True motivations

Guilt.

I have a lot of it.

It sets in every time my son goes off to his dad’s house. I didn’t do enough with the time I had. I wasn’t kind enough, certain enough, thoughtful enough, engaging enough. I wasn’t good enough. And now he’s gone. A mini grief every time he walks out the door. If only things had been different, so we didn’t have to be apart for more than a day. So I had more chances to be better; so I didn’t have to face this vacuum that I pour all my regret into. If only he hadn’t been ripped from me for half of every week since he was only a year old; back when I was still his whole world, and letting him go felt so viscerally like failing him. How could I let his dad take him from my arms like that, just to put him in childcare? How could I be so weak? How couldn’t I fight for him? I have to make it up to him and I’m running out of time.

It’s a bit sobering to realise that script has been going on somewhere in the background and I’m only just really looking at it now. I knew it was there, but I didn’t look at it. Seeing it laid out on my digital page like this makes it so clear that it is but another iteration of old, worn beliefs. How easily I can now trace its provenance.

But, regardless of its pedigree, it’s stopping me from sleeping.

During lockdown, we had our own Golden Age – my son was with me for five whole days of the week. Everything was better. We slept well, we ate well, we went to the toilet on time, we had a great routine and we were joyful. The swirl of chaos it felt like we had been living in settled and we built a steady life. But, eventually, his dad wanted to return to an even split. I didn’t like it. Makaloo didn’t like it. He protested, he cried, and he begged to sleep in my bed in case he had ‘the dream where I wake up in daddy’s house’. I can probably count the times he’s made it a full night in his own bed since on one hand. And I can’t sleep well with him next to me, so highly attuned I am to every movement he makes; so keenly attentive to any potential call to action. I’ve tried every sleep aid I can get my hands on, but nothing chills me out enough to make it more than a couple of hours.

Yet I can’t bring myself to evict him. Because letting him sleep there, snoring, sleep-talking, sprawling onto me, sitting bolt upright in the middle of the night or whimpering gently before he rolls over; waking up at 4AM and declaring he needs to lie on top of me…it eases my guilt. And it’s impossibly fucking adorable. There are so many things I feel like I’ve been deprived of the ability to give him, but I can give him this, so I do. To my own detriment.

I don’t know if it’s right or wrong. I argue with myself over it routinely; there are good reasons to advocate for both positions. But understanding and acknowledging my true motivations is integral to making an informed decision. So I’ll keep digging until I find a place to stand that feels solid.

Sifting sharp pieces

Something I have realised I need to do some serious work on right now is owning my mistakes, missteps and failures more authentically.

I instinctively absorb blame whenever a situation doesn’t go as I’d like. Because of this, and because of the story that blame creates in me, I will ruminate over how to make it better, and how to be better, endlessly, if the wiser part of myself doesn’t intervene. But I am also so cripplingly ashamed of being at fault that I dare not speak it. I want to fix the problem, fix myself, and never make the same mistake again, so I can move on and never have to look at how wrong, and thus unloveable, I was in that moment.

This creates a strange dichotomy whereby my inner world is swirling with blame and shame and deep remorse, usually far outweighing the requirements for the situation, while my outer facade dances around the admission of guilt, and clings to all the reasons why it both wasn’t so bad and wasn’t all my fault. I’m suffering enough, I don’t need you to add to it.

And that’s entirely right; I don’t. But what I’m learning that I do need is a space to openly admit the exact boundaries of my failings; to examine them with considerate and compassionate eyes, and to find validation that they don’t in fact make me the terrible monster my shame would gleefully tarnish me as.

There aren’t many people in the world, I don’t believe, who can hold space for that kind of deconstruction of events, particularly in the throes of conflict, so it’s not that I should try to do this the in the raw, unfolding moment. But I’d probably be better served removing myself before I start to hear the defensive claims of victimhood or rationalisation gush from my lips. Take a breath, take a step back, save it for later. Save it for a space where I can tip all the failings onto the floor, and sift through for the pieces that are mine.

And then fucking loudly announce to the world which pieces are mine, and revel in the freedom of the proclamation.

Intrusive

An inconsequential thing happened today that my mind refuses to let go of.

My son and I went to a National Trust estate for the day, and along one of the boundaries was a field full of horses. Before heading home, we went and sat overlooking them to have a drink and a snack. There was a huge ditch on the horse’s side, so we were resigned to the fact that the horses wouldn’t come over, even though we both not-so-secretly still hoped they would.

We sat and ate and drank and talked about horses and which ones had penises, and while we weren’t paying attention, one snuck up on us. A horse. With a penis. The ditch meant we couldn’t really stroke him, but, rather excited, I reached out and gave him a tiny piece of apple. I have a degree in equine science. I would never advocate feeding strangers’ horses, and I am also aware that apples are sugary and thus, despite what we’ve been told, not the best treat for horses. However, there is a small horse-crazed child still living inside me, and she was sitting next to another small child who, himself, is quite partial to a horse. And we wanted to be friends. And maybe, frankly, I think I’m above the law because I’ve studied equine nutrition at degree level.

Then a lady ran toward us shouting “please don’t feed them!”, and I said “oh, okay, sorry!”, and she said it again and I said it again, and my son asked why we couldn’t feed them and I explained that she must be the horse’s owner and she was in charge of looking after them, so if she didn’t want us to feed them then we had to respect that. And she came over and asked what I fed him, and I wryly said “a little piece of apple” feeling like I might as well have said “a big mac” and she shook her head and said “no. The sugar in the apple gives them laminitis.” And I nodded blandly and said “okay, sorry”, while repressing the urge to suggest she was stretching the truth just a little bit if she was saying a 1.5 inch chunk of apple was going to cause laminitis, and wondering if I should explain that I did know a bit about horses and, while I totally understood why she didn’t want me to feed her horse and I shouldn’t have done it, it really was just a tiny bit and I wouldn’t have given him the whole thing even, let alone like a bagful. And then, dissatisfied with my limp response, she said some other things that I can’t remember now as she ineffectually tried to shoo the horse away. And then she told my son that giving horses apples makes them poorly, and he looked at her in quiet, sad horror, so I said that a tiny bit wouldn’t do them any harm, but if they had too mu- “No, a tiny bit DOES do harm!! I’ve lost horses because of apples!” to which I passively did a sort of slow nod and waited for her to go away.

My son is not well-acquainted with death euphemisms because we just say things are dead, so he simply thought she was a bit silly and had misplaced some large animals, perhaps by confusing them for fruit. But, after she went off to eye us from a safe distance, I clarified anyway that, while it was probably not a good idea for us to feed the horse without permission, that lady seemed to be a bit extra worried because she’d had horses get poorly from too many apples before, and the amount we had given the horse was not going to have any adverse effects. But, no, we couldn’t just get on them and ride them away. And we sat and finished our drinks and our snacks, and the lady walked around in the field casting suspicious glances our way once in a while.

And now I can’t stop thinking about the fact that, to her, I probably looked like I wasn’t taking her at all seriously and was instead lurking in wait to spring upon her horses with sugary treats the moment her back was turned.