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So this is Christmas, and what have you done? Another year over, a new one just begun…

24 Dec
Holiday, Summer, Mediterranean, Sea

The most blue water I’ve ever seen

This third year as a single mum has been the most busy, and the most successful at work for me so far. My daughter has turned into a proper big girl: life with a 3-year-old is so much easier than with a baby or toddler.

This year my daughter has learned

to dress herself

to put her own shoes on

to recognise her own name

to recognise letters and name them according to what they represent in her letter puzzle

to come to my bed when she wakes up in the middle of the night

to go to the toilet on her own and wash her hands

to cut up food

to use scissors, a hole-punch and sellotape

what the post office is for and how exciting it is to send and receive letters

how to complain loudly about the bus being late and then choose her favourite seat when it arrives

several nursery rhymes and Christmas carols

going to ballet school

 

My year has brought the following accomplishments:

a tiny semblance of a social life

getting onto people’s radars at uni to be considered for jobs and feeling part of the ‘big people’

my first semester teaching literature to undergraduates

being praised by my supervisor for the feedback I gave my students for their essays

an internship at a small-but-influential literary organisation linked to my university (a particular highlight was attending an event and being told “this is x, have you met?” when x was someone who has written and been mentioned in academic texts I have read, and also an MBE and all-round impressive person)

suggesting a book review to a major journal on the spur of the moment, and having it accepted for publication

finishing a chapter of my thesis

presenting my research at a small conference in London

securing funding to attend as well as presenting my research at a major international conference in a Mediterranean country in the middle of the summer, mingling and networking for 3 days in a 5-star hotel, exploring the island and coping fine with the heat

 

Next year will bring:

hearing back about my abstract submissions for 3 conferences (2 UK, 1 international), 1 competition and 1 publication

submitting a proper article to a proper peer-reviewed-and-everything journal

my 2nd semester teaching literature to undergraduates

running a conference with 3 other students

hopefully the completion of 2 further chapters of my thesis

saying goodbye to our lovely nursery and its community

SCHOOL! and thus the official end of my daughter’s baby years, going to uni together, doing spontaneous fun things on weekdays, knowing she’s only a 5-minute walk away when I’m working, waiting at the uni bus stop with all the students, etc etc…

 

It’s been a good year. Don’t get me wrong, it’s been majorly hard at times. I still have the feeling that my life has gone down completely the wrong path and there is nothing I can do to change it and direct it towards what I actually want. If you imagine the events that led to my becoming a single mum as an explosion (which is how I still see it), basically I’m still feeling dazed with tinnitus ringing in my ears. But at the same time, I have felt a new level of freedom through finally getting some results from my research, going out occasionally, and generally taking part in life. I feel slightly less ‘needed’ by my daughter. Of course she still needs me and I usually enjoy looking after her, but it’s all so much less intense now that she can do most things on her own, goes to sleep relatively easily, and because she is generally hugely intelligent and lovely (shameless bragging alert). I’m crossing my fingers that at the end of 2013 I’ll be able to report a similar list of achievements, and with my sanity still somewhat intact.

 

Merry Christmas, if you celebrate, and if you don’t, have a great winter break!

Sometimes nice people can make your day

7 Dec

The lovely GP who daughter and I went to see this morning told me all about her mother-in-law’s sister’s daughter’s wedding in my home city, asked about my research, called me a ‘sensible mum’ in a message to someone else, and told me I’m doing an ‘excellent job’ with my daughter. She gets fed, watered and cuddled most days, but sometimes it’s still nice to hear this. Especially when our circumstances mean that next semester I will probably have to miss out on teaching experience which is vital for my CV. Daughter got a sticker for being very patient during our conversation and not minding the stethoscope, so she’s happy, too.

Mindbending

5 Oct

“Mummy, how does it get later?”

“This one is bigger than that one, and that one is bigger than this one. They are both bigger than each other!”

There’s a special feeling reserved for parents, I think

27 Sep

A mixture of guilt, obligation, stubbornness, annoyance, ‘it’s-not-fair’-ness, and general argh! at the world.

I have been accepted to do an internship at a separate organisation based at my university which is relevant to my PhD. This is great news, especially as I thought the interview went extremely badly.

As part of this internship I will be working with the person who is also my second supervisor. She got in touch to set up our first meeting about what I’ll be doing, and I sent her a list of my daughter’s nursery times, implying (I thought) that it would make sense for her to pick a time within these hours. But she didn’t.

