How to be A Gap Year Mum.

This is a blog from a year ago and now our son is travelling the world …and he feels just as far away and I dream just the same dreams for him.

48 hours… that’s how long it is until our daughter, Mia, steps onto a plane and into the biggest adventure of her life.
5 months of travelling the world.
5 months of no work, no studying and, best of all, no parents.

” How do you feel?” my friends ask, ” You must be worried. Are you sad? This is it, isn’t it?  She’s leaving home. Does it feel like the end of an era?”
And I pause for a moment.
I need time to think about it.
Because I suppose I should be feeling all those things.
I suppose I should be preparing myself for impending heartache.

But the truth is, I’m not sure how I feel.

As a parent, I have spent much of my life full of the uncertainties that are inherent to a job that has no description, a role that has no rules, cares that have no end.
I spend my days worrying about whether what I have said or done is right or wrong, whether what will happen next is going to be awful or incredible, whether what I believe to be true is actually a threadbare fabric of misconceptions.
Our daughter spreading her wings, floating freestyle through the world for a while, that’s just another one of those things not to be sure about.
Today, like every day since our children were born, I grasp at rags of emotion and wonder how they fit together.
Like every day since they were born, I feel many things a little bit and nothing quite completely.

On this grey, rainy morning, sitting in our little kitchen, in a tiny city, in small, unsettled England, it’s easy to imagine taking flight.
Who wouldn’t rather be heading towards sunshine and dreams-come-true and days of carefree wandering?
 And, of course, I can’t help remembering how it felt to be that young.
To feel the breeze of the future ruffling my hair.
To dip my toe into the ocean of tomorrow and wonder which way the current will pull me.
To feel the intensity of almost perfect moments in almost perfect places.
I remember how that felt.

It feels as though it was just yesterday…it feels as though it was so very long ago.

And now it is our daughter’s turn.

I picture her walking through the departure gates and away from me.
Walking through the departure gates and into the next part of her life.
The painting we have been creating together is almost finished now, the last few strokes beginning to dry, the lines almost, but not quite yet, blurring into memories.

It’s time for her to start creating a new canvas,  to be guided by a new map, with new co-ordinates.
Time for her to follow the beckoning path of the future she has been waiting for.

And she is ready.

I hope that I am.

I picture her walking through the arrivals gate into an airport full of light and noise and colourful confusion.
I picture her, hopes and dreams stuffed into her turquoise ruck sack, stepping out into a hot and steamy world that is too far away for me to touch.

And I hope that it will treat her well.

I hope she returns wearing the stories she lives and the stars she touches like invisible pearls around her heart.

I hope she has the time of her life.

“How do you feel?” my friends ask.
And I can’t answer that.
Because in the end, that is not what matters.
What matters is what we share.

And what we share, is, and always will be… love.

Go well my Mia.

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Grief and Rainbows

As it happens, I have spent a lot of the past week thinking about grief and sadness.

That sounds like a miserable way to spend my time, but it isn’t, not really.

A few months ago we were on a “friend-hopping,” road trip around Germany – staying with friends from different phases of our lives.

Friends from a year spent working in a special needs nursery in Hannover more than 30 years ago.

Friends from a time when our children were all so young that the only way you could make friends was by meeting other parents in the park.

And friends from a closer and more painful time.

This week it will have been 8 years since our friend Ceylan died.

She and her family were living in England when we met. It was meant to be their big adventure. A few years living in England, trying on Chichester for size.

From the moment we met, there was a feeling that our friendship was meant to be. Very quickly our lives became intertwined.

Ninesh, my husband and Torsten, her husband, played squash and went to the pub together.  Ceylan and I would spend afternoons chatting and laughing in a mixture of German and English. Her children, Selma and Luis,  were young, (1 and 2) when we met, our kids, 10 and ll, but somehow, even our children bonded.

It was a gift, the friendship that grew.

They were on their way to spend a week skiing with friends from Germany when we got the phone call.

Ninesh and I were just about to go out to dinner.

It was the police at Gatwick airport.  Ceylan had collapsed on the plane, Torsten was in the hospital with her.

