Birthday

In 55 minutes from this very moment, I turn 41. I feel old. Maybe 41 isn’t old to you. Maybe I am old enough to be your mother or big sister. Either way, my 41st birthday has hung around my neck all week.

I realised whilst lounging in the bath that I haven’t actually celebrated my birthday properly since my Dad died.

On April 2018, my Dad was in hospital. After an evening of pizza, cake and WWE (my son’s request as it was some big event), my sister and I drove to the hospital. Dad was drowsy but woke when we arrived and quickly reached into his hospital bedside to pass me a present and a card. I remember he apologised it wasn’t something more but I was just happy he was still with me.

The card, the last he ever wrote, is forever imprinted in my heart: it forms part of the tattoo that I had about a year after his death. There are photos of us too, me holding the joke moustache pencil topper (like dad’s real tash) to my lips as he kisses my cheek. Daddy. ❤

2019 I purposefully booked a week away in France with my children for my birthday. There were no presents or cards, no other family. I bought us a cake each from the patisserie and we did go out for dinner but it felt like a normal day and that is how I wanted it.

Last year, my 40th, I also chose to have alone. I had originally wanted a garden party in the summer but Covid ruined that. I had also planned to see Wildcard and not let on it was my birthday but covid ruined that too. My dad wasn’t there, mum wasn’t there and I couldn’t see Wildcard. So I spent the day pretty hard to myself with visits from my kids and ex and my sisters. I made my own dinner and my own cake.

This year, I am not ashamed to say that I also want some time alone.

I don’t feel like celebrating. I don’t want another year of me cooking for everyone (although someone usually makes my cake.) We can’t go out for a meal, I can’t see my mum, dad or Wildcard again. No-one can afford gifts and I certainly don’t want them to buy me anything, plus I don’t need or want anything anyway.

I lie.

I want my Dad again. I want my mum to visit. I want Wildcard to be here with my family. I want all the people I love to be around me. And I can’t have it. So because I can’t have it, for the third year running, I don’t want any of it.

Yes I am childish. Yes, I am sulking. But I am very much an all or nothing girl.

However.

I want nothing until tea time. Up until then, I am going to do whatever I want. No housework. No cleaning. No cooking for everyone else ( I love cooking, but noone really cooks for me. My dad did.) I going to eat what I want:

Fresh berries and yoghurt with a side of buttery sourdough toast. I may even have an egg.

A turkey salad sandwich and some crisps.

Ricotta and spinach cannelloni with a side salad.

Birthday carrot cake. Yes, that is a lot but I don’t care. I very rarely eat that much.

At tea time, I have invited my sisters and children and ex round and I am buying pizza for them. The above will be gluten free but the pizza won’t be. I feel like I have fulfilled my obligations to them.

Wildcard has asked me a couple of times what I want for my birthday. I told him the truth: I want him. That’s it.

“It is impossible.” He says.

I tell him he is an intelligent man and he can work it out. Let’s see what he comes up with.

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Lose-lose

Earlier in the year, as I cried over yet another cancelled trip to see him (there were four in total), Wild Card told me to write off this year and not even consider coming as iw as just getting upset.

But it was really hard when, just as I went back to work in September, his borders opened. It became even harder when I started to see other couples on Facebook reuniting in his country. And getting engaged or married. Or just looking happy and smug and in love.

And then, then, Ryanair started flying there which means I could actually afford to go. £20 flight anyone?

Of course, there were a couple of sticking points to this plan.

  1. I am a teacher so can’t book time off. (Yes, I know, I get ‘all those holidays’)
  2. You need two weeks quarantine when you get back to the UK. See above.
  3. He told me not to come.

Number three was round about the time when Ryanair got up and running and I joked that I was on my way, even though I knew I couldn’t (see points 1 and 2).

He told me he missed me and wanted me there, but the thought of it really made him nervous. He talked of the quick decisions in his country that could leave me stranded there, the issues with travel and how he didn’t want me to get sick and end up locked away in a hospital, unable to see him.

Yes it hurt, and yes I thought he just didn’t want me to come (which he said he knew I would think) but I could see the logic in what he was saying. I could also see that it showed a lot of love and consideration for me too.

But, yes, it still kind of felt that he didn’t want me to come.

I told him that I understood and that I would only come when he felt it was safe for me to do so.

Of course, if nothing changed, I would only be able to go again in the summer holiday 2021 – 17 months after I was last with him.

The UK went into lockdown and I couldn’t have gone any sooner anyway.

