Eight Years On….
(12:30 Saturday afternoon)
Back in the Summer of 2010 as my daughter was approaching her first birthday, I wrote a blog called “It Takes Nine Months…” In it I talked about how I’d struggled to fine my sense of ‘self’ after having our first baby, how I’d struggled to reconcile my new identity with my old.
Nearly eight years on and I have to admit I feel lost all over again. (Or do I mean still…?)
If I were pop-psychology self-analysing (which of course I can’t help but do – isn’t that what blogging is about??), I would say that the reason for feeling this particularly acutely at the moment is because of a perfect storm. I feel that I’ve ‘ticked all the boxes’ as it were: marriage, house, kids, living abroad…. So what’s the next ‘big thing’? What’s the next adventure?
Oh yeah, and I turned 40 over the half-term.
(As I’m writing this, I do realise how hideously first-world-privileged I’m sounding. And I slightly can’t stand myself right now. To properly live up to the whining white western woman image, let me fully disclose that I’m writing it on a train on my way back from Bath, having spent the night in a boutique B&B and the morning with friends at the Spa! 😉 Oh I am a horrible human being. What, I mean seriously, WHAT do I have to complain about…?? Still, complain I will. Bare with, bare with…)
I have had a number of “Ah ha!” moments recently – one of which was on a sun-lounger beside the swimming pool at Rancho Texas Zoo and Pool in Lanzarote (another of which is right now, writing this). During these moments I realise that there does not have to be ‘the next thing’, life isn’t a series of boxes that need to be ticked and I should focus on the now, enjoying the now, and being present. It may be a phrase plastered all over social media, but it is indeed true: the days are long, but the years are short.
Instead of a baby and a toddler, I have an eight year old and a six year old. It is so very clichéd to say, but HOW did they get this old?
I was never one of these mums who was desperate for her baby to stay at the stage they were at. I was quite relaxed, quite happy even and excited when they reached the next milestone and left one behind. I didn’t want time to rush by, but I didn’t feel the need to cling on to the past. I loved watching them grow and develop.
But now enough’s enough. They can stop right there. There are no nappies, no potties, they can dress themselves (when they wish), there are no prams, no breastfeeding, no bottles, no special meals. They chat, they’re funny, they entertain themselves, they (can) help round the house. They are (when they’re not being absolute sh1ts) a joy to be with. But most importantly, they still want cuddles, they still sound so cute when they excitedly explain about something, or put on a show, they still have ‘firsts’ and they are delicious when they’re asleep and look like my babies again. (I could stand and watch them all night and/or eat them all up when I check on them at night. Some nights I’m like a proper weirdo and just stand there for five minutes or so, just breathing them in. But everyone does that right?)
Oh my goodness I love them.
But they’re of course not going to stop growing up. I can’t press a pause button.
So it’s all the more imperative that I live in the moment. I appreciate what I have. Have that extra cuddle. Take the time. Be thankful.
And to an extent, I am and I do. It’s probably why I’ve found it so hard impossible to find my groove work-wise since 8YO was born. I’ve not wanted to sacrifice my time with them for a job. That said, I’ve never managed to be successful enough with what I’ve done since then for my (paltry) work-life to feel in any way satisfying.
Although most of the time I’ve found peace with it, if I’m honest there are times when I’m still (Still…?!! Come on Elena, get over it already…!) not over the fact that there wasn’t a job for me to come back to after I had 8YO. It has just made the uphill struggle to find meaningful, fulfilling, yet not totally all-encompassing (and profitable) work all the harder. I’m not saying that going back to work in an office for a company wouldn’t have come with its own challenges. And I am sure I would have had equally exhausting self-indulgent anxieties if I’d gone down that route.
(11am Monday Morning, I’m back, having done school drop-off, bought fish from Fishmonger’s in own containers, bought bread from Baker’s in paper bag, and mine from Butcher’s in own container – though they did use a plastic bag as a ‘glove’ pick up the mince, so I’m not sure there is one less plastic bag in the world – all in an effort to reduce my plastic footprint. I’ve got two packs of new ankle socks. Plus having ordered a ‘Victorian’ apron and hat for 8YO’s Victorian Day at school on Friday, and jars and hard-boiled sweets for the school Summer Fete, and made sure Hubby and I have volunteered for both 8YO’s and 6YO’s class stalls at said fete… phew!)
However, to have had to transition into this new all-consuming, identity as ‘Mother’ and not totally lose my ‘Self’ (which in all honesty, until we had kids, was tied up a fair amount with work) without a job to go back to after maternity leave, has meant that I’ve had to dig deep and find an awful amount of will power, energy and self-confidence, right at a time when I’ve been running low on all of those.
Setting up Contented Calf (& Contented Kid) has been a great outlet for my creative and entrepreneurial juices. It’s been truly wonderful to create and develop a brand and products. I’ve loved it. It’s also allowed me to almost fully be there for the girls in around their nursery and now school, and have the luxury of not having extra stress and worry about school holidays.
(12:50 Monday afternoon – back again, after the Junk Collection guys came to remove all the ‘stuff’ we left in our garage four years ago, hanging up the washing and making and eating some lunch. This juggling and having to put work second every time is what I’m partly talking about…)
I mean, who gets to spend the day at the beach during President’s Week / Half-Term? Who gets to sit in the garden working? Who gets to walk along the Thames to yoga? Who gets to volunteer for both 6YO’s and 8YO’s classes some times? This is very much a blessed life that I lead. This ‘problem’ is very much a problem of utter privilege. I do get that. And I am truly thankful for the life I lead.
But… (There’s always a but isn’t there?) No matter how hard I try to live in the moment, and be grateful, it doesn’t help with how at times I feel directionless. I’ve ticked so many life boxes, but I just can’t see ‘what’s next?’
When I’m feeling strong, and calm and have a clear mind, I feel utterly at peace with this; even excited by it, by the freedom to truly be ‘in this moment’ it gives.
When my head feels foggy though and this sense of panic tingles through my body, I get anxious about not being able to see anything of what the future looks like. I feel like my fate is determined and I will be a 1950s Housewife for the rest of my life, I feel like my relevance outside the home diminishes and my confidence gets smaller and smaller.
Being a solopreneur and having to choose own route, anything, everything and nothing are all simultaneously possible. It’s hard to know where to go or how to get there. Being on one’s own all school day, every school day can get pretty lonely. Or at least mean that you live very much inside your own head. I was saying to Hubby last night, I’ve done this for approaching nine years! (Yes the girls weren’t always at school or nursery, but I wasn’t in an office talking over budgets and canteen food.) That’s a lot of internal dialogue and being alone with ones thoughts.
Whilst there was another box to tick that didn’t matter so much: create book, launch book, second baby, move to US, settle family in to US, contract job in US, host multiple visitors because we’re in the US, plan Summer visits home, create new book, launch new book, decide on move back to the UK, plan trans-America trip on way back to the UK, do trip, move back, settle in to house, settle into school… That’s a lot to fit into the past eight years…!
Being here, now with this total blank canvas, this life void, this absolute opportunity for anything, everything or nothing to now happen, just leaves this self-confessed Completer-Finisher feeling a bit a lot lost. Privileged, absolutely; thankful, yes; blessed, utterly. But along with that, a touch lost. I’ll just have to endeavor to take each day as it comes, be here, be in the moment, and wait to see what our next adventure is. I’ll be sure to let you know when it does…