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.

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.

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.