The Alt To Do List

Last weekend, I went to a GIG.

The last time I went to see someone play live it was probably Placebo, or Crowded House, back in their (and my) heyday.
Don’t judge me.

I’d genuinely forgotten how exhilarating live music is.

The beat through your feet, up into your heart, pounding in your head and ringing in your ears, the atmosphere of the crowd, the movement and mood created by lots of people in one space – none of them under 3 foot and demanding sole possession of the Ikea pink plastic cup.

For the first time in a long time, I felt ALIVE.

While NOT HAVING SEX.

Because actually, that’s something I struggle with.
(Remembering I’m alive – not not having sex).

There are very few moments in my life, right now, that are truly mine.

And I often find it hard to BE in them, when they come along.

There is always so much to be done, so many deadlines, so many responsibilities, so many interdependencies, that I end up living in a constantly ticking-over To Do list.

You’ve probably got your own List.

And sometimes, sometimes it takes over.

For me, when The List gets out of hand, it means my eye is always on what’s next, what’s got to happen before the next thing can happen, what adulting I need to tick off right now before someone starts yelling at me – from my boss, to the school office, to people who need their bills paid, to the children who need their tea/playdate/project/insert-random-Small-Person-goal-here.

Boy, adulting is TOUGH. And The List is relentless…

It’s particularly gruelling living under The List at the moment, because I’m trying to sell my house, and sift through 20 years of rubbish to downsize to a new one. It’s adulting on acid. And I DON’T KNOW if there’s drains or wires crossing the property. I CAN’T REMEMBER when we had the damn windows done, and if I have to make another tip trip halfway across the city I’m going to SCREAM. (Also if I meet any more mahoosive spiders in the garage).

There is also always washing to sort, bags to pack, forms to fill in, errands to run, chores to do, and places to be by certain times, hurry up, put your shoes on, WE’RE GOING TO BE LATE.

If I stop, The List just keeps piling up ready to break in at 3am, and whirl endlessly around my head.

Sometimes writing The List down can tame it.
Other times, it just confirms that it’s a really, really TWONKINGLY LONG LIST.

Right now, it’s like I am always on a countdown trajectory to bedtime, theirs and mine, going through The List of what needs to be done to get to the next day without getting into deep or difficult waters, and then starting all over again from the top. And never, ever reaching the end.

The trouble is, that in the thunder of doing, in my enslavement to The List, I miss out on LIVING.

I am too focussed on the next moment and the path to it, to enjoy the one I’m in. And even the nice stuff ends up feeling like things I’ve just got to tick off and move on from.

Watching the Dropkick Murphys gave me no choice but to be there and to FEEL.

The noise, heat, life, beat filled me up and pushed out everything else, buoyed me up, so I could just… be.

There was no room for The List.

And that’s something I need more of.

So this week I’ve been trying to remember the things that fill me up, that allow me to feel present, and happy, and ALIVE. All the things that transcend The List. And then to do more of them.

So here’s my ALTERNATIVE To Do List:

1. Listen to music
I don’t use it enough to change my mood and our mood as a family – and it’s right there on tap in my house. Yay Spotify! And when the roller coaster of TO DO is about to tip me over the edge, I’m going to use it.

2. Dance
I love to dance. At the moment I still have a big living room. I can PHYSICALLY shake off the weights pulling me away from the ‘moments’ I should be savouring. And I can teach the Smalls how to use it to do the same.

3. Have sex
Recently my go to solution for remembering I’m alive.

4. Talk to friends
I forget so easily how much I enjoy being with other people. When The List gets too long I batan down the hatches and attempt to power through, go to bed and try and get enough rest in to tackle it the next day. I don’t go out, brainstorm, ask for help, or take respite in others’ company or experiences. I get such a buzz from connection, I just need to remember to… connect.

5. Writing
I’ve struggled to write in recent weeks. I’ve got so much to say, things I can’t say, thoughts I can’t form, and other things that just seem to take priority. Like packing.
But look, here I am getting over myself and just doing it without creating imaginary barriers!!! Go me. And it DOES make me feel more present.

6. Playing
I love to play. I’m probably the only person over 35 in the whole world who genuinely LOVES PLAY CENTRES.
Don’t judge me again.
But when there’s so damn much to do, playing too often goes to the very bottom of The List – if it makes it on there at all. Playing takes energy, and when all that’s going on the adulting, accessing your inner kid is HARD.
This week though, I spent an entire day with the Small Small getting ‘stuck’ speaking in nonsense every other time she kissed me. With a lot of wild gesticulation – and a LOT of laughing.

And that – that’s LIVING.

Not existing. Not listing – sideways, about to capsize.

The thing is, with The List, you see, is there ISN’T an end.
It’s a trick, to drown you.
And it LIES.

It helps perpetuate that nagging sense I’m not enough, not doing enough, not being enough, not achieving enough…

But when I get out from under it – when you get out from under yours – when you’re really present and really alive and really yourself, when you remember to let yourself fill up, and let that anchor you in the moment – you ARE enough.

And this last week I actually felt it – in Rose Tattoo in Birmingham, in a 4 year-olds laugh in the car, and in dancing to ‘Holding out for a Hero’ in the living room.

I felt it, and it felt wonderful.

So if you have currently lost yourself in a List, if you are sinking under its weight, try making a new one…

I’d love to hear what’s on it.

