How not to live a life of quiet desperation…

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.

Henry David Thoreau

Until last summer I was a grey opaque version of myself. Worn into transparency by years of living with a joyless husband, anxiety, occasional depression and six year’s worth of lie-ins to catch up on. I felt old, tired and brittle, like a yellowing page in a newspaper you find in a loft that’s been wrapping your granny’s crockery for years and crumbles at the merest touch.

I’d just accepted that this was my life until I changed jobs, made some new friends and came blinking into the sunlight and realised that life was for living and I didn’t have to continue simply existing.

I was the original wallflower, wanting to be ignored, not noticed. Bland. Magnolia. Vanilla. Dull. I exuded greyness from every pore. I was sleepwalking through parenthood and my marriage. I did everything on my own after our son was born, from getting up at the crack of dawn with him to putting him to bed at the end of the day. In all but name I was a single parent.

Then I met someone at work, who’d tried to take his own life several times and so perfectly combined that hedonistic sense of not giving a fuck and so being larger than life and oozing freedom as a result. Something inside me, long languishing, was sparked back to life. I grabbed on to this literal life-line and let it pull me out of the gloom and into the brilliant blinding sunshine of a blue-skied summer’s day.

I realised that I was more than just a wife and mother. That somewhere along the way I’d got lost and I needed to find me again as a matter of urgency, before the last bit of myself disappeared into the ether.

What happened next took six months to execute. And the word ‘execute’ makes leaving my husband sound like it was cold, hard and clinical. When the truth is it was messy, tear-stained, heartbreaking and the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make in my life.

Those long, hard months of last year have dimmed now, their edges worn smoother by the fact that I’ve moved on and created a new life. I love my new life, in my new house with my son. I’ve gone from being someone who was living a life of quiet despair to someone who exudes a lust for life out of every pore. I’m the colour in the grey world now because my freedom was so hard won that I wring every last drop out of each day now with no plans to blend into the background again.

How to make memories…

Summertime is always the best of what might be.

Charles Bowden

The summer months always seem to be when I come alive and feel zingy – but this year was my first ever single summer for 30 years. I’ve been a serial monogamist all my life – going from boyfriend to boyfriend, but this year I’ve flown solo for the first time in my life.

I’ve also got more time on my hands than I have for years as our split residency arrangement means that I have several days a week when my son is at his dad’s and I need to fill that time meaningfully so I don’t end up mooning around the house missing the smell of my son’s hair and counting down the hours till I see him again. I need to make myself a better, stronger person so that I can be a better mum to him.

At the beginning of June I went to a Fake Fest near to where I live with my friend. We danced, laughed, chatted and drank all day. It was amazing. My confidence was sky high. I was given a wristband as I entered the event and when I woke, slightly second hand the following morning, I didn’t want to cut it off. It represented a good time. So I left it on, until the following week when I attended another event and acquired another one. People started laughing and proffering me scissors.

Over the last three months I’ve collected more, and more, and more. If I see someone in a night club with wristbands to give out I get giddy at the prospect of adding another band to my thickening collection.

So much so that my tatty, raggy, faded wristbands are now half way up my arm. My wrist has become so dense with bands that I’ve started to count down to the final event I’ll attend this summer when I’ll gratefully cut them all off with a due sense of occasion.

To be fair, they have started to get irksome; they get soaked in the shower and I’m getting tired of having to stick them back together when the glue finally succumbs to water or sweat, but I’m determined to keep collecting them as they push me to make memories and enjoy this time flying solo.

How to fall out of love…

Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.

Søren Kierkegaard

I’m not sure when I first realised that I no longer loved my husband. It may have been last summer when I first articulated the phrase to my boss and the words that had been swirling round in my mind came tumbling out on to the desk in front of me and clattered like smashing crockery.

I’d known it in my heart for a long time, but it took a long time for my brain to catch up. The human psyche is strange like that. You can know something in your soul but not recognise it cognitively for sometime.

