Letting Go

There are many things that I have had to let go through my life.

I left an entire friendship circle behind when I emigrated from South Africa to the United Kingdom. I left a steady job, people that cared about me, a culture I understood – for what? Climbing on the plane, I didn’t even have a job lined up on the other side. I had ten days accommodation and £500.

Moving north, I left a city where everything was bright and temporary, for something less gaudy, but definitely more permanent. A husband, and later a family. A house that became a home, and the whole range of skills that I needed to acquire to fulfil those roles in a way that I deemed adequate.  In London, it didn’t matter that I was different – everybody was, in one way or another. In the sleepy little village where I live, it matters a little more.

I let go of my dream to write a book when I went to university, because, two draft novels down, I knew that my work wasn’t good enough. Yes I lacked self-confidence, but I also was not stupid. Skill comes when you begin to realise that you’re not as good as you thought you were.

I let go of the PhD dream when the funding failed to materialise. This was a dream fuelled in part by other people’s expectations, and in part by pride. I wanted to show up all the naysayers through my life, all the bullies, and people that had laughed at me behind my back, and sometimes to my face. The worst kind of dream. It didn’t feel good to let it go, but it was the best thing I could have done.

I have let go of my definitions of success, and happiness, of rights and influence. I have let go of what I thought it was to be a wife, a mother, a friend, a writer, a homemaker, a cook, and just about every other role you could name.

Because I have learned that when you let go, sometimes what lands in your open hand is worth far more. Sometimes just having the open hand is freedom enough.

So as I let go of a few more things – jagged things, that cut into my hand and heart as they slide out of my life – I remember.

Sometimes letting go is the hardest thing, but it is also the wisest.

Considering labels

Late in my teenage years, I went on a church camp. One of the group exercises involved each individual identifying a negative trait in somebody else and telling them (in front of the group), followed by the same person identifying a positive trait in their nominated individual. (I suspect that this exercise could have gone horribly wrong.)

I was informed that my negative trait was my stubbornness. I had to agree. My positive trait was my perseverance and persistence. I got annoyed. I felt short-changed. It was the same characteristic, just described in two different ways.

But it’s all in the labels. Independent or rebellious? Bossy or leadership material? Spontaneous or disorganised? Organised or uptight? It’s the same thing with a different label. Sometimes it’s good to be persistent in the face of obstacles, as it allows you to honour your commitments and achieve your goals. But when it stops you from asking for help when you need it, then it’s not persistence, it’s stupidity. (This is experience. I won’t bore you with the details.)

But here’s the thing. The labels don’t need to define you. They’re flatpack boxes that you can pull out when you need to, and put away when you don’t. One word doesn’t define who you are, but sometimes that one word, that one part of you, can open opportunities, and access attitudes that otherwise wouldn’t see the light of day.

If you remember you’re courageous, you can defend yourself.

If you remember you are loved, you can try again.

If you remember you have epilepsy, you can avoid the flashy lights and alcohol, and still be a whole person (‘cos you have the epilepsy, the epilepsy doesn’t have you.)

If you remember that you are more than what these people at this time are saying about you, that there will be a time when good people say good things about you, you can choose your response, decide on the label you live by.

It’s a cardboard box. You don’t have to live in it.

 

Things to do while you wait

Don’t wait to be happy. It doesn’t work. If you’re only ever waiting for this to happen or that to happen and then you’ll be happy, it only means that your happiness represents a fleeting moment of circumstance, and then you’ll want something more.

Still, in life, a little waiting is inevitable. Not just the waiting in the queue at the passport office, but the waiting that is pregnancy, or waiting for exam results, or for a job opportunity to open up. Waiting for the change of circumstance that means you can (realistically) dream again. You know, the gnawing at your soul kind of waiting that makes time trickle by and can turn mornings into despair if you let it.

So here is my helpful list of things to do while you wait.

