In November

So, here we are, once again some little while longer than I anticipated when I last posted. The months have rolled along, the wheel turned, oblivious to our human nonsenses. Swallows visited; tomatoes refused to ripen; frogs appeared, briefly. And now, badgers eat windfalls; hedgehogs rummage in dry-as-bone wisteria leaves.

We are about to enter a four-wek period of national lockdown, and quite possibly that’s the conservative estimate (no pun intended). This time, schools will stay open, apparently. I don’t know what to think of this, being honest.

Low-level anxiety, of the sort you encounter when it’s Sunday and Monday morning will bring an exam. Lethargy, as when you’ve been ill, perhaps off school for a week or so with some unknown viral thing, watched over by your mother, who brings warm drinks made with sugar and care.

Overwhelm – the state of the world; the worry of the future; the absence of those you wish were still here, particularly at this time of year, particularly in these circumstances. A feeling of just not being up to this: the lack of a parent manual provided with children; the ongoing demands of job and motherhood and partnership, and yes, even friendship, when it isn’t that of a longstanding, easygoing kind.

But also moments of delight. The largest pumpkin you can remember, carved with a face of irrepressible glee. Books read apace by children who loudly proclaim their disbelief at hours lost to television in houses across the country. A string of plastic pumpkin lights, dangling cheerily above the stove. And still those kitten, apprentice familiars, with loud purrs and unbelievable energy.

After a short interval…

OK, maybe not that short, really.

But I’ve been feeling an increasing pull to write, over the last few weeks. What strange days we live in. Days of never-ending time at home, and children frustrated by self-directed learning at an age not conducive to this. Days of constant video-conference calls, and frustrated colleagues feeling pulled in multiple directions, often with the company of similarly frustrated and anxious children. Days of closed schools, and masks worn in shops. Days of heatwave April, and autumnal June and July. Days of nothing to do, but exhaustion nonetheless.

I’m reading Moon Mother, Moon Daughter at the moment. Trying to find moments of peace, of stillness within, in the midst of constant demands on my time, my attention, my energy. My daughters, now nearly nine and not-long-12, need me. They miss their friends – even their schools – and the increasing independence that they’d just begun to discover, particularly since being in different schools after the elder moved to secondary, leaving the younger to step into her own space, in a primary school vacated by her elder sibling. They miss travelling around, seeing new things, having friends over. They miss the farmers’ markets, the walks on the Cathedral Green, the sea and associated doughnuts.

I miss quiet. I miss quiet in my mind. I thought this quiet was in short supply before the UK entered lockdown. I got the bus home from work three times a week, taking about an hour if you count the walk from the office to the bus stop. I sat on the bus, watching the light fade and wondering how I could get more time to think, to be on my own, to listen to my thoughts, and to remember who I am when no-one wants anything from me, no-one needs me for something. Now I look back on that time with envy, as it feels as if my every waking minute consists of people needing things, expecting things, wanting things.

I admit it: I am feeling hugely sorry for myself. Recently, the Man took the girls on his regular walk around the block, which, where we live, means about four miles in the Devon lanes, surrounded by tall banks and wild flowers. In many ways it’s a lovely walk, but for me the best part was that it meant for the first time in four months, I was in my house, on my own, and no-one wanted anything from me. I didn’t even mind the fact that it was in working hours and thus I was actually working. Just having the space to finish an email without being interrupted, to actually complete a sentence in the manner intended, felt like an enormous weight being lifted. I put music on, and lit some incense (courtesy of the lovely Dilliway & Dilliway, one of my favourite Glastonbury-based shops). I remembered how it is to be alone, and how quickly that memory returned. I have always enjoyed time on my own, and ye gods I am missing it now. I have just about managed to instigate having a bath nearly every day, where I shut the door, lock it, and relax into whatever book I am reading. Sometimes I light a candle; sometimes I take a glass of wine with me. It helps, but it’s not the same as truly being alone – knowing there is no-one else in the house, and won’t be for some time.

