Sunday, September 20, 2020

Focus on What Matters


I haven't written here since the pandemic swept away the version of normal we were living, because I wasn't quite sure what to say. I'm still not, but I am going to say a few things anyway. We've been through one full lockdown and may be entering another. I must confess that I don't mind much about this potential second one. We learned a lot of lessons in the first one about appropriate levels of preparedness, and I think that we will be fairly comfortable through a second one. Which makes us some of the lucky ones, I know.

To be honest, I don't understand the people who are grousing about things going back to normal and needing to get out and and do all the things they like to do again. My compassion and empathy extends primarily to those who have lost loved ones, who have had Covid and are still recovering, who have lost jobs and homes and all the big things that are essential to living. I think it is petty and disrespectful to complain about wearing masks and not getting to go to brunch. There are so many worse things. 

I do miss things that we used to be able to do, but it's a trade off. Because this slower pace has benefited us greatly. To have the pressures on our time, our energy, our money erased in one fell swoop was in no way a tragedy. We were busy, we were tired, we were a bit on edge in too many ways. And yet we couldn't seem to remedy the problem. I was saying no and quitting doing things that weren't a good fit, but things were still incredibly stressful in the day to day, for me, for my husband, for our kids. We have all expressed relief at not having so much to do anymore. We are not keen to go back to the old way of living.

For me personally, lockdown has pulled the things that matter into sharper focus. Far from being tired of having less to do and wanting to take on more, I have realized that there are more things I need to quit doing if I want to be the kind of person that I long to be, if I want to do what I do well. While we have been homebound, I have swapped frenzied activity for pursuits that are sustaining and sustainable. So as we have eased back into doing things outside of home, I have put time limits on some of them. Others I've committed to making part of the life that I want to create for myself and for my family, so that as we extend our activities outside our own home, we are well prepared.

It's not been the easiest thing, figuring all this out, but I have come to a place of feeling peace about how things are now and where we are headed in the future. I am working on letting things unfold, being diligent in the ways I need to be diligent and otherwise allowing room to just be. I know that there will be more to learn and new ways to adjust as we go forward. In particular I want to make sure that these good things that have come to us translate into us sharing that good with others, especially those who are suffering as a result of the pandemic. 

But I feel as if we have time, a little space to breathe and figure it out. Keeping close to home gave that to me, to us as a family. I'm not sure just how to express gratitude for this when what gave it to me has been so awful for so many. But I am thankful to be here now. At home, with things in better focus.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

The Legacy of the 2010s

I wasn't going to make a big deal about it being a new decade. What is ten years? Just a measure of time, some would say an arbitrary one. But 2010 was the year that made of me something I hadn't been before, and thus that decade changed me straight out of the gate. In 2010, a judge declared that I was legally someone's mother. And again the same in 2012. Two daughters. There is nothing that has changed me - and my entire life's trajectory - more than they have. For the better.

I live in an entirely different country because shortly after we returned from the vacation during which this photo was taken, in London, I realized that I could do better for my children than the city in which I had gotten comfortable. I dreamt of a future in San Francisco, of putting down roots, until I didn't. And I credit my children with reviving a dream we'd had years earlier, that got set aside in the whirlwind of parenthood and just plain life. Would we have moved to London if it weren't for them? I'm not sure. My husband and I give very different answers when asked why we moved to London, so maybe we would've done it anyhow. But for me, it was for the kids that I got serious about it, and I would've happily stayed in our flat with a view of the ocean if I hadn't felt that this city would be better for them. Which is not to say that I didn't want it for myself as well, because I did. I had just given it up in favor of embracing where we had landed at that time.

Many women speak of losing themselves in the midst of motherhood. In many ways I feel like it made more of me, gave me more than it took and continues to take. Living in this city isn't even the half of it. I am gentler with myself. I see more clearly what really matters. I am softer and also stronger, in mind and in body. In this past decade of caring for my children, indeed of giving up most of my time and energy to care for and educate them, I have experienced how fleeting this time is. Giving so much of myself over to the part of me that is labeled mother during this season has not been a mistake. This I learned during the 2010s. My kids only have one childhood, and it is going by so incredibly fast. I look back on the 2010s as the golden years that they were. We were together, the four of us, more than we ever will be in the future.

