Sunday, 19 August 2007

Unpacking and packing up

Earlier this week, I was half-listening to an interview on Radio 4 as I dozed in bed, gearing myself up for a visit to my mum later that day. I can't remember who was being interviewed or why, but I was struck by the fact that the interviewee - a woman - was talking about her relationship with her mother. Though she found her mum trying and annoying at times she said, she had made a decision a few years ago to make a concerted effort to have some fun and enjoyment when she was with her, so that in later years she would have some good memories to look back on.

While appreciating the laudable altruism of this woman, even in my somnolent state I knew that I wouldn't be able to (or perhaps didn't want to) focus on the good times with my mum - though in truth, there are plenty to choose from. For, as my good friend Vicky so perceptively commented later that morning while discussing this very issue; perhaps I thrive on being annoyed with my mum.

Perhaps I do. The four days (three nights!) I spent with her, found me in an almost permanent state of wariness, irritation, resentment and teenage-style surliness as I deliberately evaded her usual attempts to elicit praise, admiration, appreciation and thanks. Just as I was due to pack up and come home after my stay, we had one of our 'chats' during which - instead of pandering to her emotions like I used to do - I criticised the 'poor little me' attitude that she carries with her wherever she goes and for the first time ever tried to make her see how - thanks to her own neediness - I had been saddled with the burden and pressure of being her only emotional prop when I was in my teens.

She was hurt and upset of course, but I didn't feel sorry, I was too angry at her for that. Stuck in traffic on the way home, I started to unpack some of my feelings about her. Like all mother-daughter relationships, ours is a complex one, the details of which I must leave until later; but the main thing I realised on that tiresome journey home, was that my mid-life anger had still not fully abated yet and most of it was now directed at my mum.

Once back home, I felt a little guilty, remembering how old she had looked and the effort she had made to try to treat me and the children. But as always, we made our apologies and we are 'friends' again for the moment.

Any more thoughts on this will have to wait as I will be off camping and therefore sans internet for a whole two weeks as of tomorrow. So for now, thankfully, my sole focus will have to be air-beds, foot pumps, portable kettles, tinned food and most importantly of all, wine boxes.

Sunday, 12 August 2007

Catching up and cutting down.

It's with some degree of satisfaction that I can now write that I have been busy the past week. Keen to counterbalance the social paucity noted in my previous post and anxious to let Chloe have some fun with friends from outside school, I managed to organise one lot of visitors, a trip to Wales to see old friends from our expat days and a barbeque at another friend's house last night.

The visitors consisted of an old childhood friend of mine with her two step-children and young daughter. Thankfully, the children all got on well, inventing a strange, but clearly enjoyable game involving the swing, trampoline, dustbin lids and a range of different kinds of balls. Meanwhile, my friend huddled behind the garden shed smoking an apparently much longed-for cigarette while, beers in hand and crisps in a bowl, we gossiped conspiratorially about our mothers, siblings and mutual friends.

The next day I drove to Wales. After an uneventful journey (during which I revelled in the ease, comfort and superior air conditioning of our new car) I was greeted by my friend's mother who had been minding the children. I was given a weak cup of tea and after what seemed like hours of stilted conversation, my host returned from work. She'd been 'caught' on the way home by her ex-boyfriend with whom she'd had a very unsatisfactory on-off relationship for about two years or so. He'd said he missed her, she was the one for him, he was ready to commit --yadda yadda yadda. It was all too late though, she told him (and me), she'd found a new romance, with an old flame, who she later disclosed had 'really bad teeth'.

That evening, as the children engaged in a noisy game of 'Truth or Dare' upstairs, we curled up on her sofa nursing a glass of cheap wine and she told me how she'd decided to cut down on her drinking. As part of an agreement with the rotten-toothed beau, she could only drink on two days in every week. It was great, she said. She had more energy, slept better and felt much healthier as well. I nodded in admiration - even entertaining the notion that perhaps I too could embark on a similarly sensible, yet patently ambitious, scheme in my own life - though considering she had allocated the two days of my visit as her allowable drinking days, I wasn't likely to start that soon.

In fact, the whole week was already a write-off abstention-wise and even more so because the day after we got back, we were invited by relatively new acquaintances to a barbeque at their house. Being from New Zealand they are consummate barbeque cooks and provided a fantastic array of different kinds of meat, complimented of course by beer, followed by wine. With my husband as designated driver for the night (for once!), I have to admit that I indulged a little on the alcoholic beverage front.

This morning I woke up with someone-else's eyeballs in my head and they have continued to feel alien to my body all day. This has been particularly terrible because I have two families arriving tomorrow to stay and I've had to spend the greater part of the day cleaning the house and digging out my son's bedroom so there's room for another child to sleep on the floor. I've had to have a hair of the dog to get through it all of course.

With the visitors coming, tomorrow will also necessarily be a drinking day - as will the following three days, for I will be visiting my delightful mother who get's angry if I don't have a drink with her.

Sigh - maybe I'll start cutting down the following week when we go camping in the Lakes. Maybe I'll need to by then.

Monday, 6 August 2007

Staying in

Sometimes I wonder how I ended up where I am; working alone at home in a teeny semi-detached house in the suburbs when really I'd have been better off living in a commune.

I'm at my happiest when I'm surrounded by people. My dreams often feature me living in a large house which I share with lots of friends; the door is always open for visitors to drop by and there are usually an assortment of children randomly running in and out at will. Just once, when I lived on a compound in the Middle East, I almost achieved this ideal, but like all dreams, it was not to last.

The reality of my daily life now is so very different. Our house is on a main road and there are no friends nearby. My children are quite happy to lounge around at home and my husband works so late that we rarely meet up with friends except on the odd weekend (which usually takes ages to organise). I try to make up for the potential lack of social contact that my current lifestyle promotes, by getting out of the house at least once a day and meeting up with friends as frequently as possible. The contact, the exchange of ideas, the companionship, boosts me up and keeps me going during the times of social scarcity.

Most of the time, I can just about handle things as they are, but the past week I've been driven almost spare. It's the school holidays and my husband was off work last week. THREE days were spent just kicking around at home. The children were quite happy and showed little desire to see anyone, my husband being less keenly social than I, was also happy pottering and doing very necessary DIY. Meanwhile I champed at the bit. Why didn't they want to go out? DO something fun? Go swimming..ANYTHING. I thought of previous trips we'd had, camping in the desert in huge groups and mourned the loss of those days. What kind of 'sad' family were we, I thought, with nothing better to do than DIY and housework?

But then I thought, what kind of 'sad' person am I who is not simply content to be with her family? I shouldn't need to be busy 'doing things', schmoozing and socialising to feel good about myself; I should be simply enjoying my children's company, while they still want to be in mine.

Friday, 3 August 2007

Old friends

I love the feeling I get when I meet up with friends I haven't seen for ages; it's like putting on an old familiar jumper, slipping your feet into a favourite pair of slippers worn into the shape of your foot or sitting by a cosy fire, curled up with a good book.

The past week I've had several such get-togethers; it's the season when they swoop back to visit the old land, tanned, fresh-faced and full of news from their lives elsewhere - lives we once shared. We 'catch-up', relocate and 'pick-up' again. Just for a moment, a day, it feels as though we have never separated; we remember and enjoy the feeling of being all together again. 'Just like old times,' we say, only it isn't really and can never be the same again.

When they leave, the warmth of their presence remains with me for a while and I feel grounded again, as if their visit has rekindled some part of me I had temporarily lost and reminded me of who I really am.