I feel there is work to be done, so acutely. I keep reading about the space that lockdown has offered people – the chance to go inward, and to reflect, and process, and grow. For me, it has felt just the opposite – constant outward demands, and talking, talking, talking. The Man is angry and frustrated. He misses our time alone, dwindled to nothing now that the girls are going to see their biological father one at a time (a massive improvement for them and also the first time we have simply put in place something they really want, despite their biological father’s objections) and there is no school and no socialising. He deplores their continued contact with their biological father (and I fear thinks the worse of me for continuing it, though there is little I feel able to do about that, and I am also aware that that may well be my own fear speaking rather than his actual feelings – I am a great projector). He is angry with the world for the COVID-19 situation, and angry with the electorate for placing us in the hands of Boris and his cronies. He is angry not to live in Scotland, where sanity seems more evident, and angry to live here, in a county he does not favour, and a house that he finds frustrating and depressing at the moment (old houses = ongoing maintenance and work, and when one is at a low ebb, this is particularly soul-eroding).

We make progress. Earlier in the lockdown, we began to paint the front of the house – choosing colours for ourselves, and moving away from a paint scheme we’d never liked. Grey for the render, and a bright blue for the window frames and the door surround, with the double doors left stripped and waxed to reveal the many lives those doors have known before our time, orange, red, yellow, green all coming through as careful sanding stripped away the years. We replaced broken solar lights in the courtyard with some cheerful fairy-coloured bulbs, strung amongst the wisteria. We paint, inch by inch, the forest-swallowing woodwork of the garden room’s structure, cursing the builders who did such a bad job even as we try to improve it, and appreciate the luxury of such a space. I teach the girls new recipes, encourage them to try these on their own. We make bath bombs together, and body scrubs, and felt bowls in which to keep treasures. We find two new familiars, tiny black kittens to heal the holes torn in our hearts  when the Hecate-cat left us, in February, unintended victim – we hope – of an anti-freeze spill, somewhere out there in the big wild unknown. We laugh as the kittens chase each other, a tumbling mass of paws, fluff, and purring. Sometimes we argue, bitter words pouring from us, from souls too exhausted to censor those things we should not say to each other. We soften, try to reconnect, reach for each other. Remember we are not each other’s enemy, though sometimes difference may do a good impression of enmity.

The garden is vast, and unmanageable. Brambles thrive, and nettles. Sometimes I feel good about this; sometimes, overwhelmed. We have created a space for sharing, where creatures go about their lives unseen and untroubled. But we have also created a space for guilt, where I judge myself harshly and long for more time, time to bring order to the chaos and the sort of garden One Should Have If One Has One’s Shit Together.

Today, cobwebs make me cry, and the feeling that the list is always growing, always longer, is heavy and exhausting. I could work twelve hours every day and still not clear my tasks; my employer acknowledges how hard things are, and suggests that we’re not expected to be as productive as usual while we have children to care for, and yet the list gets no shorter, and the projects only grow.

I know it is not all shit. I know that this too shall pass, and I will feel less tired, less depleted. We are fortunate, and lucky, and privileged. We are a contradiction in terms – living in a developed country with clean water, and feeling utterly alone and overwhelmed while doing so.

I shall try to write more regularly. To find my space here, on the page.

And then…

… it was October, kind of out of nowhere. Seasons of mists, mellow fruitfulness, and the revelation that one’s brother has not only cirrhosis of the liver but also primary liver cancer. O happy day.

So, my relationship with my brother is somewhat odd, I suppose. It’s sort of hard for me to tell in some ways just how odd it is, given that he’s my only sibling and thus my experience is limited to this, the eleven-year age-gap, the 220-mile distance, the total lack of common ground in politics or interests. It doesn’t make for easy closeness, really. And it’s been a long time since I felt I had a home in the area in which my brother lives, he having never left East Sussex while I have gravitated further west over my adult life, living on the edge of Dartmoor these days.

I hear, third-hand via my brother’s wife (who I’ve only met once) and my father, that his specialist says he has months, possibly weeks, possibly a little longer.

