Sunday, 30 January 2011

Its all about windows

Sometimes you wake up and realise with glee that life truly is exactly what you make of it. There is no time for waiting for happiness and contentment to find you. You have to make it for yourself. You see your windows of opportunity and you seize them. Firmly in both hands and love every minute of the rewards you can reap.

Today I have taken ownership of some personal time. I am sitting right in my window of opportunity, in the window of a Carlisle cafe, (writing using Windows if you want to be really nerdy), waiting to be served, waiting for my luxury lunch with a small red wine with a happy smile on my face. Full of contentment, glad for my life and the freedom within my relationship.

This all came about because one of our daughters wanted to go to the cinema with a friend in Carlisle. The journey is an hour’s drive away or they have to pay the cost of the train. Seeing the opportunity to spend three hours submerged in my writing with the hustle and bustle of a city in my ears, I offered to drive them. This gives me three hours to soak up the fashion windows (not spending any money today so window shopping only), sip a small glass of wine and still be safe to drive, soak up the atmosphere, the smells, the sounds, stare out of the window and feel like me while my fingers tippey type away.

Wonderful.

I have recently felt renewed vigour to put fingers to keyboard, after a period of grieving and I guess what you would call, writers block. Now it’s back and I am in heaven.
And here I am, in a perfect cosy corner, right beside the radiator, looking out the window at the passing traffic, both shoppers and cars and thinking, thank god for the children! For giving me the chance to be ‘stuck away from home’ with nothing but my netbook and my e-reader to occupy my time.

Love it!

Oh and even one of favourite songs now playing out softly over the sounds of the cafe.

Start singing for I linger on dear, still craving your kiss, I’m longing to linger ‘til dawn dear....
Sweet dreams ‘til sunbeams find you, sweat dreams that leave your worries behind you....

Pure bliss.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Starting as a Step Mum Part 2

The first time I met my boyfriend’s kids I wasn’t his girlfriend. He was stuck for a lift for them all at the end of a very long and arduous journey and being a friend, I offered. Everyone was tired and weary and the girls were totally friendly, quiet and polite. 20 minutes later I left them all in my rear view mirror and thought nothing more than what a happy bunch they all seemed.

When I met them as his girlfriend I was nervous as hell, because I wanted them to like me, I wanted us all to get along and I didn’t want anything to spoil the dreamy ride of this beautiful developing relationship. Also I feared rejection from them, knowing how cruel kids can be to parents partners. The reason I know that? I was an absolute bitch to my step dad when I first met him and spent a lot of time making fun of him and putting him through the mill. (We eventually became friends and shared a lot of love and laughter.) I was utterly concerned my step dad karma was due.

But the girls could not have been nicer, funnier, accommodating, interesting and caring. We had a wonderful ‘honeymoon period’, all getting to know one another and enjoying many days out, lazy days in and soon all became close. At times it was weird for my BF, as he learnt to accept me in my motherly role and stand aside as I put his kids first on occasions while I tried to share my time equally with him and them. The exact same can be said for me. At times I found I wanted him all to myself. In a way this remains evident in our relationship to this day. We are both still very much in love and often feel overwhelmed by our commitment to our responsibilities. But it never stops us being parents and doing the right things by the kids. Even when we, as lovers, as adults and as friends would rather be doing something else.

Perhaps that’s helped keep our relationship young and fresh, the fact that we haven’t always had loads of time to immerse ourselves in just us.
At first we had separate houses. We all visited each other and stayed over together at both houses. When he had the kids I stayed at theirs as his place was bigger, only just. Then when I sold my recently finished home renovation project my BF was also looking for a bigger apartment so he could look after the girls more often and give them a room each. A luxury they desperately needed as they were soon to be teens and were already bitching and fighting over personal space.

The obvious, practical thing to do was all move in together. BF and I discussed it thoroughly as it seemed like a bold move. We had only been dating 4 months and it was important not to mess about with kids involved. But we were also aware we were spending every day together, doing a lot of travelling in between houses and essentially paying for two places. The financial reward played a part in our decision, along with being able to offer support to my BF who desperately wanted to look after his children and I wanted to settle down with him as a happy family. So we took the plunge.

We moved into a house in the main town. Near to the girl’s school and our places of work. We got somewhere big enough for the girls to have their own top floor with a bedroom each. It also had enough room for us to set up our own office and we had a huge family room and a kitchen diner. Everybody had space of their own and we started to settle into a new routine.

