Life, Love, and Looking for the Positive (with Bon Jovi)

The view from my 'office' this morning

The view from my ‘office’ this morning

Reading the latest post from The Belle Jar yesterday, and from Miss Fanny P this morning, about how hard it is reconciling being a Mum with being a person, I couldn’t help but pour out a long heartfelt reply of agreement.

I spent the entire summer holiday sleeping in defence against being in a situation I couldn’t change, even though it was a situation of my choosing.

This was my comment on Miss Fanny P’s blog:

“Ah, I can so relate. I spent most of the school holidays ‘napping’ and I thought it was a virus. Only when it went on for two months did I realise it was my body’s way of escaping an unwanted but unavoidable situation.

There was a great post on The Belle Jar yesterday about losing self when you become ‘Mummy’. It’s so true. We make our choices but from a really limited set of options. Hubbie was telling me this weekend that he read some of my old work notes and realised how very good I used to be at my job and it made me so sad, because even though I didn’t quit to become a mum (rather to be an artist, which didn’t work out) I lost all ability to go back as soon as the children got used to having me at home.

If you’re a working mum from the beginning, fine, because that’s the child’s normal. But to take kids at 4 and 5 and say, ‘Mummy’s going to leave you with a childminder at 8am and pick you up at 6pm’, that doesn’t feel fair. So when hubbie says I could go back, start at the bottom rung because of my seven years out (yay!) and the kids will adapt, that doesn’t really feel like a choice.

But I know in my head how lucky I am, and that most working mums wish they could drop their kids at school and go write novels in the coffee shop (because they tell me all the time, like working 30 hours a week to make £20 a month is so great). I yearn to be Amanda Martin, instead of Mummy. Of course I’d feel different if my books actually sold, but still I feel I’m making the best of the crappy options rather than steering my own craft in the river of life. And so, when despair takes hold, I sleep. And sleep. And sleep.”

"There's no going back on the highway of life" Bon Jovi

“There’s no going back on the highway of life” Bon Jovi

I meant every word, at 9am this morning, having survived the weekend with chunks of time hiding in bed. But as I left the coffee shop in the sunshine, and walked through shadow-patterned pavements and a summer scented churchyard, stopping to order a balloon for my son’s birthday, I realised the feelings were fading. I smiled, with sun on my face and a blue sky behind the trees above.

Even driving to my Gyn appointment (because that’s what every woman wants on her first day of term-time freedom) listening to Bon Jovi, I realised I’m not unhappy with my lot. Frustrated, yes. Struggling, definitely. But not unhappy. I did make my choices, possibly for the first time. For the first time life didn’t dictate my path, I did.

I’ve been going through my first ever novel this week, with a view to editing it for my next release. Oh my. It’s not a novel it’s a bad biography. My ‘character’ is just me. All her opinions are mine, and boy is she miserable. I wrote the novel between the birth of my first child and my second (and lord I hope it gets better, or it’ll need more than a complete rewrite, it’ll need a miracle!)

I read this section this morning (it’s all this bad, but it just shows how far I’ve come as a writer, that’s what I tell myself).

“That sense of belonging she had assumed she’d find at university continued to elude her. So she had thrown herself into her studies, determined at least to graduate with a high grade and get the perfect job, whatever that was. She had never been clear about that point – still wasn’t really. An accidental career, that’s what her CV should say. She admired friends who had a passion, “I want to be a …” fill in blank. It didn’t matter, Doctor, Dentist, Film Producer, Bin Man. It didn’t matter what someone’s passion was, just that they had one. Hers had been to have a family, to belong somewhere: she had paid a steep price for that knowledge.”

Oh yes, that’s me. It goes on to describe my final year at uni, when my boyfriend snogged someone else on NYE and how I wandered in a fog of despair for months until I suddenly realised I had six weeks to write my dissertation and save my degree. The despair hadn’t been losing the bloke (although I thought so at the time. In hindsight it was a lucky escape), it was losing a vision for the future.

Up until then I’d followed the system. GCSEs, A Levels, University. But I didn’t know what to do once I had to make my own choices. I ended up taking the first job I got, survived four years of mega-stress, broke down and ran away to New Zealand.

I could go on, but really my life summarises into trying to find love, a place to belong and a job where I felt useful and appreciated.

"One man's ceiling's another man's sky" Bon Jovi

“One man’s ceiling’s another man’s sky” Bon Jovi

Fast forward a decade or two and I have a gorgeous husband who I love, who loves me and treats me well. I have a place I belong and a job where I am (mostly) useful and appreciated. I am Mummy. I fit. I belong. I have an identity. And, much as I hate to admit it, because I feel it’s only using a tenth of my brain, I’m actually quite good at it.

