To Ruth, for holding my hand from 150 miles away
Every new year I used to have the same resolutions. After some years of non-fulfilment those resolutions began to doubt themselves (who could blame them?) and decided to take more of a back seat in the form of aspirations. Later still, when age endowed me with sufficient wisdom and self-awareness to accept the sad truth that, had I been blessed with the gift of resolve, those aspirations would have become reality years ago, they pretty much gave up altogether and mutated into lazy, resentful wishes. And those wishes remain: guilt-inducing, nagging ghosts, hanging around like a fog of post-Christmas dinner farts, as if waiting for some miracle or personality transplant to motivate me to take action at the start of each new year, or berate me for my extensive procrastination during the previous 12 months.
These are my wishes:
- A tidy, uncluttered, well-ordered household – as opposed to cupboards crammed with all kinds of paper paraphernalia which we cannot throw away because one day soon I’m going to go through it all and make scrap books of the kids’ early years (oh yes, I am) and there might be something in there I need.
- An efficient cleaning routine so entrenched it barely requires a thought – as opposed to the hours upon hours of wasted time spent paralysed by dismay, guilt, defeat and overwhelm, staring at layers of dust, grubby carpets and marks on the walls, thinking “Where do I start?”, interspersed by exhausting, unsustainable and erratic sprees of manic cleaning.
- A chic home (ha!) where nothing is broken or botched – as opposed to a residence filled with mismatched furnishings and dated lighting, where the drive is paved with weeds and the kitchen floor (a bunch of lino tiles stuck down by me) doesn’t quite meet the knackered MDF kick boards; a place where friends don’t stare embarrassingly at the hole in the ceiling I attempted to fill with expanding foam, resulting in an ugly bulge that has turned black at the edges; or where I wake every morning faced with the hole I kicked in the plasterboard on my side of the bed one day when I was feeling cross … somewhere I can open my underwear drawer without having to stick the handle back on it first and yank the hairdryer cord out of the way; or where the sealant I so expertly replaced around the bath (back in my hazy days of aspiration) hasn’t turned black because the extractor fan died eight years ago and no bugger has replaced it; or where the living room door isn’t framed with three layers of ugly wiring because we couldn’t decide where to put the TV.
- A wardrobe of co-ordinated, well-cut, age-appropriate clothes that fit and flatter me – as opposed to a wardrobe partially blocked by a drum kit (which in turn serves as a makeshift clothes horse) and with one door hanging off it, that houses an assortment of random crap, none of which remotely goes with anything else, all of which was cheap as chips (apart from my Phase Eight dress), and virtually none of which makes me feel good about myself; or the stack of cheap jeans, t-shirts and vest tops in one of my bedside cabinet drawers, which for some reason look nowhere near as good on me as they do my 14-year-old daughter.
- Good organisational skills – as opposed to the constant stress of running late, arriving at work with a minute to spare and having to bear the guilt of my kids frequently being slightly late for school; or having to apologise to friends or relatives yet again when we rock up later than other guests who’ve had to travel the length of the country and still managed to make it on time; or the nightly Battle of the Bedtime with Little Daughter, caused by my apparent inability to get her to bed at a decent hour before she is overtired and grumpy.
- A published novel (I would settle now for a completed novel) – as opposed to the torturous reminder that I made it to 75,000 words in a matter of months before stopping for no reason I can fathom and now, several years later and when it has locked me out completely, I still have to respond to my friends’ loyal and enthusiastic enquiries about its progress.
If these things mattered to you enough, you’d make them happen, I tell myself, but I don’t believe it. They do matter to me immensely – I know if those wishes came true I’d feel calm, fulfilled and happy – but I also realise no-one else can make them come true and, as things stand and for reasons best known to itself, my subconscious (that sly master of self-sabotage) is not having a bar of it. Or perhaps it’s something to do with being naturally scatty, having four jobs, three kids and a husband who works long and irregular hours. Perhaps it’s partly down to a lack of funds and/or expertise when it comes to fixing things. Or maybe I’m just a lazy cow. Hmm.
Whatever the case, this year, rather than beating myself up as usual, I want to try to ignore the pressure of myriad Facebook posts telling me how short life is, how nothing is given and you need to go out there and ‘make it happen’, and how people on their death beds regret not taking every opportunity and living life to the full (whatever that actually constitutes). I want to reflect a little differently on the past 12 months.
Pushing all of the above to one side for a moment, I have experienced a great deal in 2016. I have experienced fear, delight, sadness, fury and fierce pride, and not a little gratitude. There have been tears of laughter (attempting to take selfies with my 95-year-old Nan in hospital), and tears of disbelieving elation when watching my son smash his 5k PB by several minutes in his first Race for Life, arriving 20th in a field of 2000.
The most important thing, the best thing, I did this year was playing the piano at the funeral of 20-year-old Hope Harrison. This was a privilege like no other; a responsibility so sacred that I was able to elevate myself above my usual fog of nerves and self-doubt and focus on doing what I was there to do. Inspired by Hope’s life of kindness and charity, I visited Peterborough one evening to distribute food and hot drinks to homeless people, accompanied by a lady called Sharon I had never previously met – yet who, several hours later, had become a firm friend.
A couple of weeks ago I had the unpleasant experience of a breast biopsy, and the unnerving wait that followed before receiving the happy news that all was well. I will never again complain about having a flat chest. It’s a small change, but no doubt a welcome one for my long-suffering best friends.
In the summer I fulfilled a long-term wish to holiday in Cornwall, which was every bit as wild, beautiful, spiritual and magical as I had hoped.
Creatively I may not ever finish that novel, but I have had the opportunity to rehearse and perform with a band, along with my older daughter, and this has made me absurdly happy. My work is low-key and often repetitive, yet it has its rewarding moments. Telling a parent their small boy passed his grade one piano exam with merit never gets old.
Maybe 2017 will be the year I start turning my wishes into realities. If not, maybe I can just waft them away and replace them with something a little kinder, a little more compassionate, a little less condemnatory. In the meantime, if anyone reading this fancies themselves as a life coach and could do with a challenge, then step right up!
Happy New Year.