Archive for June, 2012

Having It All; Doing It All, Giving It Your All

June 27, 2012

Family Matters writes thought provokingly on a subject close to mothers’ hearts – the great Having It All debate. She – pertinently – questions what the It is – and, she wonders, can a single mum to three, as she is, ever have It All?


I don’t think you can Have It All.


I can’t.


None of my children are homefulltime anymore – they’re working, at university, incarcerated in English boarding schools, but just because I am not subsumed by their constant, relentless, glorious (wait until they flee nests if you don’t believe me!) demanding presence, does not mean they are absent. Not when there’s Skype and email, text messaging and BBM; our conversations are announced like virtual birdcall – tweets and chirps and insistent whirring that indicate they need me and NOW. When’s my flight?; Gah I feel sick!; What shall I get dad for his birthday?; I’ve had my passport nicked!!!!; What’s Granny’s telephone number; I’ve lost it; I got a D in Physics; I got a First! and, inevitably, I’ve run out of money.


For the first time in years I AM working full time – full time for somebody else – I have been dragged squealing from the comfortably muddled life of freelance writer and glass artist that I cosily inhabited in pajamas until lunchtime to one where I must accommodate not just the predictable and understandable demands of my children and husband, but of a whole other element that comes with VAT and tax, marketing, accounts, spreadsheets and bedsheets, stocking taking and resupplies and dozens of people I had never met and will be unlikely to meet again despite being responsible for their happiness during our brief acquaintaince. And I know that I’m not Giving any of It my All because there’s too much to get to grips with at once, it’s as if I’m trying to grab fistfuls of marbles from a table top; I never hang onto as many as I want to. And so the things I could have done – would have done – when not working Full Time for a proper boss – are sidelined, bottom-drawered, ignored: a letter of encouragement to Mum; my own wretched accounts; an email to a friend; the bloody filing. Life feels scrambled. And it didn’t use to.


Part of it, of course, is that it’s a long time since I was obliged to use all my cerebral muscle at once. Part of it is that I’m badly prepared for the change. Part of it is that there is more to come. But most of it is that there just isn’t enough time to do all the things I aspire to do, need to do, as well as I want to.


Having It All suggests an accomplished and satisfying, confident and complete scenario, a sort of Having Your Cake and Eating It satiation, no clutching at those runaway marbles, and I’m not sure that any woman – any person – can Do It All whilst Giving It their All, without going mad.


Giving your All to whatever, whomever, it is you’re responsible for – children, partners, friends, a job, YOU – whilst retaining a sense of self and sanity, is all that matters for it is that which will imbue a necessary and sustaining, warm and reassuring, sense of achievement. It suggests the journey is ongoing, evolving, not yet done (for how can it be?), Having It All hints at an arrival.


And I know I’m certainly not there yet!


A to Z

June 24, 2012




Life is being ironed out. For a while, for a few weeks back there, when it hit a speed bump, wobbled and swerved, I wondered if this was what it felt like to crash. To flail emotionally and falter and then fade to utter enervation. I wondered, briefly, blessedly briefly, if this was how Mum had felt countless times before. But, with a decision behind us, with upset and disappointment fading like the scar of a wound which hurt like hell at the time, suddenly the clouds lifted and I could see the sunshine, I can see the sunshine, even on a day like today when the sky and the sea meet in a blur of squall and mist and wet.  The relief that, despite it all going horribly wrong, we have been able to pick ourselves up and brush ourselves down is huge. But the relief that I am not headed where Mum is now is indescribable.

I hate Depression. I hate it with a vigour that is palpable, a foe that is almost as tangible as the illness itself is not. I’d like to scream and hurl abuse and tell it to Fuck Of! Why didn’t we see it coming? Why can’t we – why can’t Mum – outwit it, step out of its horrid glare, escape the cruel clutches that hobble and hamstring her for months. Were there clues? Tears during a Skype call, ‘I’m fine really, there’s nothing sinister in my crying, just tired’. Should we have anticipated it? Mum tries to justify each crushing episode, place blame, understand where the wretched thing came from, but as it damply settles, she sighs, ‘Perhaps it was just my time for another Depression’.

And as much as I want to weep for the distance that renders me too far to be useful, I know how difficult this monster is to live with. I know how it alienates, frustrates, enrages as it stubbornly refuses to be chivvied into doing something, anything.  Instead I Skype and text and write to long suffering far-from-me, close-to-mum family members and friends and bossily instruct on how to manage (as if I know!), on what drugs she should be on, on whom they ought to try to see. I can’t believe any of it is in vain. For to do that would be too painful, to doubt I can negotiate her recovery would be unbearable, I have to hope. And therein lies my ally; optimism has not abandoned me in the way it has her.


And so it would seem we are headed inland and south and across two borders.

I never thought I would leave this cozy familiar corner of East Africa with its generational pull and uneven but oddly reassuring history. But I am. I never, ever thought I’d live in Zambia – a country whose name began with a Z seemed strangely mythical when I was little, as if something from the land of hobgoblins and faeries, gladiators and unicorns.   Z seemed so far away, a march down the alphabet. But, in a few weeks, we will gather up our bits and pieces and head down Africa into its unknown landlocked interior. Change is always a little intimidating. And the winters there, says my friend K, really are winters.

But the miombo and the woodsmoke and bright wide white smiles in dark faces and skies that stretch for ever as if standing on tippie-toes to reach for dust smudged horizons will be gloriously, happily familiar.  A whole new adventure we tell ourselves, absolutely unanticipated.

And perhaps that’s the best kind of adventure to embark on: the ones we least expect.





Déjà vu

June 2, 2012



You think – I thought – that this was it. For now. That life was going to sit back, rock on its heels, smell the roses, take in the view (and boy what a view).

But life’s not like that. Life is for living – and all that it brings, the uncertainties, the highs and lows, those wretched curved balls.

So I’m back where I started, mentally, emotionally, moodily, five years ago, when I deliberated and cogitated over my departure to the Outpost, with a pen poised for a pros and cons list. Decisions must be made so that most mealtimes in our home begin, ‘So what are we going to do’, and then we hunker over toast and coffee Jungle Book vulture-like, ‘I dunno, what do you want to do?’, ‘I don’t know, what do YOU want to do’. For neither wants to take a plunge too soon, or not take one at all, neither wants to be the source of the other’s regret.

But sometimes that’s what being on the same team means, you’ve got to believe that the other players on your side really are on your side, really do know what’s best, really will catch you if you fall. Talking it out isn’t working. I wondered if tapping out the dilemma on the keyboard, pinning it to black and white might make it more tangible, present an easier to grasp answer rather than one that keeps slipping from my grasp so that one minute one solution is right and the next a quite radical one seems the obvious choice.
Sleep on it my mum would say.

But that’s easier said than done.