The Time Traveler’s Mother and the Grandmother Paradox

Being a mother is the very closest that I think you can come to time travel. Bear with me.

I’ve read and watched a LOT of sci-fi. And there are a lot of time travel tropes, but what pretty much everyone agrees on – from HG Wells to Dr Who, Michael J Fox to Audrey Niffenegger – is that time travel causes a certain degree disorientation, and distortion.

But maybe the reason we’ve never achieved it outside of fiction is that, maybe, that bit isn’t just a side effect of time travel – maybe it’s the gateway.

And there is nothing more disorienting – and distorting – than motherhood.

Being plunged into something so simultaneously amazing and awful and natural and alien and affirming and hollowing and real and surreal all at once leaves you gasping for air, grasping for purchase, flailing against the grey fog of sleep deprivation, hormonal fluctuations, and life alterations – and in the brief moments any clarity you get above the tumult is too bright and crisp, newly hewn, re-seen, ill-fitting – as you tread a stranger’s footprints across your own life.

Even as they grow, the small people, you’re never the same again. The footprints don’t wash away with time. And some of the tracks go backwards in it…

Because having a kid makes you remember being one. Only when you remember suddenly you’re looking at it not just through your childhood eyes, but through your mother’s eyes, too.

I remember a trip to the supermarket, aged about 9, where my mum couldn’t get out of the car parking space. She scraped the car along both sides trying to reverse round a caged lamppost. I remember her losing it. I remember her noise. I remember the pattern of the white scrapes on the red paint. I remember wanting it to stop and to go home and for her to just go back to normal and blocking it out and waiting for it to be over. I remember my own inconvenience and discomfort.

As a child I had little understanding, or sympathy.

As an adult I didn’t think about it much, other than feeling vaguely confused that someone so calm and reassuring in mine and others’ big crises could be so frenetic in her own, small ones.

As a mother, I am transported there and suddenly I AM her.

I can FEEL her frustration, the overflow of someone operating at the very end of their tether, managing two kids, a household, a dog, a cat, an absent husband working away, and a full time job, who just wanted to get the food in and go home and why can’t anything ever just be easy, and I can’t take any more, and that’s IT.

I don’t remember how we got home. But now I know she would have had to piece herself together. Put away the shopping. Put the kids to bed. Work out how to get the car fixed while still ferrying everyone around. Hold it all up and in and tight on a knife’s edge of functioning panic reliant on momentum and perpetual motion because sometimes that’s all there is and there are really no other choices and you can’t cry when there’s fishfingers to grill and dogs to feed and children to wash and bags to pack for the next day.

I remember sitting at the top of the stairs aged 6 or 7. And I wouldn’t go to bed, because my OCD meant I had to do my checks and my Mum had caught me and was angry, but maybe I could get her to come upstairs and help with my checks anyway. I remember my nightdress – it had a jungle scene on it. I remember the feel of the banister under my fingers. I remember how she stood. I remember the look on her face.

And now, in a rush of understanding, I know what that look meant.

She needs to get the house sorted and dishes done and lunches made for the morning, and she needs to go to bed herself but her smallest is still up and wandering round the house, and why can’t she just stay in bed, and how many times does she have to say it, and she’s exasperated, but also worried, because she doesn’t know what to do with her and is this normal? and are other kids like this? and how can I help and I’m SO tired and everything is harder than I thought it would be.

It was never really anger, it was fear.

It was never impatience, it was exhuastion.

It wasn’t a lack of sympathy, it was a lack of choice.

Memories are always time travel, in a way, but it’s in this DUALITY of memory, in the transference of experience, that time travel really comes true for women.

You need your mum, more than you have done in years, when you become one. You LITERALLY slip back in time in your craving for her. And you realise this explosion of love is how your mum must have felt about you – only you never really knew you just expected it and accepted it without a blink. And that disparity in love and sacrifice and gratitude is almost sad for her – but even sadder for you because you’re repeating the pattern all over again.

But that’s where you get to travel to the future, too.

Because one day, my daughters will look up with new, raw eyes, and it will be their turn to time travel. They will see their own past through two perspectives superimposed on top of each other, and they will stumble to make sense of their own memories and mine mixed up together.

They’ll KNOW.

They’ll know what it must have been like to be on you own with a 2 year old and 5 year old, trying to get everyone up and ready and out by 7.30am. They’ll know how it felt when they pretended to forget my name and called me by their Dad’s girlfriends name instead, like it’s the funniest joke EVER. They’ll know why I cried over silly burnt chicken dippas. They’ll know how much effort and love went in to the 8th hokey cokey of the evening when all you want to do is sit, and how tiring it must have been to do all the Harry Potter voices after a 15 hour day of rushing round and ticking off lists and keeping balls in the air.

They’ll know the good, and the bad, and the ugly of love for what it was.

There’s always a price to pay for time travel, though. That’s one of the accepted rules – alongside the disorientation thing. The protagonists are always caught up in the end in a causal loop or the ‘Grandfather paradox’ – the impossibility of going back in time to kill your grandfather and therefore erase your own timeline.

The price here is that you can never pass forwards what you’ve learned. It won’t be until your daughters hit the same point in their own timeline that you’ll understand each other on a new level. We’ve been having kids forever, but we’ve never, ever been really been able to pass the experience on through anything other than the experience itself.

