From the mouths of babes…

Sometimes my children know better than me.

After 3 hours of solid singing in the garden, Ruby flopped on the bed and proclaimed: “I’m out of battery. Plug me in to recharge!”

And she’s right.  Sometimes we just need to plug back into life and recharge.

The week before last, I had a terrible week. Truly shattering. But now I’m having a great week. Truly mattering. (So good I’m actually going to allow myself to make that word up, that’s how good I feel).  I’m back. Recharged and in charge.

I’m only able to talk about last week, this week. Sometimes you need space from the place of stress.   

The Sandwich Years don’t come with an appointment card and a Preparation Pack.  Sometimes they quietly slip into your life, unannounced and under the radar, until you realise one day that the balls you are juggling are falling in around your ears.   You are caring for your children and you think your parents are caring for you. But slowly, slowly you discover they need more from you and in a gradual process you switch roles of cared for and carer. 

Other times, the Sandwich Years arrive by ambulance, a clear cut line delineating before and after.     That was my experience.  Five days after my mum have been at the birth of my third baby, she put my other two girls to bed, read them a story, and kissed them goodnight. An hour later her brain exploded and the line was drawn very firmly in the ground.   The mum I knew was gone, and the person she became needed 24 care. 

My mum and dad used to roll their eyes at me. I could never just have a little drama.  I always had to have the Grade A, Maxed up, Premium Gold Level Drama (in fact at my wedding, dad confessed in his speech that as I grew up and left home, they would know when the phone rang there would be a crisis. “You answer it,” he’d say to mum. She’d be shaking her head, “no, you answer it!”)

And so it was even when I entered the Sandwich Years.  My situation couldn’t have demonstrated it more starkly – the conflicting, contrasting needs at both ends of my love life – my mum and my baby.  The months after mum’s stroke personified the acuteness of the Sandwich Years – I literally changed my baby’s nappies and my mums. I spoon fed my baby and my mum. I stroked her face as she could only speak to me with her eyes, and I stroked my baby’s face as she could only speak to me with her eyes.  Sometimes, I would look around and wonder was this some kind of joke?  It was like a comic tragedy…. without the comedy.  Looking back on that first year, I still can summon up the desperate darkness of powerlessness and the tsunami of need that overwhelmed me.

It will be five years in September.   After that first year, things with my baby and my mum continued in parallel…. trying to do jigsaws with them, building language and diction.  But after a while, only my baby progressed.  Things with mum certainly improved….she can talk, and eat herself, and we can take her out and about in her ‘Patmobile’ but life has essentially halted.  Her book still lies unfinished by her bed table upstairs.  That little baby, however, starts school in a couple of months, but my mum lies still, in that bed.

The Sandwich Years have had ups and downs. We’ve had wonderful times, and terrible times, but mostly we got into an even routine. The wrench of leaving my children to be with mum, the guilt of not being with mum to be with my children slowly, slowly dulled from an acute pain to an on-going ache as it all became the normal.

But then something happens again, and the contrast and conflict returns acutely.  Now that my Not Quite has left, time now with my girls is so precious because they are taken away at times by him, and when I am with them, I have so much more to do. They are fragile, and need a little extra TLC.  But at the same time, my mum has been deteriorating. She needs me too, as does my dad.

And so, between the girls being with their dad and me having to be with mum, I ended up not seeing them for days and days last week. It was terrible.  I even missed their school sports day (although Daisy was secretly pleased I’m sure, as I usually embarrass her by shouting the loudest.)  And because my dad was away having a break, in order to return to my girls, I had to put my mum into a home for a few days. Brutal choices, brutal options.

So my batteries were running out last week.  And when I got home I was still agitated and upset (hence my last post!). There was so much to do, and the pressure to have a good time with the girls before they went off with their dad again for the weekend felt enormous.  I was giving out about them not helping and then asked them one of those questions we stupidly ask our children, expecting them to come up with an answer.

“What am I supposed to do?”

Except sometimes they do come back with an answer. Quick as a flash Daisy replied “Have a poo. It’ll make you more relaxed.”

It did make me relax, but only because I was laughing so hard.  And also because she’s right – sometimes you have to let go of all the shit to feel good. Sometimes your kids know better. 

It took me a couple of days, it took me to be around them again, it took me to take deep breaths but I finally plugged myself back in.  And it reminded me of something Poppy had just said on holiday, a perfect example of her laid back character.  When Daisy (who like me, is the opposite of laid back) asked for the umpteenth time exactly what our daily schedule was going to be, I rolled my eyes and she smiled shyly, “I think I have OCD.”  Picking up their wet towels from the pool for the hundredth time, I replied, “And I have cleaning OCD.”   Then Poppy’s voice piped up from her sun lounger floating in the middle of the pool, “I think I have relaxing OCD”   Sometimes your kids know better.

So that’s it then.  Sage advice from my children

I’m plugged back into my life, I’ve had my (metaphorical) poo, and I got a cleaner – some times you just have to listen to the kids.

About Grin & Tonic by Alana Kirk

Bouncing into middle age armed with courage, ambition and a pair of tweezers (chin hairs for anyone over the age of 45 reading this) I am a writer with a mission: to redefine this midway point in my life when the last thing I want to do is hang up my high heels and become invisible. This is the end of the beginning, not the beginning of the end. A single mum to 3 fabulous girls, an author, and a fundraising consultant, both ends of my candle are on fire. As I enter this new stage of my life, I want to explore what it means for 'mid-aged' women today, who were promised they could have it all, ended up doing it all, and just do not identify with the traditional image of middle age.
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