Some days it all comes crashing down.
We’ve all been there. Super mums and super dads. Super spouses. Super friends and super siblings. Super children to our ageing parents.
And then all it takes is one kid, normally your own, to tip the scales and everything you’ve been stacking so carefully – the balance between home, work, deadlines, school, events, your own social life, laundry… the stress of it all kept tightly in check. One kid. Persistent in their agenda of having cake for breakfast. Well, apparently it is enough to send the best of us falling helplessly into the abyss of ‘I am so done with this, I don’t give a f*** anymore’.
So you give in to your inner tantrum and wail as the Cheerios go a-flying across the table and cover the floor like slow falling snowflakes. As they settle, so too does the realisation that you now have to clean it all up, before you’ve even made your coffee and in less than 10 minutes the next move would be to pack on the winter gear for a seven-minute walk to school. You look down and curse the weather and swear under your breath, hoping that the kids don’t hear and wishing that you could just scream it all out. Oh, that forbidden f-word. It is more to test our resisting its usage in the face of parent meltdown than it is for them to avoid.
The hoover screams your frustration as you drive madly, sucking away the evidence. Small satisfaction to the hurt and disillusionment you feel as a parent. It offers a few precious minutes to reflect at what caused you to react so out of character.
The fact is this.
You’ve been trying and trying, repeating the same things in the same kindly fashion, hoping that your message gets through. Some days, you change the wording – maybe find a different way to say it so that they understand. Your other half isn’t half as patient as you, and it spurs you on to remain non-shouty. Shouting at your kids is wrong. They won’t listen and you end up feeling exhausted and defeated. But I’ll tell you, the Buddha approach doesn’t work either.
It’s like driving your car, using all your defensive driver techniques, and some idiot decides to take you head-on. What happens then? You get run over. Bulldozed. A kid behind the wheel who drives like a possessed politician from the opposition party. There’s no reasoning anymore, just a consistent grinding down of what you are trying to teach to get their own way. A lazy way. An unhealthy way. An unsafe way. A rude way.
And that my friend, that grinds you down.
You shut off the hoover and say no more. A quick coffee, gulped. Time to get ready – no more reminders about water bottles and fruit snacks. No more prodding to get coats and hats on. No more words from you. Save this:
You really hurt mummy’s feelings. That is what being rude does. It shows that you don’t care and you don’t value mummy’s help or anything she is trying to do to help you become the best individuals that you can be.
In silence, they were dressed and ready. No prompting. No usual bickering. No rushing. In the end you got to school well before the bell rings.
Makes you think, doesn’t it? That sometimes you try too hard? That sometimes you just have to pull back and give a little? Whatever the lesson from all of this – you hope that your kid understands finally the point you were trying to make. And you realise that you just need to cut some slack.
But most of all… when you get ground down, like coffee beans… make a smashing cup of coffee!
After burning the midnight oil two nights in a row, and a manic week of work, meetings, children, clubs and my training, I finally managed to catch up with two lovely ladies for a well-deserved coffee (or two!) cake and tea.
As usual, we scandalised over the latest playground gossip, little details I might have missed as I am always running through the gates with kids in tow just as the bell is ringing. And a flurry of seemingly unrelated, unfiltered topics, interrupted by bursts of laughter.
Safe to say, I don’t quite remember how this particular topic started, but there was one word that struck me.‘Chapters’ was how one of my friends described her life. As she leaned forward to place her mug back on the low table, she said with a sort of revelation in her voice, that she thought of her life as a series of chapters.
‘Chapters’. It struck a chord with me. Yes. That is our life, isn’t it? Ultimately I think we all think of our lives as one big book, a series of events. Most times, those events merge or end or recur. But definitely, there are times in your life when one part ends and another begins.
I too rested my mug down and turned my attention to her. I admired the mixture of earnest and calm in her face as she described why she saw her life that way…
She’d married a man she knew since she was still in high school – childhood sweetheart of sorts, I guessed. They were in love at the time and spent the next 20 years or so together, building a life and family. That’s a long time to dedicate to someone, I thought. Especially as now she is in the final stages of ending that relationship for good.
But hearing her story made me cringe. As I sat there, I heard my mum’s voice softly whisper, you never truly know a person until you’ve lived with them, and the man you married now will not be the same person in ten year’s time. And here it is, happening to another woman. The man, with whom she chose to fulfil her dreams, had become her worst nightmare.
As she described the things he did to intimidate her and keep her tied to him, so unethical and psychotic, it beggared belief. A few things she said really hit home too, and although my situation isn’t half as horrific, I still felt as if I knew exactly what she was talking about.