It’s all bound up in the loss of my mother, when I was twenty-two, somehow. Such a distance of time has passed, and yet still I think nearly daily of how different life might have been should she have lived. What would look the same? What would she recognise in my life as it stands now? Which furniture would she know from her own house? Which earrings? Would my job surprise her? My marriage? My children?

The one good thing I was able to salvage from my mother’s death was that she and I had no outstanding difficulties in need of resolution. She was my best friend, and I loved her fiercely. She was also the nicest person I ever knew, and I miss her every single day. And here I stand on the edges of the opposite experience, I think: the flipside of that coin. I don’t know my brother well at all. It’s been years since there was any closeness between us. When he got married, about five years ago, he didn’t tell me or my father that he was involved with someone in that way, and we only learned of it much later. His wife makes him happy – this is A Good Thing. I wish I knew her – and indeed him – better. My family was always such a small one, and when my mother died it was as if the links that bound us just drifted away, almost imperceptibly, until I found that weeks passed by and I didn’t think of calling or emailing and somehow here we are and it’s years. I did try. Probably not as hard as I could have done, but then again, the years have been full of divorce, custody difficulties, school difficulties, financial difficulties, and the lurking dread that comes with realising that you never knew the person you were married to at all, and that they are genuinely capable of anything, and not in a good way. Excuses, excuses. But still.

In a few weeks the Man and I will go to Sussex, while the childebeest are in Yorkshire with their grandmother. We will visit my brother, and his wife. We will try to pick up the stitches and find a way to knit up the ravelled sleeve, in this last moment of who-knows-how-long time.

In November, I will be forty. Forty years on the planet, and, to quote the Man’s earlier mockery, ‘what a Guardian-reading dilemma: you’ve not yet written your first novel!’ We aren’t here forever. I must do better on actually getting done the things I claim to value. This book of mine, five years fermenting in my mind. The pots I long to make and instead feel guilty about every time I walk past the barn where the kiln and the wheel live. The knitting I start and watch languishing in a basket. The garden I poke at once or twice a year, wishing I had more time and feeling completely overwhelmed by it. How does one balance these things with a forty-hour working week? With a job which eats into the quiet spaces of my mind, replacing creativity with a sense of urgency and the image of plates on sticks?

Today has not been a very good day. I think that is enough Mondaying for one week, and retreat to the bath.

In July

As I write this, it’s been about half a year since I last posted, and I’m not entirely sure where the time has gone, predictably. Just over two weeks ago, I had a call during which I learned that my eldest girl has, in their terms, ‘met the threshold for a diagnosis of autism’. This has been quite a lot to process, despite the feeling during the wait that no diagnosis would be more difficult to handle. Perhaps it would have been; I’ll never know. But it’s taken me two weeks out of work to begin to settle my soul down, to accommodate this new knowledge and find a space in my heart for it where it isn’t constantly eroding my sense of self as a mother. In the initial few hours after that phonecall, I felt that I’d let my girl down, that a whole world of understanding and ease would never be hers, and that in some way it must be my fault. Rational me doesn’t think that, but sometimes emotional me gets in the way, and emotional me is still far from sure that this isn’t in some way my bad, my failing, my crapola.

However, two weeks out of the normal pattern of life have helped to straighten things out a little, though I am still dismayed at how quickly I go back to feeling completely overwhelmed. Both girls got home yesterday afternoon, after a week’s holiday with their father and his mother (both of whom think this diagnosis is rubbish; her father says she will use this as an excuse for bad behaviour, and that she’s not autistic but just rude sometimes – this without a hint of irony, given his own behaviour in the past). So far they have co-existed relatively peaceably, though the younger is going through a particularly argumentative and critical phase which has resulted in tears several times, on her part, due to perceived harshnesses or purposeful misunderstandings. I found myself on the verge of tears when I realised I’ve cocked up the cats’ vaccination cycle, such that we must restart Hecate’s course in total, meaning a future bill of £60 on top of a recent one; this isn’t a huge sum, but money is quite tight these days and I am constantly fretting, at least on the back burner, about anything unexpected. I’m also getting pain in my fingers and wrists that suggests something along the lines of RSI, though I can’t blame time at keyboards given that I’ve been away from all that for a fortnight (and this started a year or so ago, really), and which is worrying me because one of the things I’m trying to summon up the energy to do (in a bid for self-care improvement) is potting, given the kiln and wheel in the barn in the courtyard. It’s bloody ironic that the first time I live anywhere with the space to have a workshop set-up, and I manage to acquire the big tools of the potter’s trade, I get too much pain to actually use it. Back to the flax seed oil, big time.

