The Washing Line Prop and the Existential Crisis

A washing line prop. The long package, wrapped in black plastic, sitting in my kitchen was a washing line prop. A telescopic one dontcha know. A step up from the square wooden prop my Nanna had. The one that lived in a brackets attached to the fence, with a V cut out of the top and duck tape round the middle to protect the hands from splinters.

Mine might be metal and telescopic, but it does the same job. It holds the line up to allow washing to dry higher in the air.

And holding it my hands took my breath away.

I’ve never lived anywhere with an outdoor line. I’ve used metal stand alone airers and tumble driers all my adult life. I’ve wanted a line for a while. Well, since we got our own garden it seemed like the right thing to do. But every time I’ve tried to think about it, I’ve found reasons not to. A whirligig line would block my view, Oscar would pull on it etc etc. But this year (and since we have a new fence to hold it) I decided a retractable line stretched across the garden would be the solution. And then the prop arrived.

I can’t really explain the feeling of holding it in my hands. I’m married, I’ve bought a house, given birth to my son and yet none of those things made me feel the passing of the years like holding that stupid prop. It literally took my breath away and I may have even teared up. Because here I was. A proper adult. With next to no idea how I got here.

I’m not surprised things as innocuous as as washing line prop (which by the way I love. Long line drying is totally where it’s at!) are giving me cause to stop and catch my breath. This is my 40th year on earth and they say people often become more introspective in the year before a ‘big’ birthday. Big decisions get taken, big changes happen (and always one not to disappoint, I got married at 29). And something in me, in my 39 year old self is feeling all these things. Introspective, questioning, anxious, just trying to hold on, in the face of a violently changing tide. Maybe a prop is just what I need to help me do that.

And maybe the part of me that doesn’t want to hold on, that just wants me to let go and change with the tide, knows it too.

And maybe it’s that, that makes me gasp.

The End of The World

Do you keep momentos? Of times, of events, of places? I do. Not masses. At least when I began keeping things it wasn’t masses. But it all adds up doesn’t it. And here I am, staring down the barrel of 40 and suddenly wondering why I have kept the cuttings I had on my wall at 17 and the t-shirt everyone signed when I got made redundant at 26. I’m not a hoarder by any stretch of the imagination, but some of the things I devote my space to would, I’m pretty sure, make most people raise an eyebrow.

I don’t have a big house (have I mentioned that before 😉 ). But I am devoting at least some of this, frankly non existent space, to things that rarely get looked at and have no practical purpose. Which can only lead to me deduce that they have some emotional purpose. Some reason that I choose to let them reside still. Not to let them go.

I’m not one for knick-knacks. I have few ornaments on show or photos on the wall (beyond beautiful ones of my son). So what compels me to keep a corner of my office full of boxes devoted to my youth. Is it a tangible reminder of just that? That once I was young? Or is it proof that not all of my teenage years were horrendous? That loyalty and happiness and love existed? Or is it proof that any of it happened at all? Who am I proving it to? Surely not me. After all I was there! Or perhaps it’s some form of security blanket, fashioned out of ephemera. One I know I can go to, should I need a quick fix. A fix of what though, that is the question? What does any of it mean?

And what would it mean to get rid of it?

Let’s just think about that for a minute. What would it mean to take the stuff, the theatre programmes, the tickets, the clippings, the useless bits and bobs that would mean jack to literally anyone else and just bin it? Anything?

Everything?

I watched the film The World’s End the other day (easy watching fun for fans of Simon Pegg/Ed Wright collaborations). The protagonist cannot move on from the happiest time of his life, so much so that he still drives the same car and wears the same clothes twenty years on. Don’t get me wrong I’m not saying my situation is quite the same, but the idea of hanging onto tangible items in this way really struck a chord with me. As did the idea that living this way, can hold you back from moving forward and living your life now.

I once ate a peach, that was the juiciest, ripest, most delicious peach I’ve ever had. I’ve tried to find its likeness for years but to no avail. The fact that this peach of dreams was eaten on on our honeymoon, on the Greek island of Lesbos, was probably harvested from a tree two minutes down the road and was eaten in the sun, while relaxing, well….. How can any future peach measure up?

I guess what I’m just coming to realise is when you view the past through the tinted rear view mirrors of time (which can only grow rosier the further away you get), how will any subsequent time in your life measure up? Perhaps precious memories, need only to be that. Not a crutch, not a yardstick, not something to aspire to.