“It doesn’t look good,” the police officer said, even though we hadn’t asked, “someone needs to come and collect the children ASAP”

There are things that happen in life that rip through the very fabric of your being  And when you try to piece the threads back together, you realise that you can’t quite remember what the pattern used to be.

That’s what happened on that long, dark night.

The lives we knew were shredded, the pattern changed, replaced by  something less definite, more fragile, less permanent.

I drove her young, young children back from the police station that night.

I carried them up to our spare room and sat with them, and stroked their foreheads, while  they reached restlessly for their mum.

I didn’t leave their sides until their breathing deepened and they found the calmness that comes with deep sleep.

I remember wishing that I could bottle that sense of peace they found that night, keep it safe for them so that they could reach for it when they needed it.

But that’s not how grief works.

In the depth of its pain, you cannot just reach out to find the peace you long for.

Instead you live moment by moment, wondering how you have survived the last minute to make it through to this one.

I sat in the living room, our children and their children sleeping above me,  and I waited  while Ceylan slipped away from us, from the world, from life.

I tried to convince myself that this was a nightmare, that I would wake up soon.

I tried to tell myself that it wasn’t as hopeless as it seemed, that Ceylan would make it.

I tried not to cry when my phoned flashed :

“Our friend Ceylan has passed away. RIP.”

I remember thinking as I read the words,  that I had forgotten how temporary life is.

I remember being scared that I had forgotten to value the things that really matter.

I remember feeling as though a black hole was opening in front of all of us.

I remember wishing that tomorrow would never come.

But it came and we stood there, our 2 children and Ninesh and me, while Torsten told his children that their mum had died.

He didn’t choose other words. He just sat them on his lap, held them tightly  and told them the truth.

That took a sort of courage I do not believe I will ever have.

They were 2 and 3 years old, incapable of understanding the enormity of what he was telling them.

They clung to him, their anchor and their lifeboat in a sea of sadness and confusion and pain

And we stood by and watched, broken by the sense of helplessness that  comes with grief.

That was 8 years ago.

That day, it started to rain.

A storm raged tearing branches from trees and flooding the fields around.

Ceylan did not go quietly.

She was not one who would have left this world without a fight.

It’s been a long and tortuous journey for Torsten and his family.

There have been times when it felt as though the rain would never stop.

But now, 8 years on, Torsten has a new partner, Leni,  and  a new baby daughter, Marla,  who is loved completely and  most especially by her older sister and brother.

Leni radiates kindness and  warmth and a serenity that brings with it a peace and gentle happiness to all who meet her.

She  gives all her  love to  all three children with all her heart.

So this story has a happy ending of sorts.

But it will always be a story shadowed with sadness.

For that is what the grief has become…sadness.

It still wraps itself around them all sometimes but it is no longer a blanket of broken glass, gouching pain and suffering into the rawness of  grief.

Instead it is a blanket of muted colours, softened by memories, traced with the threads and  dreams of what might have been.

There are days when the children wear it like a second skin.

And there are days when it lies crumpled and almost forgotten in the corner of the room.

“The sad truth is that life goes on,” says one of my friends who has recently also lost someone very dear to her.

I nod.

That is the truth, but I am not sure that it always has to be sad.

When we were staying with Torsten and his family, I watched the two older children leaning into their baby sister. Smiling at her, stroking her hair, kissing her forehead, keeping her safe. Allowing their blanket of sadness to slip to the floor.

I  watched their sister, still so tiny, following their every move with her adoring eyes.

And what I saw was hope.

Her love for them is unconditional.  She does not know their story is a sad one.

The pages of her book are blank and she is depending on her brother and sister to fill them with love and laughter and happiness.

Marla is replacing their yesterdays with tomorrows.

And at last, after 8 long years, the storm of loss is subsiding, the rain is softer now, the sun is breaking through.

And where they meet, the sun of tomorrow and the rain of yesterday, there is a rainbow that grows a little bit brighter every day.

 

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Mother’s Muse and Era-ending Blues

So it is almost here.

The end of an era is knocking on our door…and I am pretending not to hear it.  Thinking perhaps that if I do not answer, if I do not let it in, our son, Joss, our youngest child, will not be leaving in two short days to begin his travels of the world and our time as full-time, hands-on parents will be over.

