Pink & Blue Mummyland

Pink and blue parenting through pink and blue moods….

Identity #1: No One Like Me

I’ve been thinking a lot about identity recently. The question ‘who am I?’ has come up repeatedly over the years, and every time it comes round again I find something I’ve not known before. So, in the spirit of honest blogging, I decided to write down the things I’ve been discovering about who I am and what that means. The first leg of the journey looks at opposites: reminding myself who I’m not.

People have always said to me ‘you’re so like your dad’. I’ve been hearing it for years, from the people who know my family well to those who have only seen the outer picture we present. I find this hard because Dad is an alcoholic, and has behaved very badly towards a lot of people, many many times.

I have now learnt to see that when people compared us, they probably meant ‘like’ him in a good way – my gifts have always been similar to his, even when I’ve been really poorly and unable to use them. In other people’s minds they were probably saying I was good at performing like him, or my sense of humour meant I was funny like him. I probably get my ability to speak in public from him, and I certainly can’t deny that I look like him.

But, in my screwed up little brain, I took it to mean that I was like him on a deeper level, in that secret place we all have and never let anyone see. My hidden dread was that there was some flaw in me, just like the one I saw in him, and that some day I’d lose control and all the things I hated would spew out. Somewhere, there’s a crack in my soul, just like my father, and one of these days, no matter how fast I run, it’ll catch up with me.

Listen closely now, because here’s the lesson it’s taken me fifteen odd years to learn: no one is like anyone else. None of us! When the Bible says God knitted us together in our mothers’ wombs, it’s not suggesting he used a pattern. It shows intricacy, care, a pride in His work. I have finally learnt that just because half of my DNA comes from my father, I don’t have to inherit the damage done to him. I don’t have to fear being broken just because that’s what I see in him.

And you know what? Now I’ve given up the fear of what might leak out, it turns out that I am a bit like my dad. I can see in myself some of the positive things I get from him – my passion and drive and creativity come from God, but are passed down through a generation that I’ve tried to ignore.

Here’s the other thing I’ve learnt: as much as there is no one like me, there is also no-one like him. There is no one in the world with his set of gifts and shortcomings, flair and foibles.

So here’s the message. Comparing ourselves to someone – anyone – in our lives, whether it’s someone close by or someone we admire purely by reputation, not only doesn’t get us anywhere, but also stops us becoming who we were designed to be. If God has a plan and a purpose for my life that is different from anyone else’s, it makes sense that I am uniquely the person who can fulfil that plan.

And, as much as I sometimes berate myself for who I am, and nurse disdain for my fallen ways, I can’t escape the fact that I am who I am supposed to be. I am Me.

Who are you?

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Hey, old friend…

This weekend I travelled back to my home town with my little family.

We stayed with my friend Michelle and her family, with whom I’d sort of fallen out of touch. When we moved away, her two boys were the age of MiniMe and MicroBob; they are now strapping lads of 16 and 14, with deep voices, square jaws and at least a foot on me. It’s funny to look at them and remember changing their nappies, trying to persuade them to eat vegetables, and building endless brio tracks for them to chuff toy trains around.

I’m not quite sure how losing contact happened – Michelle wasn’t just my maid of honour, she was so much more. For a long while, when things in my life were difficult, her family were my family. After Bible college, when I sunk into yet another deep depression and anorexia reared its ugly head again, they took me in and helped me pull myself back up into the land of the living. I was definitely high maintenance, but Michelle never gave up on me, and always chose to believe that I wold get better.

Losing contact was probably partly caused by the feeling that I have always felt bad about the pressure I put them under. I understood that parenting was a huge pressure all if its own, one that involved exhaustion beyond anything else. I knew that the input was immense, whilst the outcome was often invisible until adulthood. I grasped just through babysitting that parenting was a thankless task and therefore next to impossible to constantly do to the best of one’s ability. So being taken in by them, and often behaving as a belligerent child who refused to eat and needed watching to prevent purging, was the last thing they needed. It was incredibly hard to take them up on their offer, even though I knew that I was on the edge of survival and needed help.

As much as I have dealt with my feelings of guilt regarding how I’ve treated people over my life, I still carry around those feelings about how I behaved when I lived with Michelle and Andy. When I think of some of the things I did when I lived there I’m embarrassed, and I still feel shame at how being so screwed up made me behave. Whenever that time in our lives was part of the conversation, I had to look away in embarrassment.

But it turns out that there was a quid pro quo in the deal that I’d never seen until now. As we spent time with them, they made comments about what it had been like when I had lived there. When Michelle’s husband was ironing shirts: “I never had to iron when you were her, you just did it all.” When sat in the kitchen watching Michelle cook: “it takes longer now you don’t do all the chopping for me.” When the boys were making their packed lunch: “Can’t you do it like you used to?” I learnt for the first time this weekend that I had provided something as well as taking from them.

