The ‘What For?’ Week

IMG_8039For about a week every month, although it might be a fortnight and feels like a year, I hit a point where hormones and brain chemistry clash and the anti-depressants don’t quite do their job.

I always know, thankfully, because I can count contraceptive pills left in the pack, and the point at which I start feeling super-low is always when there are just five left.

Who’d be a woman?

That first day I am aware of the descending gloom. I start taking vitamin B supplements and eating fish and brazil nuts in an effort to stave off the dark cloud of ‘what’s the point?’

But by day two or three it’s easy to forget it’s chemical. Life has no meaning, just getting up and moving is a struggle. The sun can be beating down, like it is today, and I’m just hot and bothered. My world narrows and I feel like I’m stuffed with clouds of misery. I genuinely can see no point in going on. I have a copy of Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig but I haven’t read it, because the only time I remember I have it is when I’m so low reading it seems too much effort.

It sucks.

The What For? week is when I wish I had a job. I need to have to do something, because I have zero motivation. I can feed the kids and the guinea pigs and the husband and the dog. Dog gets walked too, albeit a fairly short ploddy amble. But that’s it. I spend the rest of the time asleep, because I have no drive to do anything else.

It sounds pathetic now I write it down. Such a white middle class privileged nonsense of depression. Who can’t find the motivation to mow the lawn or stack the dishwasher or hang out the laundry?

Even on a good week I struggle to get stuff done. I’m managing to get about an hour of writing planning and research done a day before I’ve (almost literally) lost the will to live.

I guess the problem with being a stay-at-home/self-employed/unemployed parent (whatever I am) is that everything is a choice. Sleep or paint the garden fences, sleep or vacuum the carpets, sleep or tidy the kitchen. Given that choice, how many would find it easier to choose sleep?

Anyway, it is only a week (or maybe a fortnight – it’s hard to tell when I start feeling better, it’s a bit like getting over a cold). And on the plus side I have started running again. When my legs can manage it I slot a run in between the bouts of sleep, so at least I feel like I did something vaguely productive, if only to my body.

And at least I have started planning a new novel. It’s taken a long long time to make that choice. It’s going slower than a hungover snail, and I don’t have much enthusiasm for writing any more, and I feel like everything I’ve ever written is complete pants, but in the back of my mind is still the hope I’ll pull something together that will make an agent not chuck it in the bin. One day.

In the meantime, I’m off to have some more vitamin B supplements and eat some salmon.

See you on the other side.

 

 

Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

Thank You cards

Thank You cards

Eleven months ago, my little girl put on her red gingham summer dress, shiny shoes and a huge smile, and went to school for the first time. Today, wearing a bigger red gingham dress, and her second pair of shiny shoes, she held my hand and skipped with me to her last day of Reception.

I am a proud Mummy today. She has had an amazing year. Helped by brilliant, caring teachers, and some how surviving my rages and tears and inability to tie a plait or remember to always order her school lunches, she has flourished. From barely knowing her alphabet she can now read and write and loves nothing more than to spend her free time doing both, when she isn’t doing sums or making robots out of cardboard boxes.

She started the year clinging to one friend and now she has a dozen or more. Although she spent her last morning, like her first, standing by the teaching assistant, there were no tears and I walked out with a happy smile.

It’s hard for a parent to relinquish their child to school. There is difference of opinion, there is letting go. There is dealing with, “but Mummy you’re not a teacher, so you don’t know anything” and “teacher says we have to do this…” There are constant rules, about uniform and behaviour, hair clips and pack lunches, but, frustrating as they are sometimes, the rules are what make it work. It’s about becoming part of a community, working towards a common goal. No wonder it feels new.

First Day at School

First Day at School

I have also started my school journey this year, and I found it as hard. Many times I wanted to relinquish my responsibility and let go, to enrol in breakfast club, after school club, to go back to the world of suits and coffee breaks and feeling like I know stuff, (instead of, “no, Mummy, you’re wrong!”) But I signed up to be a school run mum. It is important to me.

That isn’t a judgement. If I had an office job that I loved, even if that didn’t let me do the school run, that would be amazing too. My daughter has asked to go to breakfast club, and next year possibly she will. But there are few ‘achievements’ for a stay-at-home-writer-mummy. Dropping a happy child in her classroom this morning, skipping the last 100 yards (to applause from a random stranger, which made the knee pain worthwhile), even though I forgot the beautiful handmade cards for the other teachers my daughter wants to thank, made me feel like I’d earned my own gold star.