As Christmas approached, I’ve played with the idea of going for the first weekend and asking for a day working at home at the end to complete the isolation. I never asked though.

And then, there was talk that maybe the Christmas holiday would be extended to allow for self isolation. I dared not hope. Good job too, because it isn’t going to happen.

The shiny star on the tree was when I read that our Government have now decided that from December the quarantine is reduced to five days if you pay for a private covid test and it comes back negative.

A few quick sums in my head and…I could actually go. Except..

Except he still hasn’t talked about it since. When I was a little upset in my pre-menstral state last week, he told me it wouldn’t be long. The vaccines are nearly there. Maybe February or April and I would be there.

I couldn’t help myself. This week I told him about the new changes. He asked if I would travel over Christmas and when I said maybe, he said ‘where?’. I said I didn’t know.

The news of the reduction in quarantine got a ‘good’ comment.

Tonight he asked me about my Christmas holidays again and I asked if he was planning to take some holidays himself. He didn’t know, and I asked him to save some for when I would visit.

‘When are you coming?’

I replied that I didn’t know and I was waiting for him to tell me it was OK, remember?

He said it was not up to him. I’m a grown woman and I can make my own decisions. He said it was my home too and I could come whenever I wanted. Apparently I keep talking like he doesn’t want me to come, so now he’s telling me to come when I want but it is up to me to do the research and take responsibility if it goes wrong. But I can come whenever I want, it’s my home too.

I tried to say that we should both decide but he was having none of it. And he said that he wasn’t angry.

I have looked at flights. I could go. But I would miss Christmas at home. Not sure my kids would be impressed even though they don’t see me for half of it.

If I go, and he really doesn’t think it is a good decision despite what he has said, I lose.

If I don’t go, and actually he has told me to come if I want because he wants me to come… but doesn’t want to be responsible for encouraging me if it goes wrong – I lose.

I can’t win. I think he probably still thinks it is a bad idea but he never backs down on anything he doesn’t agree with so the fact that he has makes me think he does what me to.

Would my kids understand? They would spend the whole of the following week and New Year with me. They spend most of the holidays with me usually, so it is not like I don’t see them. Lots of divorced families do it this way, not splitting it more intricately like we have done.

I would really miss them, but I would be back after a week. I haven’t seen Wild Card for 9 months. But I would hate to upset them.

But if I don’t go, and nothing changes, it will be April before I get another chance.

I just don’t know. Lose, lose, lose.

Bruised

That is, I am feeling emotionally bruised today. And a little lost.

Yesterday was an interesting day. My six year old son told Wild Card that he loves him. Yep, you read right. We were both a little shocked.

Wild Card is great with children – mine, my sisters’ and his own family. He’s one of those people who seem to attract children. He will be out walking, talking to me, and children he doesn’t know will run up to him.

Naturally, I wanted to talk to him about it. Did he realise that my son meant it? For him to say that unprompted means something? How did Wildcard feel about it?

The conversation was difficult due to the language barriers and some misunderstandings. The upshot? He’s aware of how this all may affect my son and he conscious that there’s more than my heart that could break. He is ok with their relationship developing if I am.

I can’t pretend that it hasn’t worried me. My son is very affectionate – the type that hugs his teacher – and Wild card has been in our lives for ten months now. They’ve talked and played online games. I suspected that if they met in person, my son would form an attachment to Wildcard. So, yes I was a little shocked but not surprised. But however it has happened, I don’t want my son to get hurt if this doesn’t work out.

Last night, I talked to my sister about what had happened. She initially said how sweet it was but as we talked, expressed some concerns too.

And then, I’m not sure why, she took the opportunity to express some of her own concerns about my relationship. And they have floored me.

Written two days ago, only posted today. More to follow

My worst enemy is…

Definitely myself. Or my errant, spontaneous and often negative, thoughts.

I had an hour long chat yesterday morning with Wild Card before I went shopping. I actually enjoyed shopping for once… Mainly because I discovered I have now dropped three dress sizes. Yes three. So shopping became pleasurable, particularly as I was buying clothes for my trip to see Wild Card which is now less than two weeks away…

I spent the afternoon with my friend, of course dissecting the situation with him. She’s supportive, honest, and not overly negative. She asked more about my thoughts for the future and I just told her that I am enjoying this one step at a time. And I’ve been telling my head that ever since. Can I cope with years of this? What if he doesn’t like me when I get there? Nerves, anticipation, paranoia… Just focus on one step at a time.