We had the girls every other week. At first it was great to have some time to ourselves and a weekend every other week to be lovers and shake off the parenting roles and act spontaneously. Don’t get me wrong, we both love being parents and we both utterly love the girls. We also love each other, noisy sex, walking about naked, being spontaneous, dressing up, going out for beers, coming home late and getting up early. Many of these things you just can’t do when you also want to maintain a stable routine for your kids to feel safe and secure in. So at first the week about suited us perfectly.

But soon we noticed it wasn’t working for the girls. The regular upheaval from one home to another, the inconsistencies between houses, the changes in structure and even simple things like sleep patterns, nutrition and opportunity. Unfortunately their mum didn’t have the same parenting ethic as us and had recently moved to the countryside. Not being a driver this made it increasingly difficult for the girls to have control over their own lives. Eventually we made the difficult decision to challenge the current set up and take the girls full time.

Logically it was the obvious thing to do. The girls mum preferred not to plan or organise. She is a fun woman with plenty of love and individuality to share with the girls. But she is incredibly skint, disorganised and disinterested in many aspect of parenting that the girls desperately needed. It seemed perfect that we would care for the girls through the week when they needed organising for school, structure, rules and regular sleep patterns, square meals and financial support for hobbies and interests. At the weekends they could go to mums, draw on each other’s faces, stay up late, eat crap and run riot. It seemed to harness the different parenting approaches and provide a stable environment for the girls.

And it worked. The girls settled down. They became more organised, more responsible, self reliant and many of the quibbles we had previously experienced; things like homework and helping with the washing up reduced radically and we even found (on occasion)them doing it themselves without being asked! They were happy, a little spoilt at times but wonderful girls to live with.

Of course we all had our moments. I found it hard to accept the disruption the girls continually caused to the way I liked to live my life. Organised, clean and honest. Because like typical teens, they grew lazy, messy and inconsiderate. They ‘borrowed’ things without asking. They lied. I would find crisps and chocolate wrappers under cushions on our fluffy couch. Dirty cups and plates hidden in furniture. My IPod sneaked to school one day. My DVD’s went missing. But I grew to accept all that, because that’s what kids do.

They found it hard as my BF and I were strict and consistent. We expected everyone to work together and help around the house. We tried to install in the girls a good work ethic, taking responsibility for yourself and the things you use, the things you do. We worked with rewards, acceptance of consequences and discipline. Which wasn’t easy. Especially as we had another parent to be compared against. Another parent who didn’t embrace this structure. Who didn’t believe in ‘rules’. And so we soon became in the teens eyes, ‘harsh and strict.’ We received the frustrated outbursts from the girls, the tantrums, the moods. But we still kept going.

Because despite all that. They are good girls. Beautiful girls.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Starting as a Step Mum

The thing with becoming a step mum is that, like motherhood, no one tells you what it’s going to be like. What rewards you will reap what sorrows you will suffer.
No one warns you how hard it is living with a partner who will always have his ex in his life, how your life can be ruled by others and influenced by a force, a human, a personality so out of your control, at times you will despair of the lack of influence you have over your own life.

Of course my situation is not the same for all step mums. Some don’t have an ex, some have to cajole kids who are predisposed to hate them, some have an easy ride and step into the role like Mary Poppins, the kids call her mum and everything is peachy. Some step mums have it tougher than I, go through hell, experience anger and challenging behaviour towards them and end up without the partner they so desired in the first place.

Being a step mum is a life changing experience. Ready or not. Here they come.
I knew my new beau had kids before I fell in love with him. Only just mind you, because it did not take me long to fall in love with him. I am one of the lucky ones who has found the most amazing guy, who is from the 22nd century, let alone the 21st century, treats me (and demands to be treated) as an equal, has charm, manners and a softness akin to being a girl, with strength, tact and wonder in bucket loads. I am lucky enough to have turned up trumps.

Straight out of a destructive and messy separation from an ex husband with an issue for every letter of the alphabet, I was recently separated, liberated, back on my bisexual freeway and right off men. I was having fun getting down and dirty with the lovely ladies and spending every other spare hour I had renovating a small property I would soon come to call my bachelorette pad. And then, BOOM! I met Mr Right. He totally caught me by surprised, I believe I was swooned! We reached out to each other and for the first time in my life I knew what it was to feel someone’s soul. A soul mate. And not feel it through what I wanted, but from him. He is the only man (or woman) to actually look into my eyes and see me. ‘I see you’ became our softly whispered motto, long before Avatar was filmed!

