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.

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.

Wordgame: Archeopteryx

My son likes dinosaurs. I like dinosaurs.

My son likes learning words. I like learning words.

Because of this, I’ve learned a lot of dinosaur words. Archeopteryx is one of them. I can’t say I knew what an archeopteryx was before my son was around. I can’t say I didn’t know either, because I know a lot of things that I don’t strictly remember I know until the occasion calls for it.

I definitely did know what a stygimoloch was, because at some point in my adult life I had consciously decided to look up dinosaurs, so I could decide what my favourite dinosaur would be, so that, if anybody happened to ask me, I would have an informed response.

But stygimoloch wasn’t the word I put in my elephant box. Archeopteryx was. I wonder why.

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.

In an ideal world

I’m laughing at myself a little bit because I just read the first lines of my last post and realised that, even in my correction, I still only went as far as saying in an ideal world I could create the school that I want to send my son to; not that it already exists. But I guess that sounds about right. I don’t know whether it’s flagging control issues, ego or just not wanting to be left out, but it sounds about right.

As exciting as it would be, though, I am too perpetually exhausted to be doing a good job of a project that big. Oh. but wait, in an ideal world, I get a solid eight hours. I keep forgetting the brief. Still, we can take it further, and we should. That’s how we get to the heart of things – by pushing past the edges.

In an ideal world, everything we have collectively learned over our time on this Earth would be harnessed to tailor education to each of our children’s individual needs and potentials, and as parents we would be actively involved in this ever unfolding process, because the value of raising children would be elevated above what we currently consider productivity. Is that better?

It’s useful to think about what we want. What we really want. You know, outside of our self-imposed limitations. Outside of what we’ve learned to accept is possible. If we could have anything, what would it be? If you’re anything like me, you’ll have to push yourself beyond your first few answers before you get to the truth. Before you even get close to scratching the itch of your deepest ambitions. Or even begin to perceive the full extent of your vision.

In an ideal world…

It’s a good prompt.