But her preamble about her life and what drew her to make the decisions that she made was only to strengthen her case. And why she was able to close that chapter in her life, and to start a new one.
And it really made me think about how we allow ourselves to merge the different parts of our lives. Sure it should all flow, like any good story. But there has to be resting points – distinctions where one part ends and another begins. Especially when you are trying to move on and concentrate on the present or a future goal…
Just like we moved on from our school days, possibly university years, friendships, jobs, single v married, parenthood, married v divorced…
With everything that goes on in our lives, it becomes hard to distinguish where one starts and the other ends. And I don’t just mean from day-to-day, where my life seems to be an endless recurrence of what meals to prepare, laundry mountains that mushroom overnight, the children (and all that goes with them), the constant clearing up (I get brain-fried if there is too much of a chaotic clutter of Lego, books and ‘stuff’ strewn everywhere), work, deadlines, the things that linger at the back-end of the to-do list.
And so your time just goes. Poof. A few minutes here and there as you dash from one task to another… and before you know it, the day is over. You are running out of the house, hair flying, to pick up the kids from school. And one day turns into a week, into a month…
Your life just seems to slip away. January suddenly becomes June! Life becomes one long sentence. (And I really do mean that in any way you wish to take it – akin to a very long sentence without punctuation, just word after word, or, a prison sentence! Choose one, or both definitions!)
In the midst of it all, you might stop and wonder how did you ever get to such a place? True, if you have children you can’t begin to imagine life without them. But if you ever enjoyed being single and independent to now feel swamped by a life that you had no idea could be like this, then it can all be pretty exhausting.
So sometimes, you do need to reflect and decide what is important in your life, to get some perspective. To create chapters, so that some can be concluded and others started. Some chapters might still be in progress, so give that some attention. But certainly, don’t allow yourself to feel swallowed by it all.
That ability to choose your own destiny and write the events of your life – that is what it is about.
How do I tell you what is in my heart? For years when we have grown apart?
My feelings raw, as motherhood took hold. The responsibility has aged me, now I am old. Unattractive and ragged, snappy and worn. Life ripped from a woman, now feeling torn.
No one to turn to, I turn to you; for a smile, a kind word, broad shoulders to hug. Finding nothing, nothing as you turn away with a shrug. You were so distant, caught up in your own affairs. My feelings you trivialised like no one cares.
And on the surface they cleared, as they sank deeper within. My heart grew heavy and love grew thin. And as the years passed us by, a mere memory of a woman, I dissipate. I don’t think you realised, not even when it was too late.
A mother’s love was all it took, to bring back the daughter that you forsook. And so these past few years I have grown, my essence returned, my dreams re-sown. I have tried since then, to strike that balance. Of wife and mother, me and friend. To pull it together, the pieces I mend.
But it takes more than just one person, and I know you said you tried. But what is the use when too much has happened, the tears unseen that I cried? But, you don’t understand me anymore and I can no longer speak my heart. ‘What’s the use?’ I used to say, and now I won’t even bother to start. We don’t talk like we used to, and there is no bridge. What is left between us? Precious little, just some little kids.
And so I am here, there is nowhere else to go. My independence I traded for this life I know. I am your friend, and yes I care. But my heart you’ve lost and it leaves us nowhere. I want to be free and for you to see, that we need to find a sort of happiness that could never be, not if you are still tied to me.
Some days my coffee meet-ups are not always with a mummy friend. Some days it is just a friend. This particular day was such a time.
It was a coffee long overdue. We kept in touch, intermittently via short text messages, which to me hardly conveyed what I truly felt or wished to say. And as much as I love to write to express myself, there are times when words tumble over themselves in an erroneous monologue and fail to achieve their purpose. Such is the bane of texting! So I was glad when we did finally find the time to meet.
I was early, I almost always am. I chose a small table with four chairs near the window and waited. I allowed my gaze to wander aimlessly at the growing traffic outside. The bustle of cars and people, absorbed in their own lives, a million and one thoughts racing through their minds as they go where they felt they needed to go.
This life. This one life that we have. This finite life.
The first time I experienced death I was eight years old. My grandmother passed away after a long-term illness. A few years later, my grandfather followed. And as the years went by, other relatives also passed away. But it wasn’t until I was nineteen and my father died unexpectedly in his sleep that I sat up and took notice of what death meant.