And definitely not a box of bits kept in an office at the end of the garden.

Halt! Who goes there?

It’s a New Year. 2018. And despite not writing anything since October, I thought it might be a hoot to have a crack at this writing thing again. So I made my way to my favourite writing hang out (you all know where I mean!), ordered an Americano and whipped out my shiny, new, lightweight laptop. I know! Swanky or what!

Opening the dashboard of the blog, I had a notification that made me look at my About Me page. Which was clearly something I hadn’t done in way too long, when you think I’m now the grand old age of 39 and not the spritely 37 year old smiling at me from the first line.

Age withstanding though, when I read the rest of it I realised I either didn’t like it or didn’t recognise the person it was talking about. Hmmm thinks I, it’s probably time to update that. Make it read more like me, make it more relevant.

And that’s where I fell down. Not literally you understand. The old age hasn’t affected my balance just yet! But figuratively I just fell down. I just couldn’t think of a single thing to write. About me? Who even is that? Surely I’m more than the few sentences I’ve written previously about my relationships to others and the weight of the flesh that hangs off these bones? And that put me in a contemplative mood.

In conversation with a friend the other day, I realised that despite visiting various family and friends and meeting new people over New Year, no one and I really do mean no one, asked what I’m doing with my life or how that’s going or even what’s going on for me at the moment. Lots of people asked how Oscar was doing and everyone asked my husband. About his job, his hobbies, his interests. And it’s not like he foisted this information on people. They just asked. And no one asked me.

My friend thinks this is because people assume that they know me. That the life of a SAHM, with a disabled child is somehow obvious and therefore doesn’t require asking after. Maybe she’s right. People can be quick to pigeon hole and to do so must make assumptions. Judgements. So that would make sense. Or maybe they don’t want to know? It’s too vague and too open to being messy, so people don’t enquire. Full time caring doesn’t have a neat job title or one word to describe it like a hobby might and that scares people. It’s too unknown and that conversation could lead to places the asker might not be prepared to go. Maybe? Its a thought.

Either way it just supported the feeling that lately I have become somewhat invisible. To the outside world and to myself. And that makes me so sad. And actually its makes me mad. What arrogance to assume you could ever know anyone enough to not need to ask?

But I can’t be too angry with other people. I mean yes, people could at least ask, but seriously, what am I going to tell them, if I don’t even know myself?

I don’t believe in resolutions, New Year’s or otherwise. I think they are fated to fail and who would ever want to do that to themselves? But I have seen others talking about thinking of a key word to describe the focus for the New Year (or any time of the year!). I’ve done it before. I’ve used words like Happy and Brave. But looking at my About Me page and not recognising the person on the page has made my decision for this year.

This year I think its got to be Identity.

Oh and that reminds me, my passport’s up for renewal this year. How very apt!

Home

The other day the hubster and I had a… let’s call it a disagreement, about the use of the term home.

HOME

It’s a fairly inoucuous term in itself. A small word, meaning “the place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or household”.

Home.

The disagreement came about because I referred going to Plymouth as going ‘Home’. He was upset by this as, in his opinion, where we live now, leafy Surrey, is home. Plymouth isn’t and therefore should not be referred to as such. It makes technical sense I guess. It is factually correct. We do live here. We haven’t lived there since the late 90s. So, yes, in that way, Plymouth is not Home.

But this really bothered me. This black and white thinking. This ‘this is this, that isn’t’ mentality. What really was the issue here? I mean I’ve just always called wherever I feel comfortable home. Hell, I’ve called wherever I’m living or even staying at the time, Home. For as long as I can remember. So like, if I was to go on holiday (😂👏🏻) and we were to go out for the day, I wanted to ask if we should head back to the hotel, I’d refer to the hotel as Home. I just would. I wouldn’t mean anything by it.

I thought other people did this, but it turns out not. At least not my husband and it also explains why my mum was so angry at me for referring to university halls as Home, when I first moved to London.

To me it’s a word, a shorthand to communicate ‘the place you’re living’. It would seem I don’t place the same deep  meaning on the word that other people do. That other people do enough to be offended when I don’t.

But why don’t I? Well, I guess I’ve moved about a bit in my life. Not as much as some I guess, but thirteen different places to call Home feels like a lot to me and posssibly offers up some explaination as to why the word has somehow lost its deep meaning to me that it hasn’t to others.

