You know the one, brow furrowed, deep in thought, concerned and distracted. I catch myself doing it often. I’m usually rushing somewhere, and I’m usually one toddler tantrum away from absolutely losing it. You see it everywhere and often when you catch someone’s eye doing ‘that face’ his or her expression softens a little and there is a little glance of acknowledgement. I know that face because I wear it often, it’s the face that says: “I’ve got a huge to do list”. Parenthood is tough.
It’s usually combined with a dishevelment that tells you I have not looked in the mirror this morning. I sometimes laugh when I look in my handbag at the end of the day: Perfume, lip-gloss and powder. As if I’ve had the time to apply any of these things. Why do I cart them around with me? If I have any spare seconds, they are for wiping something off my child’s face, not making myself look pretty. I do like to look nice, I love to look nice, I feel better when I look better, but lately I’ve not even had the time to even impress myself.
I read all the books, blogs and articles about appreciating the moment and I do. Sometimes I choose the most ridiculous moments to ‘live in the moment’ just to make myself laugh. Like when I’m crawling on my hands and knees picking Cheerios off the floor with my daughter wailing above me because I picked out the wrong spoon. I do a Phoebe Waller-Bridge glance into an imaginary camera and say “I’m appreciating the moment, one day I’ll miss this”
I laugh at my old self. My husband and I had all these ridiculous hypothetical conversations about how children wouldn’t change our lives that much. We’d still go on dates and nights out with friends. Before kids we went on a very cool weekend away to Babington house, as we sat in the bar we talked about how we would come back here years later and be chatting to some couple or another who’d be completely surprised we have kids because:
A: we’d look so young and fresh (hahaha) and B: were able to have kids and still do things like that.
Well I hate to say it bat we both have that tired look of broken parents and we are certainly not too young or carefree looking to look like we aren’t parents. Still, it was nice to dream.
On the odd occasion we do go on a date night, we sit there talking about our children and flicking through pictures of them and we come home after a couple of glasses of wine because the pain of childcare in the morning outweighs the enjoyment of fun. Oh dear, I actually just wrote that. I am such a cliché, how did this happen?
I was chatting to a school mum the other day and we were saying how much we’d love to collapse on the sofa and watch daytime TV and gossip. I mean I guess I could be doing that rather than writing this right? But you get into a habit where checking off things on your “to do” list is actually more relaxing than actually relaxing!
I listened to a really interesting podcast the other day about ‘invisible labour’. You know, the things that so often fall on a mother’s shoulders, like replying to invitations for kids birthday parties (which reminds me I have two to do tonight), making sure the food in the fridge is eaten before it’s sell-by date (something I’ve become so insanely passionate about that I actually suggest you don’t cross me if you’ve eaten things in the wrong order) buying and posting birthday cards…you get the idea. It’s usually stuff I actually ‘like’ doing but if it doesn’t get done no one really notices which is why it’s ‘invisible’ but leaves us so emotionally drained. Yes the stuff that’s an essential non-essential.
This invisible labour is exhausting and I’ve been finding lately that I have zero capacity for remembering anything. I’m constantly repeating myself, forgetting simple things and even struggling for people’s names. For a while a used the ‘baby brain’ excuse with a bit of a shrug and a giggle, but I now realise it’s an actual reality and goes far beyond those baby years.
We live in an age of information overload, our phones are buzzing at us constantly, our social media and emails need checking, and we are coming into contact with so many people and so much information. I rarely do one thing at a time, and if I do it feels so eerily quiet. Right now (for example) and writing this, listening to Sky Sports News (and drinking gin!)
Yesterday I had had conversations with around 15 people BEFORE 9am. Ok it’s a bit of a warped example because I’d been on the radio, so my taxi driver was the first at 5am, then the woman on reception, two producers on the show, two presenters while on air and a bunch of people in the office. My commute home consisted of checking social media, muting trolls who told me I should get back in the kitchen and then got home in time for school drop off where I met about 4 or 5 mums on my way up the hill (whilst chatting to my two children), took a couple of calls from my mum and sister and had a few more chats at the school gates. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a social animal and LOVE people, but that explains a lot.
It’s not surprising I can’t remember whom I’ve told what stories to. I read a decent explanation as to why we can’t retain information in the same way. When you are a mum or a wife or a carer of some sort, it’s all about survival, the stuff you remember will keep those people surviving and life will tick along nicely, anything else is pushed to the back.
The other week I actually found myself putting milk in the cupboard and crisps in the fridge and realised I’d actually reached my capacity. It doesn’t help that I am a freelancer so every office I step into has a different set of “rules” to remember, where stuff is, how to log into the computer, not to mention everyone’s names plus a load of whatsapp groups to keep on top of.
I realised it’s time for a technology cleanse. I have very zen yoga friend who asked me if I meditate. I do in yoga, but not every day. I replied that I don’t think I have time for it because I should be reading or learning something for my job, she laughed and said in the words of Ghandi “if you say you don’t have time to meditate for and hour, you probably need two” She is so right.
One thing I have always made time for is sleep. Everything feels better after sleep and everything is more efficient, perhaps the same can be said of meditation? I always chose sleep when I can, only yesterday I was supposed to write an article and chose to sleep while my daughter was napping. It’s a luxury most people can’t afford and I’m so lucky to be able to do it. The article didn’t get done of course, but I know when I eventually do sit down to do it, I’ll do it in twice the speed.
But I still continue to add “fun” (stressful) activities to the diary. Like when I went to see Chinese New Year in China town with a baby in a pushchair and a 5 year old. I waited under the clock at Waterloo for an hour for my mum because we decided to do things “old school” and somehow we missed each other. Mum does have a phone of course but she checks it like you might check a home phone voicemail, like once a day!
We did eventually find mum and the day was fun but stressful. Entering crowds with children is rarely relaxing. The food was great, even though our kids seemed to be making more noise than anyone else’s including using chopsticks as drumsticks, which I kept thinking, must be seen as incredibly rude in Chinese culture…but of course the pretty picture that went on Instagram was the Chinese lanterns and my adorable children (from behind) gazing in amazement at this wonderful sight.
There is plenty of time for these fun but stressful activities, and I imagine I’ll do a good ten Chinese New Years with the children, so sometimes it’s ok to say “no”.
I’m naturally a yes person and I love a crammed day, but no feels good. No allows more time for the stuff you really want to do, and no allows those memories to sink in. I often think of the saying ‘a rolling stone gathers no moss’ and I feel like now is a good time to start gathering a bit of moss.
Right now off to those party invitations….or maybe a spot of meditation.