In the last couple of hours of their company, I sat drinking coffee with my old friend, talking about the effort of raising my children – even with as supportive a husband as Cable Guy. I expressed the frustration that all I wanted was someone to do the odd bit of housework for me, or to make me a sandwich after a stressful morning taking a grouchy MiniBob shopping. I shared the innermost desire for a half hour baby sitter so I could just sit with a cup of tea without someone wanting a drink poured or an argument resolved or a bottom wiped. Michelle’s response? “You need an Abbie.”

What a statement. I had never realised before that I had been as valuable to them as they had been to me.

It seems that my view of that time was impressively skewed. Instead of viewing the past through rose coloured glasses, I had donned grey ones, seeing that season as one where I’d done nothing but take. It had never occurred to me before that, from Michelle’s perspective, I had done some giving too. I had a sudden change of what Glennon Doyle Melton calls ‘perspectacles’.

I left walking taller than I had when I arrived.

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When life hits hard

This past few weeks has been a roller coaster of emotion in my little world, and for once it’s not me who’s at the centre of it. Three weeks ago, out of nowhere, a dear friend was informed that her ex husband had taken his own life by hanging himself from a tree in a public place.

A few things you need to know about the wonderful woman that I call Cake ICE. Most of her awesomeness comes from brokenness. At twenty, she fell in love with a boy whilst at college. When she told her him she was carrying his child, he wanted nothing more to do with her, but she decided she would have her baby anyway, and raised her son at the same time as finishing a degree and becoming a teacher. Fast forward a few years, and she fell head over heels again, with a man who married her and gave her another two beautiful sons, but also bruises she didn’t ask for or deserve. Leaving him and taking her three boys with her was one of the bravest things she has ever done. Bringing up children with special needs on your own is hard, but she carried on regardless – even staying standing through another relationship that resulted in her beautiful baby girl. Eventually, a year or so ago, she came to church and found the one man who would never let her down. Her heart belongs to Jesus now – hallelujah!

So, even before hearing the news of her ex husband’s suicide, her day to day life was pretty hard. She is raising four kids and works as hard as possible to keep her close knit family off benefits and to show them that working hard is always worth it. She runs her own celebration cake company, and is pretty damn good at it. She has spent these weeks making cakes for other people’s celebrations whilst her world is in turmoil.

How do you tell pre-teen boys that the father they don’t remember has killed themselves? What about the seventeen year old who has only known one ‘father’ – the one who hit him and his mum? Praise the Lord for the little girl who makes them smile at least once an hour and can’t remember anything but love in her own short life.

Everybody in his family is quick to blame. They want an answer, a reason, something about which they can say “this is why”. Cake ICE is at fault in their eyes for leaving him and taking the children, as are other partners and ex-partners who have gone their own way and taken children with them. People seem to be spending a lot of energy on blaming people who are alive,because for some reason you can’t blame the dead. No one wants to say that his suicide, whilst possibly triggered by events, was entirely his own decision.

But then, I even use the word ‘decision’ loosely. When our very being is driven by a sense of survival, what does it take to enable us to go against self-preservation and towards self-destruction?

In all honesty, I just don’t know the answer. For the most part, I just can’t make suicide make sense. My inclination is to suggest that some kind of illness of mind is always involved, even if not a specifically diagnosed mental illness, but other people I know would claim that it is the ultimate act of selfishness, considered in a right mind as payback to those left behind. Maybe the fact that I can’t bear not to look for the best in people is the reason that that idea doesn’t sit easily. Or maybe it’s a more personal thing – I have been tempted by suicide’s finality, and thought myself completely logical at the time, but once in my right mind again I can’t believe I considered it. The thought that I could be called selfish hurts, because I don’t think I was my real, normal self when death was such a temptation.

I also can’t quite figure out what God thinks. There are some denominations and/or churches that would claim suicide is not just a sin, but one which can’t be forgiven. I’m fortunate that my church isn’t one of them. I’m not saying that I think suicide can ever be a part of God’s plan for our lives, but I know that we live in a fallen world, and that a loss of hope is a part of that fallenness that we all have to battle every day – some of us harder than others. From what I read in Scripture, Jesus knows more than any of us what it is to be in pain and torment. He was literally separated from God the Father so that we didn’t have to be separated from Him. He experienced true death – complete isolation from Father God – so that we didn’t ever have to be without hope again. So what happens spiritually when someone rejects the hope we have in Christ and takes their own life? I have no idea.

What I do know is that having seen the pain caused by someone so estranged has brought home with sating clarity just how much pain I could cause if I got severely ill again. I’ve put in place within my relationships a truth telling pact, and made sure that people are never too scared to ask me how I am and what I’m thinking. I have to hope and pray that that’s enough.

I’m interested in how other people see suicide as an issue, or what others do to keep themselves safe. Answers on a postcard…..

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