8 Years

Today, after the kids were in bed, I asked my husband to make me a mug of green tea.

He did, and as he brought it to me, I glanced at my watch. 18th of January.

‘Hey,’ I said, taking the tea from him, ‘We’ve been married 8 years today.’

‘No way! Really? That’s today?’

‘Yup,’ I said, taking a sip.

‘Wow.’

‘I know right, feels like we are newly married.’

He snorted as he sat down with his own tea, ‘Yeah, sure.’

Image Credit

that evasive slumber

Do you ever overeat when you’re tired? I do. Both my children were up all night last night and as a consequence I have eaten my bodyweight’s worth in snacks today without even realising.

When I finally collapsed in bed at 2am last ‘night’, I shut my eyes and succumbed to slumber. It was the most glorious feeling. Then that familiar cry. Only at night it’s twenty thousand times more irritating and has that unique power to make you feel furious.

But you fight it. For that precious sweet face. You scoop the chubby bundle of baby up and bring them into your own bed.

Then the pattering feet, and the croaky child voice, ‘Mama, mama, I’m scared.’

So you haul the other one into your bed too.

And try to succumb again to that glorious sleep. It’s there alright. Tantalising. Close. You feel it.

But your kids have other ideas. One of them is attempting to crawl in the bed because it is her newly found skill and she loves to do it. She is laughing as she tries to get her chubby legs up, chaos in the covers, pitch black room. And then the almost-3-year old is awake. Banging his feet on the headboard. Asking me to open my eyes. Telling me stories. Chatting to his baby sister, who chats right back.

All through the night.

All through till morning.

And they do not tire. No siree. They hanker for breakfast and are little spitfires ready and gearing for their day of action. Playing, fighting, giggling, pulling things out of cupboards, sticking play dough in corners and smushing it into rugs, snotty noses from leftover colds.

I wish today I could say ‘Ahhhh it’s all so precious and worth it.’

Y’all.

I KNOW it is.

But I don’t feel it today.

I feel angry. Tired. Frustrated. Guilty. Bloated from all the sweet chilli thai rice crackers I have been eating to keep my bleary eyes awake. And the countless mugs of coffee I have downed today. That massive hot chocolate I had for lunch. My oh my. I fell asleep trying to put them to bed at 7:30pm BECAUSE HELLO, SHOULDN’T THEY BE TIRED AFTER THEIR NIGHT OF PARTYING?

No.

No they are not.

8:30pm came and went and it crept to 9… still wide and happily awake.

Bloody hell.

Some days parenting is a ride.

Today is that day.

Today I am bedraggled, a mess, and totally lost. I sit here writing this when I am supposed to be working but I am so tired from my sleepless night and my full-on day that I want to go to bed. But I am also terrified to go to bed because I know as soon as I give in to the glorious sleep that is beckoning to me.. I will be rudely yanked away again.

I know it.

News From Sebastapol. Charles West Cope (1811-1896). Oil On Canvas, 1875.

P.S. Look, I only write this to document. Not to complain. I love my babies with every fibre of my being. I would wrestle sleep to the ground if I thought their lives and health were in danger. I know one day I will sleep and sleep and sleep because they will be grown and off living their own lives and I will be sad and miss them. I KNOW this. However, I also know that in the moment, sometimes, it all gets a bit too much. You can feel frustrated and angry. You will also feel guilty for feeling frustrated and angry. Being a mother is so insane. It’s so mad. It’s so crazy. It’s so surreal and unbelievable and unfair and beautiful. You can’t hold it in your hands. You can’t catch the fleeting time, and yet you wish it all away. You can’t get enough, and you have way too much.

Fams

A strange thing happens to me when I come to visit family.

I seem to lose all the will to live.

I start to just exist between moments.

It gets so dark and gloomy that I eventually break down, and I don’t know why that is happening.

It mostly happens when I visit my family through marriage.

They are very nice people. But I think I suffered some trauma at their hands. So whenever I come back here, a deep desolation befalls me.

Combine that with ill children and a nasty sore throat… my goodness the floodgates open.

Well. I will be seeing my own family tomorrow, so we will see what delights that will hold.

Love Letters #48

I truly think success is contentment, in whichever shape or form that takes.

