09 Sep i know what i learnt this summer
I have had a good summer.
The kids were off for (almost) 8 long weeks and it went well. We had a good time.
Let’s pause for a moment and appreciate the miracle of this.
I have been trying to record, to remember, what I have learnt this summer. I have learnt a new word… or maybe remembered a word I had forgotten for a while.
It has been a summer of saying “yes”.
Through my 20s I said “yes” because I felt I should. I had to say “yes” to maintain the appearance that I was a coper. That I was there for people. That I could handle responsibilities. That I was good.
But I have learnt over the last 5 years that I don’t have to behave like that. I have learnt to silence (or at least quieten) the oughts and shoulds and musts and have started listening to my needs in among all the other competing cries for my attention. Learning to say “no” is one of the best things i have ever done. It has given me back my life and enabled me to start remembering who I am. It has been tremendous. It has allowed me the space and time to regain some sense of balance.
It is from this much, much healthier place that I have started to say “yes” again this summer.
Not to every request, but sometimes “yes” to new experiences, to the start of adventures, to being silly and having fun.
I am married to a man who loves to travel, who wants to go on adventures.
When you battle with anxiety adventure can be tricky.
I have spent a lot of the last few years saying “no”.
I have listened to the alarm bells (or the constant low-level hum of anxiety) in my mind and put the reality of this into actual words.
“I don’t think I can manage that.” Or, “I think i am going to find that too overwhelming” and “Sorry love, i know i am always dismissing your ideas and plans, but I’m not up to that”.
Matt has been very gracious with me. He has (mostly) accepted that i have been in a period of recovery and that I have needed to chose situations and plans, that for me, aren’t especially anxiety-creating. In reality this means making decisions based on where I feel i will have some control, some volition. Where i can research where we are going, where I know what it will be like (if we have been there before all the better), where I won’t be expected (or the kids won’t want me) to try lots of new things, where I will be able to cook food that i am happy eating and feeding everyone, where it isn’t too hot.
And sometimes, this has meant staying at home.
And, it really hasn’t all been bad. Sometimes we have taken the easier option and had a really great time. Probably because i was relaxed and not stressing about every last thing.
But this year, I felt ready to try something new… to holiday abroad to a new place… on a plane…. to a hot place.
Okay for Majorca isn’t exactly sub-Saharan Africa, but it is somewhere that a few years back i would have struggled with going to.
And it was good. We had a good time. It was pretty hot…. and that was okay. We didn’t know the area… and that was okay. We endured long(ish) days of travelling…. and it was dull, and the youngest in our party was pretty fractious… and it was okay.
I had moments of anxiety. It still takes me a good three days to relax somewhere new – I’m hoping this will get shorter as the years go by, but i am okay if it doesn’t too – I can’t still enjoy myself.
A week after we returned we were in Durham at a family celebration. (cue expectation induced anxiety).
The kids were dressed in their finery and spent a good three hours in a posh hotel with people (on the whole) 50 years older than them, eating afternoon tea. They coped with it really well. But by 4:30 they had had enough and Matt’s cousin Ruth and a few others (including me) took them over the road to the beach.
And in the next hour Ruth gave me a lesson in saying “yes” and the joy therein.
After the good behaviour expected of them at the hotel the kids were really ready to let rip. Ruth instructed as we crossed the road from the hotel and began the descent to the beach… “Okay kids…. enough indoor voices, lets MAKE LOADS OF NOISE”. Cue 9 children grinning and screaming and shouting down the steps to the beautiful Tyneside coast. We reached the beach and Ruth encouraged, “Right kids, we’re at the beach… shoes and socks off – in the sea!”. The kids followed her lead.
Within minutes the happy cousins were asked for their cardigans to be held and for their skirts to be tucked up in their knickers, and trousers rolled up as they went deeper into the water, attempting (often unsuccessfully) to jump over the waves.
Their was whooping and hollering and great abandonment.
And then their dresses and smart clothes came off and they were in the sea in their underwear soaking wet and having an absolute ball.
We watched and laughed and I smiled so much at the intense joy and beauty of these simple pleasures.
If Ruth hadn’t been there I fear it wouldn’t have turned out so well. I would probably have been telling the kids I didn’t have any spare clothes and no towels. I would have been asking them to minimise their fun, to dampen their enthusiasm. I would have probably been a bit of a bore. All because i would have been worried about them not having anything dry to put them in. We would have missed out on so much.
It was a brilliant hour.
I want to be like Ruth when i grow up.
She embraces life and siezes opportunities for joy and fun and hilarity.
And if it goes wrong, then at least there is a good story to tell.
Since that afternoon I keep bringing it back to mind. I ask myself on occasion… “What would Ruth do?’.
That is why last week I donned wetsuit (if you know me you know this is not usual) and went swimming off the Anglesey coast with the kids on a daily basis. (It was September, but importantly, it was sunny!). I eschewed the prospect of a quiet half hour on the beach with my book and risked looking silly and getting cold and the potential discomfort and energy required and was Mum-who-joined-in.
I think the kids were in a state of shock.
Here’s to saying “yes’ to things that are good for me. To things that are fun. They may require some effort and at times a deep breath and steading of the nerves, but are worth it.
As I look forward I am still holding tightly to the importance of the word “No”, but i am glad that “yes” is now seated alongside, and that this is opening up greater possibilities for joy.