And I chose it. I wanted babies. They weren’t an accident, they were a choice. Okay I didn’t have a scooby what being a parent meant or how ill-equipped I was to be one, but I’m doing okay.

I’m doing everything I wanted to do. I’m dropping my kids off at school, I’m writing novels and using my creativity. Three days out of seven I have hours of freedom. Right now (having had my gyn appointment and tried to sell a book to the nurse who has known me since I was nine) my ‘office’ is a parked car on a hillside (because the neighbours have builders in!), with a chill autumn wind blowing through the open windows, a clear blue sky overhead and Bon Jovi on the stereo singing a bunch of optimistic songs full of messages of hope and fight (better still, it’s a CD I somehow never listened to and only found this weekend, so it’s full of new stuff!)

Some Bon Jovi wisdom 😉 –

“We weren’t born to follow”

“Back when we were beautiful, before the world got small, before we knew it all. Back when we were innocent, I wonder where it went, let’s go back and find it”.

“Can I be happy now? Can I let my breath out? Let me believe, I’m building a dream, don’t try to drag me down.” Bon Jovi

A decade ago I would have stared at the blue sky out the tinted office windows, before going to some stupid meeting where actually I was mostly unappreciated. In the evening I would have hooked up for a beer with an ex who definitely didn’t appreciate me.

Then I signed up to UDate, met hubbie, and the rest, as they say, is history.

When I’m struggling with my lack of choices, I have to pause and remember how fortunate I am and that it’s all about context. I jokingly said to Miss Fanny P that my life will start when the children leave home and I can set up my Writer’s Retreat in the Welsh hills. But my life is now, I just have to look for it.

“Home is where you are and where I am” (Bon Jovi)

Lately Facebook has become my therapy, strange as that sounds. Between the positivity posts and the Humans of New York UN world tour (seriously, subscribe, it will change your life) I am strangely optimistic. I just need silence and time away from the children’s tantrums and histrionics to remember! 😉

As Bon Jovi says, “You’ve got to learn to love the world you’re living in”

(All lyrics from The Circle album)

The Wonder of Silence: 2013 365 Challenge #115

Puddles more fun than Paddling Pools

Puddles more fun than Paddling Pools

I used to be afraid of silence. All through my years at university I had to have music on to drown out the voices in my head. The ones telling me what an awful person I was. The ones reminding me of every stupid thing I had done or that I was fat, single, unloveable. Doomed to fail. They say the voice in your head comes from how your parents spoke to you as a child.

God help my kids.

Although, having said that, I am teaching them self awareness if nothing else so hopefully they’ll learn to challenge the inner voice. Eventually i learned to be at peace with the voices. I had an amazing flatmate at university who listened and soothed and told me I wasn’t bad or crazy, just normal. Eventually I believed her although faith in that view took a dip when my boyfriend snogged someone else in front of me, New Years Eve, final year.

I broke.

Dancing in Puddles

Dancing in Puddles

Thus began my first major bout of depression, although I’d had dark periods before. It wasn’t so much being single (looking back it was a lucky break as he was awful): It was losing my link to the future after graduation. That dark future that academic schooling doesn’t really prepare you for. Music became my crutch. Loud, positive music, like Bon Jovi or dark heavy music, Metallica being my favourite. (a bit of And Justice For All at full volume kept me awake through week long study sessions with virtually no sleep.)

I can’t tell you when silence became acceptable. I think when I became free of other people: when I lived alone and learned I was worth something even with no friends, or A grades and awards to define me. I earned good money and was valued at work. I remained single for a long time. Eventually work broke me and I had my worse bout of depression.

The world ended for a while.

Silence once more became my enemy. I was worthless, useless, trapped. That time SSRIs came to my aid. I quit my job, flat, town, friends, Guide Unit and flew half way round the world. I drove a rusty car in the huge silences of New Zealand, climbed mountains and found a semblance of inner peace.

Fishing for Fir-cones

Fishing for Fir-cones

The demons still have house room. Doubt, Guilt and Inadequacy are long-time flatmates of mine. But I don’t have to drown them out with electric guitars and drums anymore. I do love music. Singing to an uplifting song rarely fails to improve my mood, not that I get much chance. Apparently Mummies aren’t allowed to sing.

What gets the demons raging now is quite often the opposite of silence. 12-hour days of endless yabbering, questioning, squabbling, laughing, crying, shrieking, coughing, sighing and singing leave my nerves jangling and my equilibrium battered. For some reason it fuels the rage until a shout builds up that I can’t always hold in. That’s followed by more crying and some sorries all round before a precious moment of calm.