Like his sister before him, he is taking a gap year.

Like her he has worked hard to earn the money he needs.

Like her, part of his months away will be spent in SE Asia.

But unlike her, when he returns, he will only be back for a month before he leaves to begin his studies and a new life in Canada.

It is not the travelling that is filling me with sadness, but the knowledge that this, the first of his big adventures, is the beginning of his leaving, the beginning of a life that will no longer include me.

” It’s a sign that you have done things right,” says one of my friends, trying to comfort me with tea and croissants. ” That your time as parents has been successful. We wouldn’t want our children to grow up afraid to leave our sides. We want them to be inquisitive and adventurous. We want them to be brave enough to live their lives without us. We want them to fly higher than we ever dared to dream. That’s what Joss is doing.”

And I know she is right.

And I am so immensely proud of our fiercely independent children.

But I will miss our closeness.

I will miss the possibility of reaching out just for a moment and touching the unshaven cheek of this  “man-boy,” who has been so much a part of  me  for so many years.

I will miss watching the gentle way he talks and laughs with his friend Pierre.

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I will miss waking up in the morning to a house full of slumbering teenagers and listening to their chatter as Joss makes pancakes for everyone.

I will miss his  over-confident statements that leave no room for dispute, even when he is wrong.

I will miss the patient way he tries to explain incomprehensible IT problems to his grandparents.

I will miss his decisiveness and his quick-witted banter with his friends.

I will miss his drive and his energy and his ability to warm the hearts of all he meets.

I will miss.. him.

In the street acquaintances stop me and ask. “How are you coping with Joss leaving so soon?”

And I want to say “I’m not. I’m not coping at all.”

But that’s not cool.

Being a “cool” parent takes work and effort and sometimes a lot of lying.

Being a “cool” parent can be emotionally exhausting.

So instead I stand on the street and shrug and smile vacantly:

“I’m fine,” I say. ” You have to let your children spread their wings. Life is a big adventure waiting to happen…Joss’s wait is over. He’s ready…”

And he is..ready…. it’s me who’s not.

How un-cool is that.

18 still seems so very young to be starting the rest of your life.

When I was 18 I left England to au-pair in France. I remember the tears I shed at the thought of leaving my boyfriend, the sadness I felt that I wouldn’t see my friends for so long.  But I don’t remember caring  about what my parents felt.

When you are 18, the future is all yours. It lies in front of you, a pool of glittering potential, your past and your parents, a-hazily-dispersing reflection.

When you are 18, life is yours to make of what you will. Not to worry about what your parents think.

And as parents, it’s our job to give our children the courage to jump into the glittering pool and  to start to swim without looking back. We have to understand that our role must change, that instead of being the centre of our children’s universe, we become onlookers, standing on the sideline, cheering them on from the shore.

We must smile and wave and pretend that we are happy with our new-found lack of importance.

But the truth is,  however far from us they may wander, however “other” their lives may become, our children will never stop filling our hearts and heads

Being a parent is not time-limited nor presence-dependent. The moment our children are born, we sign a contract with forever. No small print, no loopholes, no get-out clauses.

I remember a mum once telling me that the thing they don’t warn you about when you become a parent, is that you will never, ever again be able to put yourself first. And she was right. Our children will never stop being the most important thing in our lives.

In front of me, Joss’s backpack stands ready to go. It looks so small, too small to carry a future in its zipped compartments. I always thought tomorrow should be bigger than today but I forgot that dreams and excitement cannot be carried on your back.

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He and his dad are at an Arsenal football match together today. They ( and his sister Mia) have been going together since Joss was 3 but this will be the last one for a long time.  Our days seem to be full of “last ones” at the moment – last days at work, last evenings with friends, last meals with family…..or perhaps that is just a mother’s lonely and melodramatic mis-interpretation of the truth.

What I do know to be true, is that Joss will leave behind a space far greater than himself, a  hole in our home and our hearts and our lives that can never be filled.

Go well my Joss. Come back safe

And know that if you ever feel sad or lonely or confused, our love, that is endless and always, is travelling with you and will not ever let you be alone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Family Calendar Heartache

It’s strange how it is often the smallest things that have the biggest emotional impact.