Back to being my own worst enemy…

I got home late afternoon and as I hadn’t heard from him all day, sent a message. An hour and a half later there had been no response. I don’t have to say any more do I? My head was jumping to its own conclusions as usual. But, thinking about my recent training, I tried thinking logically and sensibly… He always calls back. He never misses. He has his own life – maybe he was just busy. I’ve missed his texts before! And he’s told me to call when I want… So, I did.

And of course, everything was fine. He was out in the city with his family. His brother was getting his hair cut, so Wild Card took me on a little walk so I could see the surroundings. He kept asking me what I thought. As he got back to the car, he told me he would call me later.

Fifteen minutes later he was calling again, this time showing me a shopping precinct. It was amazing to see it and made me even more excited for my visit. In some ways it clarified my expectations too.

So, my stupid head thought the worst and in return he was as attentive and thoughtful as ever, showing me his world and wanting my opinion on it. He didn’t need to do any of that.

That should be enough, shouldn’t it? How many times does he need to prove those negative thoughts wrong? But oh no, my over active imagination decided to start again today…

I had my usual ‘good morning’ text. So far so good. I got home and the clock steadily worked its way to six and so the anticipation started to build, as usual. My kids are home, so of course their needs come first, so I work to get everything done before he calls. At half six, I sit down and I hadn’t heard anything… And then I heard the familiar ping of my phone.

Butterflies dancing in my stomach, I opened messenger to see that he has sent me a video. I waited, rather impatiently, for it to download.

It was an Ed Sheeran video of ‘Perfect’, with the lyrics in both his first language and English. I think it might be one of the most romantic things he’s done and my heart just swelled. (Read the lyrics and you’ll know what I mean.)

But was he being romantic or was he just sending me a song he liked? If I assume he was being romantic and he wasn’t, it will be really awkward. How to answer… I send a kiss face and said ‘I love that song’. Neutral, I thought.

Ten minutes later… No response. How the hell can he send that and then not respond or even read my message?

Oh. He had sent 45 minutes before it had finally downloaded. Grrrr.

Nothing for it but to call him…. And he’s on the phone.

To who? Obviously another woman. He’s probably sent it to all of us and she responded first. I actually stopped myself at this point. What on earth was I doing? He’s just sent something really romantic and I’m being negative. Again. So I reasoned with myself. He’s told you that he would not sit at home on the phone with another woman when his parents know about me. It’s probably his brother or his friend or something. He will call back.

Which he did. But when I answered, he wasn’t at home. He was out for a walk. Which meant he could have been on the phone to another woman. What the hell is wrong with me?! We spoke very briefly but it was hard to hear so he said he would call me when he got home.

So when he called back he knew instantly, instantly, there was something wrong. Even though I’d given myself a stern telling off for jumping to conclusions. But he knew. It didn’t matter how much I smiled and said I was fine, he kept asking. He said he knew me and I wasn’t acting the same. Did I not like the music he sent me? At this point I had even asked him if he sent it to be romantic. He replied that he loved me and thought about me all the time and he liked the song and found it in our languages… Did I not want him to be romantic? He asked if it was work, my family, had he done something to upset me… He even mentioned the fact he had been on the phone but I did such a good job of saying ‘what?!’ that he changed the subject and kept questioning me. Yeah, because you realised you were not at home… He even pulled the… ‘if you love me and want me, you need to tell me what’s wrong’ tactic.

Sure, I’m going to tell you that I became insanely jealous and paranoid when you’ve done nothing more than be on the phone when I called.

Luckily, for me, at this point my youngest came in to the room and dominated the conversation for a while. And yes, Wild Card is brilliant with him. Swoon.

The conversation ended not long after that as my son needed to go to bed and Wild Card had overheard his Dad in the next room saying something about a bereavement. He blew kisses at me and told me to not be sad. I told him I wasn’t, but clearly I hadn’t convinced him.

What is wrong with me? Really, I mean what is wrong? The facts speak for themselves. I’ve got to stop jumping to conclusions and stick with the facts. I keep hoping that a week with him, confirming that we both feel the same and I will stop worrying so much.

But. My own worst enemy isn’t so sure I can manage a worry free existence.

Relax

I’m extremely grateful for the weather in the South West of France at the moment. My boys are outside in the garden, playing in the sunshine. It’s giving me half an hour of peaceful rest.

Last night my daughter went to bed early as she has come down with a cold. It meant that, as my youngest was also in bed, my son and I had some time together playing card games. We both really enjoyed it and I know he likes that one-on-one attention being the middle child. We both decided that a lie-in was warranted today.

