While of course I sympathise, I often wonder what women expect when they give up work and stay at home only to find their husbands later leave them for women who vaguely represent them a few years ago. The saying goes that women get married expecting their partner to change and men get married expecting their partner never to change. It’s all well and good being a stay at home mum (and incidentally I’m of the belief that this is what’s best for children, especially in their earliest months) but it’s important not to lose sense of yourself.
It’s only been a few weeks but I feel I’m slipping. I didn’t want to sit and write this column because I felt I had done nothing interesting or even read or thought anything interesting in the past week. I’ve been busy of course but on tasks that are incredibly fluffy. Most of my time is taken up with planning the design of our house (I ordered blinds for the living room and ordered our new sofas) or arranging my wedding (I’ve planned the lighting scheme for the marquee and decided what food to serve at the evening reception).
I am enjoying it. Although at times I get a bit stressed (oh the woes of middle class problems) I’m very aware that when I was working a 9 to 5 I looked forward to September-December 2011 with great excitement and when this has passed I’ll forget the dust and noise and remember sitting in the garden with Sarah Raven’s Complete Christmas Food and Flowers and making notes on freezable canapés.
But it’s very blah. I feel very blah. I’m so drowned in catalogues and recipe books, fabric swatches and paint charts, dust and yet more dust that I lack my usual energy for my intellectual pursuits. I’ve started watching The Tudors as I make the garland for the staircase and sort through other festive and weddingy tasks. I’m hooked already but I’m also confident it’s eroding my brain.
I kind of need the focus I’ve got at the moment as these are two pretty big projects and it’s not as though they are all I have in my life. I’m running a life coaching workshop that is going really well and teaching a few cookery classes but these things are somewhat on hold in terms of being expanded upon because there are only so many hours in the day. And I’m honest enough with myself that I’m choosing to shop around and put in time to get things just how I want them. I could work more and devote less time to the house and wedding but I elect not to.
Still, I hate not having anything interesting to say (humour me and pretend my column is usually interesting) and fear getting into a rut where it becomes normal not to push my intellectual boundaries, get irate at The Observer and relish the me-time that is the writing of this column (as opposed to it being a chore on today’s to do list).
My mum handled it well. She stopped working when she was pregnant with me and never formally went back but she created a life where my father (and later my stepfather) found her interesting. Her projects (such as running our stud farm) occupied her mind in the way necessary to enable conversations with my dad. When I think back to my childhood an enduring memory is of the two of them always sitting down together at the table for dinner. I remember my dad once telling me how smart my mum was and how he believed she could do anything she put her mind to.
Ok so housewife isn’t really a label that should be applied to my mum but I think the risk was there just as it is with me. After all, I’m not a housewife either. The fiancé refers to my job as being a project manager because someone has to schedule all the work being done on the house, manage the finances and make decisions but still, I feel headed down a path where tracksuit bottoms are worn for reasons other than decorating, gardening or keeping warm when you’re under the weather.
I think I need to stop for a coffee when I’m running errands tomorrow. I certainly need to pick up a newspaper and learn a bit about the world. I came across the Occupy Wallstreet thing (I don’t really know what it is so can’t better describe it) and that should be something I’d get all opinionated about. I’m setting myself the task of writing something based on current* affairs next week.
This column sucks. I’m bored writing it so I’m amazed if anyone has got this far reading it but that’s not the point. The habit of writing regularly is important for me. If nothing else it’ll act as a reminder that another week has passed and I had better have done or thought something! And ideally something a little deeper than the two nightmares I had last night about my wedding dress. I was so concerned that I got it out and tried it on only to realise the builders were at the door. They were somewhat amused and suggested I was only a little overdressed.
Incidentally I don’t think the fiancé can see it yet. Last night he got home to maple and raison muffins and each day I send an email update of what the workmen have been doing and tell him about wedding plans. He sees me as busy and working hard and is as happy to talk house as I’m sure he will be happy to talk baby one day. Either that or he never listened to what I was actually saying in the first place...
... maybe I just need to buy a pair of skimpy knickers occasionally and my marriage will be fine!
* I wrote that as currant originally which says a lot about my mind being on the fruitcake and mince pies I’ve been thinking about!
The nightmare before Christmas is one of my favourite films. I love pretty much all of Tim Burton’s work but there’s something indescribably perfect about this film. I think Jack Skellington’s desire for more from life and Sally’s desire for recognition each undercut my own wants.
I’ve written before about how Burton’s take on the world and I was reminded of this today when someone responded to my woes over my house renovations by offering the phone number for Barratts. It highlighted to me that in opting out of an identikit life, the horror I described as Suburban Bliss, I opened myself up to greater trials. Oh and that I needed to get over myself and my spoilt brat attitude!
Still, at such times you need to cheer yourself up and I decided to focus on what the house will be like when it’s finished.
This means Christmas - as the deadline for the house being finished is our 10th December wedding where after a dinky ceremony and meal we’re having a truly epic house party. I love Christmas and it seemed a great time to get married/have our housewarming as not only is our house what the fiancé calls a “Christmas house” (stunning fireplace, bay window begging for a big tree etc etc)* but it means I won’t be spending money on decorations that’ll be used once. The plan is to bring out the things I’m buying now to use year after year.
I was thrilled to discover a thread on mumsnet for Christmas fanatics and have been perusing with a notebook by my side. Having had a few ideas for decorating the stair banister I pulled out my Christmas decorations to see what could be utilised and I found these:
I bought them years ago but never really put them out as my ex hated them. I think they got used last year (the fiancé loves the style of The nightmare before Christmas**) but I’ve always wanted to do something fabulous with them.