The summer will fly by, and before long we’ll be getting more shiny shoes and trying on new gingham dresses. But this time I’ll be excited, for her and for me. I think about the Dr Seuss story, ‘Oh the places you’ll go,’ and I know that school is giving her, and me, the ability to move mountains.

Dear World; SAHMs and Writers Still Work, You Know

Reminding myself that I do work

Reminding myself that I do work

I took my children to a play date this morning and had a fabulous few hours watching them enjoy new toys, sunshine and company while I enjoyed a comfortable chat and plenty of hot tea. The talk, as often happens with parents you don’t know very well, turned to work.

The other three were teachers and when I explained that I was at home writing I got the dreaded response, “So you don’t work then?” followed by the embarrassed proviso of the working mum: “Except of course looking after these,” with a smile towards the children.

The funny thing was I was more bothered by writing not being considered a proper job than being a SAHM, even though looking after the children is much harder and takes up more of my time. There was another comment later, along the lines of, “You’re doing what we’d all love to be doing,” and again I wasn’t sure whether it referred to being able to pick my kids up from school, being about to do my hobby as a job or having endless free time to do laundry or, you know, drink coffee and paint my nails. 😉

I don’t know the other parents very well but I know they’re lovely people and it was clear that nothing was intended maliciously or even said with a great deal of thought. Much as I used to think being a teacher must be easy – short days, long holidays – before I spent any time with teachers and realised it’s the hardest job in the world and you couldn’t pay me enough to do it: we none of us have a blinking clue what’s really involved until it’s our job. And even then we all approach life differently.

Some of my light reading

Some of my light reading

I have to be working; I feel guilty if I don’t. So if I’m not writing I must either be cleaning, doing social media (which I don’t love) or reading (which I’m only just accepting as training for writers). It doesn’t feel like a hobby, but of course I do have a choice whether to work or be a housewife, which many don’t. I know I’m extremely fortunate.

Equally when I said to them that I loathed the school run (their children aren’t yet at school so they have that joy to look forward to) I’m sure they were envious that I have the luxury of doing it, as their children are in childcare all week. We all want what we can’t have.

There’s a lovely post on Facebook – two letters from a Stay at Home Mum and a working mum – which actually sympathises with the differences rather than finding reasons to hate. I’ve done a bit of both and I know they each suck in some way. (Incidentally, for a completely different take on the Facebook post, and why we parents should all STFU and stop moaning, read this). I preferred working (or, I should say, I preferred being employed, getting paid and knowing what I was meant to be doing from one minute to the next and not feeling guilty) but I only did it for a short time and before I had a child at school, so childcare was easier. Writing is a lot less stressful in many ways, of course, but it’s not always an easy way to spend your day. And the pay is lousy 😉

There’s another meme on Facebook – a quote from Katrina Monroe – that sums it up:

“Writing is like giving yourself homework, really hard homework, every day, for the rest of your life. You want glamorous? Throw glitter at the computer screen.”

Amen to that. You don’t get a day off, even when – like today – the only writing that gets done is on a phone in the dark while walking the dog at 6.15pm after hubbie gets home. You lie awake at 2am wondering what your character should do next or – as I have been lately after reading too many blog posts about how self-published authors are a scourge on decent literature – whether you should even be a writer. Can you call yourself a writer with a hundred sales to your name and more one star reviews than fives? (Well, almost. Hyperbole is accepted to make a point.) You’re never an aspiring teacher, no one ever called a teacher at home marking books ‘not working’. (Well, not to their face anyway!) I choose to be a writer, and to take all that entails, but it’s not a walk in the park (even when you’re walking in the park).

So, next time you’re chatting to a writer, or a SAHM, just nod and smile and maybe keep the phrase “So you don’t work then?” to share with your husband once you get home and vent on how the others have it easy. Much appreciated! 😀

Let’s Be Honest, Being a SAHM Isn’t All That: 2013 365 Challenge #319

Scary Mommy Post

Scary Mommy Post

I read two great posts this week that seem to sum up nicely my general feeling of meh. This post is likely to be a bit whiny and self-indulgent, but it’s my blog so hey, why not? 🙂

Actually, I’m sharing the posts because I think a) these things aren’t said enough and b) once the “yay it isn’t just me” has faded I have to pack up my meh (I love that word, you may have noticed – though it needs to come with a shrug) and forge a new happy.

