Nope, not “epiphany” but “Epiphany”. So (sadly) I have not had either a major breakthrough nor a dramatic insight. However it *is* the time when we (us Christian-folks) stop celebrating the birth of Jesus and on the date (ahem, cough cough) that the 3 Kings came and acknowledged Baby Jesus in person, we start recognizing Jesus as The Son of God, and so appreciate all His sacrifice for our salvation.
In other words, we stop partying and start praying.
AKA: We gotta take those Christmas decorations down (sob).
In fact, US-peeps may not know that for us UK-folks, Epiphany (or 12th night) is often considered the date by which all our Christmas decorations must be down or WE SHALL BE FOREVER CURSED. Or at least, if not exactly forever cursed, we will have bad luck for the year… and weirdly, for a repressed group of folks such as us Brits, we do often adhere to this superstition. Feeling like I have had enough “bad luck” recently (thanks 2017), all my decorations are indeed down now (sob, again), although due to my slight tardiness I decided to adhere to something I read on a pottery board* this week (always a good place to get religious and / or metaphysical advice…) and chose midday on Epiphany as the final cut-point rather than the night before Epiphany. (And should anyone care to know, this involved me running outside in my PJs, glasses, and bedhead into freezing cold Houston at 11.45 am this morning and hastily taking down my outside decorations… nice mental image for you there).
If, like me, you don’t really recognize NYE due to all the post Christmas booze and cheese muddling your brain a healthy recognition that progress should be a constant process free from the constraints of artificial checkpoints, Epiphany is also a time when it is hard to avoid looking back. And let’s face it, 2017 sucked for me. Like, here is a real, actual screenshot of Webster’s Dictionary:
A really, bad, awful year:
noun a.real.ly.bad.aw.ful.year /Lekki in 2017/
- The year you nearly destroy your hard-won career trying to save your marriage only to find out your husband probably never liked being married to you, lied to you for 3 years about his earnings, stole $4K of tax money from the family, committed identify theft in your name, officially accused you of domestic abuse in a document to court, officially accused you of child abuse in a document to court, lied in court, smuggled drugs into Texas to sell using a credit card in your name, requested the court keep you from seeing your kids at all for two years, requested the court evaluate you for “the mental defect that makes you so abusive” and – possibly worst of all – spent the last 6 months you were together (and trying to save your marriage remember) setting you up and both secretly and not so secretly filming you to document you as violent and abusive so he could ensure when he left you, he got the house, child support and alimony. All while you were still in love with the guy who, OK, was a pot head and lazy, but was funny and laid back and good at things you are not (like building fences) and was, after all, your husband.
And the illustrated version has a picture of my “2017 best 9” from Instagram. Its an awfully specific definition, but I swear it’s there. And, I’m not saying this actually happened to me (denial is more than just a river in Egypt my friends), I am just saying this that would be a really, really bad year. And that I had a really, really bad year.
However, what amazes me is that the kids and I had the most amazingly, perfect advent season! (And I swear this is not the anti depressants talking!). We managed to hone our weekends to be busy, but fun, with lots of kiddo-mummy time, and we managed to check every Christmas box that either I, or they, felt needed to be checked…
And we did have a gloriously perfect, drunken (me), magical (them), spoiled (all of us) batsh*t crazy (also all of us), Christmas Day.
Such that, (and I swear this isn’t the barbital talking) when someone asked me what my 2018 resolutions were, despite thinking super hard, I couldn’t come up with anything I would change (nothing I have the power to reasonably change anyway…). I think I have figured out our finances, I have figured out how have some luxuries on a shoestring and stash a little away, how to have amazing weekends with the kids, how to stay on top of all those life things like car repairs and tax returns and changing air filters and de-fleaing the dogs… the house is kept clean (passably), and I cook a variety of healthy foods most nights (but we also visit Mickey D’s a fair bit because… academia people).
[Also, in the interests of honesty, the kids don’t actually eat those foods, but throw a chicken dinosaur or two in front of them and be quick or you’ll draw back a nub… but hey, I’m eating like a queen… Witness a wee sample of the beautiful meals my children have refused to eat
For now, I actually do just want to be able to keep doing what I am doing for a while… and there is nothing I want to improve…
In the end I came up with “seeing a new movie, and trying a new food” each month for my resolutions. Maybe I’ll do that… I don’t care if I don’t, but maybe I will 🙂
*Ummm… yes I did just admit to hanging out on pottery boards.
A friend of mine invited me to do a podcast on motherhood for her friend / client Lisa York. I agreed! You can find it (and also a brief summary of it) here (warning: loads a little slowly), on Lisa York’s SuperMum website.