For me contentment is dancing around my living room like a maniac making my ten month old bay girl laugh. She is a very smiley child. She has the most beautiful little dimples and she is forever making friends with anybody who so much as looks at her.

Contentment is wearing a tight red dress and red lipstick that I haven’t worn in nearly 3 years for a ‘date night’… in my living room. We ended up watching 15 minutes of a movie and then I was upstairs soothing a baby to sleep and he was upstairs cuddling a toddler who was afraid of ‘the bats’.

Contentment is taking my babies to the library on a Monday afternoon and choosing 8 books to take home. It’s stopping in a cafe amid the drizzly walk home and drinking a hot drink with my two year old boy. He is a wonder to behold. He is so human, with all his flaws and beautiful ways. A piece of art, I think, as he sips his warm milk and leaves a milk moustache on his upper lip, which he then proceeds to wipe away on his clean sleeve. My baby girl babbles away in the highchair, waving a croissant around and laughing at herself.

Contentment is making sliced pickled red onions and having them on a cracker with some cream cheese.

It’s tidying up the house.

It’s somebody popping round for a cup of tea.

It’s baby breath, and the warm sweet smell of a baby who has just woken up from their nap.

It’s a mother’s love, that trickles down the generations, and is felt decades and decades later, in hand-knitted cardigans and the echo of a voice telling me a smile makes the most plain face beautiful.

It’s feeling grateful for warmth at night.

It’s the catharsis of crying.

The ability to have hope that tomorrow will be better.

The gentle sigh, the pages of a book, the taste of tea, the sound of someone typing, the growl of hunger after a long day of physical and mental labour, the ache of loneliness, the prayer, the bright and numerous stars in an icy, black night sky.

What is contentment for you?

My Brother… Cooking

My brother takes the flour out. Bits of flour dust sail behind the paper bag as he brings it the counter.

He shakes the saucepan on the hob. It’s filled with caramelised onions. Sliced peppers. Sliced beef. He throws in some stock. It splashes over the edge and creates a symphony in the pot. Swirling, whirling. Drops of sauce on the sleek and shiny stainless steel cooker. A bit of half cooked meat on the counter, where it has lain there after flying out the pot during some aggressive stirring.

He slaps the dough on the counter. Kneads away. Somehow a glob of dough lands on the edge of the sink behind him. On the cupboard handle. On the edge of his shoe.

Wraps the dough in clingfilm. Pushes it into the fridge. The egg tray falls out, and the only egg in it cracks on the floor.

‘ugh’

Old rag, smearing egg yolk on the floor. Kick the mop over. Pour a glass of water over the egg. Mop it up. Leave the mop leaning against the door.

‘You done with the mop?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Ok…’

I know that’ll stay there for a few days. Until some unwitting person wants to mop and will smell the unholy stench of raw egg rotting.

The dough is ready. He slams it on the counter. Takes the rolling pin out.

Rolls. Expertly.

Sheet of dough. In the greased baking dish. Blind baked, fork holes peeping up at the searing heat of the oven curling the air over it.

Pours the filling into the pie shell. Drapes the other dough sheet over the top. Fork pricks.

Milk wash…. he had broken the last egg, remember?

I sit on the sofa in the next room with a good view into the kitchen. The beef pie is in the oven. It smells incredible. He can’t see me. He sees flour all over his hoodie. So he shakes the edge of it, and a cloud of flour dust flies into the air. He claps his hands on his trousers. Rolls down his sleeves.

‘Food’s nearly ready,’ he tells us, gruffly, as he heads upstairs.

‘Thank you darling,’ my mother tells him. She coos at my baby, who is sitting happily on her lap.

And I think, that boy hasn’t changed a single bit since he was a chubby little boy messing up the kitchen in a well-meaning attempt to scramble eggs.

Is it annoying? Yes, so much so. Does his food taste good? Delicious. Do I clean up after him? Yup. Does he think he has cleaned up after himself? Yes. Does my telling him he hasn’t done it well enough work? Nope. Hasn’t worked for over twenty years. What makes you think it will work now?

Also. I am at my mum’s house. Somebody else is holding my baby and somebody else is cooking dinner. Am I about to regurgitate an old sibling fight about messy cooking?

Hell to the no!