I keep wondering if I ought to go the whole hog and cut gluten from my diet altogether, but I already have a tricky time making sure the girls’ diet isn’t impacted by my own vegan leanings, and am not keen to take easy access to bread from them. We’re eating a mostly vegan diet these days, with the odd exception of pizza; I have yet to find a pizza cheese that particularly the eldest will accept, and she has an almost eerie ability to detect – and reject – any replacement attempts at ninety paces. So, cheese remains the toughest nut to crack. I might do a stint of gluten-free too, and just see if it makes any difference to the joint pain and all that; I’ve read a bit of the research on nightshades but can’t stomach the idea of life without tomatoes and potatoes, so will put that particular trial off as long as possible, while swigging flax seed oil from the bottle if need be.

This is clearly going to be rambling and little more, this time, but this is the stuff that churns around in my brain at the moment, and if by writing it down here I am better able to let it go, then so be it.

It’s strange to say it but I almost feel trapped by the craft supplies I have accrued over the years. There is a cupboard in the sitting room here, that we had made shortly after moving in. It houses beads, buttons, wires, papers, paints, fabrics, felting needles, knitting needles, and various other odds and sods that escape me off the top of my clearly addled brain. There are endless projects to be made from these materials, and endless smugness lies therein. And some days I think I’d quite like to shove them all off to a charity shop, or, if an excess of energy were to appear, stick them on eBay.

Meanwhile, eldest is dancing to Coldplay’s ‘Magic’, awaiting bedtime. The house has a new thatch as of this summer, and a new roof to the wet room, which had previously been rather wetter than necessary courtesy of several leaks and some very rotten woodwork. The external woodwork is slowly changing colour, courtesy of the Man and a large paintbrush, from a bright blue wholly at odds with the house to a more muted grey, which matches the colour of the newly-added slates on the roof. The garden is chaotic, but there are sunflowers growing this year, and tomatoes forming in the greenhouse, which is also home to a ridiculous abundance of vine, complete with miniature grapes slowly ripening in the Devon summer.

Some days the house feels quiet and serene, with places for things to live, and cupboards with space to spare (!), and orderly shopping deliveries, and places to park bikes (a Honda Blackbird) and store helmets (and leathers). Some days it feels full of difficulties and problems, drawers over-crammed, floors covered in random scatterings as the children bicker from room to room. Some days I worry about money pretty much endlessly – if we could find a way to make another, say, £300 a month we’d be totally sorted, and it doesn’t seem that much until you’ve not got it and the house insurance is £700. Some days I think things are going OK, actually, and I’ve just recently had my temporary contract extension to full-time made permanent, as well as managing somehow to blag my way through the Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice, such that I now have Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy to boot. These are Good Things, and I know this, but oh, to have a decent safety net, of, say £5000, stashed away somewhere. At the moment I have a net of £2000, but it’s a net with bloody great holes in it in that I owe £5000 on a credit card (fortunately it’s a 0% deal and has a while to run yet, so it’s not as dire as it sounds), and it’s my stash towards paying that off when due. Maybe I should extend the mortgage. Maybe I shouldn’t. Some days I would really like someone to come along with a handbook for life, in which are detailed The Right Things To Do.

Shortly, I will have a glass of wine, and I will think about going back into the office tomorrow (though I think I may try to practise a little mindfulness here, in that I am not at work now and thus shouldn’t be thinking about it). I will look at the candles lit around my bloody lovely house, and think of all the feet that have walked over this floor, particularly the slate steps between the kitchen and the oldest (sixteenth-century) part of the house. And life is good, despite the bumps.