In so much sci-fi, the time travellers are men. But the truth is, women cracked time travel generations ago. We just can’t meaningfully communicate it. And that, I suppose, is the Grandmother paradox…

Caught in it as we are, the best you can do today – if you’re lucky enough to still have her around – is to look your own mum in the eye, slip your hand into hers like you did when hers was smoother and yours was smaller, and say “Thank you”.

And possibly, “I’m sorry.”

At the very least, “I know now.”

Happy Mother’s Day.

Goblins

Hi divorcee hive. I’ve got a question for you. How do you deal with extra curricular activities when you share childcare?

Big Small stopped doing extra curricular activities. When the pre-ballet tantrums started to last more than two hours on a Saturday I gave up. Poor kid’s had a lot going on, to be fair to her. So we took a break.

I’ve always slightly struggled with the extra curricular stuff, to be honest.

I remember very clearly being a child and being forced into horse riding lessons because my sister loved horse riding, and was weirdly good at it. Like, literally, you couldn’t shift her bum from the saddle no matter what the horse did.

I, on the other hand, have neither balance nor authority (still), and DREADED going every week. It was like humiliation and torture rolled into one. (Rolled like the mad zombie eyes of the insane homicidal Shetlands they put me on every Sunday).

I also did guitar lessons and I remember refusing to practice – but THEN I remember hitting teenage years when the ability to play a guitar would have made me SUPER COOL (a department I could have really, really used some help in) and wishing my parents had MADE ME stick at it.

(One day I must tell you about the time I knocked my front teeth out with a guitar, because I am clearly SO rock and roll).

So as a parent I now struggle to know where the line is between making them stick to something and not forcing them do something they clearly don’t want to do!

The one thing the Big Small DOES want to do is an activity with a looooooong waiting list she was booked into on a weekday evening – way before Dadoffthenetheredge and I split up. Let’s call it “Goblins”. She likes this because her school friends go to the same group. (One of the problems with ballet was there was ‘no one there she knew’).

However, twice a month, she’s with her Dad. And he doesn’t want this eating into his time with her. Which I sort of get… But then I don’t. Because it’s the only thing she does, it’s just over an hour, she loves it, and she tells me she really wants to go on his weeks (although God knows what she tells him – as she appears to be a very different child at each end).

All her friends have schedules that make my eyes water, involving gymnastics, and ballet, and swimming lessons, and music academy, and athletics and climbing and junior skydiving with chess (combined)*.

(*Not true).

And I feel all middle-class-guilty that she’s not doing more. I mean, what if she’s a prima ballerina in the making and we never know because she never goes? Or she only goes twice a month?

But then she spends weekends with me saying she just wants to be at home and it’s ‘her’ time and she doesn’t want to have to ‘do stuff’ (though she’s mostly referring to the 5 long minutes of gruelling spelling homework I have the temerity to try and persuade her into).

So – how do you do it at your end?

Do you split ferrying them round straight down the middle? Is it just our job to chauffeur them about their busy little social lives incessantly every weekend, suck it up? Do you only do weekday activities? Do you think I’m causing irreparable damage by not sending her to pottery/ballroom/karate/piano classes every week???? Or am I crazed over-privileged cowbag who needs to chill her boots?

Of course in an ideal world Dadoffthenetheredge and I would discuss this like reasonable adults, but I’m afraid that’s really not where we are on this.

He tells me he’s a parent with equal shared responsibility and can do what he likes, and he’s taken the decision not to take her for all of their sakes, and out of the goodness of his noble heart.

I think – weirdly – not taking her also happens to be the most convenient thing for him… Unsurprisingly he didn’t like having this pointed out. Which is my bad.

So I thought maybe it would help to see how other people work it. Thoughts on a postcard, please. Or comment. As ever.

New relationships, old ghosts

Conducting a relationship after a bad relationship is surprisingly difficult.

It’s not like it’s right back to the drawing board, with a clean slate, walking off into a fresh sunset without a backwards glance. Or at least it shouldn’t be…

If you were doing stuff right, those roots went deep, and if you’re not vigilant they try and regrow in your freshly tilled field.

Which is not a euphemism. Fnrr.

If you’re doing the break-up bit right, you’ve been going over what went wrong, where, when, how, your part in it, the bits you did wrong, the bits done wrong to you – and trying to decide from there where your boundaries are now, what’s acceptable to you, what’s not, what you’d do differently, what you need to change, and what’s really important to you.

But putting that into practice in the field (tilled or otherwise) is much harder than I thought it would be.

I don’t know what’s a red flag, what’s a red herring, what’s me defending my new borders too robustly and failing to compromise, and what’s falling back into old grooves of just accepting stuff I shouldn’t to keep people happy.

I don’t know what’s giving enough of myself, and what’s giving up too much.

I’m not sure how much is true, new connection and how much is auto-stretching to replace that phantom limb that is a missing long term relationship, however it ended. From either side…

I can’t tell what’s the instant comfort of a kindred, and what are old habits dying hard.

I struggle with my confidence, that all the bad things I’ve ever been told are really true and how could anyone REALLY like me, torn between not wanting to seem needy and wanting to be the kind of person who can ask for reassurance from someone I care about when I need it.

I don’t know what are the fluttering ghosts of old pain and what are the butterflies of new hope.

I can’t tell when I’m overthinking, when I’m over sensitive – or when I’m listening and responding to a good instinct. I still don’t always believe I can trust them.

Some days I don’t quite know what’s love and what’s loneliness.

And it’s not just about dating and romance, either.