Anyway, our romance was sudden and speedy and although very passionate and spontaneous, it also had a strange kind of logic and practicality about it too! Everything just started to fall into place. It was weird. Once or twice we caught ourselves wondering if a disaster was ahead due to the speed at which we moved. But enough of that just now...

We met through work and became friendly to begin with. Then when we were both single and it was ‘safe’ we turned to each other one random day for support and from there we blossomed as bosom buddies. We dated a few times. Long memorable dates, with laughing and talking, kissing and exploring each other. We talked about past relationships, lives, mistakes, heartaches and of course his kids. From the beginning I thought a lot about what this could mean for me. For us.
I mean. Twins. Wow! At that time they were twelve years old. I knew from the beginning it was a big thing for me to consider. But I had no idea exactly what I should be considering.

If I were me now and I went back to those days, when I would day dream out of my newly installed sky light windows, whilst rubbing down the new plastering. If I could go back now and have a conversation with myself what advice would I give?

Well!
1.Being a step mum is about supporting the father and not taking on the role as mother
2.However, maintain your role as alpha female in your home, your rules
3.Show respect and set boundaries for everyone, not just the kids
4.Don’t fall into the trap of doing too much, for you will soon feel robbed of your own time
5.Learn how to let a lot of things go, because other peoples mistakes are not yours to fix
6.Don’t feel guilty about not contributing to everything, or splitting the costs of kids
7.Think positive thoughts about ex-partners, for they often have as many problems as the kids
8.Ignore malicious / devious intent by ex partners, it is not worthy of your energy
9.When confronted with the line ‘you are not my parent’ state ‘no but I am your friend...’
10.Communicate with your partner about everything at all cost but moan about your situation with someone else you trust.

Quite a list isn’t it?

I have had the pleasure of my step daughters for nearly four years now. They have been loving, fun, kind, thoughtful, sweet, cuddly, tickly, wiggly, giggly, special, beautiful, amazing girls for the majority of that time together. But they have also been selfish, rude, sticky fingered, thoughtless, ungrateful, self centred and spoilt.

Putting up with other people in your home, breaking and staining your stuff, taking your most prized gadget out the house, running up your bills and not giving a damn about it is hard to take at the best of times. In fact if it was your mate, you would have a quiet word and ask them to leave! But not your kids, and not your step kids.

What step mums have to remember is that we don’t have the luxury of that bond with our babies from birth. We don’t have all those important beautiful moments when you hold your baby, wrapped in layers of blanket, look into their eyes and know you are utterly in love and will do anything to keep them happy and safe. We don’t have years of memories, to set our disposition to unconditional love. We are not blindly attached, forever hopeful, forever tireless of putting them first.

What we do have. Is a life. We have had experiences. We have been the number one priority in our lives up until now (excusing the obvious attachment to a partner, dependant or not). We have been the leader of our own tiny wolf pack and we have ruled over the space in which we occupy.
We have the luxury of detachment. We are free from the attachment of others, which is good enough for Buddha, its good enough for me!

So it’s a long and arduous journey suddenly giving up your space for someone else. Someone who comes first before you a lot of the time. Someone who will not be capable of treating your space with anything like the same level of love, cleanliness, respect that you do. In fact that someone soon changes the way you have to live, to suit their needs.
It’s a very weird world walking into your own home, to discover the child urchin has moved things around, used up your favourite bubble bath, eaten all three tubs of hummus and littered every clean surface with stuff.
It’s a strange and alien world!
And no one warns you about any of it!

Monday, 17 January 2011

Happy New Year - Big Bold Bez

Happy New Year readers!

Never has this statement been so true on my part. For years I have been wishing the New Year in, without much care for any resolutions beyond the usual, diet, stop smoking, be better at this, do less of that. But this year the feeling I took through from 2010 to 2011 was something new for me, a feeling of relief, a sense I could shed some sadness, let it go and move on. I shed the weighty grief of last year.

I lost my mother. Not lost. It’s not as if we were in a shopping centre or something. My mum died. Suddenly. And far too young, at 63, as far as I am concerned. She was a close friend, a confidant, a companion and an inspiration. The loss of her was so mammoth, so sudden and shocking that it took part of my life and soul away.

