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.

Joy

Joy is the most difficult emotion to experience.

It’s so precarious. We are so vulnerable. What we have can be stolen so quickly; so easily; so unpredictably.

It’s safer to just stay fine.

If we don’t let joy in, we can’t be hurt when we inevitably lose the source of our joy. When it dies, or gets corrupted, or we find out it was all a con in the first place. If we don’t let joy in, nothing can ever take it out.

That’s why we’re cynical – because we’re cowards, and we would prefer to hide in our shady cave of fine, rather than risk the scarring interplay of bright light and deep dark. Joy is fleeting. That is a fact. We cannot keep it. And, once we’ve held it, we will always feel its absence when it’s gone.

In my pursuit of a wholehearted life, I have tried my best to let joy in. But my strategy has been to find joy in small things. To cultivate gratitude for simple pleasures. To savour the moment. To put my feet in the grass. To listen to the wind. To make joy more abundant, which makes it safer to hold.

I have been successful.

But, still, when I am faced with the threat of something really fucking good happening, I quake. And I say no, that’s not for me. Such good things don’t happen to me.

Nola

Motherhood, for me, was a calling that revealed itself in early adulthood. Prior to that, I was somewhat ambivalent to the idea, primarily because I doubted my ability to be a good mother. That didn’t stop me from constructing a very specific fantasy of living on a smallholding in Grizedale in the Lake District, with my two sons Jacoby and Delano (father pending), but I was very distinctly disconnected from any concept of what it would mean to be a mother.

When I was twenty-three, however, my perspective jumped quite suddenly when I had a strange dream. It was all blackness, and out of the blackness stepped an old man. He handed me a baby girl, told me her name was Nola, and said “remember, she’s not yours.” And then I woke up. It felt important, and I found myself reflecting on its meaning for a long time after it ended; on what it is to be a parent and raise a child; on what preconceptions I had been carrying with me in my life thus far; on what would happen if (or maybe when) Nola was made manifest; on how parenthood now seemed inevitable for me.

A few weeks later, I fell pregnant. I wasn’t using birth control but I was tracking my cycle and should have been a good week away from ovulating. There was a moment during sex that I suddenly knew, but I told myself I was crazy until a little pink line corroborated my story. It was Nola. The world was magical.

The first flush of joy, however, gave way to a sort of desperate depression after not too long. I wasn’t ready to give a child what they deserved. My partner wasn’t ready to give a child what they deserved. At about eight weeks, I felt my connection to Nola waning, completely outside of my control. I felt her slipping away. I blamed the depression I couldn’t snap myself out of, and the fact that my relationship had declined to the point we were sleeping in separate bedrooms. But I couldn’t shake the sad suspicion that it was over. At twelve weeks it was confirmed I had miscarried, although my body refused to give up on being pregnant.

I had failed. I had failed her. I wasn’t good enough to be a parent.

One day, though, I would be good enough. One day, I would be ready to give a child what they deserved. I had to be. And this was, for whatever reason, part of the journey to get there.

I won’t comment on whether that was a healthy meaning to take from the experience; it was simply the one I took.

Three years later, my body, my mind, my soul were insisting it was time to have a child. To the extent that, a few times, despite the fact I hadn’t had sex in probably a year, I wouldn’t have been surprised if I’d peed on a stick and it told me I was pregnant.

Then I met someone. Someone who liked the moon that my cycle had now synced up with. Things got a little bit reckless from there.

Vindication

In an ideal world, I’d homeschool my son. Correction: In an ideal world, I’d solicit the help of experts in many fields, establish a school according to my own evidence-based values, and send my son there.

Once Upon A Time, I thought homeschooling was what I would do. I was entranced and enamoured with all the learning I could facilitate for my son; the places we could go, the ideas we could share, the freedom we could enjoy, the people we could meet, the space we could create, the projects we could complete, the interests we could satisfy. The person he could become. The person I could become.

After we broke up, my son’s dad made it clear that that wasn’t something he would ever permit. And, don’t get me wrong, if he had agreed to it, it would have been really fucking difficult for me to find a way to sustain us financially while homeschooling, but at least I could have tried. I felt like my dream had been stolen.

I lost so much of the future I had envisaged for us when I broke up with my son’s father. Not only did I lose half of my life with my son, but I lost the life I had promised him when I was pregnant; the future I’d been designing before he was ever conceived; before I’d even met his father. I had dedicated so much time, love and energy to exploring how to raise a child who not only expands into their true potential, but feels entirely at home in themself, eager and empowered to contribute to this world in beautiful, meaningful ways. And now it was off the table.

Okay, well at least let me have the extra year. School is not compulsory in the UK until age five. Children can start school at age four, but they don’t have to. Let me try it ’til he’s five. Let me homeschool before we need to declare it homeschool. Let me show you what it could be. Give us the gift of that year.

Hard no.

Crestfallen but determined to make the most of the situation, I scoured the marketing materials of the local schools and found a beacon of hope. A fairly new school, not bound to the standard curriculum. Based on a nature park, and matching my loose philosophy, it offered children two days of outdoor learning, plus the option of a Flexi Day. I had found a school I would feel comfortable sending him to. And I’d at least get a day each week where we could live out the future I’d so carefully and painstakingly dreamed of.

The school was an easy sell, primarily because it was closer to Daddy than me. But when I held out the flexi day agreement for him to sign. No. He needed more time to think it over. He didn’t think it would be good for our son. Who is this man and how did I ever let him put his reproductive apparatus in me? Weeks passed, my son in school, no flexi day, no reason to oppose, just no, and a range of evasive fallacies. My character called into question. My ability and knowledge diminished. My motives deemed suspicious.

I centred myself. Reminded myself there was still time. Reminded him that this was the most important time. I pushed for some justification for his refusal, so at least I could begin to resolve it. No justification; instead fine, I’ll sign, if it’s that important to you.

So…what was all this for? It has never not been that important to me. You just stole more of our time for no reason. Just take it, Yve, your indignance will get you nowhere.

All of this is to say, after submitting evidence of what we’ve been doing on our hard-won flexi days, the vindication of my son’s teacher’s positive comments is visceral. Because, like it or not, I’ve internalised my ex’s tendency to question, criticise and undercut my intentions and my self-belief. I don’t know how long that’ll take to undo. But, until then, at least I have evidence that I’m doing a good job.