The problem with not having written for a while, is that getting started again feels like a big deal. But, like anything, the only way to get started is to start, so here I am.
I realised that part of the reason I haven’t prioritised writing, is because I’ve been feeling quite overwhelmed for the past six months or so. Not by anything bad, thankfully, but nonetheless overwhelmed by life as it currently looks and feels for us. I’ve spoken to friends and it sounds like everybody feels the same way. The reasons may differ, but the general sense of permanent overwhelm seems to be the norm for us all now. Adulthood’s a right laugh, isn’t it.
But then I realised that, for me, writing is a great way to help deal with overwhelm. It’s how I get my thoughts in order, and it also gives me a precious slice of time to myself. So, during the last couple of weeks, I’ve started taking ten minutes every evening after the children have gone to bed, to write whatever I like.
It feels so good to re-establish a healthy habit. It’s really helped me work out where my head’s at, and it led to this – a list of my top four reasons for feeling overwhelmed. Perhaps you can relate. What would your list say, I wonder?
THE IMMENSE AMOUNT OF LOVE CHILDREN HAVE TO GIVE
Oh yeah, I’m starting big here. We talk a lot about the immeasurable amount of love we have for our children. About what it feels like to have your heart smashed across the floor the second they’re born, and how you never recover. But we talk less about what it feels like to be loved by them. About how they come into this world BURSTING with love to give us. About how I’ll be innocently going about my day, tidying up after breakfast, and then I’ll suddenly stumble upon a picture my daughter’s made at school of a rainbow, with ‘To Shareloot, I luve you’ written on it, in her gorgeous five-year-old handwriting. (And yes, I am tempted to change this blog’s name to ‘Nothing good rhymes with Shareloot’ now).
I find lists of all the people she loves, notes telling us we’re the best, and teeny tiny stick babies added into scenes to represent her little brother. I have piles and piles of the purest, most colourful, misspelled love, and neither a heart nor a home that can cope with it all.
She doesn’t even hand these things to me. I think they’re forgotten as soon as they’re drawn. But it’s knowing that we’re always on her mind that I find so incredible and overwhelming. I’m both touched and terrified because what if she doesn’t know that I feel it? What if she doesn’t believe the love is truly received? Perhaps I should draw her a picture myself to let her know.
And her brother’s the same. He can’t write or draw yet, but he shows love by wanting to sit with us. By singing to us. By pointing us out to other people and saying our names, in case they didn’t realise we’re his parents. By shouting his sister’s name from the minute he wakes up in the morning until the moment he finally gives in and goes to sleep again at night. I’ve never met a boy who asks for cuddles so regularly. I hate that I can’t always say an immediate yes.
I’ve been listening to a lot of Adele, and there’s a line in ‘I drink wine’ where she says ‘Everybody wants something from me / You just want me’ and it overwhelms me every time. I’m not sure if she was writing specifically about my family, but MAN it feels like it.
It’s the most amazing thing, to be loved by these little people. Such a beautiful thing can also be overwhelming. It contributes to how much your heart weighs, wherever you might be, and whatever you’re doing. It holds me up and gives me more purpose than anything ever has, and it also leaves me breathless out of the blue, when all I thought I was doing was clearing the dining room table.
THE SHEER AMOUNT OF ADMIN INVOLVED WITH BEING ALIVE
I noticed that I’d quit resting (despite specifically writing at the start of the year about how important rest is). There’s just so much to do all the time – and we’re only a family of four, and I work part-time.
The level of washing involved with having a family is absurd. I am grateful for every hour of summer we get because I can put it outside and create some much needed space between me and our collective sheets/t-shirts/pants. Just when I think maybe I’m getting on top of it, something or someone will explode, and I’m back to square one. I do so much of it, I almost wonder if I’m a bit obsessed with it. Like, when a new stain appears, I’m excited to see if between us, the sun and I can make it disappear. It’s pathetic, but also a method for dealing with the overwhelm. The pile’s not going away, so I may as well get a sense of achievement from tackling it.