I didn’t realise how much each big, key relationship in your life affects all the others. Like having a baby, when that connection changes your dynamic with your partner, your own parents, and your friends with and without children…

Those central relationships can spread joy or rot throughout all your other attachments, and in the aftermath of one it means all of the others have to be re-explored, and re-written.

I have had to examine myself, my motivations and my values to build new bonds with my children as a solo me and as a trio, and with the family and friends I became isolated from while I battened down the hatches and denied everything, even to myself. It’s taken work.

The flip side is that now I get to start seeing and shaping those same relationships through a different light, with something opened up within me via a new one… I think.

Fortunately, OTHER days I realise I should get over myself, stop analysing everything to death, have fun, and just enjoy the wild hot monkey sex.

Fnrr.

Happily Ever After – Disney style

At the beginning, it’s Once-upon-a-time
(Which everybody knows)
And then Happily Ever After comes –
And that’s it, it’s done, it’s closed!

But life is not a fairy tale
The end is just the start –
And it’s not a smooth eutopia
But the very hardest part….

Let’s take for an example
A tale of truest love –
A girl stuck in a castle
And a bloke with sword in glove.

Our Sleeping Beauty found her Prince
Post curse and spindle prick
(Though snogged asleep she’s mostly gained
A weird consent-blind d ck).

But what happened next to this odd pair
Now navigating life?
The adventuring necrophiliac
And his barely legal wife?

Does she stack the dishes the wrong way
Does he leave open every drawer?
Do they spat about who’s turn it is,
To mop the kitchen floor?

Are they drowning now in nappies,
And wishing fervently
For 100 years more blessed sleep
Without feeds at 12 and 3?

Is he spending too much time at work –
Doing Princely stuff?
Is she too focussed on the kids
To tidy up her muff?

Have her lustrous locks gone greasy
Are there skid marks in his shorts?
Does he sulk if she says no to sex?
Are her abs no longer taught?

Do they only ever listen
To endless loops of Baby Shark?
Do they lie awake at nighttime
Not touching in the dark?

Has intimacy dwindled
To the obligation bonk?
Does he think she’s lazing out at home?
Does she think he’s a twonk?

Is life one round of gruelling chores
And bills, and bleugh and BORING?
Nit-picking at her menu rut
Or shoving him for snoring?

Yes, did true love go the distance
For Philip and Aurora?
Or does she nag him half to death –
And does he just flat ignore her?

See, ‘Ever After’ isn’t glamorous –
Happy’s harder than it looks;
We were all sold empty promises
By Walt – and ladybird books.

I feel for the princesses,
Who’s end-tale we don’t know
Did Rapunzel hair go thin post-birth?
Do the Dwarves still include Snow?

Did Thumbelina’s fairy fella
Try to clip her brand new wings?
Does Ariel blame Eric
For her loss of gills and fins?

And what about Beauty, kidnapped
With her severe Stockholm-type crush?
Did that infatuation last them
Through her recurring thrush?

Does Beast spend every Saturday
With his mates just playing golf
Does Belle find herself wishing
She’d let him die by paw of wolf?

And then there’s good old Cinders
Does she still scrub for her mister?
Did she give up on the grooming –
Do the school run ugly-sister?

Did the grind and dull of day-to-day
Dissolve Prince Charming’s smarm?
Did her love of shoes and rodents
Lose for him their first-blush charm?

Then next there’s lovely Jasmine
Who married her Aladdin
Are there still soft words and stars in eyes –
Or is each row Armageddon?

Does she go Christian martyr?
Does he stay out too late?
What happened to the Princess
On the other side of fate?

Did Pea-Prince keep on setting
His spouse impossible tests?
Did Frog-Prince take his ball home
When the baby stole her breasts?

For there’s nothing like mundane routine
To burst the idyll bubble
And nothing like a small non-dwarf
To turn relationships to rubble….

How did our couples deal with worms,
And snot, and pox and grot?
Did they pull together as a pair?
Or did the magic rot?

For when the birds stop singing
(And the deer stop cleaning stuff)
What’s left is empty glitter –
And that’s sometimes not enough…

Once the foe is finally vanquished,
And they’ve danced the final dance,
There’s just a boy and girl left there
Without all the romance.

Real life is kind of messy-gross
And that wears through the sparkle –
It’s hard to hold that heart-skip
Through a D&V debacle…

So when you choose your Prince, my friends
Seek more than looks and daring-do
Look for kindness and for laughter –
(And a tolerance for poo).

Love isn’t being rescued
Or in a gesture big and grand
It’s in the little everyday stuff –
In a life lived hand-in-hand.

It’s holding hair back when she’s sick
It’s letting him lie in,
It’s making tea and taking turns
At taking out the bin.

It’s squeezing spots and feeling lumps
Knowing sanitary brands,
It’s tickle fights and sofa slumps
And brainstorming names for bands.

It’s going gooey over baby steps
And marvelling at their cute
It’s going off to Cleethorpes
With a crazy bulging boot.

It’s a Kiss sing-song in the car
A Just Dance best of three
It’s stopping 12 times on the motorway
Because she’s got to pee.

It’s embracing all his comic books
Building flat packs from Ikea
It’s lying prostate watching crap TV
And sharing every fear.

It’s living with her mood swings
And his disgusting fungal nail
Throwing tantrums of exhaustion –
And saying sorry when you fail.