This precious time in which they are with me most of all will be gone in a year and a half if Z's plans for her education hold firm, and then from there proceeds the slow transition into a time in which mothering will not be the main thing I do. The 2020s will take us into E's last year of compulsory education, but beyond that I don't really know what will be going on. I welcome whatever the gifts and lessons of the 2020s will be, because the 2010s have been so generous to me. I have some hopes, but few expectations. I learned that from the 2010s as well, to let go a little of my tightly held desires and plans. Things have turned out better than I hoped and planned in all the ways that matter. I know I sign off a lot by saying this, but it remains true: I am grateful.

Monday, December 30, 2019


What happened? Where did the time go? Should I even be asking these questions, which are basically pointless?

I've had a lot of days in a row in which I woke up, started doing things, and didn't stop doing things until I laid down to go to sleep. Sometimes it's been hard to shut my brain off, and I just accept that and do a little reading or whatever might help me slide from doing doing doing doing into relaxing and letting go. At times ten minutes of reading will do the trick, but then there are nights that it takes an hour or more. In those instances I feel that I just need to finish thinking the thoughts that got interrupted during the day, and I let it happen.

I went through a small crisis of - well, I'm not really sure - at the beginning of December. It just felt like my optimism had bottomed out. I could see clearly that some things in my life were improving and moving forward, but there was a weight that had settled on me that felt like there was too much which remained unresolved. For the end of the year that I had pegged optimism as one of my guide words, this was a sorry state of affairs. I feared I would end the year in pessimism instead. And then I felt a gentle nudge, a small reminder that perhaps I had felt this feeling before? And that it did not mean certain doom? The realization was slow to come, but I got there somehow. This is the feeling of waiting, of expectation, of - dare I say it? - hope. Not a shallow hope that sings sweetly, but a deep knowing that there is something else afoot, and that my work is not to sink into this feeling but to wait through it.

After all this time, I am still not very good at waiting. I've had lots of practice. I've seen patience pay off. Yet it remains a challenge for me. I want to move steadily forward, with some degree of predictability involved. But it is not so most of the time. I know what I am meant to do in the now. I know the small ways I am to do the work of waiting. So as this year comes to a close and the next makes its way around the corner, I find I am prepared for what is ahead, though I don't know exactly what that might be or how long it will take to get there.

I wasn't sure if I would choose words again this year, but it turns out that some have emerged which will be useful to me. Once again, permanence is at the top of the list. There are things we need to do to secure things for our children's future, so that the choices we wish to be available for them will be theirs. Second on the list is perseverance. None of these things we want are going to come in an instant, or at least I don't think they will. I will need to continue to focus my efforts and see things through, to take the long view when short term gain seems more appealing. And for both of these other tasks I need patience. So now I have a third word. Yes, that's right, the woman who once scorned the "word of the year" thing now has three. I know. Oh well.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Nearing the End, But Not at the End (Slow Down!)

I keep seeing posts saying that it's the last month of the decade, and today I finally squinted at one with dismay and said, "It's still November." Are these numbskulls trying to rob me of my favorite month of the year? Or are they just in a hurry, as many of us seem to be? I am trying to be less in a hurry, thank you very much, so pipe down about the last month of the year and related nonsense until it's actually the last month of the year. And you can skip it then, too, actually. But if you must, please be correct, is what I'm saying.

I've been doing a lot of DIY and seem to have had a burst of culinary creativity. Right now I've got two slow cookers going, some cabbage (hopefully) turning into sauerkraut under a tea towel, some fig jam cooling in jars on the countertop, and injera batter bubbbling gently as the yeast multiplies. This burst began Wednesday, when I woke up to finish organizing the books on the living room shelves. I spent a week and a half taking out the carpet and painting the floorboards white in there, shifting furniture gradually as I went, and the result now that it's done has been a certain gladdening of heart and increase in motivation to do other things. I don't know why.

Well, I do. It's the same reason that my new (to me) shirt makes me feel good. Our surroundings matter. I sometimes wish this weren't true, but then think of all we would miss out on that is good in the world if our surroundings were neglected. Most creative things, I think. I struggle with the balance between creating a space around myself that is peaceful and beautiful, and making sure that I do not do it at the expense of other things (and people) which are more important. (Or maybe as important, but in a different way.) Should I be spending £30 on a can of floorboard paint when there are more and more homeless people out in the cold? What about that same amount on new-to-me clothes? These are things that I think about.

