Tuesday, 26 August 2014

After suffering comes relief

Last Friday, my step mum died of motor neurone disease. Actually she died from respiratory failure, caused by her ever-weakening lungs shutting down. She was, in fact, lucky in death; after a morning of struggling to breathe, her GP gave her a sedative, and she died in her sleep.

That very morning, she had said to my Dad that she didn't want to go on any more.

Her daily life and been hard. She couldn't move. She couldn't talk, or swallow. She couldn't lift her head. She'd lost control of her saliva production, so dribbled constantly. She'd become incontinent.

But her brain was still functioning perfectly normally. And there lies the cruelty of the disease; she could see exactly what was happening to her.

My Dad, who had become her carer, is grieving. He is heartbroken. He has seen the woman he loved being ravaged by a disease, eaten away. And now he's in the strange place where most of him is consumed with sadness, but a small part of him feels relief - and guilt for feeling this way.

She was a quiet and dignified lady. With no children of her own, she and I formed a close bond. She was a brilliant grandparent to my two kids.

We will all miss her.

The timing of her death coincides with the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. ALS is what the Brits call Motor Neurone Disease. It's wonderful that the Ice Bucket Challenge has taken off, and I understand that it's raised £250,000 for the MND Assocation, and around £34m for the ALS equivalent in the States. That is an INCREDIBLE amount of money for relatively small charities.

Who knows? The Ice Bucket Challenge may lead to a cure to this horrendous disease. A washing up bowl, some ice cubes, a tap. And a cure to thousands of peoples' suffering.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

24 hours

In the past 24 hours, I've gone from loved one to singleton. I've called the police. I've been to the dump to get rid of mouldy confidential files and a rat's skeleton.

What a difference a day makes.

You may remember that my ex's wife has some issues with me (this is an understatement). Their break-up two years ago was messy; he told me his marriage was over, and we started seeing each other; unfortunately he hadn't let his wife in on the deal, so when she found my texts on his phone, she chucked him out.

All very understandable.

He told her at the time that he was going to 'find himself' and try to make it as an artist, on his own. What he actually did was take a quick trip to Paris, take some photos, then came back and carried on with life as usual. Seeing me.

This did not go down too well with his wife who still - for some unexplainable reason - still loves him. She refuses to admit that he has done wrong, preferring to believe that I cast a witchery spell over him, Morgana-stylee, and lured him into my arms with my mermaid's lyrical singing. And fishy smell.

Her hatred of me is immense, and she goes through spates of texting me poisonous nuggets; some of which are filled to the brim with astonishingly crude swear words, some refer to me as 'it', some make no sense whatsoever, some are threatening and - once - an apology. Her last crop of texts winged their way to me last week, whilst I was camping with the kids.

I feel a whole range of emotions for this woman. Guilt, obviously, for the part that I have played in the break up of their relationship. Pity too, for a woman so in love with a man that she can't see he has treated her like shit for years (I am not the first affair). I feel like shaking her, trying to open her eyes to what he has done to her.

But she won't see it.

The empathy I feel for her has stopped me from responding to any of her texts, because I feel, in a way, I deserve them. It is a whipping, a punishment. But recently she overstepped the mark by threatening me, and after that one, I texted her telling her that, if she did it again, I would approach my solicitor or the police.

She did it again. So I had the conundrum of what to do when a naughty child oversteps the mark again and again - do you follow up on your threats? Of course. You have to.

My solicitor recommended I approach the police and so, with some trepidation, I completed the '101' form online. Within half an hour, I had a response asking me to book an appointment with an officer, or come into the station. The nice lady said it sounded like harassment, or 'malicious communication'. Within another hour, I had a text saying the same thing.

Blimey, I thought. They were certainly taking this seriously.

And then the phone went, and it was the boyf. And in a nutshell, he said he wanted a break from me until Christmas, because he's realised that he needs to 'find himself' like he said he was going to, a couple of years ago.

I thought: Fuck You. I said: I'm not waiting for you.

I didn't sleep very well. I rolled around and thought of all the effort I've put into boyf, into managing his depression, into keeping our long distance relationship alive, into punishing myself with his wife's texts. And increasingly I thought: You Utter Shit.

At 8am this morning, my local beat PC called. He was concerned, he said, and would like to come and see me. I explained that I had just been chucked, and that I thought this would mean the texts would stop.

Oh dear, he said, you've not had a great 24 hours, have you?

He made me laugh. And cry. I just about stopped myself from asking if he was single (that bit was hard).

