I don’t want this post to all self-pity and woe is me. The fact of the matter is that 11 years ago today my mum died.
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun
I want to honour her here in my little space on the internet, without writing a post woven with the sadness and grief that I feel every year, not just on this date, but at this time of year. Ironically, Autumn was mum’s favourite season and she would often be heard drawing our attention to the beauty of the ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’. But in 2006 as the leaves changed from green, to golden, red and brown and the bare branches made their annual appearance, my mum and her beautiful heart left us forever.
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
We were planning our wedding. We ended up planning a funeral first. Anyway, before I dive headlong into the reminiscences of moments that shatter my heart like they happened five minutes ago, I want to stop myself. I want to remember the good things, the funny things, the little things. Because they are the things I miss the most…
– Sitting on the worktop by the boiler as you made the Sunday roast/Steven’s dinner/a pot of tea.
– The way you said ‘OOOoooooo oooooo’ from afar to get someone’s attention.
– Your silent screams into the cupboard above the chopping board. As I parent I now totally get it.
– Waving a tea towel out the front door in the heat of summer and proclaiming it “too ‘ot” while cooking the obligatory Sunday roast.
– Being fed mashed up Mars bar when I had chicken pox.
– Needing to wake you in the night, but fearful of the Mum Rage (I have inherited this) so standing by the bed and mouthing ‘MUM’ with no sound as ‘loudly’ as I could.
– Birthdays. All of them. Every one. The last one you would share with me just weeks before you fell ill, I arrived at home to find pink crepe paper bows and balloons all over the front door and living room. We had a teddy bears picnic. I was 26.
– You coming in to school to run knitting club when I was at primary school. Everyone made mice out of squares, or cavemen out of squares or dinosaurs… out of squares.
– Watching you create – cake decorating, drawing, knitting, sewing… thank you x
– Always saying ‘love you’ before bed. Even if we weren’t talking.
– The one time I lied to you. You knew I was lying. You let me lie. I knew I was lying. A bit of me died.
– When I was 20 and the life I thought I had planned out took an unexpected turn. I couldn’t let you in because I couldn’t find the words. I went outside and washed my prized silver Mini Cooper in the street. I didn’t know what else to do with myself and the tears streamed down my face in anger, hurt and frustration as I scrubbed at the car. You opened the front door and played “Crash and Burn” by Savage Garden full blast.
– Seeing your face in the crowd at every school event willing me on. I can not remember a time you weren’t there.
– Doing the ‘Dove from Above’ (think Shooting Stars) at inappropriate moments.
– Baking – rock cakes, scones, sponge, Christmas cake. We had our faves.
– Your inability to leave any teddy that ‘looked at you that way’ on the shelf. Totally inherited.
– Your guidance and support as I struggled with anxiety even though you didn’t fully understand it… neither did I.
– Your love of Christmas; from crap crackers to the annual search for the dud lightbulb (those were the days!), from foil ceiling decorations to Christmas Eve ‘shows’, you loved it all and we loved your love of it all.
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.
And while I could go on for a lot longer that is where I will leave it for now. Christmas. It isn’t so far off. Mum’s birthday was December 10 so we have always put the tree up the weekend that follows the 10th. We will do that again this year and as we do we tell the children why that weekend is special. While I can not ever bring their nanny fully into their lives, I like to think they get a sense of her essence through the things I do and say.
Is it big enough to overcome a dent in your Good Enough?
This week, my Good Enough has taken a battering. I don’t say that because I want pity or lots of ‘woohoo you’re great, don’t be down’ comments. I say that because that is what I have learnt this week. This mum studies and this recent bout of studying has opened my eyes to a subject I have left untouched for a while. Me.
Learning about life
I am learning more about myself every day and I am finding you have to be pretty brave to go on a journey of self discovery. I have really been trying to notice my own thoughts and explore my reactions. Some of the time it brings things to the fore I would rather not think about or acknowledge, but hey, it’s all learning.
This week has reinforced to me that I do need recognition and it does matter to me what other people think.
This isn’t new to me. It is something I have known my entire life and something I have already written about (Blog post: Getting the bit of paper (or studying with the OU). I have always been eager to please. Why does that feel like such a bad thing to admit? Anyway, this year I have been exploring why I have this need and whether I am able to find a way to improve my self belief and be satisfied with my own approval. I’m not sure I’m there yet.
I get knocked down…
As if to prove the point a situation this week tested me. Without warning my self-belief crumbled and my Good Enough smashed into pieces on the floor and I stood there with my mouth open and tears streaming down my face.
I thought I had the situation. I thought I knew where it was going. I thought my self-belief was about to be rewarded. Instead it was shaken and my whole being defaulted to the ‘not good enough’ state. I am glad I was able to recognise it.
…and I get up again
But more than that, I was able to think about what I needed to do to get myself back in a good place before the real low hit. I needed to take control and I did. I took action. I stepped out of my comfort zone and made a bold move. And then, with the help of some bright yellow tights, a new green scarf bought from a favourite charity shop, a touch-up of my pink hair, some red lippy (and my sister), I stepped out and faced the world with more strength than I knew I had. The tear-stained echoes of the night before lost in the noise of my rainbow splashed nails.