The first post was over on Scary Mommy – that brilliant blog making parents feel normal all over the world. It’s called The Myth of Having it All  and it resonates with my The Job You Can’t Quit post, except the author of the post has seven children and I only have two.

Reading the comments you realise how many people are relieved to finally be able to confess that being a SAHM (stay at home mum) isn’t all they thought it would be. And that’s where I am. My parents both worked when I was growing up, and my relationship with them was quite distant. I thought if only I could be at home with my children – drive/walk them to school everyday, pick them up smiling every evening, sit and do homework with them – I would have this amazing bond with them. Baloney.

The school run is hideous and at least once a week I’m a screaming monster before the kids make it to the gate. Home time is worse – usually both children are crying before we get back to the car, after negotiating our way through adults, kids, dogs, scooters, bikes, puddles. And it’s still only 4 o’clock when we get home, with two hours until hubbie gets in from work. The school day is just so darn short. Nursery used to be 8am until 6pm with guaranteed parking, so I could leave home at ten to six and get there on time. School is 9am to 3.30pm and I compete for parking with a hundred other parents.

In The Myth of Having it All post, Lisa says this:

More and more lately, the shape of my days – the monotony of them, the veritable triviality of them, the drudgery of them – is getting me down. I know I’m not supposed to say these things, right? As a stay-at-home mom, the proper thing to do is to sing from the rooftops in exaltation about how wonderful and magical my life is as a housewife, and as a “mommy blogger” (if that’s even what I am; I’m not sure), I should be honing my photography skills so as to document for all the world just how wonderful and magical my life is.

Kristen Lamb's beautifully honest post

Kristen Lamb’s beautifully honest post

We can all read it and know it isn’t true that people think being a SAHM is magical. Except they do. it’s the Facebook lie and it has to stop. Motherhood is pretty dull whether you’re a SAHM, a working mum, a part-time mum or a mummy-what-lunches, complete with nanny and cleaner. (I’m listening to some of those gossiping in the coffee shop behind me, and I’m not sure they belong in the list, to be fair!)

The second post covers the other side of my meh or maybe arrgghh. Kristen Lamb is always wonderfully honest and this week she talks of being overwhelmed by life, and accepting those emotions instead of passing them off as tiredness or depression. I could so relate.

Her post, Lesson of Confession: I’m Drowning, Help!  tells how important it is to recognise when we are disappointed or drowning. I am both, without nearly as valid a reason as she has. On some days it all goes right and dinner is cooked, the kitchen is tidy, kids have eaten their tea, dog has been walked and we’re doing homework when Daddy walks in. That happens about once a month. Most days he walks in to a wall of screaming and crying, and that’s just me. And, you know what, even those rare and magical days are pretty dull. There’s none of the high I used to get from surviving a difficult presentation or finishing a report. Or even from writing some great chapters.

Because there is no time or energy to write anymore. Since hubbie went back to work and the kids dropped down to their six-hour day, three days a week, I mostly only find time to walk the dog, clean the kitchen, iron some shirts and write my blog. And I’m always in a rush. Always. I hate it. There, I’ve said it. I hate it. I look at working mums with envy, even though I know their life is ten times tougher than mine and even more of a rush. I would give anything to go to work for twelve hours straight without a single screaming tantrum to deal with. Or, like hubbie did last night, go away to a hotel for work and slip out guilt-free to the cinema. Except, of course, I wouldn’t.

In the fantasy books I’m reading at the moment, the young protagonist keeps whining, “Why me?” In the end someone says, “Who else would you trust to get the job done?” And there’s the rub. Much as I hate having to remember to take money in a purse for Children in Need (I forgot: mummy fail) and rushing home to do the ironing and vacuum cleaning, I wouldn’t trust anyone else to do it. I had a cleaner and it lasted only a few weeks, because we didn’t see eye to eye (and I hated having to tidy the house before she arrived!)