20 January 2018

Yesterday, four bergamot lemons appeared in the house. They weren’t precipitated out of thin air, I hasten to add, but rather more mundanely as part of the veg delivery. Still, they are things of beauty, and I have just translated the first of their number into Turkish delight, my first attempt thereat. It took quite a long time (the best part of two hours), but good God the smell! I grated the zest into a pan of boiling sugar syrup, adding a drop or two of Geranium Bourbon oil, and it was like thirty-five aromatherapy sessions had come at once. The entire house smells like a parfumerie, and it is just divine. I await the results with my usual minimal patience, and am passing the time chivvying childebeest to do their homework, trying not to take the youngest’s constant swithering about going to her father’s house today personally, and listening to the Noordpool Orchestra’s beguiling Radiohead: a Jazz Symphony

Over the last day or so, I have started to realise that a lot of my difficulties with the childebeest – and particularly the eldest thereof – at the moment stem from beating myself up about leaving and divorcing their father, when actually, the patterns of behaviour were well-established before that happened. So, I am trying to re-learn a lesson that I appear able to grasp only temporarily: the Zen message of achieving  through relinquishing control. The girls’ relationship with their father is just that – their relationship. And while I may sometimes feel it as a competition, it’s not. It’s not a vote of no-confidence if they want to spend time with him, and I can’t protect them from being upset by his behaviour sometimes, because I’m not in control of their relationship. All I can do I suppose is try to ensure that I am here for them, and that they know that, and to give them a house full of warmth, security, and creativity. What happens when they are with their father, and the fact that they want to be with him sometimes, has to be up to them, really, and him. So, if we get back to the point we were at before Christmas, when the eldest had been saying consistently for some months that she wanted to spend less time there and found her father annoying and difficult to talk to, then that’s for her to bring to me. I’m just going to try to take my hands off the controls a bit, and just worry less. It’s hard for me to do this, ridiculous creature that I am. But I’ve been getting so caught up in the rhetoric of everything being anxious-making and disastrous and difficult that it was sweeping me away, and when that happens I lose all sense of perspective, and of there being any joy in life whatsoever. So, a step back, and a breathing-out.

Later I will take the eldest to her father as normal, and the youngest will stay here, despite vacillations, as she’s really not enjoying herself today – lots of tears, hardly any appetite, and admissions of grumpiness that she doesn’t understand herself. The shingles rash is still very red and sore-looking; I’m hoping that a quiet night’s sleep, lots of TLC and so on, and she’ll shake it off in time for school on Monday, but Wednesday is looking a lot more likely at this point…

19 January 2018

Today has mostly been defined by the smallest childebeest’s shingles diagnosis.

Other than that, and perhaps because it’s just been a totally rubbish week, I am feeling strangely calm. I have been working from home during the day, and at lunchtime I gloated over the arrival of the first Riverford box I have ordered in many years, which brought with it bergamot lemons, Seville oranges, beautiful leeks and various other vegetable delights. Leek and potato soup for lunch followed, and a veggie cottage pie with sweet potato mash is on the books for this evening.

After I finished working, I walked the half-mile to the local shop, taking photos of the beautiful clear skies on the way. It’s been wet and windy here for days, with storm-filled nights and bitter rain of the sort that speaks of ice to follow, but today the skies have brightened and there are horse-tail clouds streaking across the blue, all the way to Dartmoor. The trees are bare against the light, and I love the stark shapes they make as the light fades and the birds shout.

It’s not a competition. I need to hang on to that. It’s not a comment. It’s not a competition. The best thing I can do to keep myself sane and to feel that I’m doing my best as a parent is to try to retain some level of objectivity, and to continue to acknowledge that these are someone else’s choices, and not mine, and all I can do is be me, and be constant, and know that I am here, and make that known to both the girls. Intellectually I always know this, but in times of stress I do lose sight of it.

