I sit surrounded by chaos today. We got back from a few days in Cornwall on Friday afternoon having, I thought cunningly, had a chap working in the house while we were away, renovating the slightly idiosyncratic (for which read: totally insane) heating system. He’s made good progress; one of the two chimneys is lined, and the other has had the messy prep work done while we were tootling about on the ferry from Polruan to Fowey, or gently steaming in a hot tub while watching the stars and the darkness of the pines. This is all good. But we are without heating while he waits for a part, which is a bit of a bummer, and my teeth are itching because of the mess and the waiting and the mess and did I mention the waiting? It seems that ten years in renovation projects takes its toll; I am much saner, this far into living once again in a house that requires some TLC, than I thought I would be, and I am glad of it on a soul-deep level – once my marriage began to fall apart, I felt that I was in some way lacking because I couldn’t cope with the strain of a house that needed that level of intervention while looking after small children and attempting to maintain an adult connection with ANY sense of one’s own, private-in-your-own-quiet-self life beyond that a distant memory… But ultimately it turns out that it wasn’t the house that was the problem. Fancy that.
While this bout of work is pushing me a little, and I am spending too long online scratching around for Things when what is needed is simply for some time to pass, fundamentally I feel that we are making good progress – since we moved in, we have painted the bathroom, Mirth’s bedroom and our own, fitted new blinds in every room bar the garden room, destroyed half a hideous garden trellis, organised woodworm treatment for the cob barn (the first step in what will lead, I hope, to a pottery space, and somewhere sane to store the wholesale order for the Essential Trading buying group I run, of which more anon, perhaps), designed and had made the most smug-making cabin beds for each girl and booked an electrician and a heating engineer, as well as the very lovely Nigel, who will be making a kitchen using the oak flooring the previous owners included in the sale (there is one cupboard in the kitchen at the moment, and virtually no work space). Sometimes I find it difficult to carry in my head all the details for the various bits and bats of work which are happening, and for which I need to plan and source things, but overall, it’s a different universe from my previous experience of renovation, most importantly because I feel in control of it – no-one else is dictating the timescale or the approach, and no-one is telling me that I should be doing more of it myself because it’s cheaper that way.
I have baggage in this area; does it show?
I haven’t got the work/life balance bit sorted yet, though. At the moment, I’m working an eighty-per-cent-of-full-time contract in my day job, and fitting freelance copy-editing around that in the evenings and at the weekend. Something has to give; it’s been weeks since I had a block of time off for a reason other than illness, and I am constantly tired and frazzled. The man and I used to have Sundays as a sacrosanct day, it being the only time the girls spend with their father, but lately, with a string of coughs, colds, and sore throats which arrived in September and looks set to stay until the summer arrives, those days have disappeared, and it’s been mostly work. I’ve asked to drop my contracted hours to sixty per cent of full-time, but so far the answer has been no, because senior managers who don’t even know me, really, can’t see that it would be helpful to me. I had a few weeks off with stress just before Christmas, having dissolved on my very sympathetic GP when I went in about a continued bout of tonsillitis; of course, this totally screwed my sickness record at work, and I’ve been told that more than two days’ sick leave between January and June will mean some sort of escalation of the general feeling of being on a yellow card, and that I can’t ask for any of the flexible working options that usually go with my current post. Increasingly I feel the universe is trying to tell me something, and that, in line with my year of ENOUGH ALREADY, I should find another way to earn my living, and something that really makes me happy, and go the fuck with that. But in this universe, it’s highly likely that I will shortly go to court to try to settle the custody situation with the girls’ dad, and walking away from a reliable and well-paid job seems like a madness I can’t afford, just at the moment. I like the people I work with, and I am fortunate to work in a place the value of which I don’t doubt, but long-term I wonder how much of my current dissatisfaction won’t be answered until I make the leap and find a route to earning money from something more creative, even if it’s only part-time. I want to keep the freelance work going, because I’m just so tired of being the parent who can’t go to lots of school things because I’m always working, and the parent who uses the bloody breakfast clubs and after-school clubs, and holiday clubs, and so on; freelance work is both easy and flexible, and I don’t have to pay childcare to do it, so it seems like the way forward… But it’s not immediate.
Mediation on Wednesday. I want to stay as we are; the girls’ father wants them to live with him for fifty per cent of the time. They’ve been with me at least six nights a week for sixteen months, ostensibly so that he could sort himself out, though it seems that very little has changed in that time, or ever will – he has a very low income, a renovation project for a house, and a car which breaks down constantly; he has also done nothing whatsoever to address his continued depression, although as far as I know he isn’t drinking at the moment (I have an ongoing problem working out what I can believe when he tells me these things: when someone tells you they’ve lied to you for the entire time you’ve known them, it makes it a tad tricky to work out where the exact area covered by the pack of lies, and which bits might be truthful, and how the fuck to tell the difference). He pays no maintenance for them and never has; he tries to change arrangements almost weekly; he sees no point in ‘just social stuff’ for parents, at school. I buy their clothes, their school lunches; I pick their friends up for tea; I remind them to send postcards to their grandmother; take them to the dentist; talk to their teachers and try to be a part of the community at school; wash their hair and cut their nails. On one level I know it’s probably ridiculous to feel worried that going to court may well mean they go back to him for half the week, but it’s a hard fear to shift, and I sometimes feel completely paralysed by the fear that court may make an already difficult situation worse, and how would I feel then, having brought it on myself?
My decree absolute came through a couple of days before half-term. It was a strange mixture of relief and sadness. Once upon a time I got married, and I truly believed it was for life. This life, a more honest one, is not the one I expected, though there are parts of it that are better than I believed possible.
My tattoo, one of the things I promised myself I would do as part of my year of healing myself, is pretty much healed now. Its stark black lines are a constant joy to me, and a reminder that I can draw lines, literally and figuratively. This week I’m intending to get my nose pierced – it’s something I’ve always wanted to do, but never quite dared, and it feels like the time is now. This is the year when I will find my path towards spending more of my time on things I want and choose to do, rather than on things I feel I have to do. More joy and less duty. More space, and more freedom, and more embracing the now.
I am reading Martha Beck’s fabulous Steering by Starlight, too; a gift from the lovely peacock. I would never have chosen this book, but fuck me I’m glad she thought of me when she’d finished it herself; so much of it is ringing very fucking true, and I am learning a metric fuck-tonne as I go.
I am also reading Fuck It by John Parkin, and loving it; I happened upon it in the local community bookshop, and, having just asked to reduce my hours and started reading the Beck book, definitely felt the universe was trying to tell me something.
Hiding behind fear is a bit of a pisser, as is feeling that you can’t do x, y, or z, because what about a, b, or c? Beginning to see that the fear is perhaps a tool that you keep handy so that you don’t have to change any of these things and can stay in a nice comfy state of chasis about everything… Also a bit of a pisser. But, you know, you can’t fix the shit bits about yourself until you’ve worked them out, or something more psychological-sounding.