This week it was a calendar.

It started with me facing the inevitable fact that another year is almost over.

It’s not so much the time passing that I find demoralising as the fact that it means Christmas, with all its tinsled consumerism, must be right around the corner.

I was counting the weeks on the family calendar,  looking at the 4 columns, one for each of the members in our family.

And that’ when it struck me.

After 20 years of shaping our days around the schedule of our children, next year we won’t need a family calendar.

Next year our lives will be reduced to 2  columns:  mine and my husband Ninesh’s.

“What’s the matter,” asks Ninesh, glancing up from his computer.

“I’ve just realised,” I say, ‘that from next year we’ll be a two -column family.”

Ninesh looks at me and looks at our calendar scrawled with squiggly lines and crossings out.

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“Great,” he says, ” not only will we be free to go out whenever we want, only have to cook for two but we will also have more wall space. .  I don’t know why you’re upset, the rest of us never look at it anyway. We’ve been using the calendars on our phone for years.”

And he’s right.

The only writing on the calendar is mine.

But there is something comforting in writing down what we are all doing and when.

Something that makes me feel complete about knowing where everyone is and when they will be coming home.

It’s not the calendar I will miss, but the sense it gives me that I am still a mum.

Under our daughter’s name there is already mostly only a squiggled line.  She is already beginning to make her own life, far from us, enjoying the independence and vibrancy of student life.

But I have written in big letters, the day she will come home.

Our son, still living at home for a few more months has a packed column, full of work and social life.

Ninesh has dinners and racquetball games, and nights out with friends written under his name.

I have meetings and book club and nights out with friends.

We each have our own lives but somehow, on our calendar they are all entwined.

It’s all there, on the wall. Proof that we are a family.

But in February Joss goes travelling and when he returns we only have him for a month before he leaves us to start a new life in Canada.

I’m not sure that I can justify a family calendar that has 2 columns of squiggled and empty lines.  It will be too obvious a reminder that I have no idea what our children are doing or where they are or who they are with.

It’s not a family calendar but a family life that is hanging on our wall.

“Perhaps we can buy a picture,” suggests Ninesh ” or use the space for photos of the good times we are having without our children.”

At that moment a sound like the splintering of breaking glass echoes from all our phones and the words, “there is motion at your front door,” flash up on our screens.

It’s a present we bought Ninesh for his birthday. A front door bell with a motion detector and video and a link to all our phones.  If someone rings our doorbell, wherever we are in the world, we will all know and be able to talk to them through the video screen and tell them that we are not in ( which they might have realised when we didn’t answer the door).

No longer can a postman hide a package under our doormat and pretend they rang the bell.

No more do I have to open the door to yet another charity persuader trying to guilt me into giving monthly deposits to a cause I have never heard of.

The days of curtain twitching are over, we just need to look at our phones to know who we are not letting in.

“It’s just someone delivering a leaflet,” says Joss, walking between me and the calendar and holding up his phone to show me.

“Won’t you miss our calendar?” I ask him.

“Why would I miss a calendar?” he asks, ‘ I never look at it anyway, I just use the one on my phone.”

I refuse to look at Ninesh’s I-told-you-so-smile.

“But isn’t it nice for you to know where we all are?” I persevere.

“I just text you if I want to know that,” says Joss, reaching for the Weetabix.

And I realise then, how ready I am to imbue a piece of paper four columned paper with a symbolic meaning  it doesn’t have.

It is not the calendar I will miss but the identity it represents.

It’s time to re-define my life.

It’s time for our children to fly, I know that.

I did it when I was their age.

Stepped into the wideness of a beckoning world without a backward glance or a care for the breaking hearts I might be leaving behind.

A family is bigger than the lines on a calendar.

It’s not the knowing “where we are when,” that matters but knowing “who we are now.”

It’s not the columns on a calendar that bind us together but an unspoken, unconditional love.

I know, I really do, that just because our children are wandering so far away from where I can keep them safe, doesn’t mean that we are no longer a family.

But I know too, that “knowing where our children are not,” which is at home with us, is the beginning of a future of always missing them.