In case you’re wondering what I’m on about, I think the curl at the toe is reminiscent of the cliff Jack is standing on in the promotional poster.
So I have a project underway. With my paint swatches and some decorations I’m planning the first impression that’ll greet my guests in December. It’s tricky to picture it as the area is a mix of bare walls, walls painted with bond-it (a turquoise substance that provides a surface for plaster to adhere to) and plastered walls. The woodwork is battered and the carpet filthy. A wire hangs forlornly awaiting the wired in smoke detector system and a new bare bulb illuminates a previously dark corner, revealing uneven walls.
I already feel better. Tomorrow I’m going to get out of the house for a few hours with the decorations and look for fabric, ribbons and paint that I can use to build up a garland. I’ve ideas for the unit by the front door and the yet-to-be-purchased (which could make it tricky) pendant lights.
I want to reconnect with my dreams for this house and our wedding and try to see beyond what feels like a nightmare.
* And he isn’t really a Christmas person. Or at least he wasn’t...
** Or at least says this (possibly to make me happy).
The week began relatively riotously. The fiancé and I take it in turns to plan and execute a monthly date for the other and for October I decided to take him to a burlesque evening at The Everyman in Cheltenham. It was as much an opportunity for him to see me in something other than plaster dust as it was about an entertainment I thought he’d enjoy.
It was good fun. It got a touch cruise ship at times but overall the mix of comedy, music, magic and girls taking their clothes off was well balanced and enjoyable. And of course you can’t beat seeing a nipple tassel being swung in the flesh; it is a quite remarkable talent.
As we drove home I reflected contentedly on my life. Slap up meals and nights out at the theatre before being chauffeured by a man I find as attractive as the day we met to a home that will soon look spectacular and play host to our wedding makes for a pretty happy Kathryn. It was easy to forget that this Sunday I am attending an event I can barely fathom.
I’m a pretty hard-line atheist as I’m sure you’re aware. I don’t believe one ought to respect faith; I see faith as a form of weakness, an inability to take responsibility for the fact that your life is largely your own to determine. I passionately support the right for people to hold religious faith and don’t believe they should be persecuted for it but I refuse to see them as having something that is somehow more special than my wonder and love for the amazing universe as science explains it.
Nevertheless there is one hugely important area of my life where I fight my impulses and keep my lips sealed. I am a stepmother and it is not my place to put my views upon my stepsons. I would say it’s probably not ones place to put your views on your biological children and to let them find their own way but I’m sure I’ll fail at that. Anyway, things are straightforward most of the time. The fiancé is as much an atheist as I am (though far less militant) and the kids are still young.
The six year old asks the occasional question of me (always when his father isn’t around to pass him off onto). The most recent was the musing “I don’t think God will make any more floods. What do you think?” Living in Gloucestershire as we do, flooding is almost certain to feature in our future so a simple no was out of the question. Equally, while not wanting to deny the existence of “God” I wasn’t about to deny facts about the world. I explained that there would almost certainly be more floods but that there probably wouldn’t be any floods caused by God. This was apparently acceptable and we returned to our more standard line of conversation, something unintelligible (to me) about battle drones.
As you’ve probably guessed, the boys do have a religious influence. Their mother takes them to what is thankfully a Christianity-lite church. Chauvinism and fantasy seem relatively in check and from what I’ve gathered their experience there is largely one of a high quality playgroup. Not that it’s any of my business and not really much of the fiancé’s.
Except that that is where we are heading on Sunday.
My younger stepson will be having surgery in the near future. We’re assured it’s as close to no-risk as you can get but obviously we are all worried. I can therefore understand their mother’s relatively sudden desire to have them both christened. The hardest thing about this waiting is the sheer inability to be able to do anything. If I could bake a thousand cookies for a fundraiser for the hospital to buy better... anything, I would. That there is nothing I can do is horrible. I can completely see how a christening is something.
The fiancé’s ex wife is lovely (whenever I dip my does into the shark-infested pool that is mumsnet I’m reminded of the general nastiness of ex-wives and their fairly uniform hatred of us new partners) and not only asked the fiancé’s consent but invited us both to not only the service but to the do afterwards. Is there a proper name for the after bit? Weddings have receptions, funerals have wakes, surely there’s a name.
So I’m dressing up but not by my usual standards so a modest heel and a dress that shows no cleavage and comes below the knee (in case you’re wondering how I came to own such an item, the skirt can be hitched up to be really rather short). I can do that and I can smile through the service and be polite and all that.
But you’re meant to take presents to christenings aren’t you? The fiancé knew immediately what he wanted the boys to have. We’ve been discussing introducing pocket money so there will be a nice money box each which will live at our house. Most christening gifts are kind of for the mother though aren’t they? And the ex-wife will be the hostess of the event.
I’ve settled on a poem about sticky fingers, framed alongside pictures of the boys with sticky fingers (icecream) and some hand and fingerprints they did this evening with us. The frame is fairly neutral and contemporary and they’re really nice pictures of the boys. Is that appropriate?
Seriously, how to you figure out what to give the mother of your stepsons on the day of their christening? At least this is of and by them and if she likes it enough to put it somewhere it has nothing of the fiancé or me about it really. How do I not be totally nosy about the fiancé’s former marital home? I’m curious as hell. How do I look polite but not overly interested?
I’ve no idea. I truly never saw this etiquette dilemma coming!