Adobe stock image – as you can tell.

Parallel

I spent a lot of my teenage years being insanely depressed. It was desolate. A desperation. A yearning for something but a lack of confidence to get it. Or trying to obtain it in the worst ways possible.

Dark streets and lamp-lit winter, leaves falling from trees onto shiny wet pavements. The crunch underfoot of all sorts of nature, lying limp on pathways. Outside frames my memories. Not inside the home. It was escape, really. I tried to escape, and I don’t know what from. Away from home? From heavy, pregnant expectations. Aspirations turning to dust. There was a lot of pressure and blame I think. Pressure to do well and be something because a big sacrifice was being made for me… ten years on and the sacrifice is still ongoing. Makes me wonder if it really was for me at all. Or can a judgement just be a bad one?

My sister goes camping and volunteers at a farm. She cleans out henhouses and mucks out stables. She pulls potatoes and onions, relishes in the dirt between her fingernails. Those fingernails that used to scratch me in childhood fights. Her weapon of choice, with her being so small and skinny in those days. Now she towers above me. Three years younger, and I look up at her. Notice I did not say ‘to’ her. When we were children living in the desert we yearned for the fresh green of the UK. The heavy foliage, the thick weeds. We yearned to ride horses and wade through marshes and walk through fields. Every summer when we came back to visit grandparents and family, our parents took us here there and everywhere, sfilling our bottomless cups before we had to go back to the torrid heat of Arabia and my father at work work work and my mother…. sad but trying her best.

My sister adores the farm. She says she is the happiest she has ever been in her life. She doesn’t want to leave. In the evenings she has a chat with a few straggling volunteers. Sometimes they make homemade pizza. At night she retires to a caravan by herself. The hob doesn’t work so she can’t cook anything and the bathroom is not in use, so she has to walk in the pitch black to the compostable toilets several feet away. I asked if she felt lonely or scared, and she said no way. Such vehemence in her voice. When I saw videos of where she sleeps, I could see the old familiar things that make my sister. The way her duvet is thrown back. The little things she uses everyday, and has always used. She sends me clips of her long fingers practising using a piano for the first time ever. We have an argument over Snapchat, but on WhatsApp our conversation flows freely and cheerfully. Parallel conversations, very different tones.

When I think of my sister on her farm, and me here with my two kids, I can’t help but think of me back then. I was happier away from home too. I was desperate for friends, good friends, any friends. Moving across the globe at that age made it hard to find people ‘like’ me. I was socially awkward and painfully shy. So when predators made their moves on me, I gave them the time of day. I fancied myself ‘in love’ and let them trample all over me. Heightening my depression, pushing me further into loneliness and isolation. When I did make friends… I put a predator before them. I yearned to live on a farm, to travel places, to explore and learn and have adventures.. like my sister is now. But in searching for that I fell into the wrong crowd. They laughed like hammers on a rotten fence and their teeth were brown from smoking. The put me on a drug high and laughed at my terror and confusion. They told me they loved me but used me to within an inch of my life. They hurt me and forced me to do things I still shudder about.

My parents are ‘disappointed’ in my sister, but were ‘happy’ with me. My sister who is being so wholesome and finding her joy and fulfilling her childhood dreams in the right way. They didn’t know what I was doing, they didn’t know my authentic self. My sister is vocal and stubborn. She doesn’t always respond in a way that pleases them. She has her own opinions and isn’t afraid to voice them, even if they are wrong in my parents’ eyes. Wrong in my eyes sometimes too, but then I step back and I think.. she is an adult and she is making choices, who is anybody to stop her or dictate to her or make her feel bad for it. We can make choices the other doesn’t agree with and still be a harmonious family. It doesn’t quite work that way in my family though. There is often a ‘villain’.

We are so loved, but there has to be a villain.

You’re Horrible

‘You’re horrible,’ he said to me, leaning back on the sofa. I sat hunched on the table, angrily tapping on my laptop keys, fury racing towards him like daggers from my side eyeing.

‘No, you are.’

‘I haven’t seen you all day and all you do is be mean to me.’

‘Well I have been taking care of two babies all day and was so looking forward to going to the gym for an hour, MY TIME, but you choose to come home half an hour before it closes!’

‘So?’

