Saturday 5 January 2019
It’s the 5th January and time for me to re-connect with the world. Over a coffee, I catch up on my emails and find my inbox flooded with eye-catching discounts from online dating sites. I am technically “in the market for love” and I adore a good bargain, but even faced with a 75% saving, I find myself wavering.
I have been single for a few months now, having parted company with a pretty nice fella after a 7 year relationship. A hopeless and hapless romantic, I did stock up on gin and whisky in preparation for some dark weeks of devastation following our separation. However my drinks cabinet remains intact as I found, instead of despair, an energising boost of freedom as I stepped back into the world of the singleton.
For various reasons we had never lived together. The irony of this, for us, was this. Although my bloke was a committed runner (believe you me, what I dont know about heart rates, marathon pace, strengthening and conditioning and training schedules in general really isn’t worth knowing), our relationship stood still and eventually ground to a terminal halt. As we went out separate ways I feel as if I’ve come back to life, have enjoyed loads of new opportunities and have had real fun with friends….and my children?!
Yes, I discovered, children change a lot in 7 years. Back then they were all at primary school. I was expert as packing them off to bed and was beyond grateful to sink down with a glass of red and some adult conversation of an evening. But now they are young adults and they are really good company. At weekends, they are usually off in 3 different directions but when not, we’ve teamed up for some great family outings. During the week, now that my time isn’t divided between them and my fella, we’ve shared far more laughs, tears, popcorn and time together over films, “I’m a Celebrity” and just general silliness. It’s been wonderful.
And I know the clock is ticking for this precious time together as within 5 years they’ll all have spread their wings. I really need to make the most of it. So I think the dating sites can keep their offers for now. At the very least, I am resolved to make it to February and commit to a No-Manuary…
This is going to hurt!
Tuesday 8 January 2019
It’s the first week back after the Christmas Holidays, what doesn’t hurt? My ears hurt as the alarm clock nags me into wakefulness, my eyes hurt as the bedroom light pierces through the heavy darkness of a 6am January morning and most of all my soul hurts. The lovely lazy days of the festive season, when its nationally acceptable to do little other than eat, drink and make merry, are gone and we are back to the military operation that is working parent life! It’s school, it’s dinner money, it’s bus passes, it’s PE kits, it’s trip letters, it’s work, it’s commuting, it’s presentatons, it’s meetings….it’s just exhausting.
However, for some reason simply surviving a first week back is not enough for me. Oh no, for some reason, long forgotten I have decided to throw into the mix a mid-week trip to the Theatre for me, my eldest and some friends. I duly dash in on Tuesday night, feed children, slap on a bit of make-up, dash out with daughter, pick up our friends and career through Manchester’s roadworks and diversions to the Lowry in Salford.
Finally parked and drinks bought we take our seats and I begin to relax. We are here for a night of comedy with the touring show ‘Adam Kay – This is Going to Hurt’. Adam was a Doctor who has produced a best seller based on his diary extracts from Junior Doctor days onwards. I haven’t read the book but my daughter and our friends have and have “loved it”. My daughter wants to go Medical School, I am sure it will all be very enlightening and educational. And I do like the Lowry. It’s usually my mum who organises our outings here and I wonder if we should have brought her along …
Ten minutes into the show I am thanking the Lord that we left 80 year old mum at home! Adam bawdily romps through diary extracts featuring every kind of bodily fluid and mishaps to our cheekiest body parts and his language is rather fruity! Glancing around the auditorium I now notice that it’s a very adult audience, in fact we are possibly accompanying the only 2 teenagers in the place! Adam moves onto performing some hilarious songs, again adult-humour edgy. Or are they? My daughter is certainly laughing along with the best of them at the chorus-punchline to a song about a colonic irrigation tube! I swig my diet coke, knock back a handful of M & Ms and soon I too am singing enthusiastically along to the ‘Medical Quiz Round’. It’s tons of fun!
In case you go to see the show I wont spoil the ending but this is suddenly and startlingly, shocking and sad and we walk back to the car buzzing and talking about it all. The others tell me that I must read the book and I promise that I will. Laughter is a great medicine and January certainly hurts a little less than it did 24 hours ago ….
Sometimes the wheels just come off.
Thursday 10 January 2019
This morning one of my children had an severe asthma attack and any plans I had for the day went up in smoke. I hope that she will recover quickly and am thankful that the doctor does, at least, allow us back home on this occasion.