I pick up a pen and turn to December 31st. In capital letters across 4 columns I write: GOODBYE.

Ninesh sighs, that why-do-you-always-have-to-be-so-melodramatic sigh.

“No one’s leaving on the 31st December,” he says. ”  There won’t be any trains.”

“I’m not saying goodbye to the children. I’m saying goodbye to the family calendar,” I explain.

Joss gives a derogatory snort and puts his cereal bowl in the dishwasher.

“It’s just a calendar mum,” he says.

I turn to look at him, trying to drink in his black, close cropped curls, his deep, almost- black eyes, the calm, kind certainty of his presence.

I force myself to remember how this feels, how he looks.

And I realise that I will never be ready for this 2-columned life.

Our phones vibrate to the sound of splintering glass again.

“It’s just a cat”, says Joss.

“How useful for you,” I say, ” even when you are in Canada, you will know when a cat is walking past our front door.”

And suddenly I am filled with the wonder of modern technology.

There is something that can hold our family together across the miles and oceans and dreams.

All you need is a motion-sensor bell and a video camera.

I will hang my heartache in the space where our calendar used to be.

And whenever I want to talk to Joss or Mia, wherever they are, all l will need to do is dance around on our front doorstep.

And I hope they will know that is it not the motion at our front door,  but the love of a faraway mum that is making their phones vibrate to the sound of splintering glass.

“You could just WhatsApp them,” suggests Ninesh, ” the neighbours might think you were less crazy.”

I sigh my “yes-but,” sigh…because where’s the splintering -glass melodrama in that?

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Hot mountain bubbles and fondue friendship

As I write this we are sitting on a plane somewhere over France.

My husband Ninesh and I are travelling back from a dreamy weekend staying in the Grand Hotel Waldhaus, Flims ( a shared gift from one of our oldest and most precious friends: Christine) in the Swiss mountains.

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Our days were full of clean Swiss air, breathtaking walks with majestic views of snow-topped mountains, mirror-still lakes and deep, deep valleys and relaxing afternoons in a hot bubbling pool. As we wandered through age-old forest, past perfect chalets with the flowers ‘just so” on the windowsills, cow bells jangling somewhere just out of sight, we wouldn’t have been surprised to spy Heidi skipping towards us down the velvet green slopes.

It’s been many years since we lived in Switzerland.

Our life there wasn’t always easy.

We had a newborn daughter, knew no one and had to learn the hard way about the secret laws that are an integral part of your brain development if you are born Swiss. Our first few weeks were full of mistakes:

No one told us you have to pay for stickers to put on your rubbish bags or it won’t be collected.

No one told us that those bags can only be left in certain special places or the “rubbish police” will track you down and fine you.

No one told us that glass can’t be recycled on Sundays because it disturbs the weekend peace and quiet.

No one told us that if you live on the first floor ( as we did) of a house with wooden floors you are not allowed to walk around barefoot because it’s too noisy for the people who live below you otherwise.

No one told us that taking a shower or flushing the toilet after 11pm is not allowed if you live in a flat.

Worst of all, no one told us that if you come from abroad and work in one Kanton (small county) you are not allowed to live in a different one

(A costly and complicated hole in our knowledge).

As I sat, rocking our sleepless newborn daughter ( driven over from England at 10 days old) watching the sun rise over perfectly manicured allotments, I would find myself wondering what law I would have unwittingly broken by the time I went to bed.

But on the very first morning, of our very first day in our new home, I wandered into a small bar in search of coffee and company.

And there was Christine.

She stood behind the bar and smiled at me.

It is a smile that has melted the hearts of many men but on that lonely day, it was a smile that warmed my wandering soul.

Sweeping her dark curls carelessly behind her ears, her dark eyes full of warmth, she brought a coffee over to my table and asked me, in very impressive English, where I was from.

And from that very first moment, that ver first coffee, we became friends.

It is a friendship that has lasted 20 years.

A friendship that has been carried over mountains and oceans.

A friendship that wraps itself, safe and warm and golden around us whenever we meet.