  1. Skill up. If you have a dream you want to achieve, are there skills you will need when you get there? Skills that you will need to get you there? Skills you can break up and learn about, and practice where you are now. That’s what this blog has been about – learning to give myself a voice.
  2. Skill out. Do something completely different. Learn something random. I learnt to crochet from a magazine and YouTube videos. The challenge of acquiring a new skill took my mind away from the thing I was waiting for, and now I use crochet to relax. Double win. (Potentially triple win, since I can crochet some of my Christmas gifts.)
  3. Help somebody. Look around you. There will be people in your life, or near it, that you can help. Sure, it’s not very British, but that’s what makes it so rewarding. You can listen to somebody over a cup of coffee, and tell them that this too will pass. And remind yourself in the process. Sometimes people don’t need your skills, or your advice. They just need your time.
  4. Teach somebody. Of course, sometimes people do need your skills. So next time you make a tasty sausage casserole for the group of students that you know, include the recipe. And your contact details, so they can ask you for help when they get it wrong.
  5. Find another way to get to where you’re going. Don’t become so obsessed with getting the one thing the one way, that you miss the opportunity of the scenic route. Sure you could try and do it the way that everybody else has done it, or you could explore a little. Knock on some other doors.
  6. Remember. You’ve had to wait for things in the past, and they have been worth the wait. You have set yourself goals, and achieved them. If nothing else, you learnt to read, and work a computer, and wake up and face each new day. Sometimes that’s enough of an accomplishment on its own. Sure you’re waiting, and it feels like you have a long way to go, but remember how far you have come.
  7. Don’t forget about today. About the things you do have. We can become so obsessed about the waiting-ness of our lives, that we fail to appreciate that between here and the end of the waiting is a journey. We have all these moments between now and then. It would be a pity to waste them in myopic wishful thinking.

But above all, be brave. Or at least, continue being brave. One day at a time, one hour at a time, one second at a time. You can do it.

Drowning out the “Bad Mother” Monster

I’ve been a mother for a little over 5 years now, and for the majority of that time, I felt like a fraud. There was a little monster on my shoulder whispering in my ear that actually, I was a Bad Mother, and one day everybody was going to find out.

I tried everything to shut that monster up. I tried homemade treats, visits to the park, I tried being strict, and being not so strict. I read blogs to remind myself that I was not alone. I remembered my own childhood, my own mother struggling against the odds, doing the best that she could. I spoke to my mum, I spoke to The Dude. I almost tried talking to people. But I could never silence the monster.

And then, we had the Little Adventure. In the space of a few weeks, I had a funny turn that has left me with a tiring heart problem, we had a meeting with Little Person’s teacher due to her insufficient progress at school, we started speech and language therapy. (SLT is not for the faint-hearted.) All followed by the birthday.

We booked a party at one of those soft play places, to start at 11.30. We ordered a cake with her name on it, to be delivered to our house at 10.30, so we could be out the door by 11 (it’s a 10 minute drive if there’s no traffic, and you don’t accidentally drive to your friends’ house first). Did I mention I’m a stickler for time?

10.30 – no cake.

10.45 – still no cake. And I realise that I have no contingency plan.

10.50 – still no cake, but I’m working out a plan. Everybody’s ready, The Dude and Little Person can go to the party place and I’ll rush off to the supermarket and buy a cake. Except I will need to put petrol in my car.

10.53 – still no cake. Also, may need to check I have money to buy petrol and cake.

10.55 – Cake arrives. The Dude deals with it. I’m putting my shoes on. Door slams as Cake Lady disappears.

10.56 – I realise that Little Person’s name has been misspelled, with an extra letter right in the middle. And Cake Lady is gone.

I fixed it. And we went to the party, and Little Person had a lovely time playing on the climbing frame, and hiding in the cinema room watching the television, and sometimes playing with her friends and sometimes completely ignoring her friends.

And somehow I realised that for all the times I felt that I wasn’t doing it right, I was. Because maybe Little Person is just a little quirky, and that means she needs a mum that’s just a little quirky. A mum like me.

And I haven’t heard from the Bad Mother Monster since.

 

This post is dedicated to all the mums with hearts that stretch a little wider to embrace lives that are a little different. You are the special ones, the brave ones. The ones that deserve all the kindness, love and chocolate the world can give. I don’t know how you do it, but I admire you because you stand up each morning, and try again.

And also to my mum, who continues to display the strength and courage that inspires me to stay true.

A Call to Being

It’s all in how you own it, what you call it, how you spin the pieces of your life around and keep them together in your head.

