Hayley

The only woman I’ve ever really viscerally wanted to be is Hayley Williams. And that’s not a thing borne out of fandom, especially, though I have come to appreciate her work in recent years. It’s because part of me resonates so keenly with her, in a way I can’t really explain. Part of me believes I could have been her – should have been – if only, if only I hadn’t failed at being, in all the necessary ways.

When I was younger I was downright jealous of her, and I masked it with disdain. But I was the one who was scared to sing. I was the one who was scared to be in community. I was the failure, and I knew I had no right to criticise her, so the disdain ate at me, and wouldn’t let me forget it.

As I grew older and wiser, I let myself admit that I even enjoyed Paramore a bit. But they remained a ‘guilty’ pleasure. I didn’t want anyone to know I listened to them, and any time I did, which wasn’t often, I felt oddly on display. Who can hear this and what must they think!? As if anyone would think anything at all.

Her solo material was what let me reconcile my complicated feelings about her. We have some important similarities. We’ve had some importantly similar experiences in our lives. We have similar faultlines. We’ve learned similar lessons. But through that and despite it, she was able to continue becoming the success that she is and deserves to be. And I…well I never even seemed to begin. I had been holding that against myself, and she, most than most, reminded me.

What were the differences between us that led to our divergent paths through life, even as we traversed similar terrain? How was she able to build and maintain a fulfilling career, while every avenue I even thought of pursuing collapsed around me in short order? Why could she sing and I couldn’t? Why could she integrate and I couldn’t? We were both in pain, so my pain wasn’t the reason. How could she do it, and do it so well, and I couldn’t do it at all?

Well, there are very good explanations, of course. But that’s another tale.

Someone

Sometimes I try to work out if I could still be someone. Do I still have time to become Neil Gaiman? Or have I already fucked it? I definitely can’t be Elon or Sufjan or Jason or Guy. But there are a few options left on the table.

Why are all the people I want to be men? We’ve grappled with this before, Yve, and now is not the time to get into it.

Good enough

There is this concept of the good enough parent. The idea is that you don’t need to be perfect, exceptional or outstanding to raise relatively healthy children, you just need to be good enough. It’s intended to present a more reasonable, realistic and forgiving standard than some alternative paradigms, particularly in regard to expectations of motherhood. It’s also backed up with fairly solid evidence, which should make it more reassuring. Fairly solid evidence is about the best you can hope for in psychology, the majority of the time.

But the Good Enough Parent raises in me a fear. What if, despite my efforts to be outstanding, I’m not even, in fact, good enough? What if, after all the toiling, careful consideration and eager sacrifice, it turns out that my parenting is not even sufficiently mediocre? What if I’m trying this hard and failing to meet even the lowest recommended standard?

Can you tell I’m used to being an overachiever? Can you tell that that overachievement has historically been fuelled by a deep-seated insecurity in my own worth?

It would be far easier for me to face trying to do a very difficult thing. I’d even have quite a bit of confidence. But I have, in contrast, very little faith in myself when it comes to succeeding at a merely reasonable thing. I expect myself to get distracted by some exciting difficulty, and completely miss the easy win. I know I don’t work the way I’m supposed to. Exceptional goes both ways.

My saving grace may be that one time, years ago now, I heard Richard Branson, of all people, advise that you must cover your downside. And I hated that idea so fucking much that the wiser part of me latched onto it and wouldn’t let me forget it. And now it’s always a factor: Remember to cover your downside. It’s always a question: Have you covered your downside? It certainly hasn’t made me rich yet, but it has probably informed my parenting.

So, maybe I have covered my downside as a parent. Maybe I’ve buffered my son from extremities. Maybe it’s possible to both lean into the exception and still follow the rule.

Unfortunately for me, there is no objective answer to these sorts of queries. The what ifs will never cease. Such is life.

Child’s Pose

For a long time, there has been this small, tight, red hot ball of rage living inside me, that mostly I don’t go anywhere near. But, every so often, a person who knows exactly how to stoke it will come along with their stick and reduce me to an impotent, sweaty, seething puddle, helplessly burning for a reason I can’t quite pull free.

It’s primal. It’s about survival. It’s incredibly discriminating in its reactivity. It rears up only when, if I don’t rage, I fear I may die from the pain. Because, I’m fairly sure, that pain has nearly killed me before.

The other day, they came along with their stick, although this time they weren’t actually trying to prod me; it was accidental. And my son happened to be standing in front of me waving his hands, saying silly stuff, trying to get my attention, while my brain was frantically trying to process this accidental activation.

The moment my son broke through my stupor, I jumped up, shook my head and said “I’m sorry, I can’t…I can’t…I need a few minutes,” holding my hands up in despairing puzzlement and giving him a useless, apologetic look before walking away.

And as I walked away, gaining a safe distance, the rage ignited, and I stomped my feet as I raced to the bathroom, as far as I could get away from my son. And I closed the door and I banged my palms on the toilet seat a few times, and I collapsed into child’s pose on the cold tile floor.

My son followed not long after, and flung the door open laughing at me, and I said “stop!”, raising my hand as a pitiful stop sign and making firm yet pleading eye contact. And he stopped, mildly bemused.

After maybe ten seconds of my heavy breathing, in child’s pose, on the floor, he sensed the shift as much as I did, and deemed it time to enter. I apologised for my strange, abrupt behaviour, explaining I’d gotten a difficult message that I was struggling to figure out, and my brain had gotten overloaded by all the noise and waving. I was okay now though.

And then we got on with our day. And I can’t say I was at my best, but I’m pretty sure I was good enough.

In these moments, I’m inclined to feel like a failure, because surely I should be able to smile at that silly stick and wave it off. But maybe some barefoot stomping and accidental yoga in front of your 4 year old is what success looks like when you’re living with trauma.

With a twist

I watched another one.

I watched another Christmas rom-com. Except this one was one of those rom-coms with a twist – you know the ones where the romantic interest turns out to be a ghost? Yeah. One of those.

And look, I quite like it when the outcome isn’t girl gets guy and they live happily ever after. I quite like it when, instead, girl builds a better life for herself despite the profound absence of guy, because he was actually dead all along. I guess that’s more relatable for me. But it’s still a bit sad, right? Like, it’s not as good an outcome as if girl built a better life and then guy was magically resurrected and they lived happily ever after, is it? It doesn’t have quite the same depth of satisfaction. The story doesn’t quite feel complete. Something is missing.

I thought, at first, this post was going to include criticism of the idea that girl even needed guy to facilitate healthy transformation in the first place. Like if we’re gonna challenge stereotypes, why not fucking push the boat out? And that would, of course, be criticising myself, because I did. But the reality is we are ill prepared for the life we enter into, and we rely on many crutches to get us through the day. Acknowledging that is not a fault.

But if, when one of those crutches breaks – which, considering the strain we put them under, is nigh on inevitable – and we fall painfully; if we then somehow, from some place, find the strength, the wisdom, to rise on our own and walk forwards, then we, and the whole world, should rejoice wholeheartedly. That should be more than enough of an arc to sate us.

So why is it that I feel so empty when the crutch is not replaced? I don’t need it anymore. Why do I want it so badly?

I quite like it when stories mirror the natural, complex, partial satisfaction of life. The trap with life, though, is that you can always keep hoping that the story isn’t over. And that’s the very thing that stops the story moving on.