A new year, a new me.

It is New Year’s Day 2016-new-yearand I have swept away the fallen pine needles and dragged the dead tree outside. (I like to put it up early, to squeeze as much tinsel and glittering lights into December as possible but then I always take it down as soon as christmas is over. It reminds me of dirty dishes – the party is over, time to clear up.)  And so as I throw the dusty green needles on the fire, I reflect on the year. This either makes me laugh ludicrously or reach for the Gin bottle (thanks friends and family for your 3 lovely bottles by the way… happy new year indeed!).

Today is the start of a new year, and the start of a new life for me. I have just hoovered up (more pine needles) and washed the floors – I’m getting my house in order, as they say. But not because I have died. Because I am going to start living again.  This year my marriage ended, and we made palliative care decisions around my mum.  So much is ending. But so much is beginning. My new life as a single parent, raising my girls to be amazing women. My new life as an author.

This year has been the worst and the best. It has been full of loss and gain, ends and beginnings. and most of all it’s been full of learning.  I became a single parent and an author. But I remained a daughter and a mother caring for the two ends of my love life – my children and my parents.  And they cared for me.

So as I brush the pine needles from my hair, and brush my self down from the rubble of last year, I think about what I have learned.   

Some of those things admittedly I had no desire to learn…. like the fact that sometimes I can’t fix things, and my children just have to learn to experience pain. Like the fact I can protect them from sugar overload and screen overdose brain freeze, but I can’t stop Life throwing boulders at them. I can only teach them how to emerge from the rubble and help them pick the dirt out of their hair.

I learned I could fulfil dreams and write a book. I learned that I had had no idea what hard work really was until this year.  I learned to have faith in myself.

I learned how to get rid of the glass recycling (this took me 7 months), and how to put ink in the printer, and how to figure out buying a Christmas tree and getting it up by myself (it fell on me three times but I did it. I’m still picking pine needles out of my teeth, but I did it.) I learned that I can still throw a Christmas party and that even though it had only half the people that have come every year, it was the half that love me, and that’s what counted. I learned my two eldest girls are old enough to waitress and take coats and that although I have a huge burden, I can delegate.

I learned that raising three girls alone has an inhuman amount of housework – all those dishwashes to be emptied, all that food to buy, prepare, serve, clear up by myself. Endless, endless, endless clothes washes (and then hanging them to dry, taking off the dryer, sorting into piles, piles by bedroom doors, then sorting into drawers). I am seriously considering just buying 21 pairs of socks a week and chucking them out after every wear (that’s 42 socks to be washed, hung, carried upstairs, sorted, paired, put away – so why do i have 3759 odd socks????).

I learned that being lonely alone is hard but it is better than being lonely with someone. I learned that I get overwhelmed sometimes and my inner child has an outer tantrum and I must learn to keep her nourished, because there are enough tantrums in this house as it is. I have learned that my amazing girls still amaze, and despite everything they are going through, they are bright, funny, articulate and curious. (I have also learned that despite this, they still and probably never will figure out how to put their dirty knickers in the laundry basket.)

And I learned by absorbing the kindness of friends and family, to be finally kind to myself.

I have learned to lean in to the challenges that Life gives me, and to lean back from the need to do it all. I have learned to care for myself, and not worry so much, and to wash the floor when I need it as a therapeutic thinking exercise, but to leave it when I have more important things to do. And that sometimes those important things to do includes sitting on the sofa and eating chocolate while singing along to the box set of Nashville.

I have put away the glittering baubles and swept away the pine needles. And so too in my life, I will lift the treasures and gems from the rubble of this year and sweep away the unwanted debris.

I had dreaded Christmas day.  All year, as we dismantled our family, that day which represents the beacon of family days loomed over me.  But I was determined that the girls have the family Christmas they deserved so their dad was here and we had a family day. And it was painful to be reminded of all that I have lost. But actually all that dread was misplaced. Because although the pain was there, and the loss was felt, what shone through on the day was what I still retained.

The last time my family were all together for Christmas was five years ago, just 3 months after Mum’s stroke.  We were all shell shocked and traumatised as my mum dribbled at the table and couldn’t speak. This year we are all together and the glittering baubles reflected our laughing faces. Mum’s bed was wheeled around the house so that she could be a part of everything.  It will never be as good as it was before her stroke, but it is still amazing to be together. My brother and his family came to support me this year and they arrived laden with love and wine. 

And as the day progressed, I realised all the bad stuff was gone.  The pain of saying goodbye to a marriage is still better than the pain of being in an unhappy one. But the pleasure of being part of a good family is better than anything else, even if that family has had to adapt.

In my book that is coming out in February, I write a lot about this family, and despite dreading Christmas day, I spent it in the best possible way. With my old life and and new life merged, but seeing that the oldest is the strongest, an the new one I am creating with the girls is bursting with potential. I laughed and I cried. I was sad and I was happy. I have lost but I am loved.  The biggest lesson I have learned this year was wrapped up like a present on Christmas day; life is joy and grief, it is good and bad, it is light and dark, it is love and hurt, it is pain and gain.  They walk side by side, and I have finally learned to embrace them all.

Last year was the worst and the best, but it is the best that will carry me forward.… Last year was about surviving. This year is about thriving. Watch this space.

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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