Blog, Self

Give Up|January 2016

What a strange week it has been. We’ve had snow, sunshine, rain, gales… and a nice bit of pathetic fallacy to back up the inner emotional turmoil. Yesterday was Blue Monday. Sounds exotic and exciting – the name of a gin joint in the Caribbean perhaps, but it is actually so-called because this is said to be the day when most of us feel at our most blue. Such stats really get me down. I woke up in a great mood, buzzy and energised – which can only be due to one thing: taking some serious time out on Sunday. I was, rather pathetically, curled up beneath the duvet, at 8.45pm, new novel in hand (I am trying the new Elena Ferrante ‘My Brilliant Friend’ series… so far, gripping), feeling sorry for myself. I’d sent the kids to my mother, blitzed every last bit of overdue work, house- and other, and convinced myself that what I most needed was time to ‘get organised.’ I use this phrase weekly, or similar, weekly: I need to sort things out. I need to clear some space. I have to go through those papers. I have to blitz these things (you see, I even did it in my previous sentence). I have always been someone who wants their external space to reflect their internal space… or, in my case, for my external space to reach the zenith of orderly calm and capaciousness, which will thereby allow my mind to expand, my spirit to soar… you get the picture!

What I got instead, was a work assignment polished and delivered, a home hoovered, dusted and laundered (with every last bit of ironing tackled too). I did what I thought I needed to do, but was left with a really empty feeling inside. We’d woken to snow and the children had been beside themselves with excitement… after a hearty breakfast, it was coats, hats and gloves on and out to the garden for some snowman building. I spent 30 minutes fishing around for my gloves in the disastrous under-stairs cupboard (the home for everything that is otherwise homeless, from toboggans and broken scooters to too-small booties and towers of toilet paper). This is what sparked it – I can’t live like this! was the fiery thought (the sad bit: I spend at least 3 hours every month clearing out this cupboard, and for 3 days it is the perfect practical space I know it was meant to be… until the school run, morning rush, evening exhaustion, and unexpected deliveries of industrial amounts of toilet paper scupper the scene). In the end, and with frustration at boiling point, I pulled on my 2 year old’s spare gloves, which just about did the job, and allowed me to spend 10 minutes outside with my tots, as they finished off the smiling face of their snowman. I’d missed it. I’d missed it because I was inside, in a stinking mood, about the bloody cupboard.

Impatience festered. The work to do, the pile to iron, the list to tick. My husband suggested a winter wonderland drive up to Knole Park, and more snow-day fun. The kid in me was in a tug of war against the grown-up – no contest. I did not go to Knole Park. I did not go anywhere. The girls went to my mum’s, while I stayed steeped in the ‘necessity’ of my own invention, and soon enough it was Sunday night, and my weekend, my family time, my sacred days that I hold out for all week long, had expired.

I sat up, in bed, trying to work out how to do this better. How to go out to work during the week, and return home at the weekend, and be completely present in both enterprises. That’s the constant battle – when work spills over, as it doubtless does, a lot more often than any of us would like – what ought to give? And what ought to be the things that remain sacred – that nothing can cancel out or tear asunder?

I looked around me at the tidiness, everything put away, cupboards arranged and ordered… but my sense of calm was not enough to cancel out my emptiness. The To Do List was clear – when was the last time that happened? But what I felt was a sense of waste – not accomplishment. I’d wasted this rare Snow Day, this dreamy stuff of magical memories, on a stubborn notion – “I need to get organised.”

I took out my journal and everything wrote itself. I filled five pages in 5 minutes. My husband came up to keep me company and we had one of those amazing talks, when you really listen, and empathise, and manage to sort through all the half-defined ephemeral whims and wonders, and come out with a clear idea of what went wrong. No one was to blame. I was doing my best. But we made a promise, and it’s one I am going to keep – it feels etched into my bones now – we will never waste another weekend. When I first got knocked out with the rogue infection – the thing that kick-started the writing of this Give Up blog in the first place – I was touching distance from this realisation: your kids will never remember how clean and tidy their rooms were, or how neatly pressed their school-shirts were, and you’ll never look back and pat yourself on the back for going over and above on the presentation of that work assignment or the re-oredering of your entire email system… but, by god, you will look back, from distances both short and long, always, on those moments when you threw snowballs, laughed until you lost the air in your lungs, and warmed up under the covers with hot cocoa in your hands, all together – never once recalling that pile of rogue washing that’s peeping into the corner of that perfect picture. It just doesn’t, and never will, matter. In my bones, lesson learned.