And my day was topped off by work. I'd been tasked to clean out the 'corridor of doom' (such is the importance of my job) and I found such delights as a rat skeleton, many hairy spiders, pigeon poo by the gallon and several extremely long worms. As well as kilos of mouldy financial material.

And now I'm sitting here, knowing logically that splitting from the boyf is right, good and proper, but feeling that my heart is breaking.

It is a bit shit.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Top five tips for holidaying as a single parent

We've just come back from a week's camping in Wales. Well, I say camping - we stayed in a yurt and it was as luxurious as camping can get. A proper bed for me, a stove and a grill, a log burner and a compost loo, too.

I took the boys there last year - my first outing as a single parent - and the welcome couldn't have been warmer. Not only from the campsite owners, but from the other camper families who took pity on me the minute they saw my ashen face.

We had an unexpectedly glorious week then, and our repeat visit was just as enjoyable. I'm learning as I go, though; the first trip held some unexpected challenges (extremely cold nights, essentials left behind, the issues of all us of living in a confined space) which I'm almost getting to grips with now.

Here are my Top Five Tips for holidaying as a single parent.

1. Pick somewhere low-stress. For me, this means staying in the UK. I cannot be faffed with going to the airport with the kids at 3am, then stressing at the other end about buses or hire cars or making myself understood. I am a worrier, and I know my limits - but if you're laid back, and can enjoy the journey as part of the holiday (lucky bastard), then by all means, travel far afield with the kids. If you go abroad, consider going 'All Inclusive' so there's no cooking or washing up needed.

2. You'll be madly packing for your children, like you always do. But don't forget that this holiday is for you, too. Pack items that YOU will find useful, even luxurious. My tip for this year: a camping chair to take to the beach. Previously I'd have been happy to sit on the wet sand and watch the kids in the sea, but this chair - plus the addition of a five pound wind break - made going to the beach an absolute pleasure.

And while we're on the subject, don't just make packed lunches that the kids like; treat yourself, too. A really nice soft drink for you, or a proper coffee from the beach shack. If you like to read a paper, then buy yourself a blummin paper. Get the kids involved with the Codeword puzzle towards the back.  And then, when it's been read, get the children to scrumple it up, and burn it on the camp fire.

3. Go somewhere where you'll meet other families. You might love the thought of being in total isolation with your children (quick question - are you mad?) but I would advise picking a place where your kids will find friends to play with. It's a balance though, isn't it, because my worst nightmare would be to end up in a crowded hotel and surrounded by screaming children. *shudder* 

Choose well, Yoda, because you are going to be stuck there for a week or more.

4. Do things with your kids, but if you need some separation from them, don't be afraid of seeking out things that they would enjoy doing (whilst you have a snooze). Last week, I booked the boys onto a bushcraft course for a morning. They did a similar thing last year and, to be honest, they were a bit moany about going. But I knew that, if they didn't go, the probability that I would melt down through lack of sleep and space was high. So I twisted their arms a little and actually, that time apart did us all the world of good. (And they enjoyed it too.)

Conversely, book activities that you can do together. I booked Coasteering last week. If you haven't heard of it before - it is not really a suitable activity for a 43 year old woman. It is three days on and I still can't really move.

It's all about exploring the coastline - by climbing up craggy bits and jumping in, bobbing about in caves, clambering over barnacled columns and eating seaweed that tastes like Pizza Express doughballs (TRUE STORY). I absolutely loved the thought of it, but hadn't really realised how physical it was - the jumping in was fine but you had to climb out and back up again and that, ladies and gentlemen, is hard work for someone with a bigger than average bottom.

Anyway, the point is, we did it together, cheered each other when we'd done something brave and helped each other when we were struggling. I even saw my teenager (13) being chatted up by a group of 17 year old girls. Which was an odd feeling - pride and horror and joy and sadness all in one roly poly lump.

5. If you're holidaying in the UK, plan for wet weather. And the cold. Seems obvious, but the first year we went I had been led astray by a particularly good batch of weather beforehand, only to be pelted with a full day's rain when we arrived. This year, we packed lots of board games - but they were board games that we all liked to play. Our particular favourites are Dominion and Ticket To Ride - but we also like Settlers and Carcassonne, too. I'm afraid I won't let them take Monopoly or Risk (suppresses screams). I'm talking boys here: take balls. All sorts of balls - tennis, foot, soft, bouncy - whatever you can lay your hands on. Plus bats, rackets, stumps, frisbees.