But I am worried about the asthma and I am worried about Thursday’s workload which now all gets added to Friday’s workload. I am worried about deadines which are now 24 hours closer and suddenly seem like a mountain to climb. I am worried that there’s only ever me to sort everything out and that one day I might break. I am worried that it’s now 7pm and we all still need to eat. I tearily try to remember the last time anybody said “you look really worn out love, sit down and let me sort the tea”
Oh ‘get a grip‘ I shout inwardly… and laugh, as it does make me feel better. I recall the numerous times when the kids have sorted out tea… well to be precise have turned the oven on as I leave work! I smile as I think about the times they have noticed that I need a cup of tea and with varying degrees of skill have made me one.
As any kind of parent, it’s is never ‘only me’. You always have an unbeatable team by your side. And at work its the same. I’m blessed with fantastic colleagues, ever ready to lend a hand whenever I seem to be going under. And we’ll keep postive about the asthma too, with our GP and a fabulous specialist. I fire up the laptop and read through some updates on the Asthma UK site. I decide to sign up for their lottery. I remind myself that it’s 2019, time to stop seeing problems and concentrate on smashing them …
The Miracle of Time
Saturday 19th January
The children’s Dad is visiting this weekend, ‘up’ from ‘The South’. It’s a pretty long trek and so we tend to see him about once a month. After a frenetic week at work, it is blooming fantastic to wave them all off on Saturday morning and enjoy some time to myself. I luxuriate in solitude and pleasing myself. I fit in a run, I finish an overdue report for work, I spruce the house up a bit, potter about and then just sit in peace and quiet enjoying a very large cup of coffee and feeling more on top of things than I have for several days – it’s utter bliss.
On Saturday evening we all head out for a meal at a local Italian I’ve been meaning to try try for ages.
Out for a meal with your ex-husband!‘ I hear you cry, ‘How nauseatingly mature of you!’
Fear not, it has taken us an awfully long time to reach this stage! And we haven’t got there my being mature, or having any clever conversations it’s simply this…time. It’s the oldest cliche in the book but, time is a great healer. It heals the wounds and takes away the hurt, until you are just 2 people again who know each other pretty well. My ex is an astonishingly well- read guy and a truly original thinker. It would be easy for anyone to while away a few hours in his company on this ticket alone. But for me above all of that, it’s just nice to spend some time with the one other person on the planet who finds our children as fascinating as I do.
Anyway, back to the meal! We all love the restaurant, a typical buzzing and busy Italian. Ex and I catch up on work news and then both listen with amusement, at first, to my eldest who has chosen this moment to try and convince her Dad that he should buy her a car. But she puts together a strong and rather moving case which is very much about closing the travel gap between the children and their Dad and their ‘Down South family’ . I can tell that he’s considering it…which is a surprise!. It’s a lovely evening.
Whether or not the car idea ever materialises, only time will tell, but he is on our doorstep on Sunday at 9am as promised to take my eldest for her first ‘driving lesson’. It’s the traditional, jolting your parent’s car around Tesco car park experience, and she loves it! If someone gave me a ‘ magic hour of time ‘ I know I would use it to see my Dad … just for one more time. And I might well take us both back 30 years to my first faltering steps, as a learner driver, edging his Leyland Princess along the beach in Wales. It’s a special time, it’s been a good weekend….
When your realise you’ve overdone it!
Friday 25 January 2019
Oh my goodness, a day that began at 6am finally finishes as I arrive home at 10:30 pm and I am spent! As I head to the fridge and find it stocked with wine but no milk, (because we have run out, probably because I sacked the milkman), I also feel like pretty feckless specimen of parenthood!
