We spent as much of this weekend as we could up at the woods. The sun was shining. On one of the days, Peta had a friend with her and we cooked baked potatoes. The other day we took a packed lunch and got on with some jobs we needed to do. It was fun. Worries and upset can be put to one side up in the woods. But as I write this, it is Monday morning and I have just walked back from school to an empty house. The younger three argued, pushed and shoved, sulked and dawdled to school. It doesn’t help that the clocks went back yesterday and so we lost an hours sleep. We are all grumpy. As the spring sun shines through the window, it shows up the clods of mud, abandoned rucksacks, twigs and lunch boxes that litter our kitchen/dinning room. I feel down – I hate it when the children argue and when I am grumpy with them; it is hard to feel positive with the debris of the weekend adding to the already chaotic mess of our house. I am not a super mum. I only have time to do the most important jobs. Last night, instead of clearing up, I was ordering more trousers for Joe online. He will only wear certain clothes. He had ripped his cargo pants in the wood yesterday and seems to have lost a pair at school, so he needed new ones. Fortunately the shop I get them from has not yet changed the style so I ordered a couple of pairs. Then this morning, children needed to be taken to school – I ask them to walk with me instead of getting the school bus because I think it is better for them and for me. If we are a bit late (as we were today) I do the walk of shame past the gaggle of children and parents waiting for the bus – the grumpy Mum who forces her children to walk… Then I arrive home and waste time phoning the Department of Works and Pensions. It takes ages to get through and I feel ridiculously frustrated with the electronic voice that keeps assuring me that my call will be answered as soon as possible. I want to yell at it; make it feel my frustration than my carers allowance payments are now 17 weeks behind, and that I need to service the car and pay for Joe’s trousers, and Melody needs new hiking boots and that I don’t know anyone else who is paid three months in arrears and that last week they promised they’d pay seven weeks of it straight away and they haven’t. But that electronic voice doesn’t care. What really bothers me is neither does that human voice I finally connect to, and anyway, no one can do anything today because the computer system has broken down.
Sometimes I look at my life and wonder if it’s all worth it, wonder if I am just making things hard for myself. Should I just give up and ‘go with the flow’. Sometimes it’s hard to stand up for what I believe in. I’ve been told that I don’t live in the real world. I worry that children spend too much time indoors, too much time inactive in front of a screen. I worry about the food we eat, the energy we use, the plastic waste we generate, the sugar we consume, the messages we send to our children through our education system, our use of cars… I worry that my values mean that my children are living a restricted life with limits on their screen time, a ban on sweets between meals (I let them have a limited amount after a meal, they are not sweet or chocolate deprived), an almost vegetarian diet so that any meat (and veg) I do buy I can afford to buy organic, walking to school instead of using the school bus (they use it when it’s raining so that’s ok isn’t it?), not always towing the line at school because I don’t agree with what is happening; my list goes on. When I look around at all the other families I wonder if I am just a fanatic. Everyone else seems to be fitting in and doing just fine, and that’s good. So maybe I should just let myself and my family off the hook instead of pushing hard against the norm. I don’t want to be seen as judgemental; as a zealot. I have no right to judge other peoples actions at all, nor do I have any desire to. Just staying sane and happy in todays world seems hard enough – if you’ve found your way to do that, who am I to judge? – you’ve achieved more than me. Perhaps it is me that is not living in the real world. Sometimes I feel that I do not belong in this society, that my ideals have no place here.
Still, I can’t shake who I am. I can’t shut off the drive inside me. And when I am up in the woodland with Mark and the children, I know why I bother. I know why I put up with the mess and the mud. I know why I try to encourage my children away from screens and towards activity and imagination. Stress levels do drop. Children do play. There is a freedom felt by all in the family that cannot be felt indoors. I realise we are so fortunate to own this woodland, but people do not have to own land to benefit from the outdoors, green space, to feel the sense of freedom and happiness. It is easy to look at the effort it takes though and be put off. It’s hard to motivate the children to get out, get all their clobber on, pack all the things needed, then deal with the fall out of muddy kit at the end of the day too. But for me the alternative is not an option. I have tried, and I end up feeling worse. I can only do what I believe in, stand only for what I feel deep down is right. I may be way off the mark, but at least this way I am true to myself.
Amos painted a picture for me on Mother’s Day. He had to hold it up in front of all other Mum’s at school and say why he loved me. In his picture, I look like a wild woman. I suddenly saw myself the way he saw me. I self consciously reached out and tried to smooth down my hair. But then I looked again and I felt proud of my portrait – I was wearing a massive smile. When I try to be someone else, that smile is not there. Perhaps I should let myself off the other hook and accept myself for who I am. Perhaps, I will eventually find my place, and people who can accept me for who I am too.