And hoodies. As many hoodies as you can shake a stick at. Or something.

If I could give you one piece of advice, it would be this: don't put unnecessary strain on yourself. If you are cooking, take lots of packet rice, pasta and sausages. This is not haute cuisine week. They will survive if they don't get their quota of organic artichokes for a few days. Get the kids to share in the chores, and if they're old enough, show them how to make you a proper cup of coffee in the morning (I'm not joking). Keep your sanity through any means.

If you can do this, you and your children will have a fabulous time, wherever you are.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

A mother of no one

And as I sit in my church on Remembrance Day, listening to the roll call of the dead, the same surname is read out. Twice. Brothers. And suddenly I have become their mother, on the doorstep, with my hand out, accepting the telegram from a boy on a red bike.

I am shaking.

Other mothers in the street have opened their doors, solemnly. Children have stopped playing. I cannot stop crying. Part of me has been ripped away.

And as a solemn trumpeter plays the first two notes of The Last Post, there I am again, 100 years ago, opening the same door, to the same messenger, and a very similar telegram.

I am walking to the kitchen and notice how the dust shimmers in the sunlight. The clock appears to have stopped.

I cannot believe that a God I trusted has taken away my beautiful boys. That a King I serve has sent them to their deaths. That my youngest, barely a man, was hit by friendly fire, killed by his own men. And that my eldest, so tall and proud, lay now in pieces on barbed wire somewhere in Belgium.

I am not allowed to shriek and wail, because other women in this town have suffered too, and they have born their pain with dignity and silence. But I want to die. I want to be with my little boys. I want to touch them again in what I think is heaven, feel their sweet cheeks on mine just once more.

I am still a mother. But a mother of no one.

God save the King.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Dealing with anger

The boyf and I have just come back from a long weekend in Wales. We stay in his campervan; it's cosy and kitted out with everything we need, but as everyone who's ever been in a campervan knows, they're not the most spacious of living spaces. Room to swing a cat, there is not.

This doesn't help things when the mood turns sour.

When boyf is 'up', there is no one quite like him in the world. He is funny and loving and witty. His self effacement makes him all the more appealing. His jaw is somehow squarer, his being more...well, just more. The sex is passionate, experimental. I find him magnetic.

When he is down, things are still just about ok. He is like an injured animal; quiet, docile - and mainly asleep. If I have enough energy, I can (almost physically) pull him out of it; cuddles, slapstick humour, even reading out loud. If I am too tired, we sleep it off together; and the outlook is generally brighter in the morning.

But it is his short fuse, his likelihood to snap, that I find so difficult to deal with. One day, it will mean the death of us - perhaps literally. This angry demon inside him can be triggered so quickly that sometimes I won't even recognise what's done it. This holiday, we've had ridiculously dangerous driving through some sort of testosterone fuelled racing from the lights with some lads in a suped-up Fiesta, followed by them trying to run us off the road and overtaking/undertaking us, shouting expletives out of the window and using the whole gamut of hand signals in their portfolio.

All the while, boyf is shouting back, grinning like a loon, and I am curled up in the passenger seat like a dead leaf.

We've also had a meltdown when some other twat pulled into our pitch (which we'd paid for, marked 'reserved' and left our bikes there) on the campsite and then disappeared to the pub. They came back after two pints and proceeded to have a long argument with the site owner. When they eventually moved, boyf started the engine to park in the space, missed the right gear and ran into a boulder, making a terrible crunching sound and shattering something indeterminable under the van.

Horrendous expletives were loud, in front of children, and unstoppable.

I find this very difficult to deal with. The crux of it is that I am totally embarrassed, to the point of humiliation - and if I could have left the site, there and then, I would have done. (Sadly, I was wearing a towel and not much else.) I was brought up to be polite, to swallow your anger, to be totally non-confrontational. Now this, I know, is not good either; but there has to be a happy balance, where you can allow yourself to be angry (this guy was a twat, after all), but to make your anger felt in a non- confrontational way. To be assertive but not overly aggressive. And afterwards, when all is fixed and the situation has melted into memory, to have a good laugh at the guy's expense and to vow to kick his van next time your passing. (Also soon forgotten.)

It sometimes takes a day for the 'seeing red', The Magic Finger to Roald Dahl fiends, to go away.

And then boyf is worried that I do not love him any more. He is right in a sense; some of the love has rubbed away. Particularly if his anger is directed at me, because I am a wooden doll, a passive child, taking the blast of his aggression. I am blank. I don't know how to react.

Usually, I run away.