I was never close to my father, so in a strange and socially unacceptable way, I was actually relieved when he was no more a part of my life. At that time, I didn’t fully understand the ramifications of what his passing meant, I had no idea how my mother would cope financially (I was in my freshman year at university and she never let on that continuing my tuition would be a problem). But finances were the least of it. What struck me was mortality. Parents don’t live forever.
The same parents we take for granted, especially at that age. I knew then, more than ever, that I was responsible for me. Death is inevitable for all of us. Accepting that small truth makes any grieving for the passing of a loved one less painful.
In the years that followed, from my 20s right up until now, I shared in the grief of friends and relatives, as grandparents and parents took their last farewell. But, I did not grieve. I don’t think I ever grieved. To feel such intense sorrow at the one thing that we must accept in life just doesn’t seem right somehow.
The closer we are to someone, the harder it is to say goodbye. That much I can agree with. It hurts, that is the pain we feel. I was sad when my dearest Nan passed away, I would miss her enormous hugs. But I would not say I wished she hadn’t died. She lived a full life and made a difference to so many more lives. To me, she lives on, in me. Her memories are alive in my heart and I wish her well wherever her precious soul may be.
So to lament death is more a cover for our own fears. As I get older, death takes on a different significance for myself. I am reminded of how little time I have left with my last remaining parent, how time flies in my life and the impact I have on those I care about. Death reminds us of our own limits. We cry and feel sorrow not so much for the person who has gone. But on a deeper lever, we cry and feel sorrow for our own lives. And it can be very frightening.
But the thing about life is this. You can choose how you want to look at it. You can allow yourself to be cornered by fear and worry at your own mortality. Or, you can use it as a wake-up call to do something more with your life whether it is travelling to another country, writing that book, reaching out to someone who you used to know. Whatever it is that was left undone for too long. Do it.
I wish I could say that I took my advice. I haven’t really. As with everything else, time has a way of softening the blow. Life just continued, with the million and one thoughts, errands and responsibilities that run through my mind. Just like those people outside.
I heaved a huge sigh. Death comes in many forms, really. I think my ‘death’ when I lost myself a few years ago was my catalyst for change. At least, I am doing some of those things that I always wanted to do, bit by bit. Most importantly, I am…
My reverie was broken by that soft deep voice floating down me. I looked up with a small smile at my friend who made it at last. He slid into the chair opposite and returned the small smile. His face drawn, eyes tired. I felt a little pang of guilt, knowing the effort he made to see me. His was facing his own issues surrounding the passing of a parent. I felt for him and although I wanted to tell him that it was ok, that death isn’t the end, my words lumped in my throat.
Instead, I stood up and walked round to his side of the table, and simply wrapped my arms around him. I even planted a small kiss on the top of his head. Sometimes, when words fail, a little human touch is all that is needed.
They say that they can’t understand women. Really. Well, after today’s coffee with a dear friend, I can safely say, we don’t understand men!
As I carefully rested my cup on the coffee table and shrugged out of my coat, I saw it. Briefly, the tear-brimmed eyes of my friend already seated opposite. She looked smaller and worn out.
I leaned over and kissed her cheek, I am always the big sister in times like these (even though I am the last of my mother’s litter).
I sat down and waited for her to look at me. Eventually she looked over her cup and tried to smile.
‘He’s gone. Again.’
It took me a moment to register what she was saying. The ‘he’ she was referring to was not her husband. It was the man she’d fallen in love with. Over the last eight months, she’d been in a whirlwind of feelings over a man she’d met only twice in person and poured out her entire life to. And with whom on an average, broke it off with him four times. I did a quick calculation – every two months and wondered if in two month’s time she would be all smiles again…
But there was something in her tone that said otherwise. This time, he was gone for good.
And from the looks of things, it seemed as if he’d taken the very air she breathed with him.
I knew all the right things to say, the things like,
‘He wasn’t meant for you if he kept so much of himself private and not shared more with you.’ And immediately, She countered, ‘He was only protecting himself.’
Or, I would say, ‘How could he admit to having feelings for you, the very feelings that make it so hard for him to see you, and then walk away?’ Implying that he is an arse. She stared at me as if I were an unknowing idiot. ‘He’s doing it for me, so I would make my own decisions.’
And I would stare back incredulously, ‘He never gave you a chance, not really. He could have had a simple coffee with you to see how simple a friendship it could be; he could have given you a chance to explain yourself…’
She looked defeated then, the tears threatening again… this time she had no words to defend him. It was true, for all the open and honest she’d been with him, it wasn’t enough. In the end, he’d cut her loose, refusing to listen to anything she had to say.