It’s a smile, a touch, a silent nod
Having someone on your side
Shared memories and in-jokes
And feelings you don’t hide.

If you both can still find Beauty
Without the bloody Sleep –
Well that’s an Ever After love,
And that stuff don’t come cheap.

On grief

The thing with grief, of any sort, is that it’s not a straight line. Or a puddle, receding gradually in the sun. It’s wilder than that. It’s unpredictable. It’s alive.

A break-up is a grief, you see. Or it is if you were the doing it right in the first place…

Sure, no one’s died. So it’s not exactly comparable… But a future has ended. A family has ended. Abruptly. Awfully. At least death has the merit of being universal. Divorce is so PERSONAL. The ultimate rejection. It’s not just one of those things, the luck of the draw, the circle of life – it’s YOU.

And if you’ve got kids you get to keep running into the ghosts of what you lost again, and again. Or maybe you’re the ghost and the person you split up from is the real one. I don’t know.

Grief is a Tiger. It stalks you. And just when you think you’ve outrun it, outwitted it, reached safety – it pounces. And it’s teeth and claws can still tear strips off you.

That’s happened to me this week. And I suppose if I was a ghost I wouldn’t feel it as much, would I? So I am real, after all.

It’s been a hard week, for a number of reasons. Including a sick and incredibly angry and anxious child. Who now has the power to text.

When they’re babies you feel like the separation anxiety when they cry for you as you leave them somewhere is the most awful thing ever. And then they talk. And then they write… And the ability to express it in words somehow makes it so much worse.

So I started sending silly pictures. And she sent pictures back. Family pictures. Of her and her sister with their Dad and his girlfriend. And the Tiger leapt up from nowhere and sunk it’s claws into my back.

The images of the family I wanted, of the man he never was for me, of the woman playing Mummy in my place – sent me straight back into a spiral I thought I was done with. An orange and black cyclone that leaves me bruised and broken every time I’m caught in it’s vortex.

Why couldn’t he do that for me? Why couldn’t he be that man, that father, with me? Why couldn’t I have that family? What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I have someone to share it all with? To tag team? To play happy families? What did I ever do that was so bloody wrong?

I’m better than this, mostly. So I’m sorry if I’m boring – a record stuck on repeat… But that’s kind of how grief works. The Tiger doesn’t get bored. It just visits less often.

For the most part time is a great healer. I’ve learnt to protect myself – for instance by deleting my personal social media. Not looking. Not asking. I’ve learnt to repeat the mantra that I’m happy they’re happy. I’m happy he’s a better Dad. I’ve learnt to see the gift I’ve been given of starting over.

But GODDAMIT, when it does hit me the impact still hurts SO MUCH. It’s still in those moments so alien that this is my life now. This is my reality. Like I’m looking at it from afar. And it’s sad and awful and lonely and it’s NOT FUCKING FAIR. And then the pain is horribly familiar and sickeningly, weirdly WELCOME. I’m GLAD it hurts. I’m GLAD there’s something to help me remember I am real, after all.

It doesn’t stop following you, that bloody Tiger. Whatever your particular grief. But it does change. It has already. It doesn’t catch me as often. The wounds heal faster. I’m better at predicting when and how and where it will pounce. The scar tissue from past attacks becomes a sort of armour… And the Tiger becomes a sort of friend.

One day the Tiger will shrink. It’ll be a tabby pussy cat with an attitude problem – like Catonthenetheredge. And one day, one day maybe every now and again I’ll welcome it onto my lap and remember what I lost deliberately.

Right now I just have to clean up the blood, get up, and steel myself for next time.

Depression is a Zoo

People talk of the Black Dog of Depression, ever loyal, hounding their steps.
People talk of the Bluebird of Happiness, who soars over rainbows and white cliffs.
But they don’t talk of the Others…
The Black Dog’s friends, hunting, blotting out the Bluebird in a blood red eclipse.

There is the Squirrel of Anxiety, flickering, flitting, flurrying, whittling. The continual motion of internal commotion that cannot stop, or… what?
The Cheetah of Sadness, whose tears start thunderously fast for no reason, and run black mascara races down shrunken, fading faces.
The Sloth of Exhaustion, wading slowly through treacle, retreating, into un-replenishing oblivion.
The bleating, belligerent Goat of Distortion, looking at the round world through strange square pupils, out of sync, on the eternal brink of dissonance.
The Beaver of Unrelenting Standards, one who is never done, has never achieved enough, damned soul ever searching for the perfect log to block an endless hole.
The sly Snake of Negativity, whispering insssssssideously of temptation and failure, a demagogue squeezing out breath.
The Hippo of Hypochondria sweating hot pink, promising death.
The Bee of Brain Fog, buzzing so loud it can’t hear itself think.
The Goldfish of Amnesia, who can’t hold onto a thought, losing time, all circles and no straight lines.
The Owl of Insomnia, mind spinning like it’s head on it’s shoulders, pining for sleep, but orange eyes wide.
The Parrot of Social Awkwardness, who tried and tries, but says the wrong thing, shrill, brittle, and always dressed a little too brightly.
The unsightly Amoeba of Guilt, constantly multiplying, vying for space, tightly packed and leaving no room for much else.
The Rhino of Impending Doom, always charging, bearing down in panic, expecting extinction – a unicorn in disguise in whose eyes shines fear – and disappointment.
The Platypus of Disjointment.
The striped Tiger of Overwhelm, stalking up on silent feet, and pouncing in a flurry of claws.
The Chicken of Obsession, pecking, on repeat, a constant tic, a beat that drum-sticks to a desperate routine… Fowl laws on a loop in a coop.
The Aardvark of Self Absorption, who can’t see beyond its own nose.
The Zebra of Self Doubt, a poorly disguised imposter who fears to be exposed.
The Tortoise of the Impossible Task, who is too paralysed to start and can’t see the finish, and loses heart and withdraws into its shell.
The Jellyfish of Indecision, a brainless bell with entrails, half invisible – pale even to itself – wibbling over everything.
The bone-tired Meerkat of Vigilance, who must always look out for the Rhino of Doom.
The Angler Fish of Anger, erupting from the gloom, the same tame Squirrel of Anxiety turned prehistoric, apoplectic, all teeth and fury. And beneath its own light, it sees its gory ugliness, and retreats in disgust.
And then must enter the Elephant of Shame and Regret, who can never forget, or forgive itself.
The Ostrich of Avoidance, burying its head.
The quivering Greyhound of Dread.
The rippling, crippling, famous Ray of Hope, hiding its smile underneath, but always, always with a sting in its tail. For there is no plain sailing here.

