Wow. I can’t believe it has been almost 5 months since I last wrote a post! There I was in March, all focused and positive, in full planning and control-freak mode, ready to take on my new job as full time teacher to my two girls, whilst trying to keep my own business afloat during seriously tricky times all while running a household. Whoopee!
What was I thinking?
To be fair, at first, all went reasonably well. It was all a bit of a novelty and almost exciting (is that weird!?). We committed to a routine and were all up, dressed and breakfasted in time for 9am Joe Wicks. That lasted one day for Martha and I. (Elke saw it through right to the end and only missed a couple through no fault of her own.)
We’d created our own daily timetable and on the whole, managed to stick to something that looked a bit like it, for a while. Joe Wicks was followed by an hour or so of school work, (while I had a work zoom call, Martha allowing) then a daily walk, lunch and more school work. Later, the girls might play outside, help me bake or prepare dinner or we’d find some other activity to do together. I even got Martha to sit down at the computer and do Reading Eggs for half an hour or so most days – until one day, out of the blue, she decided that she “HATES Reading Eggs” and “never wants to do it again” – and stuck to her word. We haven’t revisited it since that day.
As time went on and the rules loosened a little, our daily walk became a daily drive. Exercise went almost completely out the window. The motivation to do any school work started to diminish and everyone became a bit restless. Then, completely out of the blue, our cat died.
Ethel literally dropped dead. She was less than two years old and didn’t appear to have anything wrong with her. She wasn’t hit by a car and didn’t show any signs of being poisoned, so we, along with the vets, came to the conclusion that her heart had just failed her. It must’ve been weak and just couldn’t cope. Obviously, this was totally unexpected and a complete shock for us all. Particularly Elke initially, who had wanted her so badly for such a long time and took prime responsibility for her.
We tried to protect Martha, by not really telling her what had happened. We shielded her from seeing the dead body, took it away and waited until she asked where Ethel had gone, when she realised she hadn’t seen her for a couple of days. Our response was to say that we didn’t know and that she’d just disappeared, but it didn’t take long for Martha to realise the truth and pick up on conversations that were taking place around her. I eventually admitted that Ethel had died when Martha asked me outright. I couldn’t lie to her directly. I honestly didn’t think she’d be too bothered. She and Ethel had tended, in the most part, to stay out of each other’s way. Ethel was flighty and Martha doesn’t like anything unpredictable, so they generally stayed apart.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. Over the days that followed, Martha’s behaviour became completely unpredictable and irate. You could describe her as being both of those things ordinarily, but this was next level. Objects were thrown and glasses smashed on a daily basis. I’ve genuinely lost count of the number of things that have been flung across the room or items that have been broken over the last few months.
Martha was cross, furious even, and her behaviour was all over the place. She refused to do ANY school work, her swearing escalated to another level and she absolutely would not cooperate with anything she was asked to do (or not do!). Then one day she literally broke down in tears saying she wished Ethel hadn’t died and she missed her.
We reached saturation point after about 6 weeks or so (I think I did pretty well to survive that long!) when after another day of throwing, swearing and hurting both me and her sister, I lost my cool and burst into tears. Proper, full on sobbing mess. You know the one: when you can’t breathe and feel like you might throw up kind of sobbing? Martha watched me in shock and horror, but rather than respond with remorse and empathy, in the way one might expect from a neurotypical child, she was even more furious.
Martha still finds emotions very confusing. She feels them – perhaps more intensely than most, but doesn’t comprehend them and can’t seem to compartmentalise them in the way most of us do. So instead of being upset and horrified because she’s hurt me, or showing remorse in the form of a cuddle or apology … she does the opposite.
I was sitting at the bottom of the stairs when I lost it. I dropped to a sitting position and couldn’t move. I’d had enough and couldn’t take any more. I think I’m usually quite strong and resilient, and by God, I’ve learned to be far more patient than I ever imagined I could be …. but I’d reached my limit. My balloon burst, my sink overflowed and every other analogy you can think of but I. Was. There. And what did Martha do? She disappeared into the playroom and returned with whatever she could to fling at me – FULL PELT! She shouted and swore at me and went in and out of the playroom returning with whatever she thought would hurt me most; because she couldn’t cope seeing me that way. And I couldn’t stop her. I literally couldn’t move. You know when you’re so fearful of a situation that your body goes into shock and you freeze? Yeah that. So I sat, sobbing while Martha repeatedly threw things at me until I eventually picked up my phone and messaged my partner Karl asking him to come home.
