Sunday, 9 September 2012

A good clearout

I have been hysterical for the past few weeks, roughly coinciding with, oooh, the Summer holidays.

There is something terrible about taking a holiday, an enforced holiday, when you have projects on the go, and people you need to keep talking to, for anything to go forward.

Every summer, indeed every few weeks, I am told I need to take a holiday. Not for the good of my health, but for the good of my children and teachers... or rather the agrarian needs the academic calendar is calqued on. Summer holidays = harvest time. You couldn't keep the critters in school, or rather in church, so best invent a holiday for them. Parliamentary and university holidays were built around the same idea. Holy-days invented by the church to work around farming. Not so folk could go and do nothing, but so that we would all have food to eat in the winter.

Given that we no longer live in an agrarian economy, or rather live in a globalized version which basically does away with seasons, why don't we change this? I go completely nuts with a 6-week break, looking after children.

How incredibly selfish of me, of course — I should be squirming with the delight at the thought of strawberry-picking, homemade ice lollies, going to Norfolk (which seems to have become the second home of all of London), glamping, English beaches, picnics, barbecues, the odd trip to a museum, leisurely time in the back garden… put like that, of course it sounds absolutely idyllic.

But in other ways the reality is a sense of glacial numbness descending in the morning as I realize I have absolutely no idea how to structure the empty day rolling ahead, except through repetitions of activities I have been bored by for years now. It is dark nights spent padding around the house, unable to sleep with worry at the thought of books unwritten, living unearnt, pension non-existent.

I have learnt over these last few years of summer holidays with children that, somehow, if I can give myself up to them, the well-worn activities do acquire the lovely nostalgic tinge they probably ought to have had in the first place. And I've learnt that these feelings happen each year at exactly the same time, and so must be, at some level, normal.

Yet somehow, this summer, returning from a trip to see husband's family in Australia, the combined effects of jet lag and middle-summer-stasis brought me to a pitch of despair and depression the like of which I have rarely endured.

Time slowed to a crawling itch of lethargy and wanness. Never had the local library seemed so much like a lifesaver. I couldn't begin to pick up cookbooks and think about Fun Things To Bake With The Children. No one was around — our return coincided inevitably with a mass exodus, as London went on holiday after the Olympics. It was desolate. I actually hugged my son's teaching assistant on the first day of school. Confused and embarrassed she hugged me back, wondering, no doubt, whether I was having some sort of breakdown.

I think I wondered much the same.

And lest the sharp-tongued among my readers whisper "Bad Mother!", all of the above is not to say that I sat around doing nothing with my fair offspring. OF COURSE we did all the things we were supposed to do, parks, museums, day trips to beach, pub suppers, baking, cinema, etc etc etc.

We also upgraded small son to large bed (long-overdue). And deep cleaned the wretched house as same small son came home from long flight with violent asthmatic reaction. This saw me on my knees, toting a hired carpet cleaner, within a week of touching down from the 24-hour flight, buying anti-dust-mite bedding covers, and feeling as if every surface in our house must be filthy, despite all scientific evidence to the contrary. There is nothing like an allergic reaction to make a mother feel she is to blame. Or is that just me? Is it always just me?

In the meantime, all the work on my desk shrivelled away into nothing: book projects, business ideas, clients, confidence, all dehydrated into the same dust I then spent hours hoovering and washing off the floor of our abode.

How is it possible to beat yourself up for turning into a housewife at the very same time that you are frantically trying to address your son's health problems by taking a more intensive approach to the great art of the house cleanse?

I managed to get through what my calendar continues to inform me was ONLY TWO WEEKS until the start of school, with grim determination, an awful lot of shouting, despite best intentions to contrary, writing self-obsessed screeds to a good friend, and emerged into the blissfully quiet air of the new term to find, to my amazement, that equanimity is restored through structure.

How can it be that we long for the unstructured time of holidays, only to be confronted with our deepest anxieties, insomnia, deep-seated anger, and unhappiness about the past, instead of the relaxation, loving intimacy with our families, and adventure that we crave?

Now I am back in that best of months, September, with its promise of golden days before true Autumn, its oddly Springlike memories of fresh starts, and things moving on, and I cannot believe how terrible much of this summer felt. I am immediately plunged back into regret for time lost, wasted on such dark thoughts.

There is just one comforting thought. Perhaps it's possible to include the resurgence of all those gloomy matted emotions during the Summer weeks as part of holiday time. I deep-cleaned the house, and am proud to have done so, it looks great. And I think I may have deep-cleaned my brain by allowing some of my fears back out of their boxes. Although it felt bad, it is true that I can now see them as fears rather than as reality. Reality is something very different, filled with chance events both good and bad, inherently out of my control, to be managed as it comes.

My fears are also out of my control in some ways, exploding as they do at inconvenient times, lurking, ready to pounce. But actually allowing myself to feel them is also evidence of my brain processing and archiving, testing and realigning. Fears need to be looked at every now and then.


litlove said...

I really sympathise. I used to feel very similarly on the holidays, when it would be just me and my son, eyeball to eyeball for six weeks. I need space, rest, peacefulness to function, not the constant cabaret that mothers are supposed to perform these days. Personally, I don't think it's good for kids. I think a healthy dose of real boredom gets them figuring out their own creativity. You have to live through the screaming to reach the learning point, but then, when was that ever different?

I used to feel depressed and exhausted for the first couple of weeks of September, berating myself for not being a 'good' mother. The phrase I should have been searching for was 'good enough'. If you've fed them, housed them, cleaned them and provided them with a modicum of entertainment then really, there is nothing else to be asked for. I'm so glad you can breathe now, and take plenty of time for yourself: you've earned it.

Kirkegaard said...

Thank you Litlove, for your typically sympathetic comment. This is something that pursues me: I cannot be the only person to feel these things, yet why is that we are not allowed, by some unspoken pact, to TALK ABOUT IT? My nano-revolution continues.