But that's not the point of this post, or it wasn't when I sat down to type it out. I have been thinking a lot about the close of the calendar year and what I hoped would happen during 2019. The theme of the year was permanence, with optimism tagging along. I'm not sure if I've gotten better at optimism. I think maybe what I've gotten better at is acceptance and having a sense of humor when it matters. Permanence, though, we seem to be making some progress on as a family.

In the summer, J received settlement status (also called indefinite leave to remain), and we signed a three year lease on our current house. Three years is a good long time to plan to be somewhere, and makes it worth it to change some things that are bothering me - thus the DIY. J receiving settled status means that the other three of us may now apply, and I will take what a friend calls "the stupid test" - aka the Life in the UK test - on Thursday. Will we have the applications in before 2020 comes calling? I hope so. It will be nice to have that settled (pun intended).

While I can't say they come under the banner of permanence, there are also some other questions which were settled and some responsibilities that I let go of this year. It feels like I am moving forward with a better sense of what works for me. Maybe I am moving into a more permanent life balance? It would be optimistic to think so, but as that was my other word for 2019, I'm just going to go with it, and now dash off for a little more DIY (new curtains!) before dinner.

Monday, November 4, 2019

That Monday Feeling

This is how it goes. I wake up in the morning and stumble downstairs. Make coffee, give treats laced with herbal drops to the cats, return to drink the coffee in bed. This is a luxury, and I know it. My children launch themselves onto the bed. What's for breakfast? Why that again? Ugh. I remind my youngest that this is not a restaurant. My oldest wants to recount her dream to me, loudly. There are arms and legs everywhere, including in my face. Two nights ago I got kicked in the head, hard, as one child launched herself off the other child's bed, just after I'd asked her to please lie down quietly if she wanted me to stay in the room until she fell asleep. My hand instinctively smacked the foot away from my head, and the owner of the offending foot felt I did not apologize enough, or as sincerely as she would have hoped. Good parents don't smack their children. Yes, but it wasn't that kind of smack - I was attempting to protect my head. She told me to go away, then later to come back. That night, I went to bed with a headache.

But this is today. Monday. Neither of my children wants to listen to the school readings. Neither wants to make an effort at math. I fantasize about sending them off to school every day, and I try in vain to impress upon them how very easy they have it, studying with me for a few hours instead of spending the entire day doing what someone else has decided they should do. I tell them I am not going to send them to school if they don't wish to go, but I also tell them that if they don't learn these very basic things, they will end up adults with 800 roommates and no good food in the house. Forget about complaining that the pastry I bought is not something you find to be delicious at this moment in time; you might just have one moldy orange. Maybe a brown banana. You'll have to come to my house and admit that you were wrong when your were seven and twelve years old, and you should've studied when I asked you to, and now you are broke and hungry, and you would like to eat dinner at my house, and I will say yes because I am the nicest mother in the universe.

Later, my oldest complains because I will not tell her what to write down for the assignment she is meant to do for a teacher who is not me. I tell her that I cannot do her work for her. Well, I could, but I don't really have time for it, and that would defeat the purpose of getting her to the class every Thursday; she's meant to learn something by attending. I don't have much patience, time, or energy to wait for her to stop complaining and give me something to help her with. Because I've just done an unplanned dead mouse excavation in the fridge area and I've got to have dinner made by five because it is ballet night, and if we don't eat at five, we won't eat until eight-thirty, and that is not going to make anyone happy. Aren't we already grumpy enough?

I feel like I've gotten nothing tangible done, so I decide to make half the meal out of leftovers, giving myself ten minutes to reorganize a cupboard. I need to see some sort of results from my efforts. The dead mouse in the outside rubbish bin doesn't count. Both my children make noises of disappointment about various things, but I push the noise into the background and finish my task. I make a cup of tea and walk upstairs. I've got thirty minutes until I need to cook the chicken that will make a meal out of the random leftovers, so I type this out, quickly. I need to do a couple of strength training exercises. I need to get dressed. I've got to go. See you next time.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

A Change is Not as Good as a Rest

It's been eighteen days since we returned from our holiday in France, and every single day we've had something to do. This is why we needed a holiday. As much as we have tried to slow our life down, it just hasn't been working out. So we have to take time that is not meant for anything other than relaxing and resting. It's necessary for a healthy life. Nothing else will do.