Yes…. SuperMum. I have to admit that my friend asked me to do a podcast and I was all “yeah! yeah, sure!” and never really asked what it would be about (I know.. I know). Then ON THE DAY of the podcast I listened to some of the archived podcasts (which I loved!), and dug around in the site and found out that it was all about tips for motherhood. Interestingly, not parenting per se, but motherhood – how to keep sane, or keep happy, or just keep going while “mum-ing”. For example, there were tips on how a quick morning meditation can help your day, and how to have a quick “mummy reboot” or how to “Find Your Lost Identity”. So, my immediate reaction was to look at my unwashed hair and creased clothes, and the general disarray of my life, and think “Cripes, I have got literally nothing to offer here”. It is not unusual for me to wear the same clothes three days in a row because I didn’t have time to wash / choose / think about anything else. There. I admitted it. Be grateful I use Febreeze y’all.Plus, I was worried Lisa would also want parenting tips, and I don’t give parenting a lot of thought. I’m not saying I am a brilliant parent-er, but through a combination of over confidence and and inertia (I like to think inertia sounds better than laziness) I I just mostly do what feels right at the time, somewhat in consultation with the other ‘alf, and rarely actually take stock of what I am doing. I mean, I am prone to suddenly going “ermagahd we all need watch less TV” or “waaaaah, the minions are not being adequately controlled by their masters and anarchy is on the horizon in this household” but at these points I can’t think of a time where I have investigated HOW to watch less TV, or HOW to control the parasites. I just sort of try to do it for a little while, and when a new panic comes [“We all need to take Probiotics everyday or we’ll be 20-stone and ridden with ebola!”] I forget about the old one, and who knows if I actually effected any behavioral change.
I am totally on board that I could do things better, and that my kids could be better in some areas, but I am just not motivated enough to like, read a book about it, or an article. Or, let’s face it, even a listicle (unless it has super amazing gifs, including one of Ryan Reynolds (Greatest Dad Ever TM) in his underwear). I do love that plenty of my friends read this stuff, because then when I am whining that my kids can’t do a basic human act like sit at the dinner table, I can absorb their collective wisdom (nicely digested, synthesized and often tested) as I sob into my Malbec.So, I totally freaked out, but Lisa (who runs the website and its podcasts) was ah-maz-ing and told me just to be myself and then gave me a write-up that made me even want to listen to myself (to be clear: I have not! Ha! I am way too awkward and worried that I’ll sound like a fool or spend all the time fretting about my answers to do that). But, I am glad I did it. As we talked about things like differences between the US and the UK, and the fact that I don’t read parenting books, I am super worried that I will offend someone – but still, I am glad I did it. And I definitely enjoyed it. And Lisa seemed to think that the message of “Oh, I’m just winging it because I guess deep down I don’t think what we do makes an enormous difference anyway…” was an OK message to put out there. Or maybe even a reassuring one. So, if you needed to here it – there we go.
I’m winging it and you can too 🙂
But also, it was good that one of Lisa’s goals with SuperMum is just to tell mum’s stories… and I really enjoyed listening to those – kind of like an audio blog if you will. I’ve subscribed on itunes and I am trying to listen to new podcasts on the way to work, so maybe some tips will seep in after all…
Oh, and at the end of the podcast every person is asked to give their definition of a SuperMum. Apparently the most common definitions involve happiness and health. I won’t tell you what my definition of a SuperMum is (go listen to the podcast!) but can I just make a plea that we stop tying success to happiness and health? Both of those are gifts that are only somewhat within our control. It’s easy to agree that someone who has cancer / has children with cancer (i.e. the health part is tough) is no less a SuperMum than someone without. So, can we generalize and say that someone who is depressed / has children with depression – or is even just struggling to be happy and content right now – is also no less a SuperMum. And this obviously goes beyond parenting: your success, and your worth and your value does not have to tied up to your health and happiness. It’s up to you to decide what it is tied to…
I make no secret of the fact that I hate Houston. But last Saturday there was a detente in our relationship as Autumn hit. The cooler, dry air may be playing havoc with Sam’s eczema but teamed with Houston’s bright blue skies it’s glorious for being out in. An ideal afternoon is now spent playing with the children in front of the house, biking and walking to the park, Ellie around our feet. It’s almost idyllic and helps me wrap up in my family and shut out the ugliness of the world.
It’s the best bits of England made better – hardly any rain and it’s not cold but fresh. The dark nights roll in and it’s still nice to have a drink on the porch (or in the garage if, like us, you don’t have a porch.
So why does it make me so homesick? It makes me crave those parts of England I thought I would be glad to leave behind: walking with the damp permeating your clothes, dying for that cup of tea and Tunnocks tea cake, hiding under blankets inside… I miss the too cold, the too wet, the too dark. Even in its perfection, Houston is not my home.
I have never been a dog person. To be honest, my feelings towards dogs have always been between indifference and active dislike. Don’t get me wrong, I would be nice to dogs I met if I had to, but my feelings on dogs? Meh.
