Manual

I’m in the bath again. This time I’m soaking in perfect lavender…the water is pastel and little lavender flowers dance on the top.

I’m trying to relax. I’ve just had a huge row with my daughter.

It’s been coming for a while. We are both frustrated with each other.

I’ve long thought – well, for the past few years since my daughter hit 15 or so – that the issue with teens isn’t just the hormones. It’s the transition- the metamorphosis from child to adult. They don’t know who they are so we don’t know how to interact or respond.

And, as I’ve just explained to my daughter, there’s no manual for us parents. There’s no chapter specifying that now is the time to back off and let them be their own person. There’s no chapter which says now is the moment to let them make their own mistakes, even though it hurts you to watch, knowing you may have helped some way.

I don’t know when to be a mother and when to back off.

I’ve been told, in no uncertain terms, when I’m interfering. In temper, yes, I’ve been told that my opinion is not wanted and that I need to keep out of it. And it’s hurt, a lot. She’s made decisions of which I’ve had no part – not even in the discussion and consideration stage. I’ve not been wanted and have been repelled.

I’ve just explained to her that I don’t know what she wants from me, one moment to the next. One moment she’s an adult living her own life. The next she acts like a child and I’m failing by not treating her like I do her younger (and admittedly needier) siblings.

There are times I’ve felt like a failure for not being more involved, more insistent. There are times I’ve failed because I’ve been too demanding and domineering.

It’s not unusual for a teenage daughter to class with her mother.

So, why is there no manual?

My daughter said to me, that we don’t have a normal relationship. I told her to define normal…. every relationship is as different as every personality and ecery circumstances around it. A manual is pointless for that reason – it will not help everyone.

I’m not sure what the answer is. Communication, I guess. We haven’t communicated well because we’ve been hurt and scared to hurt ourselves and each other more.

Another thing to add to my thinking list. 🤔

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Love

Love is the most important thing in the world, without question. I believe that, heart and body and soul. It's loving your family and friends. It's loving your significant other. It's about loving the world around you: your home, your town, your environment. This world. It's about loving the job you do so you give your all and your best - making the world a better place. It's about loving the world you inhabit, filling your life with the things that you love to do...Reading, travel, painting, coffee, sport... whatever makes you happy. That's what a good life is: surrounding yourself and the world you inhabit with love. 

My sisters live on the same little road. It’s a row of terraced houses. Over the years, they’ve built a little sense of community – parties and celebrations. By default, I’ve been included too. The children play out on the front grass…running up and down, playing on bikes, going into each other’s homes.

There’s one little boy. He’s a little sweetheart . He’s blond haired abd blue eyed. He’s about 5 or 6. His baby sister is not even one yet. He’s got young parents- early 20s. They’re a lovely little family.

I was in the heat of an argument with my sister. I was upset because she keeps saying she’s coming round then doesn’t. She clumsily told me that with my ‘extra’ time at the moment, I’m expecting to see them more and they can’t. She tried to take it back, said she hadn’t meant it that way. I was upset, saying that I understood that I was being too demanding of their time because I was low. I just want to be with my sisters: catching up for coffee etc like they do, living so close. She said I was being too negative and had taken her words wrong. She went upstairs to the bathroom.

I checked my phone to find out youngest sister had finally responded. Except… except she’d responded by telling us news. Amy had died this morning. The neighbour…the young mother with a beautiful blond haired boy and a baby girl not yet one and a partner who adores her.

The cruelty of this world hit me, once again. That little boy – so sweet and innocent – has lost his mother. That little baby girl will never know her mother. That man, barely a man, is now left with two young children and his grief.

Love them. Show them love every single day. Even when they make you angry. Even when they've hurt you. Love them, because one day, they may not be there to feel that Love anymore through choice or fate or death. 

Just love. That’s all and everything we can do.

For my sons

I don’t know if this is a subject you want to hear from me. I imagine not. But I think I am the best placed to give you this lesson.

I don’t envy either of you. The world is a very different place than it was when I was your age. But some things stay the same.

The world is filled with images of how we ‘are supposed’ be. Instagram, Facebook, advertisements, magazines, film…all telling us what is attractive. This is for men and for women. The pressure is there for both.

Remember one thing. Someone, somewhere made the decision of what ‘attractive’ is. They then published it for one reason only – so we will buy what they are selling so we can look and feel like that. Keep that in mind every time you see an advert for abs, or for bulking up or whatever else men are subjected to.