‘SO, I am left rushing there, banging out a poor workout, and rushing back.’

‘Ok, at least you worked out?’

‘NO.’

‘Mean.’

‘Not mean. I wanted to take my time, walk there all psyched to go. I wanted to lift my weights slowly and with focus. I wanted to do some stair stepping and sweat to some tunes. But all I got to do was race there, dash in, quickly rush through my weight lifting routine, and rush out.’

‘Hmmph.’

‘And the music had stopped, the gym guy was waiting by the door, tapping on his phone, keys jangling.’

‘…’

‘And I rushed out, raced across the car park in the pitch black, jumped in, locked the doors sharpish and looked into my backseat.’

‘Why the backseat?’

‘Well you know in one of the X-Files episodes where that creepy guy with honey eyes – the one who eats people’s livers every thirty years – anyway, that guy was in the backseat when Mulder gets in his car.’

‘O…. kay?’

‘And I watched that as a child and it so terrified me that every time I get into a car, I have to look into the backseat to make sure nobody is waiting there to pounce on me.’

‘Alright, weirdo.’

‘Anyway and then I rush home. And there is mess everywhere. I was with the kids all day, bathed them alone, put them to bed alone, and I was hoping you would at least clear up the dinner things and tidy up, but it’s a pigsty. Literally. There’s dried baby food on the table.’

‘I’ve been at work all day.’

‘So have I?’

‘What, you were at home!’

And folks, I took my laptop upstairs, and here I sit, steam shooting out my ears.

Is this for real?

Wonders

I’ve said this before, but I am addicted to Instagram.

I’ve gone on instagram ‘cleanses’ before.

Once for a month. Once for a week. Once for three months.

I always end up going back, though. There’s something about it. Mindless scrolling. Satisfaction… for what? I don’t post anything and I don’t get high off ‘likes’ (because there are no ‘likes’ because I am not posting anything!). I like to see the pages I follow for ‘inspiration’.

Homeschooling ideas, activities for my kids, cleaning inspiration, workout inspiration.

The thing is, though, the people who make this content also post a lot about their personal lives, so you’re subjected to that too.

And it’s just so much of it, so monotonous, so tedious.

Yet I still scroll.

There is a science behind it, why you keep scrolling even though you don’t want to. They’ve researched it thoroughly and have programmed their apps to hit your dopamine right on target.

So anyway. I deleted instagram again for a month, ending 25th August. During that time I read three books, bought and made a start on a planner (very colourful and I thoroughly enjoyed decorating it with stickers and whatnot), went out a lot with my babies, hosted family over for three weeks…

Not to say I wouldn’t have done those things if I had instagram on my phone readily available to me.. I WOULD have still hosted and gone out and read things…

I don’t really know how to describe it to you.

There is a word in arabic and it’s ‘ikti’aab’. It literally means depression. But in your bones. Deep exhaustion.

Not tired.

It’s like the monochrome videos everybody makes now. They’re all doing something with their fists, some kind of weird dance, and words pop up on the screen as they fist pump and wriggle around like worms on camera. It’s the same thing, just done by different people. Eagerly eyeing the like button. Faces filtered beyond recognition.

It felt weird opening instagram again after this hiatus.

It felt like peering into a world of narcissistic aliens, and they all harp on about not being narcissistic and being ‘real’ but their ‘real’ footage is scripted, because they look so perfect and are angling their cameras just so… just so their boobs are looking their best… just so their hair is at the perfect angle… just so their faces are tilted just right….

Being raw and vulnerable …

All the comments… ‘you’re so brave! you’re so strong! you’re so raw! omg!’

And I look out of that fakery into my reality and realise with a painful thump that this curated world I am peering into is an illusion.

I still feel shitty about myself though. My parenting. My ability to school my kids. What I feed them. What they wear. How our house looks.

And so. One of these days. I am deleting social media for good.

What I Want

As each day passes,

I realise

With starker clarity

That I don’t have to feel lonely

Or adhere to people’s expectations of me.

I don’t have to cook fancy meals when family come to visit

Even when I don’t want to

I don’t have to pretend to feel stressed over the things my husband stresses about, to show solidarity.

I don’t have to smile when somebody insults me, to keep the family peace.