And then Walter came into my life unexpectedly and beautifully. I was suffering from horrible depression as the side effect of a drug, and when I found Walter in an Alabama trailer park, I knew he was my solution. This post is not about Walt but trust me: he was a special dog. An old soul in a young body. A characterful snuggle bug. My running partner and my nighttime companion. My Halloween dinosaur.
Two years after Walt found his forever home with us, he died very suddenly . I was upstairs sleeping in after several night feeds, and Wes screamed for me. To this day, we don’t know what happened, although since CPR was not able to inflate his chest we suspect he swallowed something. All I do know is that after a very difficult 2 years, life was finally starting to look good for me, and Walt left. He stayed with me when I needed him and when his work was done and I was good, he was gone.
I then did the silliest thing possible; in a haze of grief I ran to the pound and rescued the first dog I liked (and there were plenty that I didn’t…)… And into our lives came Ellie. Ellie was different. She was bright and energetic and not brilliantly house broken… But her cardinal sin was that she wasn’t Walter. And so things started to slide.
Ellie’s life descent is tied up in so many issues. There is the issue that I felt that as a SAHD Wes’ job was to walk the dogs and he didn’t walk either – not even his own. I was resentful. Tjhere was the issue that I felt I couldn’t take Ellie out without taking Wes’ dog out (he would howl as Wes didn’t walk him) and I didn’t want to take him out. Because I didn’t want to do “Wes’ job” (aside: this is a terrible model of marriage. I’ve moved on from this somewhat). The issue that when Wes’ dog died he felt Ellie was going to stop him getting the dog he wanted… And that he never wanted Ellie anyway. There was the issue that Ellie has a slight incontinence problem so couldn’t come to bed with me and I resented her for that fact that neither she nor Wes came to bed with me and I was lonely. And the issue that she wasn’t Walter and Walter had left.
So we entered this terrible spiral where I neglected Ellie (emotionally – she was fed and watered), so she became more demanding and more naughty (pottying in the house etc) which irritated me, and made Wes really mad, and so I neglected her more… So she behaved worse, so I neglected her more and so on until I came home one day and Wes said “she has to go”.
And I was mad! Mad that he never got rid of his neglected dog (Earnest had health problems which Wes wouldn’t sort), mad that he wasn’t helping, mad at myself and suddenly aware of how much I like Ellie’s sweet nature, her unconditional love, her ability to forgive in an instant… All this. That she was loving and curious, and playful and a people pleaser. That her energy was enviable and inspiring. But it was too late.
In the midst of several marital rows, I told this story to a friend who owns three dogs. Her response was to tell me that she wasn’t a dog person either but as soon as she got her first puppy, the second she saw him, she knew no one was ever ever coming between her and that dog. That was it. She would kill for him. And I decided: OK! I love my dog! No one is coming between us! Screw you husband!
So I stepped up the plate. I bought Ellie some decent food and some treats and some toys and a comfy crate for my car. I started walking her twice a day, except for Thursdays which are my crazy early and late days when she goes to doggie day care. I was strict about crating her when I wasn’t around (so no poop in the house) but being with her when I was… She curls up on a bed by my desk, she curls up on my lap, she comes for car rides and she comes to bed occasionally with a doggie diaper on (not even kidding here folks).
And she behaves well. She walks ‘loose leash’ beautifully now, she obeys (unless she really doesn’t want to go outside to potty when she does go to her crate), she rarely jumps up. And I fell (back) in love with my companion and things are working out.
But something else magical happened. I began to feel better about myself… Finding time to walk a dog twice a day with a full taken job, a breastfed 7 month old and a toddler is in a city where my commute is an hour each way is no mean feat. But I did it. I made sure it happened. I weathered 90 degree heat and thunderstorms. I let go of having to leave the house at a set time, or go to bed at a set time (sadly, I have also currently let go of washing my hair more than weekly. OMG I can’t believe I admitted that) and relaxed and felt good that I could I achieve this.
Even better, because Sam always wanted to come on the walk, and Caroline had to, I began to have 40 minutes a day with my kiddos! We ran, we played hide and seek, we went down slides and on swings and shared the task of holding El. And we loved it! If I offer Sam to drive to the park he says that no, he would rather walk. The nagging guilt that my kids are not outside enough is gone. The nagging guilt that I ignore them a bit is diminished (not gone, because let’s face it, I still use my iPhone at the park…). Ellie has made me feel better about myself and my family, brought me love and a little daily joy.
I see Ellie now as she is. Sweet, and forgiving. Fun. I love her energy. I wish I had her capacity for loyalty and unconditional love. Her patience. Her companionship warms me.
I used to think that Walter came into my life when I needed him and left when I didn’t, but Ellie just happened. Now I know that she was there when I needed her, patiently waiting to heal parts of my life. She is just as much my guardian angel as Walter.
Ellie, I am so sorry. But this is your story.