My 9-yr-old spotted a leaflet in Tesco: Some kind of competition for the best mum in the country. "You should enter that," he said. "You'd win." "Why would I win?" "Because you're the best mum." He couldn't explain why. A friend who was with us told him he should take the form home and fill it in for homework, but the form said the entrant had to be 18+, so I told him to get his dad to help.
The form is still sitting on the side, and I can't say what I want to, which is this: "Mothering is the only thing I have any pride in at the moment. There's no question of me winning, I know that. They're looking for inspirational stories of magical mums. But that's not the point. Between you, you and your dad could come up with some concrete praise, and it would do me no end of good, just being able to read it."
The only person who fills forms in round here is me, and if it can only be done as the result of my nagging, it won't work. So it sits there, unfilled-in and depressing. Another small dig at the failure that is me.
I bought new clothes. I hadn't done this for over a year. Because I had no money, and there's no point if you'll look just as bad in the new as the old.
Because I never have any time or confidence, because I look rubbish in clothes shop mirrors, because nothing ever fits me, because I always buy the wrong things, I do clothes shopping in a mad fool rush. I run into the shop, grab an armful of things which don't quite fit or suit, run out again. Go home. Try them on in front of the mirror. Despair.
But this time, a combination of Primark and the local market-for-the-downtrodden created one magical outfit which, I thought, was rather stunning. So I wore it, and nobody said a word. Even my 3-yr-old, who is normally very observant and says "I like that top Mummy" whenever I wear anything new (I know, it's fantastic, I'm hoping he'll be gay) stayed schtum. My conclusion: They're awful clothes, and everybody is being kind. I have terrible taste and the clothes I like are the ones everyone else hates. Another outfit from the recent outing only created the remark, "It's very you," said as though it was an insult. Of course it's very me. I am me. Fat, and old, and with terrible taste in clothes.
I'll have a piece of cake then. Sugar cheers me up.
I read a novel about a woman with a boring husband and a grown-up daughter, traipsing around in twinsets and pearls, a housewife, preoccupied with all her "middle-aged" occupations, everything about her being described as old. She was two years older than me.
I went for lunch with a friend, who told me about some new converted mill in town, with a nice courtyard and a performance space and loads of other lovely things. I had no idea what she was talking about and knew I was never likely to see it. I have no idea what's happening in the world, in my city, in the various arty circles I once moved in. I don't do stuff like that. We tried to make conversation but I had nothing to say. Beyond bemoaning my jobless futureless state or eulogising about my children, I have nothing to contribute.
I keep having conversations with friends, about how things are. I list the reasons I'm crap, my life is crap. Then I try to balance it, by thinking of redeeming qualities. "But at least I'm A, or I can B," I say. But I keep getting silence for a response, or on a couple of occasions, they challenged my interpretation. These friends are in no better situations than me. Most people I know are struggling with some deep malaise or other. I don't know whether it's our age, the times we live in, neither, or both - but I'm not unique. Maybe they don't think they need to validate my pronouncements, or are distracted with their own worries, or maybe I forget to notice the nice things they say (and I do, because they certainly sometimes do), or maybe I'm sometimes just wrong.
I am obsessed with time. Is there time to vacuum? When will I fit in the washing? Can I clean out this cupboard? When will I read that book? How will I find the time to pack for the holidays, wash the bedding, fill in those forms, renew the insurance, tidy my study, prepare myself so that I'm ready for some unpredictable future which probably won't happen anyway? And how can there be so little time, when I don't even have a job? (Answer: motherhood. But my children are my saving grace, so I can't use them as an excuse).
There's not enough time to live even this unremarkable life.
I've been acccused of being solipsistic. I can't deny it - it's always been true. It's obvious, especially when my first complaint is that nobody has praised my clothes or entered me into a Best Mother competition. It's all about me, even when that me is a reduced little creature who does nothing and hates herself. I don't understand how people aren't solipsistic. Surely, in your own heads, you're all thinking about yourselves, your lives, how you're going to get through? Is it just that other people don't admit to it? Of course I think about other people. All the time, particularly the ones whose forms I fill in, whose clothes I clean, whose lives I try to make easy, who I try not to burden with my self-obsessive whines. I care about them, I worry about them, I want them to be happy. But yes, I think about me too. And I know, have always known, that I do it more than others. I can't deny it, but I don't think I can change either, and it's just another reason that I'm not quite right, am less than the person I'd like to be.
I thought I was doing OK. I was chilling out, pottering about, fixing and sorting and enjoying my children. I probably am OK. And then people ask how I am, and I feel as though the answer should be "bloody awful", because objectively things aren't great. No job, no real clue of who I am or who I want to be or what the hell I'm going to do with my life. Yes, I'm still trying to succeed in my chosen career. I'm not convinced I'll ever get there, or that I even want to. But I don't know what else to do.
So, there are two little mes in my head. One of them is saying "Oh God, what a mess," and the other is saying "How nice, not having to go to work." The first says, "I can't cope," and the second says, "Look how well I'm coping!"
The truth is, I am. I haven't fallen apart. Not yet. But today I melted a bit. I say to myself, "why aren't I falling apart?" and suddenly I am. Damn those self-fulfilling prophecies. But I'm like one of those little wooden toys held together with elastic. You push the button underneath, they crumble and fall. But if you release the pressure? They bounce back into life.
Just take that damn thumb off my button.
Giving Up the Ghost
9 hours ago