My advice? Be healthy. Exercise, eat well, keep clean and tidy and dress well. That, my sons, will be enough. No one is enamoured with someone who never brushes their teeth.

I’m sure you realise though, that the pressure on women is perhaps even greater and always has been. Not only are they presented with professionally made-up women with their perfect hair and make up, these women are airbrushed and filtered. Whilst the male physique never really changes from a fashion sense, a woman’s certainly does. At this moment, round bottoms and tiny waists are in fashion. How ridiculous is that boys? A woman’s shape can be in fashion or not. What message is that giving them?

So for that reason, here is my advice to you.

No matter how beautiful you find a woman there will ALWAYS be a part of herself that she hates. She might even be unhappy with most of herself.

How will you know? It’s the part that she covers up: with make up, with clothes, with her hands. It might be the parts that she is always working on – a new diet or exercise plan, a new cream or make up product.

Make no mistake, whilst she wants to improve herself for her own wellbeing, don’t be fooled. If you are with her, she is doing it for you too. If not, then for whoever she wants to find. How much that is an incentive to her will be different for every woman but it will be there. Why? Because we all want acceptance. We all want to be needed and wanted and desired by someone else.

So this is where is becomes difficult for you. How do you navigate this emotionally difficult situation? How can you seem supportive and non judgemental but not dismissive of her feelings? That my sons, is the tricky part.

Whilst it is not your job to boost the self esteem of every woman you ever date, it is certainly your role to support her with that difficult task.

How?

By noticing.

On the days where she has tried extra hard with her hair or make up or clothes, tell her you’ve noticed. On the days she gets out of bed with her hair dishevelled and wearing cuddly pyjamas, tell her how much you love her eyes or smile or whatever else made you want to be with her.

Tell her, this woman you love, that to you she is perfect how she is, flaws and all. Tell her you don’t care if she thinks her bum is flat or boobs are small or stomach is flabby or whatever else. You love her how she is – healthy and happy and her.

No one is perfect boys. No one. Maybe there are parts of her that deep down you wish were a little different. Know this – we each could describe an construct a perfect person to be with. But what is perfect for us may still not be perfect in their eyes. Loving someone is loving all of them.

At the same time, if you say these things too much then it can have the opposite effect that you were trying to achieve. She won’t believe you and think you insincere. I know that it is a difficult balance, and it will be different with every woman. Again I give you this advice…Notice. Pay attention.

Never, ever tell a girl she is too fat or thin even in anger, even if she is. The moment you say those words you will lose something in your relationship which you will never get back. If you are worried about her weight then support her with it when she asks. Exercise together, cook together, encourage and support never criticise or point out her mistakes.

A woman’s self esteem is fragile boys, no matter how confident she seems. If she loves you, it becomes all the more delicate. Remember that.

Grrrr

Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, is getting on my nerves today.

Like… the fact that I spend every day cleaning up but my house never gets any better.

Like…asking my teen son to remove the dirty dishes and rubbish out of his room- I don’t care what the rest looks like – and he won’t.

Like… my daughter has stolen my make up again and I swear that’s why I look so grim today. Not really.

Like…I ordered wood on Saturday and after days of excuses that I accepted politely, he still hasn’t delivered my wood or contacted me.

Like…I have loads of presents to wrap and I can’t be bothered.

Like…I went in to two shops yesterday and neither sold mincemeat for minced pies – really? They do know it is Christmas, right? Oh yes…I forgot that they started selling Christmas stuff in October, but apparently not a jar of mincemeat.

Like…I had to chop my own wood (poor cinders here) and some pieces WOULD NOT SPLIT no matter how many times I hit them in temper with my axe.

Like…I’ve had chapped and swolleb lips again for over a week. And it doesn’t matter how much vaseline/lip balm/various over the counter remedies I buy, it won’t go and I think it’s an allergy. And if it is, I’m going to have to do the stupid fodmap diet.

Like…my sister told me my mum was visiting today. I said she wasn’t because of self isolating. She said she was. I got my hopes built up. I made homemade Irish cream liquer for her, poisoning myself with gluten because I am stupid and forgot it is whisky and had to taste it to make sure it was right. She now isn’t coming.

Like…I want to see and kiss and hug my boyfriend and wake up next to him and see his beautiful country and discuss our future. But I can’t go and I’m sure I won’t be going until April. And his ex girlfriends are circling like vultures.