This weekend I am going to throw some pots on the wheel, and I am going to tidy up the pottery. I am also going to prune the grape vine back, and do some of the other jobs I learn from the RHS one should do in the garden at this time of year. I am also going to dye my hair a rather nice shade of rose gold, and continue to plot my next tattoo.

And for now, that is all.

16 January 2018

Today the eldest was horrible to people at school, hurting one friend and threatening to do so to another. She was rude to her teacher and otherwise obnoxious. After an evening of blatant attempts to curry favour before the conversation I had indicated we needed to have, she told me that she did all this because she missed her dad.

It doesn’t matter what I do. It doesn’t matter how good I am, or how hard I work, or how much effort I put into trying to understand her and be there for her and help her. None of it matters, because there is this. I don’t know how I stand this. I don’t know how to be OK with being kicked in the teeth as if I have no emotions, and constantly having to sit on things so that I don’t make the damage about which I fret constantly any worse.

I snapped. I told her that no doubt she wants to see her father because he will tell her how lovely she is and that it’s not her fault, when actually, behaving like that isn’t lovely, isn’t on, and she won’t hear that from me. I told her she can see him tomorrow and then again on Saturday, and to knock herself out. And then I slammed the door, burst into tears and spent several minutes in the garden room shouting inarticulate things about the unfairness of it all and how she can live with him if she bloody wants and good luck to her.

Yay me. With all my adult points.

I also went back to work after five weeks’ absence today. Combination of ‘flu over Christmas and just the never-ending stress of all this meant that the break was a total failure, really, and while there were bits that worked and bits I enjoyed, it was pretty much a wash-out.

I’m exhausted. I’m just sick of this. I’m sick of trying to understand. I get no idea when I’m getting things right, or if I’m helping, and then just when I’m least expecting it I get a kick in the head.

Today the youngest started piano lessons I can’t really afford with a teacher I wish we didn’t have to use. To be clear, not because the teacher isn’t lovely  – she is – and a popular choice with the youngest – again, all good – but just because it reminds me that my mother isn’t here. She would surely have taught M. Eighteen years since she died and still my voice fails me when I say how pleased she would be that M is playing the piano. But so good to see her enjoying it. And so good to feel that for her I have done at least one good thing this week.

Today

I screw my mind tightly shut against the words as he yells them. ‘I don’t know how to deal with this,’ he yells. ‘I don’t know what to do about it – you won’t hear this very often from me, but I don’t know what to do with this!’ His hands scrabble across the table, seeking purchase on something – anything – to destroy as the rage washes over him. My knitting needles, in this case – a hat, begun before Christmas when I was recovering from a virus. For him, ironically enough. The wool is hurled to the floor as I hold him, begging him to be quiet, telling him that he’ll frighten the children. They are not used to rage, these girls of mine. We are of the south, and southern people do not shout and scream, do not storm against the unfairness of life and the injustice of the world. We repress. We purse lips. We pivot on heels. We draft – but do not send – angry emails.

My ex-husband won’t allow my youngest daughter to go to an after-school singing club. It may not sound like much, but it has ruined the last few days, somehow. He sees her three times a week. He sees both of them three times a week. He spent years lying to me, drinking in secret darkness, hiding bottles, emotions, thoughts, himself. He has done unspeakable things since I left him. And before. And yet he behaves as if he is a man wronged. I am the unreasonable one, interfering with his time with these girls I so foolishly made with this creature. All unthinking I did this. All unknowing. They are my soul and my heart and my life, and I blundered into their conception as if asleep. How did I not see? How did I not know? How did I not feel that under the depression and the misery and the difficulties and the hard work that that sort of stench does not come from truth, but from lies upon lies upon lies.

