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.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Now With More Cats Than Ever Before!

I am spent. I mean, whoa. We had our first day of structured homeschool work today and started up extracurriculars as well, but that's not it. I had twenty-three days in a row of cat work (I said twenty-two in the last post, but I'd miscounted), but that's not it either.

It was the three extra cats in the garden that did me in.

Normally I love all cats, as many cats as possible. Professional cat lady-ing remains an excellent fit for me, and having six different cats that I looked after during this long run of work was fabulous. I also adore kittens. KITTENS FOREVERRRRRR, am I right? But it turns out that having the responsibility of feeding a stray who is nursing kittens, figuring out where the kittens might be, then socialising the kittens and finding homes for all three once all were in our garden is, how shall I put this? A bit much. At least, it is while I am working most mornings and every evening and trying to get some other time sensitive tasks done.

I am not sorry we did it (and are still doing it, in some ways, more on that in a sec). I wouldn't have left the mama to keep stealing food from the neighbours' kitchens. She is such a sweet, personable cat, and it is a treat to have her sweet face show up at the back door every day (multiple times a day). And I wouldn't have left the two kittens to become feral in the garden either. I wanted them to have a good, permanent, indoor home before autumn arrived, and with hard work (crawling slowly across the garden, food in outstretched hands), we made that happen. They went to their new family on Saturday, and I felt happy and sad all at once.

Regardless of the hard work, kittens are cute and fun and impossible to avoid falling in love with. If you've ever had an animal that is terrified of you, the giant human, learn to trust you enough to lick the last of their dinner off your fingers, you know what I mean. Loving those little furballs is simply unavoidable. So we loved them, and now we've let them go. They are settling in beautifully at their new home, and I honestly could not be more pleased with how it all turned out for them. All that hard work? So worth it for our roly poly little loves.

As for the mama, she is due to be spayed on Wednesday, recuperate at our house before a further vet check, then go to her new home on Sunday. She will live with good friends of ours, and we will get to see her often. I have become incredibly fond of her, and I don't think I could've let her go to just anyone. This is all getting wrapped up so nicely, we may as well put an imaginary bow on it.

And I won't lie that I will be glad to have the responsibility fully off my shoulders next Sunday. As much as I adore all three of these cats, I felt like we went beyond peak cat and straight to what have we done? I am ready to get back to normal life, or at least as close to normal as we ever get.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Working and Working Ahead

This is where I've been. And everywhere else. Palaces, smaller cities, the seaside, lots of places we can get by train. But sometimes just stuck under a kid or a cat or both. Managing some needs, trying not to get kicked in the face when the snuggles turn to acrobatics. Being accused of being really mean when I am not up for cleaning up everyone else's stuff. Standard mom stuff, really. We go through these days sometimes, when we're all checking to see what's ok with everyone else.

Today I begin a twenty-two day stretch of cat jobs. I've never done such a long stretch before, but I think it will be ok. I'm keeping my eye on the prize, and the prize is paying for all my kids' classes and my husband's new iPhone. Also we've got a holiday in France coming up at the end of September, and it would be nice to have some extra in the family coffers for that. We've always done budget holidays before, looking after every penny spent. People say that it's not money that matters, and while I'll agree with that overall, it's also true that being on a strict budget is stressful. I don't want to be stressed out on holiday; I'd rather get that stress out of the way ahead of time. By snuggling cats.

In preparation for these twenty-two work days - and the fact that our term time activities start up the day after I'm done - I've tried to do as many things in advance as possible. I don't want anything lingering on my to do list that might be difficult to manage when my brain is a bit foggy from early mornings and more to juggle in the evenings. I wrote our annual home education reports for the local authority to peruse, I've prepared everything I need for some meetings that will occur, I've started my Christmas shopping.


What did I just say?

Ah, yes. I said I've started my Christmas shopping. That's true. Obviously I don't need to have that done within the next three weeks, but I figured why not? I've never liked leaving it to the last minute, and I've got a good idea of what everyone on my list wants. My usual goal is to be done by my birthday at the end of November, but this year I'm hoping to have the bulk of it done before we go on holiday at the end of September. I understand this might sound a little bit silly, but I know how quickly the autumn goes by, and this year we've added some activities to our schedule, which will make it go lickety split. For me, having those gifts bought and stowed away before we go on holiday will be an early Christmas gift to myself. So I'm going to make it happen.

But right now? I'm off to cat job number one. I'm ready. Let the (snuggly) work begin.

Monday, August 5, 2019

A Break and Some Work

We are halfway through Z's stay at camp. This is the last year that Z will go and E will stay home, so I am trying to make the most of these days that we can do all the things that E likes and Z only barely tolerates. Thus we went to a trampoline park last week. I am like Z in that I find the trampoline park to be unbearable, but sometimes we do unreasonable things for those we love.

On Friday we took the high speed train to the coast for a beach day. This was not unreasonable, nor was it something that Z particularly hates, but it's something that is very much E's thing. She is happiest in the water, preferable with an inflatable contraption of some sort and a variety of sand toys. So J took a day off work, and we went, and it was good. Exhausting also, in the way that hauling all the beach stuff there and back and spending the day in the sun in exhausting. I was glad to go, but also glad to come home.

Last night found us hosting children's vespers, which is what I consider the last of the summer obligations before getting a proper summer break. And by proper summer break I really just mean not having to keep up wtih schoolwork or housework in any meaningful way, and not having anything of note on our agenda. The rest of the month of August stretches out before us, mostly empty. I think we need this badly, for a mental break as much as anything. J will go to work, and I will run my cat care business, but that's about it. It feels good to look ahead and see very little on our immediate horizons.

But of course I am mindful of what goes on the rest of the world. It continues to feel strange to have so much going well for me/us personally while there are so many truly awful things happening. I'm not typing this up while blissfully ignoring the fact that there were two mass shootings in the USA within 24 hours over the weekend, and that both of them were committed by white men, while the President of the United States continues to villify people who are not white. Meanwhile here in the UK, someone who makes racist jokes and statements on the regular is now Prime Minister.

Is racism alive and well, and growing within a new generation of young adults? Yes. If you look at the age of those who have committed acts of white supremacist terrorism, they are mostly young adults. I'll admit I feel powerless to stop it sometimes, but as someone who benefits from white supremacist power structures, I consider it my duty to dismantle those structures. It shouldn't be down to the victims to fight the oppressors. It should be down to those of us whose lives are not on the line, who have more time, more energy, more unearned privilege. I also recognize the great privilege of having been able to move my children away from the particular intersection of racism and gun violence that exists in the USA. My worries are not overwhelming in this regard, and it does give me more mental space to figure out what to do next, how to help best.

I think some of it comes in the form of conversations with those who are open to dialogue and changing their minds. Those who want to defend their choice to vote for Trump are not on my list; that's pearls before swine territory. If you come in only wanting me to understand why you voted for him, and for me to agree that it was fine for you (or your friend, cousin, parent, etc.) to vote for him, well, it's not going to happen. I do understand why some people who are otherwise kind people voted for him*; it doesn't mean I will agree that it was ok to do that. But some people are beginning to realize the great evil of voting in a man who encourages violence against those who are not white, and I think that we could figure out a way forward together.

*Full disclosure: I think lots of people were deceived. As someone who is often deceived myself, I am not judging or saying you are a bad person. But I am saying you must recognize the great harm this has caused and do your best to clean up the mess that you helped make.