Just me

I recently took my son on an exciting camping trip near Chester. We pitched our tent on a small site, made friends with the people with marshmallows, explored the haunted caravan, spent one long day at the aquarium and another, longer day at the zoo, then packed up early one morning and headed to a festival for…let me see…fourteen hours of careening from spectacle to spectacle, before staggering through the doors of a hotel just after midnight where we would wake up at 7am sharp and lounge around getting our money’s worth, later watching a post-breakfast episode of Friends that Mak was completely engrossed in for some reason.

The amount of times along the way that strangers were shocked and sympathetic that it was ‘just me’ orchestrating and operating whichever part of the extravaganza they were witnessing was notable. Which, I mean, I guess is understandable. I’ll be the first to agree it takes a village, and there have been many times in the past where, lacking such a robust support system, I have struggled with parenting. But this was a choice. A choice I make regularly.

It was hard going sometimes – he has a lot of five-year-old energy and he hogs the airbed as effectively as if he were a European bison (we were looking at an animal atlas today). But when it’s just the two of us, boy, are we nimble. I like the freedom of catering just to our own whims.

Also, sleep deprivation really amps up my social anxiety, so navigating a group setting all day, after sharing the bed with the bison all night, is not my idea of easier. Which does occasionally make me worry that I’m just avoiding, on account of my own frailty, a situation that would actually be more enriching for Makaloo than ‘just the two of us’.

I’ll never be perfect. But we had a fucking excellent trip. And ‘just the two of us’ did involve me pretending to be a mermaid singing a sea shanty for a large group of fellow festival-goers, so I’m giving myself some extra points for that too. I probably just have to keep playing to my strengths.

Strange times

I’ve been skimming the surface of my life again lately. What am I avoiding?

We are living in strange times. It seems trite to say – what part of the modern era hasn’t been strange? But things seem to be getting stranger. Whenever I think about it, I also can’t help but to think about how tiny I am. A speck, floating on the strange breeze which, one day quite soon, might become a strange hurricane. I have no power here.

I know I have power. And I could use my power, in allegiance with others, to potentially enact some kind of response to whatever strange change is rising. But I’m scared that it will catch me unaware. I’m scared that none of us are predicting it accurately. I’m scared there’s just too much to the story, and that even our best minds fall short. I’m scared it’s going to come down to luck, for almost each and every one of us, which way we get cast by the strange wind that’s coming.

So this skimming I’m doing of late; I think I’m putting my head in the sand. Playing video games instead of living my life, because I feel preemptively trapped and disempowered. As I imagine what decisions I may be called to make in future years, I’m playing scenarios out in my head and regularly finding myself in a hypothetical location where acting in accordance with my values risks my personal safety, and I’m wrestling with the fact that I think, as a mother, I would probably surrender my values for my personal safety. And I don’t like that. Not least because I fear preserving my short-term personal safety could come at the cost of my long-term personal safety. The future is a strange, scary knot.

In part I’m getting way ahead of myself. But, in part, too, I feel like I’ve let myself be left behind. Something is going on in the world, bigger than all the things going on, and I don’t understand it. Not even a little bit. And I’ve sensed it coming for years, and I’ve told myself I was being melodramatic. But now it’s still coming, and it’s closer, and I still don’t know what to do with it.

But that’s not a good enough reason to do nothing.

Interrogated fear

It’s funny how most of our fears are not the fears we think they are when we think them.

Well, I can only really speak for myself, but I know it is reported to be a wider human proclivity.

I have been noticing lately, when I get a scary thought, the vague fear that encroaches seems on the surface to be about one thing, but if I stay with it, explore it, interrogate it, it turns out to be something altogether different. Something altogether stupider.

For instance, am I scared that my life will never get any better because I dislike my current life? Or is it actually that, even though I love my life, I’m scared that if it isn’t, at all times, actively and immediately getting better in demonstrable ways, it’ll inexplicably start getting worse, and then other people will blame me for not having a good life? Yeah, it’s the second one. The stupider one.

It’s worth questioning these things, because when you see the stupid in broad daylight, it makes it much less appealing to hold onto.

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.

Checkpoints

We all make our choices, and I thought I’d have more to show for mine by now. But that doesn’t mean they were the wrong choices, or that I’d necessarily want the things I thought I’d have to show. Or the things I see other people showing.

I am on the road as we all are, but I don’t need to hit the checkpoints that other people have set. I’ve set my own. And they may take longer to reach, and it may be a more tiring journey, but that’s okay, because that’s the path I’ve chosen. And for that path I am right on track. It may just be that my journey requires more faith, because the checkpoints are further away, or there aren’t so many people up ahead of me to validate the route I’m taking.

We have the right to choose our own checkpoints. And perhaps the responsibility, depending on how you look at it. The world doesn’t make it easy, but it’s important to remember that that doesn’t make it wrong. Our internal compass is a far more accurate method of navigation than following the landmarks that others have decreed.