And I reminded myself…
So, what am I studying at the moment? I am studying computer networks. I am studying Google Analytics. Most importantly I am studying me.
I am a woman who seeks others approval.
I am a woman who is working on her self-belief.
I am a woman who works fiercely towards a goal.
I am a woman who needs others to recognise my work.
I am a woman who is reliable, loyal and honest.
I am a woman who feels deeply.
I am a woman who takes criticism badly.
I am a woman who reflects what I am feeling to others; both good and bad.
I am a woman who is finding her creativity at a depth she didn’t realise was possible and loving it.
I am a woman who likes to be in control.
I am a woman who is determined.
I am a woman with more resilience than I know or understand.
I am a woman who will keep trying.
I am a woman who perfectly imperfect.
We are all different. This is me. I am no longer a woman who will apologise for that.
Show me how big your Brave is…
This has been one of my favourite songs for years. I can only listen to it really, REALLY loud. Often I end up shouting it and more than once it has moved me to tears. I have needed my Brave for a long time and I have really been testing it this last year or so. Changing long-held beliefs is hard and takes courage. How big is your Brave?
This photo was taken two years ago today. In it I am about to get the Bit of Paper. I am graduating from The Open University with a 2:1 in Humanities with Art History. A learning journey that spanned nine years.
I spent much of that day in tears. Not so much because of the enormity of the occasion, but more because of how life had changed in the time it had taken me to get my degree.
A degree of emotion
I already had a degree when I started studying with the OU. I came straight out of school and into uni to study Media and Cultural Studies with English Literature. I studied as hard as I could. I wasn’t a distracted student for many reasons (that’s another post); I lived at home and travelled in each day and hardly ever stayed beyond lectures and seminars.
But I didn’t achieve the result I wanted. The degree (and a whole lot of work experience) got me my first job as a trainee journalist on the local paper. It was all I had ever wanted. But I still didn’t feel I had achieved my full potential (nod to Ninjago :D).
My mum always said if there was a piece of paper for it, then I had to have it. And she was right. A few years later, with several news stories under my belt, I decided I wanted to write an essay. I wanted to write for a reason other than work. So, inspired by my mother in law’s love of the OU I signed up.
Studying with the OU
At first I only wanted to study an art course. I have always had a love of art and have always wanted to know more about paintings and artists. It was an interest and this studying was going to be a pass time, so the two seemed well matched. To get any form of diploma in art history I needed to study the foundation humanities course first. So I spent a year studying a range of cultural subjects and passed the foundation (one piece of paper!).
The OU then informed me that if I took another course I could get a certificate in humanities (a second piece of paper!). So I went on, and I did that. I remember opening the certificate and thinking: “There, I have done that now. What shall I do next?”
The problem with that question was that the lure of the OU called. Back on their site once more browsing courses, I found I could turn by certificate into a degree with just a few more years work (she says casually).
And so the degree began and I started studying knowing I had at least three or four years of reading, researching and essays ahead of me. I studied through snowboarding holidays. I studied through weekend’s away with friends. I studied through family trips, planning our wedding and the honeymoon.
I was promoted at work. Suddenly the hours were longer and I seemed to be constantly busy and as I finished my course I found I just couldn’t find my study time. So, as the option was there with the OU, I took a break for a year. It makes me laugh now. I thought I was tired and had no time then. I look at life now with three children and realise I had all the time in the world.
The following October I was ready to study again. But then life was about to change unimaginably. My mum fell ill suddenly and died within four weeks. My mum. My champion. My art loving partner. The one I made proud. Was gone.
Six months later I got married. At the end of that academic year I needed a break, so I took another year out. What had been a three, maybe four, year plan was turning into a monster. But still, I needed to get to the end. Always finish what you have started – another few words of wisdom from mum.
And so it was that started the Level three courses which focussed heavily on specific periods of art history and I took on the self-titled dissertation. I even spent a week studying with the OU on their art history study week (sadly, no longer offered). The OU had changed its fees system by now and the fact was, if I was ever going to be able to afford to finish my degree I had to complete back-to-back courses year after year until it was finished. There were no more gap years for me.
The Bit of Paper
After the wedding came, well, babies (eventually). Now here’s a time when you don’t need to be thinking about essays and art gallery trips, but for me the determination to finish this degree over-shadowed it all. I read at 2 in the morning on my Kindle. I made notes while I fed at midnight.The children grew. The essays got longer. The dissertation nearly killed me. The love and support from DH held me up and carried me through.
I cried when I found out I had achieved my longed-for 2:1. But nothing like I cried the day I wore that gown. From the moment I arrived at The Barbican until the moment I arrived home, I cried. That was my day. My day that could never have been realised without the love and support of my family. Those that couldn’t be there and those that were, and those that spent their first full day at nursery so I could be there. To you all – thank you.
As I said at the time: “I started a girlfriend and finished a wife. I started a daughter and finished a mum.”
I’m Suze and this is my blog charting the highs and lows of studying with children. There are three mini Coopers in our house and two students; me and my husband. This blog will follow our journey as we work towards changing careers and changing our lifestyle.
I am currently studying Level 3 (QCF) Web design and Development with LearnDirect. I am also studying a Google Analytics course online and will be working on the #DigitalMums Associate Programme in 2018 to learn how to become a social media manager.
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