Like…Christmas has never been the same since my Dad died and I got divorced.

Like…while I was writing this rant, my dog has chewed my vacuum cleaner attachment.

I. Give. Up.

Underestimated

You know that I love words. I love it when you find the perfect words or word to sum up a situation. My title is just that.

Last night, I told the whole truth of my situation with Wild Card to my fifteen year old daughter.

My daughter is my eldest child. As such, I don’t know how typical our relationship is but it is certainly changeable. She is very close to her Dad and considers herself a ‘Daddy’s’ girl yet we are close too, to a certain extent. She certainly doesn’t tell me everything – what teenager does, I guess? – but there are moments when she will come and confide in me.

My daughter compliments me more than any other person I know. She tells me I’m beautiful and compliments me when she thinks I look nice. She tells me how proud she is of me, for all I have achieved.

Conversely, however, this also creates a source of conflict between us. She absolutely refuses my help. I’m an English teacher, she will be taking GCSE literature and language in two months, but she refuses any help from me at all. She won’t let me help her plan her revision. She didn’t not want my input in discussing colleges and college courses. She wants to prove to me, and I guess herself, that she can do this without me. That’s a bitter pill to swallow. How can she be proud of me, but not want my help? It’s something I have had to accept and be confident that she will ask if she needs me.

Lying to her this past month has been really difficult for me. She of course knew about Wild Card, partly because of the extent of our communication and also because I had confided in her that I was ‘online dating.’ To be fair to her, she had encouraged me to ‘put myself out there’, but I also know she feels conflicted because of her loyalty to her father. But I did not tell her that I was going to visit Wild Card.

This was for two reasons. I see no point in telling my children about my situation with Wild Card until I am convinced it is serious. For them to get attached to him, which I think they would, and then for him to disappear at some point… Well, that would double the hurt for all of us. (Although, I recognise that them talking to him now is probably creating that situation anyway.). Secondly, I didn’t want to put her in the position of lying to her father. It’s none of his business, but she should not have to lie to him on my behalf.

When I returned from my trip, I was on a high. I wanted to tell her everything but still wasn’t sure it was the right time. About a week ago, I did tell her that Wild Card and I really liked each other and that we had met recently. She laughed at me. ‘That’s pretty obvious mum.’ She asked when I had met him but I didn’t tell her.

This week, she has confided something big in her life. I was driving her to her Dad’s alone – her brothers were already there. She said she needed to tell me something, then blurted out that she was bisexual. Yes it was a surprise – I had no idea – but I was touched that she was able to tell me. She hasn’t told her dad yet.

Her honesty has plagued me all week, and last night I decided to confess all. Only problem was, she had worked it all out already. She said she was suspicious when I booked my trip. She said there were clues about his nationality, of which I hadn’t shared, and she had guessed that he may have lived where I was visiting.

I completely underestimated her. She went through all the clues she had used to work out what I had done and I was astounded by her intelligence and thought process. She said that by telling her I had met him, I had confirmed her suspicions.

I also underestimated her feelings about the situation. We lay on my bed and I showed her all the photographs from my trip. I told her about him and his family, and how they had cared for me. I also told her some of my fears – that I have no idea how this will all work out.

She told me that he sounds like a good man and that it is obvious that he cares about me and likes me. She said that she would love to meet him and his family (I was really surprised about that). She was genuinely happy for me and actually reassured me a little. She did talk about the future and asked what will happen if we got married (!) and whilst I told her that was so far in the future that it wasn’t worth thinking about, she was enough aware of his culture to know that it is a possibility. We are serious about becoming serious. She told me that if I decided to live with him, she fully supported me but she would not come with me. I told her that, even if that was a consideration, we are talking years and years from now.

I feel like a weight has been lifted. She has the facts and I have her support.

For me, there are three things that need to happen for me to be 100% confident that he is serious about me – even though, by considering his culture, me visiting him and knowing his parents is pretty serious. The first is that I book for my second visit. Whilst we have talked about my coming again and he has told me I am welcome, he has had to confirm a few things with his family before I book. Last night he confirmed one thing, but didn’t actually tell me to book my flights and I won’t until he does. The next is that he tells his whole, extended family about me. (I fully accept this is a big step and one for the future, but that will be confirmation). Finally that he changes his social media to acknowledge his relationship with me.