I hope when both my darlings are at school, and I get some silence every day, Rage will join the other unwelcome emotions crowding my house and I’ll chuck it in the attic with the rest.

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:

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The sun pressed down as Claire and Sky walked into the centre of Walsingham. White and wood-striped buildings huddled round, making Claire feel like she’d been transported to Tudor Britain. There’s something about arriving by steam train – even a toy one –that makes it feel as if we’ve travelled back in time. She remembered a book she’d read once, about a time travelling woman who found herself stranded amidst the bubonic plague. Somehow this place feels closer to the time of the Black Death than Eyam.

Their reason for coming to the Shrine echoed in her mind. I don’t want to think about death, not when Sky is here to pray for her Mummy. She turned her face to the sun and let its promise of summer days warm through the chill in her bones.

Peace descended like a blanket of mist as they meandered through the grounds of the Shrine. Trees and shrubs showed off their spring colours; bright greens mingled with the pink and white of early blossom. Their footsteps slowed as even Sky lost the need to run and skip. Bird song filled the space between the trees. A few other visitors drifted past like grazing deer, and the courtyard of buildings blocked out the sounds of the village beyond the walls.

Silence wrapped around them: not the absence of noise, but the absence of humanity’s intrusion. Tight knots began to unravel in Claire’s mind and a tension she had been previously unaware of flowed free like a river bursting its banks.

Sky remained quiet as she walked with Claire along the path leading to the main building. As if made obvious by its absence, Claire became aware that her world had become saturated with the little girl’s chatter. When I think how lonely I was when I first started this journey, and now I can’t wait to be alone with my own thoughts.

The lack of constant questions and observations allowed Claire to hear her own inner voices. To begin with they clamoured to fill the space, as if Sky’s conversation had kept them mute for too long. With strong words from Claire, the garrulous voices fell silent.

Time enough later for angst and self-doubt and plans for the future to be aired and discussed. Right now I’d like to enjoy my silence while it lasts, please.

A new voice piped up with the last word. You do realise talking to the voices in your head like they’re a pack of unruly children might not be entirely normal? Schizophrenics are usually the only ones who acknowledge the different people in their heads. Claire shrugged away the unwelcome suggestion and turned her attention to her surroundings.

Sky walked with her head high, holding the map they had been given of the complex. For once, Claire was happy to follow on behind and let her niece take charge. This is more her area than mine, if she’s a Believer.

The girl led them unerringly to the Chapel where she wanted to light a candle for her mother. At least there isn’t a service on. I’m not sure I could sit through Mass. The irreverent thought floated into her mind before Claire could banish it. Come on Claire, hold on to the peace. Belief in a more meaningful existence than designer labels and Starbucks lattes wouldn’t do you any harm.

Trying to be present in the moment, rather than trapped in her chattering mind, Claire looked around the chapel. It really was tranquil. Tall windows let in rainbow-hued sunshine, illuminating the details of the architecture. She felt eyes watching her and turned to see Sky standing by the rows of candles, a lit candle in her hand. Claire felt her heart lurch at the sight of Sky’s face, a mixture of grown-up seriousness and childish hope.

Crossing the stone floor, Claire moved to her side and gave the girl’s shoulders a squeeze. After a tiny hesitation she also picked up a candle and lit it. Trying to think about Ruth was harder than stilling the voices in her head. Ruth who had been in her life longer than the voices; who had helped her, dressed her, tormented and teased her. Ruth who – whatever else she might be – was her only sister.

How does it work, lighting a candle for someone? I can’t pray, I wouldn’t know where to start. She decided instead to fill her mind with all the positive pictures of Ruth she could find, focussing on everything that made her sister unique. With tears pricking her eyes she followed Sky’s lead and placed the candle on the stand. Then she reached for her hand and gripped it tightly.

“Everything will be okay, Sky. It will.”

She felt the hand squeeze hers in reply, as Sky remained staring at the flickering flames. Then, almost too quiet to hear, even in the heavy silence of the chapel, Sky’s voice whispered like the breath of a candle.

“I miss my Mummy.”

Claire felt the shudder through her hand as the little shoulders began to shake with sobs. Gathering her close, she led her niece to a seat. “It’s okay, darling. We’ll call her from the coffee shop. She’ll be missing you too.”

Holding Sky tight, Claire looked over her shoulder at the image above the candles. If you’re listening, Mary, we could use your grace about now. Don’t let this little girl lose both her parents. You let her Daddy run off with a ballet teacher. It would be cruel to take her mother too. Have mercy.

Goosebumps raised along her arms as a breeze swept through the room, setting the sea of flames dancing.

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