Yesterday was not a good day. First day back at school, I collected her as usual. The cause of the following tantrums (those of you that know Little Person could scarcely dream it possible, but it’s true) were, in order: strawberries falling out the box when I had to make a slight evasive manoeuvre (this was only a little upset rather than a full blown tantrum but still included a “Mummy! You did it! You made it wrong!”); two dogs we were watching playing with a ball were taken back to the car by their owner and left (“Mummy, I like dogs! You don’t!”); taking shoes off; and taking coat off. By which point she was hiding under the side table she couldn’t actually fit under.

And I still needed to put fresh sheets on her bed and make her dinner.

But I sat her on her cool-off step (“Mummy! I’m not going to sit there, I’m going to sit here!”) and found a cool-off spot for myself. And counted my blessings. And then she followed me up the stairs to change her linen, and kept me company while I made her dinner. Because she’d had a long day, and she was tired too.

And sometimes you just want to be able to be who you are, and not be the list of jobs you have to do. That goes for Big People and Little People.

Because even in the difficulty of yesterday, I could understand what an angry little girl was telling me, from her words and not just her actions. And for once I didn’t have Bad Mother music playing in my head.

Because I know, just by being me, I’m being the mother Little Person needs.

Creative, strong and determined, with steely fingernails for hanging on.  That’s me.

Who are you?

Being Brave

I need to be brave in these coming days. Little Person and I have some challenging days ahead, and my attitude towards it will in a large part define our success. But it is difficult, because the mere thought of all that stretches before us makes me want to bury my head in a giant bowl of chocolate and cry. But that would waste chocolate, and so I am brave instead.

We all think of bravery as the fireman charging into the burning building to rescue people, strangers, that may not even be there. But that has training, equipment, practice. And the very fact it’s strangers can sometimes make it easier.

Because there is a different kind of brave. The one that loves, even when it breaks your heart. The one that turns its back on the safe thing, and does the right thing instead. Sometimes it’s the smallest little things that are the scariest.

And thinking about this, of course, makes me realise. Writing a blog with a small but growing following; and the likes; and positive vibes, is safe. The Big Project however, is brave. And true to myself. And right.

So this is not good-bye forever. This is just good-bye for a while.

And be brave.

Friendship is …

“I’m taking a sabbatical from kid’s ministry for a year” she tossed the words out with a studied casualness.

“Oh. Well, I’ll still be your friend,” I copied her casual approach by reaching for a crisp (I remember this because they were those tortilla style ones, and spicy, and I didn’t like them.)

“What?” she stared at me as though I’d told her the Spice Girls were getting back together.

I shrugged, “Yeah. I’m your friend because I’m your friend, not because you do kids’ ministry.”

“Oh.” She took a giant handful of crisps and I headed for the kitchen to get a drink. She told me much later that she had got a bit annoyed because she had wanted to be cross with me, but couldn’t. But that’s what friendship is about: acceptance.

*

I can’t say I always get it right though. I nearly lost out on my friendship with FWD because I turned her into a project. I liked writing, she liked writing; she had studied psychology, I was studying psychology; I was newly married, she had a bloke. She’s also incredibly caring and always gives people the benefit of the doubt (so does The Dude, incidentally – clearly I’m supposed to be learning something here), and I thought she could benefit from my slightly more upfront (some might say, confrontational) approach. I gave her some advice, she didn’t take it, I got miffed.

Then I realised that FWD is not me, she is a different person, with a different purpose, and trying to turn her in to me was both a futile and counter-productive measure. FWD has taught me a lot about love, and caring over the subsequent years. That’s another thing friendship is about: learning, and love.

*

Friendship is odd. It’s a coming together of minds, and lives, to share in things that we have in common, while acknowledging the things we do differently. Ideally, it’s borrowing each other’s strength’s to shore up our weaknesses.

It’s sharing our joys, and making them brighter;

Sharing our sorrow, and making them lighter.

At its best, it is love, and laughter, and finishing each others’ sentences. It’s knowing what makes another smile, and knowing they know your little secret, and will never tell anyone. It’s the beauty of the rainbow and the diamond and the butterfly – because it is forged in times of joy and sorrow, is tougher than anything, and yet incredibly fragile.

Proverbs talks about a man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks “closer than a brother”.

 

Don’t be a companion. Be a friend.