I’d spent years being slowly ground down by living with someone who had slowly over the years left me feeling like squashed cabbage leaf, in the words of My Fair Lady’s Eliza Doolittle. And the thing about feeling like a squashed cabbage leaf is that all of your decisions are based upon that low self-worth cabbagey vantage point. The same goes for food, you comfort eat and then wear big, baggy clothes to disguise your now, overweight cabbagey-ness. Then you don’t like to leave the house because of how you look.

It’s a well-known adage that life is lived forwards but understood backwards, and so it has been with me. I came to be here because of taking the decision to attend a children’s centre on a local estate near to where I lived when my son was born nearly seven years ago. The children’s centre was in a very deprived area of my town. Having worked in journalism and teaching all of my working life I’d inadvertently ended up mixing with a very select group of reasonably educated middle-class people. Attending the children’s centre gave me the opportunity to mix with folk who had not had the opportunities I’d had and it was a game-changer for me.

Instead of reading high-minded political arguments online and in books that left me feeling frustrated, here I was dealing with people, who, on an everyday basis, were facing life at the sharp end of politics. I learned so much about parenting and dealing with a baby from these amazing women, and without them I’d have struggled to survive those early exhausting days of first-time mum parenting.

This experience led me on to take part in two local politically charged campaigns that both ultimately failed but put enough fire in my belly to start the resurrection of my self worth, and so when my son started school I started volunteering for a local gardening charity, culminating in me taking a job there four days a week six months later.

Like a butterfly emerging from a cacoon I was suddenly reborn, invigorated by working in the outdoors with a divergent group of people. It was like I’d joined the levellers and I loved it! Working there ignited my soul and my self-worth and before long what started off as slowly burning embers became like a raging fire, impossible to put out and leaving me with a difficult decision. Do I extinguish or fan the flames.

I came home to my husband one hot day last July and the sense of feeling trapped and suffocated was so profound that I screamed and cried inconsolably for hours; a primal scream that culminated in me screaming the words ‘I don’t love you anymore’ and once said they could not be unsaid. Our marriage couldn’t be put right. It took nearly six months for me to move out, in that time we tried and failed to make it work.

So far, so not very unusual. What I did do was take the decision to let my husband stay in our family home and keep most of what was in it. We also agreed that we would co-parent our son in an amicable split residency agreement, where he stays with his dad three days a week and me four days. For much of my son’s life he’d had a pretty distant dad, I chose to give him the opportunity to be a full-on parent and stocked the odds as much in his favour as possible. And eight months in, despite the fact it hasn’t been easy I haven’t regretted that decision. Our son is thriving at school, and his home lives are happier and less filled with tension. He has much more fun in his life. He has two parents who work together and put 100% of their energies into one-to-one time with their son.

Here we arrive at the title of this blog. The title of part-time mummy is in no way to suggest that I actually see myself as part-time – I don’t stop loving or caring about my son in the days I don’t see him. But I know that he is being loved, looked after and cared for by his dad, and that leaves me with days to fill when I’m not in a traditional sense a hands-on parent. This has been a challenge at times, and no always an easy one, but I hope that in improving my own sense of self worth, my son will benefit and become a more resilient person as a result. I also hope that this blog will help others who are also negotiating post-split waters and co-parenting in a brave new world.

How I came to be a part-time mummy

Don’t worry that children never listen to you, worry that they are always watching you.

Robert Fulghum

Of course, I’m not actually a part-time mummy. Once you give birth you are connected to the small person you’ve birthed 24/7. What I am is a mummy to a six-year-old whose father I have separated from. So far so bitter, right? Well not in our case, as we are as amicable as we can be and we also co-parent our son with a split residency arrangement whereby B spends four days a week with me and three with his dad. This blog is about my experiences with the changes in life both the separation and the co-parenting have brought about and how I deal with the days when my son is with his dad and I am left with the challenge of what to do with my days when the house doesn’t echo with ‘mummy, mummy’.