This is not just the bark of the morose Black Dog. Depression is a Zoo.
It is a gross, earsplitting roar, and a squawk, and a flap and a snap, and a hiss and a splash and shriek –
And if YOU are the keeper trying to keep these wild beasts at bay, behind bars and in tanks and shut away, struggling to contain and maintain them, you have your work cut out.
And that’s why they say, don’t feed the animals.
Whatever you do, if you want to survive don’t let them out. They will eat you alive.
And in this Zoo, they visit you.

Hi. Have you ever been visited by the Tiger of Overwhelm? Perhaps you know the Rhino of Impending Doom? How about the Chicken of Obsession (a personal favourite)?

It’s the week of #BlueMonday and lots of people have these visitors. If you’ve got one I’ve not mentioned, please do add it into the comments! I’d love to add to the menagerie.

In the meantime, please share. It could help someone with their Zoo… Or help them explain what it looks like to someone who doesn’t have one.

9 things I have learned in 2018

Here are 9 things I have learned in 2018.

1. I CAN PERSUADE OTHER PEOPLE TO HAVE SEX WITH ME!
My self esteem has never been that high, and was frankly AWOL this time last year, so this came as something of a surprise.
I started dating at the end of the summer and it turns out I’m actually quite successful in this department.
(I’ve literally quadrupled my lifetime penis exposure in 4 months).
Either I’m more attractive than I thought I was or I’m just giving off some serious desperate middle-aged housewife pheromones…
At this point who cares?

2. I CAN ADULT
No not that kind of adulting – already covered.
I mean I can face my post, pay my bills, do my finances, mend shizzle, and organise single-working-parent life.
Mostly.
Okay, look, stuff is mostly mended with gaffa tape or by looking pathetically at neighbours, I rely on school mums and nursery staff to remind me about important stuff, friends often have to support the post opening and form filling-in, and I have to call my dad before I can look my bank account in the face,
BUT
I’m not quite the 1950s helpless housewife I was.
And you know what? Sometimes asking for help IS adulting.

3. I AM FLAWED
I’ve done a lot of soul searching, and a lot of counselling in 2018. And sometimes when you take a good hard look at yourself, you don’t like what you see.
I’ve learned a lot of hard things about myself.
I don’t like how I handle stress, how I become obsessive or fixated under it, how I batan down the hatches under fire, how much I peace-keep, avoid conflict, and how much I crave approval. I don’t like my need to be liked. I don’t like that I change myself to please others.
I don’t like living with the resulting imposter syndrome and inferiority complex, the continuous self-doubt, and that nagging, un-continuous dialogue – where no matter what our history, with 90% of people I know I still feel like I have to start at square one to prove myself to them, every time I see them.
All of that has seriously damaged my career, my friendships… and my marriage.
And all my worst bits – all of the above – basically stem from one thing. My fear of abandonment.
And recognising that is helping me start to change it.

4. I AM FABULOUS
Sure, I’ve done things wrong. I’m flawed.
But I am not mean.
I am not callous. I have never been cruel.
I’m nice. I’m funny. I’m kind.
The people I’ve had to cut from my life in 2018 are seriously missing out. Because I really am pretty okay, actually.
In fact, no.
I’m GREAT*.

5. I HAVE BOUNDARIES
If you follow this blog you know I struggle with the boundaries. I overshare. Like, a LOT. (See point 1, for instance).
They became confused by an interesting and toxic combination of baby brain, depression, fatigue, isolation and emotional abuse.
My instincts, my social skills, my confidence – were all eroded.
But I can and have set NEW boundaries.
I don’t keep the peace for the sake of it, anymore.
I’m learning what’s picking my battles and what’s losing my voice.
I don’t let people treat me badly, or watch others treat me badly and pretend it’s okay, because otherwise they might have to face some awkward truths. Wah.
I am learning where my borders are, and how to defend them more effectively.