I saw through her pain this time. It wasn’t so much the loss of her friend who she had fallen in love with. It was the fact that she never had a chance with him in the first place. That no matter how many times they tried to walk away from each other, they reconnected pointlessly. And each time she loved him more.
A part of me thinks or at least, would like to think, that he used their last conversation as an excuse to walk away. He loved her too, I hope… and knowing that they had no future, felt that he had to leave before he saw her one more time and lost himself for good.
So I told my friend this. I told her that perhaps, he feels more than he lets on. It is for the best, regardless of how much she will miss him, things happen for a reason, never really by chance. But now, she must hold her head high and carry on. Her life as it is isn’t perfect (whose life is anyway? certainly not mine!) and she has to stand up and be a big girl. Set her goals and work toward them. Stay focused.
She smiled then, feeling fortified. That’s what friends do for each other, we support. She got up and bent over slightly, I rose to meet her, and over our half-drunken lattes, squeezed each other tight.
I sat for a moment after she’d left and slumped in my chair. I think we managed to make sense of it all, but neither of us will ever truly know what he really felt or thought. We romanticized it so that we could cope. But what if he really didn’t care about her? What if we were wrong? What a tragic blow to her soft little heart that she carries around in that woman-armour.
And as I sat in my chair, I cried those unshed tears for my friend. Big sploshy tears that ruined my eyeliner.
Most of the wives I sit and drink coffee with all say the same thing. Their men change once that ring is on your finger and the sparkly fairy dust of a wedding has settled.
Gone are the flowers, random love-texts, surprise dinner, foot massage, sex.
Granted, not all at once. It just disappears, replaced by football, long hours out at the pub, long hours sitting playing computer games, man-stuff. All the stuff that they put on hold just long enough to ensnare and capture their future mates.
It wouldn’t be so bad if we ladies were clued up to this from the start. I mean, we could have resumed to our regular hobbies and old interests too. Like our old (male) friends, girlie nights, shopping, long hours pursuing an interest, sport, career, painting, writing, or even longer hours spent in our girlfriends’ company enjoying eye-candy. Or whatever it is that we as women did before men.
But we give it up. I gave it up. We think that life has changed and it is all about him and me. And we do what we were socialised into becoming. Married women. We are the caregivers, the caretakers, the homemakers. We take that role seriously, we give up of ourselves to ensure the happiness of our loved ones.
We give. And give. And give some more when we become mothers. And deplete. And whither. And silently resent. Some of us, less martyred ones anyways.
So we change. That is a course of life. If anyone is expecting things to remain the same in a marriage as it does in the courtship is deluded. People change. My mum used to always say, the man you marry now isn’t going to be the same man you married ten years from now. And she is right. Ten years on, and I can see the changes.
But I can see the changes in me too. It is almost as if I have come full circle, again, only this time on a different layer. A much older me, but more in touch with me of who I used to be.
Perhaps, men complete this circuit faster than we do. Perhaps they run full circle before we realise and settle into life. Perhaps.
Perhaps they don’t always recognise or appreciate the impact it has on their loved one. Or even if they do, they don’t make a big fuss about it. You see, men didn’t have years of dreaming of a perfect wedding day, of the romantic notions that went with it. They were brought up instead learning what they needed to know to get a good woman, and once the mission was accomplished, it was back to normal. That was always their plan.
So when we say, he changed. Maybe we should look inward at our own changes. Maybe we morphed into unrecognisable beings too. I certainly didn’t recognise myself after I had my children. I was someone I didn’t know. When we feel rejected, unloved and taken for granted. We are. But half the time, it is our own doing, we subconsciously stop loving ourselves, we allow ourselves to be taken for granted. We think that the more we do for others, the more they will love us back and all will be well. We forget to take care of ourselves. And that is perhaps, I think, the biggest change we allow.
But change doesn’t have to be all bad. Change is just that. Change. And with it comes choice. It’s how you look at it, what you make of it. Many women are afraid of change, especially those which contradict the norm and what is expected of them. We wish that we could change back, but feel too unsure of ourselves to do it.
I admire some of my coffee friends, the ones who stood up and said to hell with it all, I am taking back my life. A risky move that can either strengthen or break a marriage that needs a wake-up call. But all of them are happier for it.
The lesson? Stand up for yourself. If something needs to change, change it. You can choose how you change, choose if you both want to change in the same direction or not. Maybe he will support you, maybe he won’t. It depends on your guy.
The reality, however, is simply this: change will happen. It is inevitable. What are you going to do about it?