She doesn’t have children, and she only knows a little about my situation, so I don’t know if she thought the times I sent her were merely the most convenient for me rather than the only times I am actually available. The email was very short, and I don’t know this person well enough to judge whether she might be annoyed at my limited availability and thought ‘well, she’ll just have to make it work!’, or if she simply didn’t read my email properly.

Either way, I had to delicately let her know that she could either choose a different time or I’d have to brig my daughter with me, thus risking looking unprofessional before I’ve even started the internship. I briefly wondered (agonised!) if I could make it work another way.

For the interview, which lasted all of 12 minutes, my daughter’s dad took an entire afternoon off from his busy job. He’d been off work for a few days the previous week due to illness, and taking further time off risks making him look unprofessional, plus his work is of such a nature that it tends to pile up when he’s not there, so that when he gets back his stress increases. Added to this is that our relationship is not brilliant and quite unequal in terms of power distribution, so I usually feel uncomfortable asking for favours because I can’t think of a favour I could ever do him. So this was a big ask. For the sake of 12 minutes.

Doing this again a week later is not an option. I could book an extra nursery session (if one is available, that is), but £30 is rather a lot for a few minutes of meeting, and it would mean putting my daughter in nursery for longer than she’s ever been. Sure, it wouldn’t kill her and she would probably have fun, but £30 when this is most of my weekly food budget? No.

Then, as I saw a fellow student mother wander past me in the office, I considered asking her to play with my daughter in the postgraduate kitchen as they know each other from the music group we used to attend. But I don’t know her that well, and I don’t know if she’d ever ask me for a favour. And getting indebted to other people only sets the precedent that even if something takes place outside of nursery hours, I will make it work somehow, so next time I’d have to ask someone else for help again because surely nursery times are only a preference . When it’s fixed events like conferences or interviews, I will make it work if possible. But when it’s a two-people meeting and I’ve made it clear that I am only on campus at specific times – no. Not anymore. Not after a 12 minute interview that involved a rather sarcastic comment from one of the interviewers and made me feel a bit rubbish.

I have a daughter. That means I have responsibility for another person. Not a dog or a cat you can put somewhere on their own. A person who also deserves to spend time with me. I want to be involved in university life, but I can’t change nursery times at the drop of a hat, and I just do not have a network of people that allows me any flexibility. So those are the times I am available. Take it or leave it.

Raising children in a country which is not your own

23 Aug

Occasionally I like to read blogs by parents who live abroad because there are certain issues when bringing up children (mostly of an emotional nature) that only crop up when you live in a different country. The other day I found this post on Babelkids (check out this family’s mind-boggling language mix, it’s inspirational how they organise their life to enable their children to learn several languages as they grow up). It struck a chord.

“A realisation dawns on me: My children will probably never take part in adult celebrations in the UK. We have no family here; the only celebrations we get invited to are children’s birthdays. […] My daughters are missing out on this part of culture, because neither of BabelDad nor me are home.

I wonder how this will impact on their perceptions of fun and sense of belonging somewhere. Where will home be for them?”

I had actually been thinking about this, prompted by my mum’s recent visit. Although my daughter’s dad is British, he is estranged from his family for good reasons. My family all live in Germany, but it would probably be accurate to say I’m estranged from all of them except my mum, and I wouldn’t see them more often than I do now if I lived in the same city as them. I realised that my daughter is probably going to miss out on many aspects of a typical childhood, positive and negative: it’s unlikely she’ll ever experience stifling family occasions with coffee and cake, play with and look up to cousins, confide in aunts, be mildly uncomfortable and bored in the presence of uncles who have no idea how to talk to children, proudly show off achievements, cringe when I show off her achievements… While I’m glad most of these experiences are behind me, they nevertheless constitute staples of childhood which are so common that they frequently occur in books and film, and I’m worried that if she doesn’t experience these aspects of life she might have issues later, or feel lonely.