Today I will tell Wild Card that my daughter knows everything. Before my trip, he had asked me what my children know. When I told him they didn’t know I was visiting him, he had said that was probably for the best. Since then, he has repeatedly suggested that I bring them to visit him. When we had our ‘serious’ talk earlier this week, he said that I needed to tell my family. I replied that my sisters and mother knew already, but maybe he was talking about my children.

Maybe I have underestimated his need for security too. The fact that I haven’t told my children yet does not prove my commitment to him and us. Every time we speak he asks if I have missed him, how much, do I love him, how much. At first I thought that this was just conversation, a routine of ours. Perhaps he needs this confirmation as much as I do.

Part of me is scared that he will panic when he finds out my daughter knows all. To me, it is a big step. But it was a step that had to be taken and I am glad I have done it. I underestimated how important it was for my daughter to know, and how much it was playing on my mind that she didn’t.

In my next post I will let you know how he reacts.

Myself

Oh the house is so quiet! For the first time in a while I have not gone back to bed today. So I am sat in a quiet, empty house (for now) enjoying the silence and relative calm. Last week was difficult. Although I think I have said that the new tablet seems to be having a more positive effect on me, I’m still having relapses of low mood particularly when I perceive that I have to do something difficult. Last Friday I had a welfare meeting at work. I won’t bore you with the details. But I made myself go to the school (hiding from any pupils who might see me). I met with the Headteacher and the Business Manager. I cried – a lot – but sort of silent tears as I listened to what they had to say. But I left feeling supported and hopeful that when I return I can put all this behind me. I don’t know if the stress of that and the impending Occupational Health meeting on Monday juat were to blame, but I came down with a violent cold and severe eye infection the next day. I’d been feeling pretty smug the week before that I had managed to ‘get away with’ a head cold whilst everyone else around me seemed to have a full blown cold/flu. Seems like this was not the case as my week’s worth of head cold turned into a second week of sore throat, cough and constantly streaming nose. I spent all day Sunday on the couch asleep. Monday I went to the Occupational Health meeting. I had been dreading this and if the appointment had been later in the day, I probably would have cancelled. Instead I went, eyes and nose streaming, hair a little greasy (yuk – I know) and just wanting to get it over with so I could go back to bed. It was fine, you know. She said a lot that I’d heard from my gp and counsellor and so that helped to reinforce their messages. She’s going to suggest to work that I have more than six counselling sessions if I need them. She told me to give myself time, be kind to myself and work slowly to get back. She said my tablets would take a good month to have full affect – I’m only a week and a half in. Yesterday I looked after my three year old whilst nursing one of those headaches you get from constant coughing. I did more housework than I had done for a while (but not enough, of course) and then spent the day alternatively playing and cuddling with him on the couch as we watched a film. It was heavenly, apart from the headache ☺. This morning I feel like I have turned the corner. I woke up without headache, sore throat or streaming nose. I have taken the children to school and then have put washing on and have had a quick tidy. I’m now sat drinking my first coffee in a week. Delicious. So what? You’ve had a cold. All I can say is, it felt like yet another hurdle. You know how utterly fed up you feel when you’ve been ill for a while? Well picture that when you already feel low. Not good. I’m at the stage in my recovery where I want to start thinking about everything properly. It feels like an open wound at the moment. It’s there; I can see it and feel it, but if I don’t look at it, it doesn’t feel as bad. But I know that if I don’t deal with it, it isn’t going to heal. I keep glancing at it, knowing that I’ve got to face up to it soon. I feel like to do this I need to prepare, like going into battle or, (perhaps better so I don’t mix my metaphors) preparing for an operation. I need to focus on only this, without disruption or distraction or interruption. I need to think, and write and feel at my own pace without pressure of anything else. What I would really like is to go away for a few days on my own. I’d like a little cottage or maybe even a B&B somewhere beautiful like the Lakes. I want to walk, to write, to contemplate. I don’t know if I can afford it and I would need my Ex to move in for a few days. I just think that this space would help me to truly focus and I love the Lakes. I’m missing my walks there with my friend. To be honest, in just writing this I have summed up the cause of all that I am feeling. There is no time in my life where I don’t feel pressured by outside influences; my roles as mother, daughter, sister, homeowner, teacher. I need to unpick all this, refine and define my roles and carve out a new role as caretaker for ME. That is the one area I am truly failing at, not the others like I believe. I need to keep telling myself that. My one, and only one, failure in my life so far is not caring for myself.