Keeping It Real

At least once every couple of weeks two things happen: someone will comment about what a wonder woman or inspiration I am and I will fail spectacularly at some aspect of life.  Clearly there is a disparity – sometimes of chasm proportions – between people’s perceptions of me and my reality.

I absolutely do not set out to convince people that I am some sort of incredible individual who has all of her ducks in neat and pretty serried rows.  Each and every time someone compliments me, I am flabbergasted and don’t really know how to respond because it is unexpected.  And also because I have never really learned how to graciously accept a compliment.  Anyway, I am not deliberately presenting a facade to the world or hiding my shortcomings from public view but somehow, nevertheless, people have this perception of me that is far removed from the reality.

When I first started blogging (over four years ago!), I made a promise to myself that I would “keep it real” on this blog.  My original intention had been to maintain the blog as a sort of diary of my early experiences of life in a new country so it would have totally undermined the purpose had I finessed the truth.  Obviously I now maintain my blog(s) for other reasons but I still hold to that aim of presenting the reality of what my experiences are, sometimes red in tooth and claw.  Clearly, I don’t write about the mundane reality of my everyday life.  My readers don’t need to know that my sock orphanage, where all the unaccompanied single socks accumulate, is currently a mountainous stockpile.  Nor do they need to know that I spend every single weekday morning yelling the same script at my children who must surely be bored by now of my voice loudly hectoring them to put on shoes and coats and pick up backpacks and lunch bags.  I yell so loudly that I understood entirely why my new neighbours, when we first moved into our house, knew the name of my youngest son without the need for introductions.

People seem to perceive me as being super-organised, efficient, a fantastic time-keeper, with an ability to juggle multiple and varied draws on my free time while somehow, miraculously, still having time for art and other hobbies.  Many of those things used to be true of me.  Before I had kids, I was anal retentive with my organisation and punctuality.  I was notorious for my To Do spreadsheets and my colour-coded everything.  However, as my life became more complex, I had to choose between maintaining that level of efficiency or my sanity .  These days I am still a massive control freak but one who regularly freaks out amid the chaos I have little to no control over.

The truth is that I am perpetually frazzled, am prone to yelling because I am apparently hard-wired to associate assertiveness with volume, and frequently over-scheduled.  I experience regular spikes of anxiety because of running late or barely making it on time when punctuality is one of my neuroses.  I juggle many balls and fail to keep them all in the air.  Frequently I drop the ones that can safely bounce; regularly I drop the ones that smash and need cleaning up; and ever so often I just drop all the balls everywhere.

And the truth about how I find time for my hobbies, especially art, isn’t that I am massively efficient with my time or am spectacularly whizzy at getting things done – though I do work fast.  The truth is that I make time for those things by sacrificing other things ranging from dusting to TV viewing to sleep.  I confess I sacrifice dusting a lot.  Furthermore, there are times when my scheduling of “me time” goes spectacularly wrong – such as times when we end up having the most random, cobbled together dinners because I forgot to prep a key ingredient in advance.

I am often in the midst of a scheduling mess.  Back in November, I had a day where I had to be in three places at once.  I am used to problem solving being in two places at once but three was just too much.  It was head-imploding crazy.  And then my oldest son asked if he could be dropped off at the cinema as if it was no big deal to add in being in a fourth place at once.  Clearly my kids think I have super powers too.

Then there was the day when I was already up against it at the thought of having to get my two youngest sons to the orthodontist for 3.30 only to receive a phone call asking where we were since the first appointment was actually 1.30.  This necessitated me dropping everything – literally since I was doing laundry at the time –  quickly organising myself while calling the school secretary to ask for the boys to be whipped out of their classrooms and ready and waiting for me at reception, and driving rapidly to the school to pick them up, and then to the orthodontists’ office.

And, in another orthodontist related example, there was the recent day when my youngest son finished getting his braces fitted at 3pm only to have snapped them by 4pm simply by fidgeting with the wires.  Coincidentally, he snapped them at precisely the minute that the orthodontist is supposed to close up shop for the weekend.  We quickly dashed back to the office in the hopes they had not totally packed up and gone home, which luckily they had not.  I cannot tell a lie – yelling was involved.

Yes, as previously stated, I am a yeller.  I yell a lot.  My kids turn it into white noise so I don’t know why I do it.  Cathartic primal screaming maybe.  When Pennsylvania experienced an earthquake on 30 November, for a fraction of a second I thought it may have been caused by my frustrated rage at supervising hideous mathematics homework.

So, yeah, I am not some wonder woman or role model of togetherness.  I will keep accepting praise and compliments when they are given but – for the sake of keeping it real – please know that my successes are absolutely balanced out by my failures.


The Part-Time Empty Nest

As of a dozen days ago, all four of my sons have been in school full-time.  After over eleven years of having at least one child home with me for at least most of the day, I am now adjusting to being home alone for over six hours each day.

It feels good.  And it feels weird.

It’s good because really my little one was needing the stimulation of school and he is absolutely loving being a Kindergartener.  My role as a parent is to nurture my kids so that they can become gradually independent and emerge as fully-functioning adults.  Going off to school is a major early step in that process of becoming more independent and self-sufficient.  It also feels good because, after all these years, my crazy schedule can relax a bit.  Instead of trying to get chores done while one or more children goes behind me ransacking the room I just tidied so that it looks like raccoons have burgled the place, I can actually get things properly organised without having to have eyes in the back of my head.  Yesterday, for instance, I was putting our filing into our new filing cabinets and I had piles of documents all over the floor.  That would have been a recipe for a conniption had I attempted it while any of my kids were home.  The fact they are in for the full day also means I no longer have to run around at full tilt to get everything accomplished in the couple of hours I have before they return again.  Already that is making a big difference to my stress and exhaustion levels.  I am now building in breaks to my day where I sit down and actually have a hot cup of tea or a piece of fruit in the afternoon, breaks during which I also sketch and draw so as to have a bit of “me time” during the day.  I can actually go around the supermarket without it being a trolley dash and without constantly checking my watch.

The weird is the silence.  It is actually quite unsettling.  I am used to a house so noisy that the walls vibrate.  I grew up in a house full of people and hustle and bustle too so I think I am somewhat hard-wired to think of volume and chaos as being normal.  The silence feels abnormal.  At times I sing out loud to myself just to break the monotony of the quiet.  It is also weird and oddly uninspiring to make lunch for just one person.  And I miss the little horrors, their noise and their chaos, their wit and their laughter.

Then they come home from school and there are four lots of homeworks to oversee, four lots of letters from school to read, all while making the evening meal.  My once tidy hallway becomes a dumping ground for shoes and backpacks and lunchboxes.  The bickering starts.  The walls begin to vibrate again.  I am learning to look forward to my oasis of quiet each day that balances this out.