6. MY EMOTIONS ARE NOT A WEAKNESS
I’m not mad. I’m not sensitive. I’m not over-emotional. I’m not unstable. I’m not over-reacting. I’m not intense. I’m not over-thinking. I’m not misinterpreting.
My feelings are valid. They’re telling me something important. They ARE my instincts.
They are my heart, my empathy, my essence – the core of my okay. My GREAT*.
And it’s okay to have them. It’s okay to be sad. Sometimes that’s an appropriate and reasonable response to external stimuli. It’s okay to be angry. It’s okay to be as happy and as exuberant as I like.
When I listen to my what my emotions are telling me, I make GOOD choices.
I will no longer let my emotions be used against me.
They are my superpower; not my kryptonite.

7. CONNECTION IS EVERYTHING
For me, life is about connections, first and last.
It’s about sharing meaningful, joyful and tragic times.
It’s about family, friends old and new, my village offline and online – all the connections I was starved of because I was lost and hiding.
Each one of them is a lifeline I am grateful for.
Thank you all.

8. I AM STRONG
So I don’t look it (I weight just over 6 stone after the divorce diet), and often I don’t feel it.
But then I remember.
At the end, when things were SO bad, he wouldn’t have behaved to a friend, acquaintance or a goddam stranger the way he behaved towards me.
And when I finally saw on one particular evening that it was having an impact on the on the Big Small, too, I said STOP.
I did that.
I did that for me. For the Smalls. And actually, for him, too.
That’s how bloody strong I am.

9. I AM LUCKY
When everything has been razed to the ground, at first it looks like utter devastation. But then there are new tentative shoots, reaching for the sun again.
There is new life, new growth, and new opportunity.
I’m going to be 40 this year, and I’m starting over. And I’m also starting to see how wonderful that is…
How many people get the chance to rebuild themselves, reassess their life, their choices, their values, their direction? How many people get to change the patterns they’ve fallen into? The grooves they’ve worn in their relationships, their work, their own sense of themselves?
That’s what I get in 2019:
I get to change the habits of half a lifetime.
I get to live more than the half-life I was living.

The truth is that I’ve been blinkered and buried and stifled and stumbling. Now I get to look up and see clearly again, with new eyes. Or at least slightly cleaner glasses. Now I get another chance.
Oh, I didn’t want it – I had to be exploded out of the old life, and there were some injuries. Some of them serious.
But there it is.
The last present of Christmas. A new future…

I get to carve out time to write, and paint, and run, and read, and dance, and LEARN again. All the things that make me feel like me. All the things I compromised. All the things I abandoned in survival mode. I get to be the mother I want to be. I get to be silly when I want and sad when I want. I get to have the art I want on the walls, and the cushions on the sofa, and to let the books get out of control again. I get to go to bed when I want. I get to pick up the strings of my career. I get to pursue the friendships I neglected, and the ones I have since forged in grief and relief. I get to have the sort of sex I always wanted but was too tired for – or assumed was just for other people. I get to fall for someone again. I get to have the flipping stomach, and the butterflies, and the giddy HEAVINESS of it.
And in all of that, through all of that, I get to fall for ME again.
I get… POSSIBILITIES.

Now all I have to do is make the most of them.

Happy New Year.

*(Some days).

Christmas Eve. The second Santa letter.

So I found this. The writing isn’t brilliant so I’ll translate. It’s a second letter from my 7 year old to Santa, saying that what she really wants for Christmas isn’t the glitter Lol doll, bush baby and American Girl doll she originally asked for. It’s to have her family back together.

We talked about it. We’ve talked about it many, many times in the last year and a bit.

We weren’t a happy family. Things weren’t right. She remembers this – she saw more than I knew and understood more than I knew – they always do. We’ve moved forward, slowly. It’s taken her a while.

She knows Daddy is happier and nicer now. She knows Mummy is, too. She knows her two new families are better than the one she had before.

But she still, in her own words, ‘wants to go back in time and for things to be different’.

She’s 7. It’s Christmas, and if there really was any magic – or justice – in the world, that’s what she’d be able to have. That’s what I’d be able to give her.

And I know exactly how she feels, because some days, I have the same raging and scared and overwhelmed and thwarted/hopeful 7 year old inside me.

I know it’s better. I know I’m better. But it’s Christmas Eve. And a little bit of me just wants it all back…

I want to wrap presents with someone, watch a daft Christmas film with someone, get tipsy with someone making Santa footprints, laugh at the cat attacking the tree together, mock-argue over who gets to eat the mince pie, go to bed with someone, share the kids’ joy tomorrow morning. I want the family meals and holidays and games and traditions. I want the Facebook-perfect selfie-life he’s living every other weekend with my kids and the new woman. I want to see my kids every day. I want my Happily Ever After, GOD DAMN YOU.

After everything, after all the counselling to understand fun stuff like emotional abuse and coercive control, after all the tears, all the revelations, after all the awfulness, I want my family. Still.

Stuff that in your sack Santa, and let’s see if it fits down the chimney with everything else, shall we?

Just like the Big Small, I KNOW. I know in my head I never had that. I know it’s not true. He never wrapped. He never joined in on the Santa prints. He never got excited. He never got on the floor and ripped paper and laughed and played with the toys. We were never the Facebook family. We were something… uglier.

The truth is, that probably none of the Facebook families in your feed are real. Because Happily Ever After is a lot bloody harder than it looks in the books.

My head knows this. My head knows I’m better off. But tonight, tonight my heart is in this damn letter, alongside her heart.

Last year Christmas was a farcical charade at his parents’. So this year is our first Christmas, as our new, tight little unit. And I want to make it magic. But there are so many tears inside weighing down the sparks. Still. Still.

