Monday, 19 July 2021

Settling into myself.


Me as a young mother with Lexi, my oldest, aged 7

Pondering at nearly 61

I am going to be 61 in a week or two.  I remember being 10 and spending all my pocket money on some lipstick for my mother's birthday and a Bic biro for my father's and feeling very grown up. I have a handle on life, I thought, I know what these grown ups need. Theoretically I am grown up myself now, and I am very glad.  There is much to be grateful for, not least that I do not have to go through the learning any more that has led me to who I am now.  The learning is not over, it never is, but the hard lessons during my travels to where I am today, are over.  They still reverberate and I deal with the fall out from time to time, we all do this, and the fall out can be good too.  Then I am relieved and feel that we never really know how things will turn out.  With the best will in the world, struggling through the business of being young, trying to work out how the world works and who we are in it, sometimes our worst decisions can end up being beneficial in the end, after many years, despite the fall out at the time. 

Being a young mum

The most difficult times of my life were as a young mum.  I was not as young as some, my first child was born when I was 30, my last when I was 36.  I did not have a clue how the world worked and did not have a clue who I was.  My first pregnancy was a complete shock, I had only just met the father.  None of my clothes fit me any more and I felt sick and exhausted. "You're pregnant", said the doctor when I went to see her, and I was outraged.  "How very dare you!" I said, and changed doctors.  At the new surgery, the doctor said, "You are probably pregnant," and as I made to leave in a huff, she gave me a pregnancy test and told me to come back and see her with the result.  It was positive.  OMG. I was so clueless.  But in this strange and confusing world, where I was now to have a baby despite feeling totally disconnected to life, my own mother was a lifeline.  She was calm, loving and practical.  She was the grown up, she was the real mother.  I was stunned.  A baby.  Blimey.

I found motherhood both beautiful and glorious, and terrifying and challenging.  I made it up as I went along, I meant well but had absolutely no grasp on reality.  Sometimes I thought I was only three months more emotionally mature than my children.  I had no idea how to do it, what the rules were or who I was.  And after my divorce and two children later I was, for most of the time, a single mother.  To say I was anxious and frightened was an understatement.  We were poor, chaotic and for much of the time I was ashamed of how bad a mother I thought I was.  Not only that, I thought I was a bad person.  I just wasn't like everyone else, and I felt too different. Of course I was never a bad person.  I was different, I wasn't like everyone else, but I lacked the experience and insight to understand that that was my USP.  My unique selling point.  That was my strength.  That is what artists are.


With all those years behind me, with the benefits of hindsight and time passing, I completely see I wasn't so bad.  This is the good bit of settling into myself.  I wasn't so different from other mothers, though I thought I was at the time.  Somehow the kids and I got through and everyone is still alive today, which in some places, is a huge success.  All those years of ups and downs, good and bad decisions (lots of very bad decisions) made me work out who I am and what I want.  There is nothing like being on the front line of experience to make you decide to sink or swim.  

My own daughter has four little children and a lovely husband.  She has everything right in ways that I had not. But her struggles with being a mum are, actually, the same as mine were and, I see, the same as all of us.  Despite making excellent choices, and despite being a very sound family, the actual job of parenthood for her looks as difficult as mine was.  I am reassured that perhaps the bottom line for many of us who have children, is that we really do love and we do the best we can.  The rest is just a muddle. Life happens around us at the rate of knots and we do a great job of running as fast as we can to stay as still. I know who I am now because for so long I did not know.  All those years of struggle have led to a degree of calm now, and the calm is not just from outside because all my children are grown and living away.  That does help, boy does it help.  But the calm is also from inside -  we have all staggered through the good times and the bad to right now, and though my children are all beginning their crazy journeys through life, I am beginning the long last road of mine.  I am not old and am not intending to die just yet but I am looking at about 20 years with luck, and I know now a lot more about what not to do, and how not to fall into traps which leaves me with what I do want to do, and, of course, what I can do.  And, I am deeply sympathetic to my own mother too as I get older. 


My work, my family and my social life are all linked together in a big crazy knot. While a young mum, I became a self employed artist almost by accident, I announced it one day out of the blue and then had to learn about business, about clients and new things called the internet and mobile phones.  It seemed such a huge deal at the time to admit that I was an artist, even though in my heart I never was anything else.  A friend held business support sessions and encouraged me to think big.  This is where Artist Extraordinaire came from, but for the first ten years or so I used to whisper it in case anyone thought I was uppity. Yet I didn't reject it.  Funny, really.  Like I knew I was an artist extraordinaire but no one else would. 

About to set the world on fire at uni

I have not set the world on fire.  At university, my aim was to soar to the greatest heights and change the world.  To what, never crossed my mind.  It was all about me.  The hard task of life got in the way of all that, and for many years it seemed I was never going to amount to much.  It was all such hard work.  Trying to be a mum, doing my own growing up (painful), following a dream and navigating the real world as an artist meant that all I ever seem to do was get it all wrong and tread water.  That is how it seemed.  I still stuck at it because that is what I do, I stick at things.  And because in my heart and soul I had never ever wanted to do anything else than be an artist.  So when I look back at all the crazy, I see someone who was just a bit different, who did not conform to anything much but had so little self confidence that she thought she was just wrong.  But what I also see disguised in there as stubbornness, is self belief.  Wow.  That's good.  Self belief helped me to choose and stick to my destiny as an artist even though everything around me was mental, and everyone else thought WTF.  

And so -

 Here I am today.  Feeling chilled about life in the way I used to marvel at in my grandparents.  In my opinion, they had finished living because they were happy to do gardening and reading, and have early nights.  I see the almost spiritual benefits of that now.  I can't wait to do some gardening and take a book to bed for a night of reading.  Damn, I would have considered that a punishment at one time.  Time is different to me these days, and I suppose will continue to change and morph.  I don't have to rush about now, and I am learning that whole chunks of time spent not being an amazing human being are not only preferable, they are a relief. And they are possible!  The world does not end.  By now, being an amazing human being is less about changing the world with a fanfare and lots of praise from the outside world, and more about getting a balance between me and my soul. I don't have to do anything to be amazing, I just have to be.  Then, I notice that everyone else is an amazing human being, and we are all in this together.  Life changes over time, and it becomes less about the outside and more about the inside.  The great Franciscan priest, author and spiritual teacher Richard Rohr says that we spend the first half of our lives building our container, and the second half examining its contents.  Well, I am examining the contents of my container, and finding much of what is in there can be gently removed and the space that it leaves filled with only peace.  

I will just end by saying that to the outside world I am still constantly on the go.  Yes, I am.  But I can, and do, stop and spend the time chillaxing alone that once I would have spent with children, life and ambition.  I am full of projects, thoughts, events and stuff.  I am a whirligig.  But I am not driven now, there is no point, I can't change the world.  I still want to get things done and make a difference, but where I once wanted to change the world, I now understand that my journey is not to do that.  I can still make a difference, as can we all, and it is lovely to make a difference every now and again and feel good about it.  I am settling into myself very well these days, and finding that it is nice, being nearly 61. 

Nearly 61 with my little granddaughter Lilz. All the world ahead for us both.

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