Thinking about it I’ve also technically (if we want to get technical about this) been homeless three times in my life. I’ve never needed to sleep on the streets thank god, but I have, at three times in my life, fallen into the category that the charity Crisis call the Hidden Homeless. I don’t think I realised at the time(s), partly because I was with people I loved, but I look back now and understand. This coupled with moving around so much, is it a wonder I have lost the connection some people have with the term they hold so dear?

And while we’re on the subject, I also really struggle when people, and they do, ask me where I’m “from”. It’s a perfectly innocent question after all. And I’ve never lived in another country (unless you count moving to Wales as emigrating 😉). But I have moved around so much, from such a young age and with such regularity, that no one answer feels authentic anymore.

And it wasn’t until having Oscar that I realised how much this has impacted me and my sense of identity. My sense of belonging, my sense of home.

I remember everywhere I’ve lived in. I carry them with me, no matter how little I realised that until recently. The first two homes I had were in the same county and until we left that county when I was twelve, that is where I was ‘from’. Then part of my fractured family moved to the other end of the country and suddenly this place, where I knew no one and nothing was now my home. What had come before was packed away and I stopped referring to it. The new place was now called Home. And despite moving many times since, because the majority of my strong ties are still there, I guess I still do. Even though in truth it doesn’t feel like it is. Or perhaps even ever did.

So the question might be, what is going to change that? If buying a house and having a baby all in one place isn’t enough to give you a deeper sense of what Home means, isn’t enough to make you give up calling everything else Home, then what the hell is?

But in reality does that matter? In today’s global society do we have to pin our colours to one home, to one house, to one town, to one…. place, just for the neatness of explaining yourself to someone when they ask so where are you from? After all where you live and where you’re from are two completely different things for a lot of people these days. Why should the answer have to be neat?

Maybe it’d just be enough to have those who love you, know and accept that you are going to call many places Home. And that’s unlikely to change.

For now.

 

True to Yourself

We first saw the paediatrician in September 2014, so although we didn’t get Oscar’s diagnosis until February this year, it’s been just over a year since the word and the possibility of Autism entered our lives.

I say Oscar’s diagnosis, and of course it is his, but in many ways it’s also ours. Ours as a family, mine as a mother.

I’ve been thinking about identity a lot lately. Being “who you are” or “who you want to be” and being “true to yourself” seem to be buzz words I see everywhere I go at the moment. And the idea is a nice one. Not pretending for the sake of others, living the life you were meant to or that you dreamt of. It’s all very noble. But what happens if the life you want and the one you’ve been thrust in to are two separate things?

Last year I was finally starting to feel happy in my own skin. I felt I was living the life I was meant to. Gradually the future had started to excite me and my confidence soared. I was the mother I wanted to be and I had visions of where we would go and what we would do, together and apart. And then the A bomb dropped into our lives and things haven’t been quite the same since.

I haven’t been that happy for a while now. First of all I thought it was shock, coming to terms and dealing with my ‘grief’ while carrying on. Then things started to happen. People and agencies came into our lives and support and paperwork and appointments and thoughts I never thought I’d need to have became everyday and it was a whirlwind. Yes, Autism was now part of our world, but we could learn and we could deal with that. Right? And then things just carried on, not quite as before but as everyday as they could be. But I didn’t start to feel any better. And eventually I realised in fact I had started to feel worse. Different, less devastated, but more all encompassing.

I spend so much energy getting through the day, some days I feel like a shell. Empty and drained. And then some days I’m feel like I’m getting it. Like I’m winning, like everything is OK again. And the next day it’s everything I have to get us out the door.

And I started to wonder why I feel so sad and I think I might have an idea. I am not the mother I thought I was going to be. And while I’m sure most of us can say the same (who really is living up to the ideal we had before and during pregnancy, really?), it’s proving harder to accept that than maybe I thought it’d would. Is this sadness down to not really knowing who I am?

I want to be true to myself, I just don’t know who that is any more. I am not the mother I thought I was. Because Oscar is not the child I thought he was.

I’m sure I’ll come to terms with it one day. I’ll accept that I am an SEN parent. That I will live my whole life with a disabled child. I’m just not sure when. And right now I don’t know how to.

Or perhaps I just don’t want to? Because that would be like admitting all this is real.

And then my heart just might break for good.

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