Now I’ve got to go and make weepy footprints in bicarbonate of soda, by myself. And I’m going to bloody well indulge the inner 7 year old. I don’t care if I ought to be over it by now. I don’t care if it’s self indulgent. She deserves her fucking tantrum. She deserves to mourn the fairy tale she was mis sold.

Tomorrow I’ll be 39 again. And I’ll try and give both Smalls the things from their list that are actually within my power to give them. And make it as magic as I can possibly muster.

WORMS

All I want for Christmas, and in fact 2019 – and in fact the rest of my entire life – is NEVER TO HAVE WORMS AGAIN.

As ambitions go for the New Year, that’s surely not asking terribly much? Right?

I was aware, as a Young Person, that cats and dogs got worms.
They’re animals.
This was okay.

No one informed me, before the year 2010 and the birth of the Big Small, that children could also get them.

IF I HAD KNOWN THIS I WOULD LITERALLY NEVER HAVE HAD CHILDREN.

Literally. I’m not joking.

I. Would. Not. Have. Had. Them.

(Possibly this extremity of reaction is why no one mentioned it).

I became vaguely conscious, post births and thrown into the world of small disgusting people, that worms was, in fact, a thing. But I was happily able to not think about it and blithely assume it was something that happened to Other People’s children, not mine.

Another episode, apparently, of the recurring issue I have with Parental Self-Delusion…

Now this post is slightly late, mostly because it took me a while to remember to order vermicelli noodles from Tesco (see pic), but largely because it’s taken some time for the trauma to recede to levels where I’m not rocking and singing my happy song (which for those who want to know is the theme tune to Dogtanian. Seriously, try singing this and being miserable. Especially the woof chorus. It’s not possible).

So it was actually a couple of weeks ago now that during a routine bottom wiping, I turned to wave goodbye to a child’s poo as it flushed away down the toilet, AND IT WAVED BACK.

WHY GOD, WHY IS THIS A THING???
FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS GOOD AND HOLY, WHY?

(Also, why isn’t there an option ABOVE capitalisation to express even more extreme horror? C’mon, God/typographers/Microsoft, you can do better).

Look, I know. There will be people out there now poo-pooing (NO MORE POO! ENOUGH WITH THE POO!) this post. They will be saying something along the lines of: “It’s one of those things, they’re everywhere, just get the medicine from the pharmacy and get on with it, there’s far worse things, people in other parts of the world have to live with worms all of the time.”

I AM NOT ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE.

I have a thing about germs.

AND ABOUT PARASITES LIVING INSIDE MY CHILDREN.

Call me funny…

Then the really really blase-type people give you the nit thing. LIKE THIS IS SUPPOSED TO MAKE IT BETTER. “Children get nits all the time, you know, it’s just the same.”

NO, BLASE PEOPLE.

It is in NO WAY the bloody same.

Let me lay it out for you – like worm eggs.

Nits are ON the body. WORMS ARE INSIDE THE BODY!!!!!

They come out at night for an exploratory dangle out of your anus, laying their wormy eggs to perpetuate their species and try and take over the world. They are living inside you, and very possibly controlling you like a zombie and making you do stuff you don’t realise you’re doing because they want you to keep hosting them.

YES THIS IS A REAL THING I’M NOT FRICKING MAKING IT UP.
(Seriously, look up ‘mind suckers’ or ‘zombie parasites’ on the National Geographic website. You won’t be disappointed. Scared witless, but not disappointed).

ALSO – if you needed a arse-wriggling ‘also’ – nits just involves a bit of shampoo and some laborious combing.

Worms involve bleaching, disinfecting or quarantining for 6 weeks anything your bloody children have touched EVER. The bedding. The mountain of stuffed toys that aren’t actually washable. Clothing. Clothing that might have touched other clothing. Towels. Toothbrushes. THE TWATTING PLAYDOH. (Note to followers: don’t try and disinfect playdoh. It’s not pretty. Apparently).

If you happen to have a mini naturist on your hands, as I do, they’ve also been butt naked on the bloody sofa, your pillow, the table, the kitchen sides, the carpets, and probably the poor damn cat.

Plus, by the way, during all of this YOU HAVE TO PRETEND TO THE CHILDREN THIS IS ALL FINE AND NATURAL AND JOLLY LARKS DARLING! SO THEY DON’T TURN OUT TO BE AS COMPLETELY EFFED-UP ABOUT THIS SORT OF BOBBINS AS YOU ARE.
(This was possibly the most traumatising bit).

It took a day off work to deal with the cleaning aftermath, several pairs of marigolds, some fast-talking about the whereabouts of favourite toys, being talked away from the edge of a cliff by a good friend, and 4 trips to the damn launderette – the only time I’ve ever been to a launderette in my entire life, because clearly I’m embarrassingly middle class. (Although now I’m going to take my bedding there all the time because they have superior folding skills and the sheets come back nice and fresh and don’t look like a crumpled mess before you’ve even slept in them!)

The only OTHER good thing about the whole situation was the fleeting satisfaction of informing the ex he and his 28 year old would also have to get a worm pill and blitz his abode – which as he’d never even mopped a floor before he left (I’m not even kidding) – would at the very least be EDUCATIONAL.

Worm win?

Mumonthenetheredge
Xx

Ps:
WASH YOUR HANDS, PEOPLE. GO AND DO IT NOW!!!!!!

WITH SOAP.