I don’t have to drive to visit my in-laws, just because they think I should.

I can get up with my kids and go anywhere and do anything.

I don’t have to feel like a failure for not meeting the expectations other people have of me.

I can

Just

Do

What

the

DICKENS

I

want.

So today, in the pouring rain, I am going to blast some tunes in the car, pop my kids in their waterproofs, and go to a woodland garden. We are going to get very wet. We will look at stones and jump in all the puddles. I will get the biggest coffee with the largest dollop of whipped cream, bank account be damned. Thighs be damned too.

It’s not a failure to not adhere to a routine.

Anniversary

Yesterday was our seven year anniversary and we both forgot.

I don’t know what we were doing. It was a Monday so D was working. In his office. Slash second bedroom. Slash nursery.

I was downstairs with baby. Who is not a baby anymore. He was sliding his teddies down his little slide in the living room and I was sitting on the sofa trying to get work done. And getting interrupted, so really nothing was done. It’s ok, I told myself, as I got up for the millionth time to do something or other, I will work once he is in bed.

Then it was lunchtime. For baby. I gave him leftover pasta from the night before. And then hustled him upstairs for his nap. As he fell asleep, I did too. The exhaustion of being 8 months pregnant, working, caring for a toddler and doing the million other things people have to do just took over.

I woke up at 3pm, and baby was still sleeping, so I stumbled groggily and in a bad MOOD to the office slash nursery slash second bedroom where D was still working. I grumbled about not doing any work, dragging my laptop towards me. We started talking about things one talks about when they are parents and trying to make a life together.

And then five minutes later a small voice called from the other room, ‘Mamaaaa! Mamaaa!’

We laughed, because it’s the first time he has done that. I got up and went to him. He was sitting up on the bed, smiling at me.

D closed the office slash nursery slash second bedroom door, as he had a meeting.

I sat on the floor, feeling heavy and deflated. Baby ran around the bedroom making a mess and being joyful. He grabbed all his books from the windowsill and made a little hill out of them which he attempted to climb. Then he picked one out and spread it open on his little legs and began to read in gibberish. Some real words made their way in there too.

‘Ann done!’ he clapped for himself, slamming the book shut. All done.

My friend called. I debated whether to answer. I had to work, I had to cook dinner, I had to sort out the baby clothes, I had to clean the room.

I answered. We hadn’t talked in weeks, so it was a good catch up.

Then it was 6pm. The room was messy. I’d been playing with the little one. D finished his meeting and took over. I was still on the floor, feeling achey and tired.

I pulled myself together, got up. Went downstairs. Made cauliflower cheese and mashed potatoes, with a side of fish fingers. D and our little came down, tidied up downstairs. We had dinner. We cleaned up. Baby boy ran around. D played tag with him. Then he began running up and down the stairs, in the slow and stumbling way little toddlers do. Lots of chuckling ensued.

Then it was bedtime. Wash, brush, PJs, books. Left him with his dad, closed the door. Sat down to work. Baby boy crying for 15 minutes straight before I went in there. He was sitting on his dad’s chest, looking at me with tears in his eyes.

‘What’s wrong?’ I asked.

‘He wants you,’ D said, looking drained.

Mama.’

Ok. It wasn’t my turn to put him to bed so I felt stressed out and irritable. NO WORK was done. That means an all nighter which, in my state, I am not equipped for.

‘Ok.’ I said. ‘Let’s switch.’

‘Are you sure?’ D asked.

‘We can’t have him sobbing himself into a state. He won’t sleep. Then we’re really screwed.’

I put him to bed. It took two hours. At 10pm I stumbled out again, and sat at my laptop. I tried to work until 2:45am. Not much got done. I felt groggy and achey.

At 3am I fell into bed. D was sleeping soundly.

At 7am the alarm went off. D got up in a rush to start a meeting.

At 8am he popped his head downstairs where I sat, trying to work while the little ate porridge around me.

‘Hey’, he said, ‘We were married seven years ago yesterday.’

‘Is that so.’ I said, absently.

‘Yeah. Have to run.’

Up he goes to another meeting. Tap tap tap I go on my laptop.

Crash, goes something in the kitchen. The little one is pulling saucepans out the cupboard.

I think I will let him.