What I have been preoccupied by recently is that there are several types of relationships that my daughter won’t get to experience. I’m trying to tell myself that this is fine, after all, for example, as a heterosexual woman I won’t experience a romantic relationship with another woman, so perhaps there are just some relationships people miss out on. The difficult part is that her life is already deviating from the life I had, so in a way it’s all uncharted territory because I don’t know what her life feels like. Her life is already not the life I had hoped to give her, and the older she gets, the more it will deviate from the paths I had hoped to make available to her. There were plenty of things wrong with my childhood, but having my daughter has also demonstrated to me how privileged my upbringing was. My daughter will, to varying degrees, miss out on (full) siblings, a gentle school starting age, music lessons (at least to the extent to which I had them), holidays, geographical stability, visiting family and feeling anchored in a place and traditions (and knowledge about certain things) through them. Added to this is that she doesn’t even share my language because I have been rubbish about teaching her, which means she won’t be able to read the books which shaped my views, e.g. age-appropriate books about the Second World War, or the book that made sure I’d never try drugs, or appreciate the truly great bands from my home city.

There are of course also things I valued as part of my childhood which I can’t provide my daughter with either because I don’t have the knowledge (gardening, bird calls) or the financial resources (spacious house with big garden in a thoroughly middle-class area – seriously, I realised the other day that only one of my friends in 13 years of nursery to secondary school was brought up by a single mum), or the inclination to live my life in that way (e.g. I’m much happier in the city, but as a child I loved running around in corn fields and generally being aware of how the countryside, farms etc., works).

What I will pass on to her is the assumption that university is where you go when you have finished school because that is just how it works because university is interesting and allows you to do cool things. (I am aware this probably reeks of privilege and arrogance, but my parents were both the first of their families, and the only ones in their generation, to go to university.) I am trying to establish seasonal traditions, partly because they help children to orient themselves in the world, and also because it is an easy fun way to share my culture with my daughter (who usually shouts ‘no!’ when I say a word in my language), and because traditions make a family, which is hard enough to do in a single-parent-only-child family.

I’m aware my recent posts have been quite negative, mostly because that’s how I feel at the moment. Most of it can probably be summarised as a feeling of sadness/horror to find myself in circumstances which are not of my choosing and totally beyond my control, together with crushing parental guilt. The guilt is bound to come around occasionally, so I guess this is my turn. But dammit, I just want to go home.

Ch-ch-changes

21 Aug

I was thinking this morning how a more traditional division of labour in families means that mothers experience most of the emotional impact of their child growing up.

Some of my daughter’s friends are now 4 years old, which means it’s the season of goodbyes at nursery. Her first best friend was there for her both of the times she progressed to a new group at nursery (there are 3 age groups at her nursery), which I know she liked, and it also greatly reassured me to know she’d definitely have a friendly face to greet her in the mornings and show her the ropes. Her friend even used to take her to the toilet when the grownups were too busy (hmm, that’s a whole other story!).

So I’m getting a real heavy-hearted feeling this week knowing that after tomorrow my daughter will probably never see her friend again after seeing her almost every day for two years.

Next year it’ll be my daughter’s turn to start school. Obviously it’ll be a massive change for her. And in addition I will lose the four-days-a-week routine of seeing the same people and feeling part of the nursery community. I’ve already lost the pushchair phase as my daughter is now finally too big not to walk, the sling phase ended a long time ago, and soon life as we’ve known it for two years will change completely.

So my daughter’s growing up, as well as bringing new friends and skills, entails the loss of all these experiences. What seems unfair is that no one else in her life shares that loss with us. Her dad’s life will stay exactly the same as he has not been involved in nursery life apart from three birthday parties and ca. 5 drop offs/pick ups. This post is not to blame him for this, this is just the way we’ve organised things because the nursery is on the university campus.

I’m just sad about losing this part of my daughter’s life and the people associated with it, and it seems really strange to be the only person in her life who will experience these changes together with her. That’s one of the downsides of having dysfunctional families I suppose.

At least one advantage of being a poor single mum

23 Jul

This just occurred to me as I was rushing around getting things done before bedtime and thinking ‘Argh, there is SO MUCH to sort out!’ – the advantage of living in a fairly tiny house is that I can get things done while my daughter is in the bath.

If I was living in a massive house like the ones I lust after on Rightmove that have me lying awake for hours plotting the career paths required to ever live in such a house, I’d have a utility room that would probably be miles away from the bathroom(s).

This way my daughter can spend a good while playing in the bath as I hang up washing right next to her, clean the bathroom or mop the kitchen floor (the bathroom goes directly off the kitchen as a sort of extension), avoiding a small bit of extra hassle.

Of course, really rich people would just have their cleaner do the washing for them, but I’m not even thinking about that right now!