He did. And proceeded to scoop us all up, bundle us in his van and drove us to a nearby reservoir where we all went for a swim and a cool down. He told me how surprised he was that I’d lasted so long and that he thought my bubble would’ve burst a lot sooner. He’d been waiting for that moment and had already made a plan for that situation: to come home immediately and completely change the personnel, the environment and as a result, the dynamic. And it worked. Like a dream. I’m so grateful to him for just getting it. And for loving us.
I felt guilty for reaching that point. For losing it and allowing Martha to see me in that state. I felt like I’d failed. I hadn’t made it through; like it was a test or something. Sometimes I feel sorry for myself. I find myself wondering what things would be like if they were different and then I feel incredibly guilty for feeling that way. It feels very selfish to complain. I look at other people’s lives or photos of other people’s children running off, interacting and playing with other children and I feel envious. I wish we could have that. And then I feel horrendously guilty again. So many people are longing for children they can’t have, or have children in far more challenging, upsetting circumstances than ours. And I have this incredible little girl who is bright and beautiful and funny and entertaining (actually I have two of those!) so what the fuck do I have to complain about????
When I feel this way, Karl quietly corrects me and tells me that it’s ok to feel like that. It’s perfectly fine to wonder what things might be like if they were different. It’s ok to be angry with the world for a while; to air your frustrations. And it’s ok to feel sorry for yourself sometimes. It’s a process. You go through it. But then when you’re done and you come up for air again, you remind yourself of the good things (of which there are many and I am genuinely very, very lucky!) and you get yourself back on track. You re-set, refocus and you get back on it.
The last few weeks have been much better and we’ve reached a place of reasonable calm again (probably not compared to most, but for us, it’s good). I have learned not to underestimate Martha’s continually developing understanding of situations and that it is my job as her parent, not just to protect her, but to communicate fully with her and help her to understand what is going on. I should have dealt with things differently when it came to Ethel’s death. I should’ve involved her, spoken to her about it lots and helped her to understand that it’s a part of life, albeit a very difficult one. She’s far brighter than I give her credit for and knows far more about what is going on around her – even than I probably do.
I’ve also learned not to apologise for how I feel. And not to supress it. We are not in control of how we feel. We just have to FEEL it in the most real and tangible way we can. Allow it to happen, talk about it if you can BUT do not apologise for it. We’re all going through a challenging time one way or another, and in the context of our own lives and situations, it is real. How we feel is not comparable, even if one person’s situation is deemed to be far worse than another’s. We’re all entitled to feel it. More than that, we can’t NOT feel it. We just have to go ahead and allow it to happen. And then, when we feel ready, we move on.
We have a new kitten now, Olive, who was rescued from a building site at two weeks old; just a few weeks after we lost Ethel. She’s a little gem and settling into our family really well. Instead of glossing over things and not accounting for her very real feelings, we fully involved Martha in the planning for Olive’s arrival, choosing of her name and the daily responsibilities involved with having a pet.
The school work never came back but that’s ok. I’ve realised we have lots of other quality experiences to make up for that. We learn as we go along, and the most important thing for all of us is our happiness and mental health. I’m finding it all a bit boring and monotonous now if I’m honest, and looking forward to getting back to some kind of normal routine come September (fingers firmly crossed). However, I can’t pretend that I won’t miss my time with the girls. It’s been one of the toughest challenges of my life but also one of the most rewarding and one I don’t think we’ll ever get again – at least not in quite the same way. And let’s bloody hope not, because I do appreciate that for many people this has been a far, far more devastating time than it has for me. Losing ones they love, losing a job they love, losing financial stability and so much more.
Here’s to allowing ourselves to feel sorry for ourselves occasionally, whatever our situation. To really FEELING it, and then, when and if we are ready, to moving on.