In Paris, we visited friends, and that part was delightful, but the rest wasn't my favorite. I know many people who adore Paris, but I found it to be too much like the bits of London that I needed a break from - big, busy, and with a language barrier to boot. I can speak enough French to order food and find the public toilets, but that's about it. I felt overwhelmed and lost in Paris. Having been busy until the very last moment before we left (I even did a cat care job the morning of our departure), I had no time to make touristy types of plans, and upon arrival, I didn't have energy to figure things out. So we went a couple of places, and it was ok, but I did not fall in love with the city.

Nice, on the other hand, feels like home. London is our day to day home, and Nice is where we get away to a different kind of familiar. We slept in a lot. We stayed in a lot. We went to the beach and we ate food I didn't have to cook and we got ice cream every single night, like always. It was just what I needed. Before we went away, I was hitting an afternoon energy slump around 2 or 3pm every day, and I thought it was because I was eating poorly or maybe because I needed more or a different kind of exercise, but in reality, I was just plain tired. When we came home, I didn't get that energy slump every day. Because I was rested.

Now I find myself slipping back into the same habits that put me onto the treadmill of exhaustion, and I am trying to step back off. The past couple of days I've had that afternoon slump, and I now know that it is possible to live life without it, so I'm just not willing to put up with it. I've noticed my kids getting stressed again as well, so I am intent on figuring out a way forward that won't leave us all exhausted and in need of a holiday before we can get one.

As always, the biggest shift is in my own thought processes. What needs to be done? Who can I say no to? Just how clean does the house need to be if we invite people over? (Answers: less than I initially think, lots of people, not very clean at all.) I also have found that breaking up big tasks into much smaller pieces is helpful for me. While I prefer to do things all at once, sometimes it's just not possible. So I put a couple of things away when I go into the kitchen to make a cup of tea instead of putting away every small thing that is out of place on the counters. I rearrange and sort through a few books at a time instead of doing all the shelves in the room.

And I am relaxing about my children's education. Again. As always. It's a constant battle to do what I set out to do as opposed to what I feel pressured to do by the prying questions of others. Sometimes a question will lead me to finding a better way of teaching or providing resources, but mostly these just serve to make me anxiously question if I'm good enough. I'm not opposed to doing a little questioning and evaluating - it is my children's future that I'm attending to, after all - but to be doing this somewhat constantly serves no good purpose. In fact, it's counterproductive.

So here I am again, slowing it down. For my kids and for myself, and I suppose in some ways that may extend to J as well. Slow and steady is better than burnout. Doing what works for us is better than never being questioned. These are the things I will keep in mind.

(PS - Isn't that cat in the photo cute? Z and I met him at the Musee des Beaux-Arts in Nice. His name is Texto.)

Saturday, September 21, 2019


We are now entering the pre-vacation period, during which I will be attempting to force my children to eat the random bits of food which might go bad while we are away. I will also be refusing to purchase food they actually want to eat. As you might imagine, this is all very pleasant for everyone, and there is absolutely no complaining.

We began packing yesterday. Now freed of all responsibility for cats which do not belong to us, my mind is clear, and I can think about things like dishwasher tablets. You might not think that one needs to pack dishwasher tablets for a holiday on the French Riviera, but some of us do. The flat rental company gives us two dishwasher tablets, and we are staying for ten days. The minimum amount of dishwasher tablets available for purchase in a single packet at the local Monoprix is eighteen, and they are not cheap. So I am packing dishwasher tablets. E thinks this is weird, but E also doesn't want to do all the dishes herself in the sink, so she has nodded and wandered off to do something that makes more sense.

I am very much looking forward to this holiday. As always, we are going to Nice, but this time we get to spend a few days with friends in Paris, too. I'm not one to want to go a lot of new places and do a lot of exploring on holiday; I used to be, but that was when I wasn't responsible for two minors who don't find getting lost in a new city to be an enriching experience. There's a pressure that comes with traveling with kids, and one thing I have quite enough of in my day to day life is pressure. On holiday, I want to mostly relax. So three days in Paris is good, but it's enough.

In Nice, we'll do the same things we usually do and even staying in the same flat we've been staying in for the past two years. We'll go to the beach, we will eat ice cream every night, we'll wander around Old Town. We may try to have a few new, simple adventures, but nothing stressful. If things go awry, we can come back to the familiar. And we will rest, and that will be oh so nice.