there's that (broiling) return to Florida in late summer which will surely require some wardrobe adjustments.


So I scour the internet and I think about silks, linens and sheer fabrics and pretend that 'resort wear' is something I should have. As I mentioned before, I don't really 'do' shopping anymore. Instead it is a project-based acquisition of a desired item that has leaped many mental hurdles before it is genuinely considered. I get brand-obsessed, which in itself is interesting in the technological-inspired habits of the modern shopper. I check google images, I check Pinterest, I look at Instagram, I send screen shots to my friends and ask questions like: am I too old for this?! I have to accept there has been a massive shift in the way I acquire clothes. It's also linked to my age; no longer are there impulse buys. I look for 'pieces' now, things that I will rely on for years and years and that will bring pleasure each time I bring them out. I am swayed by others, the school my son attends happens to have a number of mothers who are 'in' fashion and who come on the school run looking like they're just stepped off a photoshoot. They probably have. It's enough to provoke doubt in the mind of the average mother like me. I soldier on. I think a lot about style. I emulate and I internalise and try to make something mine.


I often feel that all of this frippery is surplus to requirement, that my interest in clothes is somehow futile and self-absorbed. And it really is, but isn't anyone's interest in clothes representative of so much more? It says so much about a person. What you wear is the external statement that you make every day. It says what you love and what you hate. I see so many women who have opted out of the whole event of dressing and it makes me sad. I wrote about it once here and a comment was left saying that sometimes women lose their way and they don't even know that they have. I guess that can be true but still, there is always always the chance to turn up and dress up, isn't there?


I lament that rural Sussex does not lend itself to fashion. There is very little scope for all that. And can I just say that my feet have adjusted entirely to my housewife existence and I literally can not tolerate heels for longer than an hour. My feet are staging a rebellion after years of mistreatment.

And then there's the money. I don't earn money right now and looking around the blogosphere I am not sure how many women do (is 'blogosphere' even a term any more?! Remember when blogs were so current...so very cutting edge... that they coined their own 'sphere'?). If I were working I wouldn't have time to muse over all of this stuff. I would be out there...working. So instead there is this strange dichotomy of having lots of time and no money and wanting to shop. Are there many understanding bank-rolling husbands? Have people squirrelled away savings? Does blog advertising pay more than I imagined? Does clothes shopping constitute the pay-back of a toiling wife and mother? These things intrigue me and often, when I look at the literally endless summaries of brands on fashion blogs I ask myself: who is paying??!! But I digress...we all have out own little habits and parameters for this pursuit.

So in the end I have a list of things I want that I largely can't have. I add to cart and try to leave it at that. I send the web hit algorithms into overdrive of the brands I like. Then I put it all in the (mental) freezer for a few days and see if it's a whim or a real desire. Deep freeze.



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