If this is how we mean to go on, 2016, I’m going to have to have stern words. Actually, stern words didn’t seem to work with Connor on January 4th as he climbed out of a school window to avoid the headmistress on the other side of the door, and ran out of the school gate and back home after hitting his friend “because he deserved it”. So how I think it will work on a whole year is anyone’s guess. The actual start to the New Year – the bit before and around the stroke of midnight – was excellent. A friend turned 50 on the night, so celebrations started in the self-built pub in the garage of a mutual friend. New Year’s Eve was our first chance to admire his Golden Cock. It was quite splendid with very drinkable home-brewed cider. We threatened to start a Tripadvisor page for it before going into town for more food, drinks and celebrations. As is traditional, my husband saw most of the festivity after midnight through resting eyelids, so we taxi-ed back home to discover the babysitter had washed up all of the dishes from the three course meal I cooked her and her husband while they made sure our kids were safe. There, that bit was all excellent and I really feel like I have been hibernating since then.
So, on Jan 4th, as my husband flew to the states for yet another week long business trip, as his plane rose into the air, I anticipated that only the traditional chaos would ensue. I expected the temperature of at least one kid to rise to the biological equivalent of 30,000 feet, matched only by the internet connection plummeting as far downwards. Surprisingly though, the first day of term was greeted by my youngest son climbing through a window and running at speed out of school.
The day (year?) didn’t start well for me to be honest, as I checked the alarm clock at 00:58 on January 4th and my watch long after that. My brain had decided to spend the entire night mulling over job interviews, tax issues and whether Connor would cause chaos on Wednesday at after school club, while I was in London being interviewed. Since the alarm went off at 4:15 in preparation for the trans-atlantic flight, I’d only had approximately 3 hours sleep before seeing my daughter off to school, loud and excited at 7:12. I then had breakfast with both sons and read lots AND LOTS of Facebook posts bemoaning how shit it is to go back to work after two weeks off. After 58 weeks “off” I can assure you all that NOT going back to work on January 4th feels a hell of a lot worse. So, just to cheer myself up I decided to run 10K through the puddles along the canal, figuring that the day couldn’t get any worse anyway. It was an impossibly beautiful and impossibly difficult run, no personal bests were threatened that morning.
After a shower, my next exciting bit of news came in. I’m supposed to be meeting an Oxford professor on January 26th, an appointment that has been made for two months now, given the busy diaries these guys keep. Only now the 26th is cancelled and it will be a longer wait to see if I can do some work for him. Never mind, worse things happen at sea, they say, but presumably sailors didn’t spend much time in our local primary school.
I then had a quick lunch of leftovers: avocado and hot smoked salmon open sandwich, dressed with horseradish cream; it was Christmas leftovers after all. I declined stilton, panettone, Christmas cake, lemon tart, Gu puds, Lindt pralines, Christmas pudding and chocolates off the tree all calling me to indulge from various locations around the kitchen. This was an unnecessary choice to be honest, stress alone has lost me 10kg in weight over 2015. I am probably the only person to have gained no more than 100g over the whole festive period. After the healthy choice I pretty much moped and slept in the afternoon. I’m still calling it hibernating. I did call a bookkeeper with a desperate tone of voice (me not him) for help with my first corporate tax return due in on January 9th. This would cost me £450 with a really professional company or £20 with the local bookkeeper. Given the lack of complexity in my accounts for 2014-2105 which are basically, money out: IKEA cupboards; money in: none, I’m going for the local guy.
So, then I thought I’d got through the first day of single parenting for 2016, unscathed. I checked email and realised that I was going to have to go to a supermarket as soon as possible as a cheerily annoying message reminded me that Newt had a school trip the next day: packed lunch required. That’s no biggy though; being given no notice for this sort of thing, positively business as usual. I went over to school early and confirmed the time of the meeting to discuss Connor’s appalling behaviour last term so that the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) can attend and then I relaxed to see how my sons had got on during their first day back at school. Newt had of course had an awesome day, and Connor had of course shut himself in the music room after an entire afternoon of kicking an apparently annoying kid in his class. After Connor’s teaching assistant had given me enough bare details, the headmistress greeted me and remarked that I looked “thin and tired”. It’s rare that I agree with her but on this occasion she was spot on. As we walked around the school grounds together, alternately following and then searching for Connor, she very politely used phrases like “managed move”. This is educational speak for “we’re out of ideas here, there’s a class of 29 other kids with whom we’re able to cope, but your kid is seriously pissing them off and so we want him out of our school”. Ironically, at that very moment as four adults were looking for him in various classrooms, he had left the school, and was back home watching Top Gear with his brother.
I ended the day scraping a flat dead rat out of the loft, which at least has dramatically reduced the number of flies in Connor’s room.
So where do we go from here? As I cast my eyes back over the holiday period there are some familiar emotions and unfamiliar scenarios. The festive season, for me, starts every year with the feeling that the mountain of wrapped presents under the tree is an indulgence we can ill afford particularly when there are no material goods we really need at all. One top from Long Tall Sally and I am a happy girl. In advance, I always imagine the Christmas break to be days and nights spent eating lots of quality food in exquisite company both of which I expect to appear by magic. In reality my time is spent eating mounds of chocolate in multiple forms and spending endless hours in the kitchen, realising I have forgotten some key ingredient and all the shops are shut. Our two fussy kids have survived on Jacobs Cream Crackers and refused to eat anything else for many meals. We have spent quality time with one set of grandparents, which was a perfect, idyllic time, with excited children surrounded by wrapping paper constantly wafting around their heads. As soon as we returned, and the New Year loomed, the weather worsened and overnight, social media, Good Food Magazine and TV programs are urging me to eat less than half the calories per day I have been used to for a fortnight, with all the support of a recipe card. We’ve also met with the school to discuss Connor’s management, which in practical terms has been a discussion of resource limitation and disciplinary policies. I’m prepared to bet Connor doesn’t care about either of these, nothing new there either.
In amongst all this familiarity, have been some unfamiliar experiences. We’ve had two visits with CAMHS, in the hope they could help Connor cope better at school. We discovered that all they can offer us is more parenting classes. Anyone who’s read my previous blogs will know how much I’d look forward to more of those. We’ve also, unusually, avoided the other grandparent. This has been a welcome change. No fourth kid to feed and wait on. We’ve been charged £130 by BT to mend the bodged job the previous engineer did. On a slightly more positive note, the New Year has dawned with job interviews: I’m now waiting on a company about a potential job offer. The role is amazing, two levels up from where I used to be, but the salary offered is the same as I used to earn. I am trying very hard to retain the self-dignity that says this isn’t what I’m worth. Unfortunately, I have VERY recently (less than an hour ago) been turned down for a freelance role, despite the fact that my soft skills are outstanding, as I don’t have the hard skills. This is evident from my CV, so it is more than a tad frustrating to go through the rigmarole of two interviews (and associated train fares) with four people for them to realise what they knew when I emailed my CV and application before Christmas.
So as Blue Monday rears its depressing head in January, I am reminded that so often it is our expectations that let us down. As a New Year starts we resolve to do better/more despite the evidence that nothing has really changed. Day has turned to night and day again, just as it did in 2015. My expectations that agencies work, professionally, be it recruitment, education, telecommunications or mental health are just that – my expectations. I am discovering, this a massively overoptimistic view. So, if anyone wants to employ a massively qualified optimist in 2016, who is capable of learning many, many hard skills you know where to find me.