Sometimes it feels as if no matter what I do, this will go on forever. I met a man and fell in love with him, at a time in my life when I thought I could not love anyone ever again. He rescued me. He helped me when I needed it most, and he loved my children, and he loves my children, and he wants to have a child of our own, mine and his, and even that I am not sure I can give him. I am thirty-nine. I spent most of my adult life with my ex-husband. Nearly all of it, in fact, until I realised, finally, that what he was was not a good thing. Not a good thing at all. And then this man appeared, when I was looking for anything but. And here we are, and I feel I have done him no kindness through my part in his life. I think of him standing under the harsh yellow of a car park lamp-post, telling me that if what he was to me was nothing more than a transition, then that was fine with him because what a transition. I think of him telling me that I would kill him if I kept pushing him away, keeping him at arms’ length while I tried to work out what were my own thoughts and what guilt at the pain I felt I was bringing down on myself and my girls. I think of the things he has done for me, and for my daughters, and how hard he works to be in our lives, and to help. Just to help. ‘I’m not a bad man,’ he moans, into my shoulder, the rage subsiding. ‘I can be a good husband to you. But none of it is worth anything, because he gets to do this. He gets to do this. And the world is not a kind place. It’s a cruel place. And he gets to do this.’ How have I done this to someone I love so much? I have put him in a position which is driving him slowly yet surely insane. It is changing the substance of him. It is asking more of him than any man should have to give, and it continues to ask. There is no definite end to this, except death. We have little enough time, given the twenty-year age-gap that fate has handed us in this lifetime. And so much of it is polluted by my ex-husband, his selfishness, his self-obsession, his continued and persistent interference in my life through my girls.

I need to believe that the world is a good place. It is in me as surely as blood, meat and marrow. To lose that is to lose a part of me, to die a little. And yet this man I love. How to reconcile these things? His world is cruel and wrong and unfair and obscene, and he feels himself to be useless and powerless and a victim. A victim of my ex-husband, just as he sees me and these girls. I cannot bear it. Sometimes I think it would be easier perhaps if he left. If we parted. Because surely this is more than we can survive. And if we do survive, what will we be? How will we still be us? When we were first together, he smiled, so much. I delighted in the knowledge that I could make him laugh, watch him break into a grin so uplifting that I knew in my soul that he was born to be happy, and not to live in the darkness which is also there, nipping at the edges of the picture. And now we seem to live in the darkness so much that I almost forget those smiles, sometimes.

It sounds ridiculous, I know. It is a singing club for a six-year-old child. But it isn’t the club. It isn’t the singing. It is the persistent niggling. The constant undermining and reminders that he isn’t going anywhere, that I’m not in control of my life, that the choices I make are, ultimately, conditional. How I wish I had left and taken them and just gone, miles and miles and miles away, far enough that he couldn’t find me and couldn’t have them and couldn’t manipulate and disappoint them as he did me for all that time. But I wanted to be fair. I wanted to be kind. I believed – I believed! – that we could retain a respect for each other born out of what we had once been to each other. That we could co-parent these girls into adulthood with a shared conversation, contributing to their happiness and wellbeing, giving them strength and courage and all the other things they will need as they move into women. Just to have a week without handing them over to someone whose influence I believe to be pernicious and irresponsible. Who steals Christmas trees in dark forests with nine-year-old children with him, swearing them to secrecy so that they fear telling even me. Who leaves the scene of an accident that was his fault, pausing only to shout abuse at the other drive, with the children in the car, before lying about it, only to be found out because there was a witness. Who threatens to take my pension and my income to support him because he has to ‘consider his options’. Who refuses to sign a financial clean break agreement as part of divorce proceedings because I won’t give him the children for half the week, despite his admissions that his drinking was such that he might not have heard them in the night had they called. Who accuses this man who loves me, this man who gets up in the night to hold hair back when the children are sick, who buys nappies in late-night supermarkets, who butters crumpets every morning and irons school skirts, who remembers which likes cooked tomatoes and which prefers raw – who accuses this man of molesting my youngest girl, with such precision timing that a mediator has of course to report this shameful and disgusting fabrication to local social services so that we spend a horrific six weeks waiting for them to admit what I already know: that my ex-husband isn’t above making vexatious complaints when it things don’t go his way.