The death of a loved one is one of life’s inevitable experiences that few people prepare you for. Throughout my life I have lost two best friends. Jamie when I was 15. Shakey when I was 21. I lost my darling Nanna when I was 23. The lady I was closest too as a young child, who was nothing but goodness and old fashioned charm personified. All of those deaths cut me deeply, sent me into despair for a while and changed the way I lived my life.

But the death of my dear mum changed me.

It took a part of my life away that I loved so very much, that I enjoyed being around, sharing with and benefitting from. Her death has taken a very long time to accept. But finally I can.

The stages of grief; Shock, Denial, Anger and Guilt, Despair and Depression, Acceptance.

I have been through them all, some backwards and forwards, some I’ve hung around in for a very long time, some I’ve gone back to when I’ve thought that stage over and sometimes once I realised where I was, what I was doing and how to cope, something came and bit me on the bum throwing me right back to shock! I found as long I was realistic about why I felt the way I did, explained myself to those I loved around me, then I could just about get through it most of the time.

There is no rhyme or reason as to why you progress the way you do and the stages are not linear, you not pass smoothly through them in order. Gosh no! I certainly didn’t. And I don’t believe it to be the case for others who have been through deep grief. Not when our emotions are so easily triggered by a smell or someone who looks like them, music, good / bad news you wish to share, the passing of time making you physically miss them popping round. All of these and more can impact on your inner grief. Drag it all back up, make you sense it all again. There is no stopping it, you are best to go with it and feel what you need to, react how you need to (within reason). What I do know about the stages of grief for sure... Is that shock comes at the beginning and acceptance waaaaaaaaay at the end. The path you take and the length of that path depends on you and who you grieve.

There is no wrong way, or right way. At lot of the time you don’t know which way it is affecting you, you just try to move on, get on with life, but you always carry grief with you. Hidden or on your sleeve. Quite often it isn’t until someone says you are acting weird / out of character / negative that you realise, you’re still hurting and it’s effecting how you respond to things. Quite often those things are life’s little trying scenarios.
All those silly things that get to us when we are stressed or under pressure. Busy or tired. Emotionally topped up. Things like having to clear up after the kids, forgetting something important, chores, breaking things. You know. All those things that are minor but also safe to go over the top about in your reaction. Finally at some point you realise that your mental health is suffering quite a bit as you try to keep a lid on the emotion wrapped around your body, around your heart and soul. It is trying to comfort you but keeping you smothered, swamped in sadness.

Eventually something will give and you will find yourself emerging from a black cloud of depression. Its as if your mind has been spring cleaned and you can see sense again, can feel love without pain, accept kindness without tears, see ahead for yourself without loss. Its not that you leave the grief behind, more that you find a way to live with it. It becomes a part of your senses, your emotions that can effect your previously usual character. You accept that from now on certain things, certain triggers are always going to make you feel this way, because you will always miss them, want them back and nothing can ever change that.

You also gain a sense of living for them. My mum was such a beautiful unique crazy lady. She lived life to the full, was compassionate, intelligent and very caring. She would never have wanted my life to stop once she had gone. She hated seeing me sad and lonely when she was alive and although I think a small part of her is honoured at how much she is grieved, how much she is missed (if she’s watching), mostly she would want me to make the most of my life.
And since New Year I have been thinking like that too. Every good thing about her I try to capture within my own goodness. Every lesson I learnt from her I take forward into my own life and spread among my nearest and dearest. Things like:

ALWAYS be honest, for the truth has a funny way of always coming out. Honesty is the best policy.

Never lie.

Acknowledge that sometimes the right thing to do is the hardest thing to do.

Believe in yourself; love yourself. For if you can’t, then you will not be capable of understanding or accepting another’s love for you.

In the event of a trauma / drama, wait three days before you respond.

Never say hate, don’t or cant.

Show compassion. Do good.

Aim high, live your dreams.

Spoil yourself every now and then. (especially shoes or rugs)

So here I am in the New Year, 2011, by Jeeves. Making my way through the trials and tribulations of a fulfilled life, carrying my memories of mum in my mind, our combined life’s lessons rippling through my soul and my love for her held forever tight in my heart.

As the years pass, my grief will change again. As my life grows I will find new reasons to miss her and new ways to cope. And thats ok. Because someone as big and bold as my mum Bez could never be forgotten. I’m glad.

Glad she was as good as she was. Glad she chose this life. Glad she was my mum.

And I will always be happy with my memories.
A Happy New Year indeed!