A friendship that filled this weekend with the laughter and understanding that can only come with the easy familiarity of a friendship that has become greater and stronger than the sum of the two of us.

“What would have happened?” I ask as we sit over a leisurely breakfast of bread and fruit and unimaginable amounts of cheese ,

“What would have happened if I hadn’t walked into your bar that day?

If I hadn’t sat and drunk a coffee?

If you hadn’t smiled and started talking to me?

There are some moments in your life that change everything that happens next aren’t there?”

Christine laughs.

“It wasn’t the moment that changed everything,” says her husband, Remo, slicing the top off his perfectly boiled egg, “it’s what you made of that moment. Everything we do is a choice.”

I bit into another slice of Emmental and thought about what he said.

I am a firm believer in the power of co-incidence, an accepter of the seemingly casual moments that thread together to shape the lives we live.

But I’m not sure how many of those moments we choose or make a conscious decision to act upon.

I know that it was Christine who wrapped my loneliness in a warmth and kindness that changed my life in Switzerland.

It was Christine who helped me to stop breaking the law by sharing the secrets.

It was saying goodbye to Christine that made leaving Switzerland so hared.

It is true what they say, that a home does not consist of bricks and mortar but of the people who give your life meaning.

There is much that I am uncertain of in life. But as I lay in the warm bubbles, gazing at the mountains through the steam, I was sure of one thing:  if Remo is right, if mine and Christine’s friendship is the result of a choice made  so very long ago, then it is probably one of the best decisions I have ever made…that and buying a genuine Swiss fondue set.

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Cocktail nights and Swiss friendship in Flims; Becky, Ninesh, Christine and Remo

It’s a Control Thing

This is another old one but with  control freaks ruling the world, what can we do…..

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about control- about how losing it is often harder than gaining it.
Seems to me if people spent less time trying to take, be in and keep control and more time losing control, the world might be a much easier and nicer place to live in.

I was once on a ” just girls,” weekend to celebrate a friend’s birthday.  As I was loading the dishwasher after breakfast, someone said:
” It’s lucky my husband isn’t here to see how you’ve done that.”
” Done what?” I asked.
” Loaded the dishwasher,” she said, ” he’d just take everything out and do it again. He does it to me all the time.”
” Mine does that as well,” said one of the other girls, ” certain plates go in certain places and all the cutlery has to be sorted into individual areas”
” Mine can’t stand it if the plates are facing different directions,” said another.
Turns out, a lot of partners have a problem with letting go of dishwasher-control.
” Wow,” I said, ” in our house we’re just glad that someone has actually loaded the dishwasher.”

But dishwasher control is nothing to the battles for control that go on in the other parts  of our lives.
It comes in many different forms.
There’s the overt, public, assertive kind of control: this is how it’s going to be done, no discussions, no questions, no arguments
There’s the covert, underhand kind of control:   I know she asked you to to do differently but just do it my way because it’s better and no one will know.”
There’s the passive aggressive, quietly threatening kind of control: I don’t want to be a nuisance but I’ve been up worrying all night because I don’t really agree with what you’re asking me to do and I know my view isn’t important but I will have to seek further advice if you make me do it.
And then there’s the worst kind of control, the personal kind where you are too scared to show or admit how you really feel in case someone uses the information to make you look stupid or feel weak.

That feeling that you need to be in control, and the panicky feeling that you get when you think you ‘re  not, is so intrinsically part of being human, that most of the time we’re not even aware of it.
But it’s a constant and emotionally draining battle.
And it begins from the moment we’re born.
I sometimes wonder if the reason why the first noise we make as babies is a cry not because we are taking our first breath,  but because we’re really cross that we’ve  had no control over when we’ve been born.
Without consulting us, the warm, cosy uterus has expelled us into a cold, hostile world.
Who wouldn’t be mad?
Who wouldn’t cry and want to shout out ” hey, put me back in.  Let me decide when it’s time.”