And beyond the laundry, there’s everything else. All of the things we need to remember for school, the birthdays, the parties, and the general management of my daughter’s social calendar. The buying of food, the making of food, and the throwing away of rejected food. The deep sense of failure I feel when I hear people talk about how much their toddlers eat, when our son only really eats croissants. The insane cost of EVERYTHING. The effort involved with finding a date in the diary to do anything with anyone. The volume of crumbs we live amongst. Bathtime, bedtime, and the irony of being the only one these activities seem to tire out. The bins. The cleaning or lack thereof. The bit where I strip the bed at 7am and only remember that I need to remake it at 11pm…
The list is long – as it is for everyone – and it makes my head a very noisy and cluttered place. I’m trying to stop more often, to avoid burnout or resentment. Perhaps putting ‘REST’ on my to-do list is the answer because that’s the only way anything gets done around here.
THE RELENTLESS PASSING OF TIME
I talk about this a lot, I know. But I continue to be overwhelmed everyday by how quickly time goes by.
Our son is about to turn two, and our daughter is just a few weeks away from finishing Reception. They remain very young children, but still, they are growing up at a faster rate than I was prepared for. It is unlikely that we will have more babies, and so every stage our son goes through is probably happening here for the last time. The babygrows have gone, his little bath seat is now in the garage, and we all know his highchair’s days are numbered.
You think this stuff will be part of your world forever, and then it gradually makes its way to the tip or the charity shop. It’s all so fleeting. I’m overwhelmed by the need to make the most of the many, many good bits. I’m also still floored everyday by how confusing it feels to find yourself wishing away the tough moments that happen during your child’s youngest, cutest years.
And it’s not just the years with our children that are shooting by, our years with each other are too. It’s 20 years this summer since I left school and started university. I’ve known some of my dearest friends since long before the internet was invented. Leon and I will have been married for ten years in September, and together for 18. These are some seriously grown up, long-term relationships we’re all in now.
When we were planning our wedding, it felt like that event would always be part of our lives, we couldn’t imagine life after it. And now a decade has passed and that day is just one of hundreds we’ve lived through together. A beautiful one, but one of many beautiful ones. A lovely memory to look back on, ten years into this glorious, busy, surprising, and overwhelming life we’ve built since.
THE AGEING PROCESS
Mothers have an interesting challenge to manage. On the one hand, we need to promote body positivity with our children, and make sure they’re nothing but kind to themselves and to others. And on the other, we have to navigate the reality of our own ageing and changing bodies, and the vast array of emotions that come with it.
I feel nothing but kind and gentle in the face of my children’s bodies, of course. But when it comes to my own, it’s more complicated. It’s changed a lot in recent years. I’ve been pregnant and given birth twice, and I’ve stepped further and further into my thirties. I feel fortunate to have been through it all, but I’ve found the acceptance process overwhelming, particularly this year. No matter how high the waistband or how effective the eye cream, there really is no going back.
I’ll turn 38 in a few weeks’ time, and I’ve definitely hit the reflective period Caitlin Moran talks about in her book ‘More Than a Woman’. She describes how you find yourself looking back on pictures from a decade ago, when you thought you looked bad, and wondering what on earth you were on about, you looked great!
I don’t speak unkindly about the way I look in front of my children. When they see me put on make-up and they ask why, I say it’s because I want to. When my daughter says she likes my clothes, I say thank you and accept the compliment. I will not let her hear my internal dialogue, because that wouldn’t be helpful to either of us.
I think it’s OK to feel how you feel and know that it’s normal to go through ups and down in your relationship with your appearance. I think it’s also important to remember why we use such kind voices when we talk about our children and how they look. Because everybody deserves to feel happy in their skin. And that includes us.
Life is a series of chapters. I’m sure many people feel overwhelmed by the transition from the Baby Carrying chapter into whatever we call the next one. The Gradually Greyer chapter, perhaps?
As always, it’s ours to write. And I look forward to writing mine, more often, right here.