Doing Sounds in the playroom

Doing Sounds in the playroom

As a treat, because Daddy was away last night, we hired a movie and had pizza on the sofa, snuggled up in duvets (except daughter was scared by the movie and we had to turn it off!) The movie was Shrek the final part. The one where Shrek wishes for just a day away from his boring life as husband and parent, and it all goes wrong. He loses everything and only then discovers what he had. I know what I have: I love my husband and children, I love having the freedom to take them to school everyday, the money to send my son to nursery, a husband who doesn’t mind that I write rather than mop the kitchen floor, and who will eat takeaway when I’m too shattered to cook.

I love that I came downstairs from making notes for this blog post sneakily on the iPad, to discover the children sitting quietly together learning sounds. I love that I could let them be and make breakfast because, really, my shower could wait until later and we didn’t have to leave for an hour. I know it is for these moments of calm that I chose to stay at home and write books instead of getting a proper job.

I know all that. But I’m still bored and restless. I’m still listening to the women behind me discussing the restrictions of the school uniform, and whether they can get a hat from Boden, and resisting the urge to run away screaming, “Isn’t there more to it than this?” Sigh. As always with parenting, I cling to the phrase “this too will pass.” In the meantime I’ll try and swap my meh for happy and just keep swimming.

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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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Claire typed “Roseland Peninsula” into the search box and waited. The map pin dropped into a place near St Austell. Claire frowned and read the address, then tutted as she realised it was a business of the same name.

Stupid map.

She tried typing the words into the search engine instead, and finally came up with a website which showed the peninsula. It was as she’d suspected, when she’d read the review of the hostel she was in which had raved about the amazing time to be had in Roseland. It was about as much a peninsula as the Isle of Purbeck was an island.

What it is with the need to name these areas? Is it for a sense of identity? Tourism? Convenience? Was it once a little kingdom or principality, back in the days when there were dozens of petty kings fighting over land?

Reading through several more websites, Claire discovered it was in fact a peninsula, apparently separated from the mainland by a river.

Well, that told me, didn’t it?

She smiled and copied the notes into a document. With a quick glance at the time, she scanned more quickly through the remaining pages. Deciding to use the peninsula as a case study to compare with the Isle of Purbeck had been a great idea, but she was meeting Conor in two hours and she still had to drive to St Austell and find the right place for lunch. Looking through the online images she felt that Roseland might have the edge on Purbeck.

Although given Conor’s passion for Dorset, it probably won’t be a good idea to write that down.

Certainly the websites were miles apart. Claire grimaced as she looked at the messy Purbeck page with angry banners and snide comments. It wasn’t a tourism website, as far as she could see, but the online equivalent of a parochial parish newsletter. The Roseland site was the opposite extreme: almost too polished and slick, with scrolling flash images and neat headings.

Furiously typing notes, Claire tried to remain objective, remembering that Conor’s love of all things Jurassic Coast was likely to make him defensive. She didn’t want a fight, and she definitely didn’t want to upset him.

But, then, if he couldn’t take the truth he shouldn’t have hired me for this project.

The more she flicked through the two websites, the more Claire became aware of a sense of elation building inside her. It was a forgotten feeling: that sense of hitting the mark; of doing a job well and feeling in control.

This is why I love my job.

With a widening grin, she wrote a few more paragraphs of explanation before reluctantly closing the laptop. There would be no time to print it out but, if she found the restaurant before Conor arrived, there might be the chance to put together a presentation.

That’ll stop him harassing me for updates and get him off my case. I think the less I see of him the better.

***

SAHM Going Crazy: 2013 365 Challenge #65

A fraction of the toys used before 9am

A fraction of the toys used before 9am

The kids had started and abandoned about half a dozen games by 9am this morning. I couldn’t keep up. I was a doctor’s patient, a builder, an applier of stickers, a mechanic and a referee. Eventually (I blame the broken night’s sleep) I said “Shall we watch Mr Tumble?” and put the TV on for an hour’s peace. As soon as the TV was switched off I was torn two ways again, trying to do Lego and Bob the Builder building, magic spells and phone conversations.

I’ve been up less than 2 hours and I’m an inch away from running up the garden screaming. There have already been tears! Some days as a SAHM (Stay At Home Mum) are about not falling apart entirely.