This is my life. This is his life. How are you supposed to cope with this? How do podcasts about courage and self-belief and mindfulness and creative outlets actually cover dealing with an ever-present monster in your own backyard? How will meditation help me to overcome the persistent, gnawing anxiety of living under this particular Damoclean sword? How can keeping the house clean, and the children well-clothed and fed, protect us against this? I try to be a good person. I am honest, and I work hard. I try to help people whenever I can, and not to judge if people aren’t able to help me when I would like them to. I try to connect, to make meaning from this random life we live. Sometimes I think this will break me. But it can’t. I have these girls, and I cannot be broken because they exist. I must do better than that. Is it so wrong to want to be happy? I am so nearly nearly happy. So very nearly that it hurts to breathe when I think of it in those terms. I love this house. I love it so so much. I love this garden, this patch of land that by some miracle I have been allowed to own. I love my friends, and my cats, and the fact that I own a barn, with space for a kiln and a potter’s wheel, and organised shelves a million miles away from my own disorganised and chaotic childhood. I love the routines we have as a household. I love breakfast together, and waffles on the Rayburn. I love feeding – and swearing at – the cats. I love walking to school and watching the wind farm on Dartmoor. And all the while there is this worm there, lurking, just waiting to reach in and poison things, to stop trees bearing fruit, to stop plans being made and carried out.

This is where I am today.

Of pots, wine, and the delicate balancing act of money and time.

Things I am thinking about today:

How do you value your time? How do you value the things that you do to earn money, and how do you prioritise doing the things you love, but which may not pay you money, and doing the things that mean you can pay the bills every month?

At the moment, I’m working full-time in a reasonably well-paid job that I don’t hate, but which probably isn’t something I would say makes my heart sing. Since moving house nearly two years ago, I find myself in the extraordinarily fortunate position of having a space for pottery – there is a cob barn in the courtyard, before you get into the main garden, and it’s divided into three rooms downstairs, which means a space for garden tools, the pottery, and larder-like storage for the wholesale buying group that I run locally. I’ve made a few things, but haven’t really had the time to work out where to go with it. When I was potting regularly, I used to have friends ask if they could commission work – bowls, mugs, platters – but it’s been some years – and two children – since that was, well, a thing. Now, I find myself with the things I lacked then in terms of resources (I have work space, and a beautiful shiny kiln), but without much in the way of time to throw at it.

I’m trying to make it work, this full-time work juggling lark. I work odd hours of overtime to make up for leaving early or arriving late, so that I don’t miss the things that the girls, now happily settled in the village school, are doing. Despite this, I feel nearly perpetual guilt that I’m not just at home for them, for every drop-off and pick-up. Part of me knows this is nonsensical; I’m around way more than many working parents, and I hope that they know they are my first priority – they see me at the assemblies, and we go to the fairs, and I ran a craft club last term that went down really well.

Mainly I’m trying to make sure that I still do the things that I feel are important to me as a grown woman. This seems to be the sticking point. Much of the time I just seem to be so tired that I can’t get it together to do much more than have a shower, feed a passing cat, and head towards bed. Some days, it feels like all I do is work, and the daily chores associated with living in a house with other human beings. The Man and I got married this summer, and we’ve been living together full-time since we moved into this house last December. This involved him leaving a job near London, after months of commuting ridiculous distances so that we could spend time together. So, at the moment, we’re down to my salary, and that’s difficult for both of us, in our different ways. We’re still learning, about each other, about ourselves, about child-rearing together, about what child-rearing looks like for each of us, let alone as a unit. Some days it’s easy and blissful; some days it’s hard work. But I love him, and the girls love him, and we’re making it work. It would all be easier if we won the lottery, naturally.

Sometimes I think the thing is just to work harder. Get up earlier to fit in the yoga that I know would do my head good. Get things done more efficiently so that I have more time for creativity, more time for keeping things tidy and and keeping on top of, well, stuff.

Sometimes I think I just can’t work harder, and it’s just that I’m doing too much, well, stuff.

Sometimes I think I think too much and should just do more.