I pour myself a glass anyway and decide I deserve it. I am back from a rehearsal and it’s not exactly the first rehearsal of the week. No, I am a musician, strictly amateur, who has said yes to a few too many job offers in recent weeks and I now find myself juggling about four different sets of orchestral commitments. I have spent a glorious week hurtling around Lancashire, in the fog and snow, to exotic locations such as Chorley, Blackburn and Bolton to tootle my oboe notes and make music. I have loved nearly every minute of it (petrol light flashing on a dark blizzard-hit M65 was a bit of a stress point), but upon reflection…..I wonder it I have overdone it? It’s not just the lack of milk, nor the fact that only a cheese pie, produced my my youngest in school cookery class, saved us from food disaster this evening, it’s also that, as I fly in and out, I hear children, muttering ‘again?’ or ‘another rehearsal?’ with a definite accusing edge to their voices…
As the spawn of musical parents, it was never really an option not to play an instrument and I began lessons at the age of 12. And now, I am grateful to my core, because, at times, music has been the only thing that has kept me sane and I have always fought hard to keep playing. When my marriage broke up I managed to get to a few rehearsals by giving up (amongst many other things) a cleaner and spending the money paying for the same lovely lady to babysit instead. And those rehearsals were an absolute lifeline! (I also remember that whenever I got home, spirits revived but body exhausted, I’d open the door to find a tidied-up house.)
These days playing music mostly makes me feel incredibly happy. I love being part of the noise, I love feeling my soul stir, I love my mind being overtaken by melody and emotion … it’s just utterly fantastic! It’s also a link to the past which can be sadder. Dad was a musician and sometimes, as I hear a piece of music that I can picture him conducting or playing, I still feel myself wobble. In particular, I cannot reach the end of Beethoven’s Pastoral without big fat tears rolling down my face, because whenever Mum went to hear him perform, Dad would always serenade her with one of its Horn solos as she entered the auditorium. I guess I am just a ‘Real Emotional Girl‘ and that makes music a perfect companion.
But, whilst I may have music in my soul, whilst I may thrive on the excitement of a week eating on the go and caring little about the state of the house, I’m not flying solo through life. I am part of, in fact I am captain of, a team. And the balance, that trickiest of balances between personal freedom and parental responsibility, hasn’t worked for my super-squad this week. I can have music, just not quite this much! I look at the calendar, life looks a little crazier than usual until Easter, but I resolve, with only a slightly heavy heart, to say ‘Yes, I’ll play’ a little less after that…
Wednesday 30 January 2019
Praise the Lord for tomorrow is PAY DAY! A day when money goes in and, for a blissful 24 hours, nothing goes out, and I can have one day when I pretend to have no money worries. Because, and I can’t find a positive slant on this one, when you move from parenting as a couple to parenting alone you are screwed financially!
The excellent report, The Cost of a Child in 2018 by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) presents data showing that the actual cost of raising a child is higher for lone parents than couples. They calculate that “The overall cost of a child (over 18 years, including rent and childcare) is £150,753 for a couple and £183,335 for a lone parent”. In this report the ‘cost of a child’ is calculated as the difference the arrival of the child has made to the family outgoings. With this definition it’s easier to see why some costs, such a Child Care, have a greater impact for a lone parent, who has less flexibilty and choice,than a couple. What is a surprise is that the financial imbalance continues throughout the child’s life. Or is it? At work, the single mums I meet who have jobs in the care and health sectors often have night shifts and this means paying for overnight child care until their children are quite old. It’s a cost many couples don’t have. From a personal point of view, I know that my earning potential is more limited than when I was married, because working hours, location, ability to travel for work are all contstrained by childcare. Cuts in personal tax thresholds only impact one salary in my home in comparison to two for many of my couple friends. I am sure there are other reasons too, because the figures look indisputable and the relentless disparity between the ability of lone parent families to cover their outgoings in comparison to families parented by a couple, is a tough read. One finding that hits home for me is this,
“For families on median earnings, the contrast between lone parents and couple families is particularly pronounced. The former now fall 15% short of an adequate income even with a reasonably paid job…. For a couple with two young children, on the other hand, median wages produce disposable income 10 % above the minimum.”
I have certainly found it a constant battle to stay afloat. Ex contributes, but it’s less than a quarter of the money that previously came into the home. Even with his contribution, divorce led to a 50% drop in my household income, which was a body blow. I work full time, I think I am quite good with money but I still cannot stay out of the red most months and have precisely £0 in my ‘rainy day fund’. There is also discrimination at every turn. Council Tax, Child Benefit, lack of Married Person’s Tax Allowance, Benefits Sanctions and many other costs hit single parents disproportionately and that just isn’t fair. We deserve a level playing field, but you’d have to be innumerate and deluded to think a lone parent can look forward to the same financial security as a couple in the UK of 2019.
There is plenty more I could say but it’s not for now, because now is almost the ‘last working day of the month’ when for a full day my bank balance will look rosy and the financial future bright and I don’t want to waste a single minute of that day on angry rants…