And that battle for control continues for the rest of our lives.
First we need to control our parents and siblings.
Then we need to control our friends and acquaintances.
Then there’s our work colleagues and our bosses.
And finally we have to control our lovers and partners and eventually our own children.
The more we want control, the more exhausting life becomes because there’s always someone who wants it more and will fight for it harder.
Yet the thought of giving up control, or if not giving it up, losing it for a little while, can be petrifying.
” I can’t do it mum,” says my almost 17 year old daughter, “I can’t just let go, The thought of not being in control makes me feel sick.”
And with all the lessons I have learnt in life, with all my irrelevant experience and unlistened to advice, with all the love I feel for her, I can’t show her how to do it.
I can’t show her how it can sometimes be alright to make yourself vulnerable.
I cant show her the freedom that comes with enjoying the moment without worrying.
I can’t show her how much fun it can be to drift without knowing where you’re going,
or how important it is to sometimes lose yourself in your dreams and be ruled by your heart.

All I can do is hope that she will one day find someone who she trust enough to help her find it out for herself.

The history of the world has been dominated by fights for control.
One country trying to control another.
One race trying to rule another.
One religion trying to dominate another.
The hardest thing to say is: ” let’s try it your way.”
The hardest thing to swallow is your pride.
But perhaps, if we spent less time battling for control and more time thinking about how to trust and value each other, then maybe the world really would be a  better, less fragile place.
It won’t be easy but it might be worth a try.

So the next time you load a dishwasher, go wild.
Let the plates face different directions, the cups be higgledy-piggledy and the knives and forks be muddled together.
It’s a first step towards letting go ….even if the dishes don’t end up so clean!

How Not to Be a Good Mum

Another way to make it through parenthood…..at least this is how I did it last year….

Something I have realised over this warm and sometimes sunny summer, is that I am stupendously good at not being a “good mum.”

I think this was finally confirmed as I lay, nursing the worst hangover in the world,  curled  up in a taxi and then on a plane seat, on a 15 hour flight back to London  from our holiday in Singapore
Probably not the best role model for our two teenage children, Mia and Joss,sitting in the row in front of us on the plane.
And it wasn’t so much the hangover or the fact that I couldn’t open my eyes without feeling as though pins were being stuck into them or that I was clutching a makeshift ‘vomit,’ bag, that left me pondering my parenting inadequacies.
It was more the way my last words to Mia and Joss from the night before, kept swirling around my alcohol infused brain.

The night before had been our son, Joss’s, birthday and luckily for him and our daughter, our friends in Singapore just happened to know the owner of a nightclub.
Since night clubs in Singapore don’t even open their doors before midnight (obviously) we arranged to meet our friends and the nightclub owner in one of his bars at 10.30 pm.
“10.30!” says our (like me 50 plus friend,) ” that’s quite late.”
Mia and Joss say nothing, just give an almost imperceptible roll of the eyes.
“We don’t mind how late you get back,,” I say, the  epitomy (I believe)  of  laid-back good-mumness, ” but remember we have to leave for the airport by 7.30 tomorrow morning. So make sure you’re back by then and whatever you do don’t drink too much. You definitely don’t want to fly with a hangover.”
Feeling extremely proud of our young-at-heartedness, we arrive at the bar at 10.30.and are greeted by the pony-tailed night club owner.
And of course we have to buy some drinks to say thank you to him.
” What you need,” he says, grinning widely “is one of these.”
And he points at a waitress carrying a tray of very blue cocktails
“What are they?” I ask and he points at the menu
ADIOS YOU MOTHERFUCKER it says in writing so big that even someone as old as me can read it without having to hold the menu at the other end of the table.
And so it was, that while Mia and Joss were eventually whisked off to experience the wildness of Singaporean nightlife, we stayed and drank bright blue and extremely alcoholic AYMFs
Which is why, at 6 the next morning, I woke up in bed, fully dressed, with a head throbbing like a time-bomb just before it explodes.
And Mia and Joss…..they came home at 4 am, slept for a few hours, woke cheerfully and and stared suspiciously at my pale, sun-glassed face..

“What’s wrong with mum?” asks Joss.
And I find myself wondering the same thing.

As I try to ignore my throbbing head and churning stomach, I think back on all the times when our kids could have asked me that.
All the times when I definitely was not being a good mum.

