Some people apologise for everything. I’m one of them.
I’ll apologise if the weather’s bad, or if the council raise your taxes. Or if your trip to the forest gets delayed by the fact that finally, just as we’ve got everyone in the car and locked the house, Elvie announces that she’s had ‘a little accident’ and needs an entire change of clothes. For instance.
It’s not that I’m a deeply apologetic person. It’s just that I want to be absolutely sure that everyone approves of everything I do. All the time. It’s almost impossible for me to trust my own judgement. Or even to know what I actually want, without a glowing response or a nod of approval from someone else.
I believe the official term is ‘people pleaser.’ It says a lot about me that I breathed a sigh of relief the first time I heard that. Because, however annoying it is, at least it’s an acknowledged condition so nobody will think I’m too weird.
I know. I’m in real trouble.
Thing is, there have always been plenty of people to please. Teachers. Parents. Lecturers. Colleagues. Bosses. The list is endless. Always someone to give me a good report. All told, I’ve done pretty well.
My problem is that, for nearly four years, I’ve been a stay at home mum. I’ve dabbled in teaching weekend theatre classes or selling cut-price cosmetics, but the majority of the time I’ve been at home. With my children. No boss. No work-based identity. And, more often than not, a glazed over look of instant dismissal when I answer that awful, innocent, loaded question: “so, what do you do?”
I’ve struggled. No appraisals. No report cards. And, as a result, the slow creeping feeling that I’m letting people down. Not fulfilling my potential.
For the first time in my life, I don’t have an authority figure to answer to. I’m only answerable to my husband, my children and myself. Wes, who doesn’t mind what I do as long as there’s no structural damage to the house. Elvie and Joel, who if this last week is anything to go by, will never be satisfied with anything. And me.
Answerable to myself. Having to stop and think about what I want. What I actually want. For myself and my family. When nobody else’s agenda comes into it.
This is new ground. It’s awkward and emotional, and most of the time I feel like I’m stumbling around in the dark. Tripping over roots that have been buried for a long, long time.
It’s been hard to find my place. Just ask my doctor. The tablets, the therapy. All of that. Proof of the struggle on a little green prescription slip.
Finding yourself isn’t as easy as it seems. It takes more than a backpack and a plane ticket and a disinclination for showers.
The irony is, that being a stay-at-home-mum was a very conscious decision. It’s what both Wes and I grew up with. Something that we really value. The constancy. The being around. The emotional stability. (Perhaps that will come later.)
Still, despite the decision, the guilt. The crushing weight of the disappointment that someone, somewhere, must surely feel. I worry about what people will think. About being by far the greatest underachiever from my class at Central. For wasting my tuition fees. And everybody’s time.
I worry that I’m dull. Boring. That I won’t have anything to say to my old friends. Now that I’m knee deep in nappies and nursery runs. I’m crippled by the fear that I’m showing Elvie that a woman’s place is only in the home.
I drive myself nuts considering the possibility that, in a few years time, I’ll feel completely different. That I’ll realise I’ve made a mistake. That I should have been out there, leaning in, achieving great things, blazing my feminist path.
I wonder if I should have a career. If I should be making great steps forward for womankind. I’m sure I should be exceptional. At something.
And then, the lovely Shauna Niequist posts on her blog. A post that holds these words:
Pay attention to what you love, not to what you should love.
For me at least, that sounds like a plan.
I’ve spent any spare time I’ve had recently trying to consider what it is that I really, actually want. (After I’d considered the legal implications of putting my children on Freecycle. Seriously, this weekend has been horrendous.)
It’s been fun. If a little strange. Looking inside myself. Trying to figure out what makes me happy. On reflection, it probably shouldn’t be this hard.
I have, however, come up with a list. A list of the things I love.
I love having people in my house. Feeding them. Making them happy. I love the idea of creating a ‘home’ – for our children and our friends. Making things beautiful. Of building memories together. And recording them. I love writing. And blogging. Building up a little community of people who understand. I’m desperate for the chance to let my creativity out in new ways. I want to learn to sew. To have a garden that grows flowers, and vegetables, and chickens.
I love the idea that my kids will grow up knowing where things come from. How to make bread and what a potato looks like. How to alter clothes so that they fit. Perhaps I’m old school. Perhaps I’m deluded. Perhaps I’ve been brainwashed by the controller of BBC2.
All I know is that just the thought of it makes me happy. In my soul. It also makes me embarrassed, and instantly apologetic. Because what kind of modern woman has those dreams? Aren’t I supposed to achieve something? Something more than living like a reject from a 1960’s commune.
And yet. Really. What more could I achieve? Than being happy. Being fulfilled. Expressing my creativity. Letting my children see that there is an alternative to the rat race. Showing them what it looks like to live when your soul is alive. When there’s nothing to apologise for.
It is, admittedly, something of a pipe dream at the moment. I can’t run away and join a commune. We don’t have the space for a goat, the time for chickens or the money to buy dressmaking patterns. Slowly, slowly. That’s another thing I need to learn.
I’m doing my best to take it slowly. Collecting fabric from friends. Free patterns from Pinterest. Finishing Elvie’s curtains. Buying bulbs for the front garden and fruit bushes for the back. Putting myself on the waiting list for an allotment. Decorating tables. Having friends over for meals. Hunting for easter eggs in the sunshine.
Taking my time.
Testing the waters. Building my confidence. And, above all, trying not to apologise for any of it.
It seems like the right time for it. It’s spring. It’s Easter. Time for a new beginning. A life where I can follow the simple, unimpressive dreams of my heart.
In the meantime I’m setting the series link for BBC2’s new allotment programme. And no, I’m not sorry. Not even a little bit.
This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!