Of course, my youngest wasn’t up for that plan and woke me up relatively early. When I came down the stairs though, he’d decided to make my breakfast for me:

A glass of water and a yoghurt. Not bad for a five year old! I thought it was pretty sweet of him.

Admittedly, I want a day at the cottage today. Whilst the children have spent some of the morning embroiled in various technologies (thank you Madagascar – my youngest has been very entertained!) I have pottered about, washing and cleaning. It’s amazing how enjoyable that is when it’s not your own home!

They are all eager to get out and about again this afternoon though and I need to go to the supermarket to stock up on some essentials.

Despite having a lovely time, I know we are all looking forward to my sister, brother-in-law and niece arriving on Friday. I suppose this is where I have missed another adult around the place – I am the only source of entertainment and parenting! I’m relishing these quiet moments on my own now.

I haven’t really planned what we are doing for the next few days and I’m trying to decide how confident I feel about driving a bit further afield. There is a fantastic lake complex about half an hour away which I know they will love. I’d also like to take them to Limoges but we can luckily go by train – there is no way that I would drive into a city!

For now, I’m just going to enjoy the peace. With three children, I know it won’t last long.

Anniversaries.

A year ago today my dad was still alive in hospital. I was enjoying a Wrestlemania themed birthday evening with my family (don’t ask) and then was going to visit Dad in hospital with my sister.

I have a lovely picture of my Dad and I from that visit, forehead’s together. He has just given me a present which he had kept in his hospital bedside table. He told me how glad he was that I had come to see him on my birthday.

However the smiles aren’t reaching either of our eyes. Dad is pale and tired. I’m already mourning my Dad, wondering and hoping he will come home this time but knowing this is probably my last birthday with him. It was.

I planned my trip to purposefully cover my birthday. I’ve had no cards or presents today and that’s absolutely fine. Dad hasn’t given me his hallmark newspaper-wrapped hand carved gift that he’d spent weeks planning and making. (My house is full of them and I love each and every one.) Dad hasn’t made my breakfast and I haven’t seen my sisters. I miss them all but for this year, the first year, this is what I needed: to escape from the memories. From what should have been and always was.

This morning I drove my children to the local village and we each selected a birthday cake from the patisserie.

I got ready listening to my favourite songs on the record player and danced with my son as he giggled at my exuberance.

We then went to a local restaurant for the ‘plat du jour’ and my children laughed at my nervous attempts to communicate in French with the poor waiter. My driving is much better though!

We have relaxed in the sunshine this afternoon and then went for a walk in the countryside to feed the local donkey.

It’s been a lovely day. It doesn’t feel like my birthday but that’s what I wanted. Dad made birthdays, just like he made Christmas and Easter and every other holiday and festival. Dad made every day, in fact, even when he was ill.

We are quickly approaching the anniversary of my Dad’s death. I can’t help but re-live each moment as each day passes. I suppose this is part of the process. It seems an age since I last saw him, held him, cuddled him and yet feels like only yesterday that he died.

Life is funny like that.

Although I long to see and hear my Dad today, I’m actually missing my sisters the most. Maybe because I know I could have seen them today. We are the three musketeers, desperately trying to live positively through this experience and replace something irreplaceable with love and support for each other. I love them so much. I know it made Dad happy that we are so close and look out for each other.

This evening my children and I have played dominoes and cards and I completely forgot what day it was. Birthday or not, this holiday has meant that I am spending quality time with my children and that’s the most important thing. My Dad taught me that.

Soundless house –

I creep down the stairs,

carefully, carefully.

Outside, the wind howls and rains harass:

inside is quiet, calm.

Curtains open: the dreary day

threatens to invade,

rain rivulets distorting the dismal grey.

But inside, inside, the glow of the fire and the warmth of the coffee fight back.

And then a sound.

Small feet descending the stairs,

the door opens, the face smiles,

always excited by the promise of a new day.

Like a burst of sunshine, the dreary day is cast away.

Missing

Today is the 8th of November. Yesterday was the 7th. And I missed it, somehow.

Dad died five months ago yesterday. Where has that time gone? Five months of not being near him. Madness.

But, the thing is, I forgot about it. Not that I forgot him; the knowledge of his death is a recurring stabbing pain of reality, day in and day out. More that, the anniversary of the 7th didn’t dominate my life like it has for the past few months.