It starts with the times you arrange those “play-dates”, for the kids which are really “coffee and sanity dates” for the parents.
While you sit munching the snacks you prepared for the kids, putting the kettle on for “just one more cup” discussing how hard it is being a mum, how constantly exhausting and demanding motherhood is, the children destroy the living room, paint the spare-room carpet red, tip out all their toys, fight over the one toy from the huge pile that they all want and start hitting each other.
Bravely we sip our coffee and ignore them.
Not being a good mum is exhausting.
It  involves so much clearing up, so much biscuit-eating, so much coffee drinking that it’s lucky we manage to make it through to bedtime and falling asleep next to our toddlers when we’re meant to be reading them a story.

Then there are those daily manically stressful 10-minutes-before-school-moments, spent shouting at the kids because you’ve forgotten to wash their PE kit, still covered in mud from last week or lost the note that was meant to have been signed 2 weeks ago to give permission for a school trip that is happening today.
” You never gave it to me,” I shout at our ( then)  6 year old son ( even though I know it was me who took it out of the book bag ). Immediately he starts to cry and now I not only feel cross but also guilty.

Or those themed dressing-up days at school when our kids arrive wrapped in a sheet with a hole in it for their heads or a safety-pinned towel, while everyone else is in beautifully sewn princess dresses or amazing superhero costumes.
I catch Mia and Joss looking longingly at the costumes of their friends and run away before I have to chat with the “perfect mums,” about how they have stayed up all night adding the finishing touches to their creations while I have stayed up drinking wine and watching the re-runs of “Friends.”

And then there’s those arguments that you just can’t let your 6 and 7 year olds win.  Those times when, to avoid them having the last word, you wait until they are almost  asleep before saying: “and it wasn’t my fault about your PE kit. You should have reminded me shouldn’t you?” and creeping out I shut the bedroom door with a quietly victorious click.

“Those are nothing,” says our now 18 year old daughter when I ask her views on my (lack of) good mum qualities,”what you do now is much, much worse”.
” Really?” I ask disappointedly,  biscuit half-way to my mouth. “Really?”
Because secretly I’ve  always thought I was doing better as a mum of teenagers than I did as a mum of toddlers and young children.
Deep down inside, I had believed that I had somehow managed to find  that “cool laid-backness but caring-when-it-matters,” attitude.
” Yea,” says Mia reflectively,
” What do I do that’s so bad?” I ask,
” Like when I go out clubbing and you say you’ll make up the bed in the shed just in case!  That’s horrible …Or all the advice you give me about what to say to boys which is completely wrong and makes everything worse.  Or when you try to use LOL in a message or talk to the parents of our friends.  And you’re always telling Joss and I to have parties when you and dad are away for the weekend. You need to stop doing that.  It’s embarrassing.”
“I’ll try,” I say plaintively, ” it’s not easy being a mum you know.”
Mia shrugs.
“Your choice,” she says and wanders off into the living room.

And, as always, she’s right.
I long ago gave up trying to have the last word.
It stops working when your kids start going to bed after you.
It was our choice to become parents.
I think I just forgot to read the rule book.

“Welcome to Gatwick, London where the local time is 8.30,” says the voice over the intercom. the weather in London is warm with 100% chance of rain. We hope you have enjoyed your flight.”

I open my eyes tentatively and realise that my hangover, like our holiday, is fading.
In the row in front,  Joss and Mia are reaching for their hand luggage from the overhead lockers.

“What’s for dinner when we get home?” asks Joss.” I’m starving. And all the trains are cancelled by the way. Just checked on my phone.”
“Why didn’t we just drive and leave the car in the car park like I said,” groans Mia.

I pull my sunglasses back down over my eyes.wondering if I can plead hangover above motherhood for just a few more hours.

” One thing they never warn you about becoming a mum” said a friend of mine a long time before we had kids of our own ” is that it’s relentless.”

And I’ve never forgotten that word because I’ve never found one that better sums up parenthood.
Relentless, guilt-ridden, exhausting and the hardest, most rewarding job you will ever do – even if you get it as badly wrong as I do so much of the time.

But just in case this is one of those truly ” how not to be a good mum days,” ….anyone up for for joining me in a bright blue AYMF?

1 comment:

  1. Brilliant!!! So true, so well written xxx