I never thought I’d say it but I really miss my job. I miss being useful and appreciated. I miss going for a pee by myself and having access to unlimited hot Costa coffee. I miss the days where I sat at my desk at 8am and didn’t look at the clock until 6pm because I was too busy. I miss meetings, debating marketing plans with adults (well, mostly adults. Sometimes my kids are more rational.) I miss producing reports and presentations and doing something different every day. I miss being listened to and getting to the end of a conversation without interruption. Mostly I miss ‘going to work’ and ‘going home’. Having boundaries between parts of my day, between being on duty and off duty. And of course I miss getting paid!

My Bob Builder boy fixing the stairs (because Daddy hasn't!)

Bob Builder boy fixing the stairs (because Daddy hasn’t!)

Oh well, we’re off to the Farm with any luck, to see some tiny lambs and maybe feed them a bottle of milk. The sun is shining (the tank is clean!) and we’ll all feel better for getting outside.

I just have to stop my son trying to fix the broken banister so I can get him out the door. Some days even that seems beyond my ability. I miss the days I could scoop them up and plonk them in the car seat and they didn’t answer back (and I never thought I’d miss those days! Just goes to show.)

Anyway, sorry for the rant. Normal happy super-mummy will resume soon.

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Claire huddled into the corner of the sofa and pushed her headphones deeper into her ears as a burst of laughter swirled around the room. Even the strident tones of the Red Hot Chili Peppers couldn’t drown out the excited chatter of forty teenagers; or at least the ones not plugged into iPhones, game machines and MP3 players.

In my day we played cards on school trips, or wrote postcards home. Or snogged in the corner. Well, not me, obviously.

She remembered the heavy plastic personal stereo she had owned as a child. The batteries would last one CD, maybe two if she was lucky and didn’t skip to her favourite song too often. For photos it was a 36-exp film, with each photo chosen and taken with care. Next to her on the sofa two girls were giggling over pictures on their smartphones. Judging by how long they’d been doing it they must have taken at least a hundred shots.

I think I’d prefer it if they were all snogging. At least it would be quieter and I could write my post in peace. Isn’t there meant to be a games room in this place? Why aren’t they all down there drinking illicit booze and having crafty fags out the window?

Now she thought about it they all looked far too keen and healthy for hormone-stuffed adolescents, as if they’d rather be dangling from a cliff face than swigging cider out of a 2-litre plastic bottle.

God I feel old.

Claire arched her back like a cat and shifted position. She cursed as her calf tightened and cramped. Twisting awkwardly to free her leg Claire leant forwards and pulled on her foot to stretch out the offending muscle. Her skin prickled as she sensed someone watching her. She looked up and her gaze jolted against the lake-blue eyes of a handsome lad of fifteen or sixteen. He seemed to be scrutinizing a point just below her chin. Claire looked down and realised the boy was staring straight down her cleavage.

Cheeky git. I’m practically old enough to be his mother.

The thought settled in her mind like silt, muddying her tranquil mood.

Oh crap, now I really do feel old.

She glared at the lad who merely chuckled and carried on ogling. Conscious of the heat flooding her cheeks Claire raised an eyebrow in censure then, with a calmness she didn’t feel, turned to gaze out the picture-window at the scenery. It was a magnificent view, framed by a multi-pane window with an arch at the centre. Apparently she could see Mam Tor, whatever that was. Certainly she could see distance and the hills pulled her mind free of the bustling room.

It had been a good day. She’d stopped by Holmfirth after leaving the hostel early, spending a nostalgic hour wandering through scenes from Last of the Summer Wine and remembering Sunday afternoons with Uncle Jim laughing loudly from his beaten-up leather chair. After that she drove to Edale hostel, tucked in at the foot of Kinder Scout. The woman who checked her in had convinced her to walk to the top.

When will I learn? Claire massaged her tight muscles and pulled her face down in a frown. It belied the sensation in her chest, which was closer to happiness than irritation. She tried to analyse the feeling, wondering where happy might have come from after the emotion of the week.

Maybe that’s it. It was nice to spend a day by myself. No one to wind me up or give me grief; no one judging me. Just me and a stupid hill, a few blisters and the wide blue sky.

Claire gave up writing her post. She slid the iPad down the sofa next to her and flicked the music onto something more soothing. Eyes closed against the late sun coming through the window she settled into her seat and drifted away.

***