I’m not sure how I feel about that. Is it progress? Is it symptomatic of how stressed and overworked I feel? Is it an indication that the part of me that is missing him is far greater than the part of me that worries about anniversaries?

It is absolutely normal to worry about anniversaries. Firsts. I’ve been worrying about Christmas for the past month. I’ve never had a Christmas Day, Christmas Dinner, Boxing Day… without my Dad. Never. I’ve never had a Christmas outside of this house. So naturally, the thought of being here with Dad missing… the empty chair, the incomplete traditions… I couldn’t cope with that. And, being the complete control freak that I am, I put wheels in motion for a new plan. A Christmas that I would not spend at home, trying to put on a brave face for my kids. Sure, I would still see them, but I congratulated myself on the justification of my plan: they could spend the majority of Christmas with their Dad for the first time in his new house. I would visit and support like he usually does. I could then go and be miserable with my sisters.

Slight problem is, my children don’t want that. They say they will miss me, and our home as well as their Grandad whom they have never been without either.

I can’t tell you how I have fought with that one. Is my grief worse? Does that then justify my selfishness? It’s only for this year, the first. They won’t be missing much.

But they would. And so would I. Dad made Christmas. He loved it: loved the traditions, loved being a family. He loved this house, his home for over 50 years. And one Christmas away is not going to retract from that. It’s not going to make it better, or easier.

I can’t run away from my grief because I carry it round with me, each and every day.

So I’m having Christmas at home, with my children and my family. I’ve invited my ex. I’ve told my sisters to invite their in-laws – the more the merrier. I’m going to celebrate Christmas just as my Dad taught me to. I’m going to miss him for every second of it, but as I miss him every second now it’s not going to make any difference.

So, I missed the 7th. So what? I miss my Dad every day, regardless of the date.

As Dad would say, “It’s life.” And so I must go on.

Silence

The house is oddly quiet. For now anyway. I’ve just packed up my three children and they’ve just left with their dad. Is it bad that there is a momentary relief when they pull off the drive? Single mother’s guilt.

My coffee is cold and I’ve put a random programme on the TV. There is a trail of destruction around the room… discarded shoes and clothes, rejected from the pile of ‘take to dad’s’.

It’s OK though. I’ve got time now. Three days.

You’d think I’d be happy about that, and part of me is. I’m tired. I’ve got things to do, things that seem impossible when there are three children in the house. I’m going to get myself a curry and a bottle of wine tonight and make the most of child-free TV.

My weekend is open. I’ve still not heard from my friend since she bailed on me last weekend. It may sound petty, but I was the last to message her and I made it clear that I knew she was going through something but that I was happy to go out and do what she wanted. I’ve heard nothing since. I’m not going to message her, even though we should have been going away this weekend.

So I have a free weekend, and an empty quiet house.

But my grief hides in the silence. Days like this, I would sit with Dad. Plan something nice for our tea. He’d come in and ‘sit with me for a minute’. I’d be in and out, doing the washing, which he would joke about.

I still can’t believe he’s gone. I can’t believe I will spend the rest of my life without him.

The house holds his silence, not that of my children.

I know it’s something I’ve got to get used to – even more so now that my friend has seemingly disappeared, I’m not confident enough to Internet date. So I’ve got to find my own way, make peace with the silence and learn to enjoy my own company. It’s hard to know where to start but start I must. I have no choice.

Little victories

I’m quite proud of the fact that I managed to get up at 6am again this morning. I know this may seem like a little thing but to me it’s a sign that I am mentally well and preparing for my return to work. These little signs that I have been getting better are very important: particularly in the beginning when the world was so dark.

Unfortunately, that’s where it stops for this morning. My attention has been taken by the warm glow coming from outside- snow has fallen in North West England and it’s heavy. I also have to say that the thing I was most looking forward to this morning was the chance to take my various nasal and throat sprays and good old paracetamol. I’m not feeling good with swollen glands and aching joints to add to the blocked nose and sore throat.

My son also continues to be unwell. We went to the doctors yesterday and he was put on antibiotics. For the third night in a row he came into my bed in the middle of the night and it takes some time for us both to fall back to sleep. He’s going to be very disappointed when he sees all the snow – the first substantial fall of his four years – and realise he can’t go out it.

So after taking various meds, I’ve turned the lights low, made a hot drink and opened the curtains so I can see outside. Beautiful.

I’ve got my final back to work meeting later on today. I’m not sure what else can be said but I have to go I suppose.

Wishing a good day for you all. 😊