Several of my friends have recently had babies. This is great news for me – I can play with them, cuddle them and still sleep through the night. Occasionally they’re sick in my hair, but I can deal with that. This morning I was talking to a friend with a two year old son and a beautiful five week old daughter. She’s a real cutie. At one point in the conversation I asked her, “so, how’s it going with two of them?” and a look crossed her face. A mixture of sheer exhaustion, overwhelm and fear that it would always be this hard. I had some powerful words of support and encouragement ready and waiting, but her son chose that moment to escape out of the door, so our chat was over.
I know that look so well. That combination of exhaustion, overwhelm and fear has been my companion on many occasions since I became a mother. So many many times it has made me want to run away and start over somewhere else. Usually without the children. Somewhere it would be easier. I would be happier. Everything would be less daunting. I still battle with it. I’ve committed myself to my family and I won’t be running off without them, but the daydreams continue.
Lately I’ve realised this has always been my default setting. As a child and teenager I used to talk about running away with the circus, and spent several years wishing that I was a gypsy. Long before ‘Big Fat Gypsy Weddings’ made it cool. Every time I felt stressed or under pressure, I would imagine myself leaving it all behind and running away.
I loved the idea of freedom. Not having any responsibilities, living your life the way you wanted. Travelling around the country and the world, going where the wind takes you. Last year a friend gave me a copy of ‘The Night Circus’ by Erin Morganstern. I am officially in love. It is exactly the circus of my childhood-running-away dreams. A wild, immersive, romantic, magical world where everything is up for grabs and anything can happen. It is perfect.
In real life I’ve only been to the circus once. Years ago, Wes booked us tickets as a romantic treat. We got there in a filthy mood, after a huge fight, so late that we missed the first half. To be honest, the acts we did see were disappointing. There wasn’t even an elephant. Afterwards, Wes was mortified to discover that I’d never been to an actual circus before – I talked about them so much he assumed I’d been to loads. Regardless, the spell was broken.
The problem is, that’s what reality does. All my dreams of a runaway, magical life were just that – dreams. And although I know that, I’m still a sucker for them. The dreams look different now I’m a responsible grown-up. I don’t spend my time imagining a life with the circus or mentally designing the interior of my gypsy caravan. But I still play the game – ‘when the kids are grown up I’ll…’, or ‘when I get a job I’ll…’ or ‘when we have money I’ll…’ I’ve spent our percentage of my grandparents imaginary lottery win several times over.
I’m coming to the conclusion that this a bad idea. That it robs me of enjoying my life – in fact it robs me twice. Now, while I’m fixated on the future rather than focussing on today. But also when the future actually arrives – when the kids are grown up, or when I do get a job – and I’ve spent so much time imagining how glorious it will be that the reality inevitably fails to reach my expectations. Years ago my dreams were ‘when I’m married I’ll…’ or ‘when I have kids I’ll…’ I’m living those dreams now, and yet I’m unable to focus on my real life, with all its lumps and bumps, because I’m already reaching for a new set of perfect futures.
Many years ago a wise woman prayed over me and told me that I needed to concentrate on living in the moment. I smiled politely, knowing that, whilst it was a nice idea, it didn’t apply to me. On reflection, it’s possible that she was right. Sorry Susie. I need to try and enjoy where I am, while I’m there. Without wishing myself somewhere else. It was easy this afternoon – sitting in the sunshine, in the garden that I still can’t quite believe is ours, watching my two little naked babies playing in the paddling pool. It was idyllic and wonderful and there was nothing wrong with the world. It’s fun to be present in those moments.
It’s the day to day grind that wears me down. The monotony and the routine that small children require. As a creative, I find that really hard. My imagination is wild, and every part of me desperately craves magical things and beautiful moments. I’m trying to find them where I can – in my boy’s first steps, or watching Elvie swordfighting in a donkey costume. I have a feeling that this is a battle I’m never really going to win. At least not while my life-stage demands pattern and repetition and predictability. I’m not sure what to do about it. I know that there is so much joy to be had right in the middle of mundane. But I’d really love some elephants.