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Going into it with my eyes open turned out to be little defence: Dealing with an abusive partner

At one stage of my life, I was in an abusive relationship. This is something that some people know, and some people knew at the time. There were a lot of people who tried, in all sorts of ways, to persuade me to get out of it. And there were an awful lot of people who didn’t know anything at all, and assumed that everything must be rosy.

I knew it myself. I went into it open-eyed, but also sympathetic. I could see the damage that I thought caused it all. And understanding it – or thinking I understood it – made it difficult to condemn it. But what I eventually had to acknowledge is that understanding means nothing at all. I was never going to “fix” him, because his problems were personality-deep. It wasn’t damage that I could do a darn thing about.

During that time, I read a lot of articles about abusive relationships. I was extremely educated on exactly what was happening. In the end, they were what helped me to say no when I did. To resist giving in to the apologies and the romantic declarations.

I’d like to be able to help other people as well. Because in spite of all of the education, there was part of me that still saw our situation as different. That saw it as salvageable. Nobody can tell you to get out, but I want to lay all my cards on the table and state that no situation is different. It doesn’t matter how smart you are, how emotionally switched-on you are, or how much you tell your abusive partner what they’re doing to you.

If your partner is abusive – emotionally or physically, I think, though my experience is only of the former – then your only call is to get out. Particularly if, like me, you have a small child to think about. And maybe the effect of that break-up will help fix them somehow. Focus on that if you need to. But acknowledge that you are never, ever going to make them better by staying with them and letting them erode your self-confidence and subject you to what can be daily trauma.

 

 

The narcissist

It wasn’t hard to establish that my ex was a narcissist. Even from an armchair-psychology point of view, it was pretty obvious. There wasn’t a single symptom he didn’t have. He was obsessed with self-image to the point where nothing would stand in the way of the latest self-indulgent purchase – whether that was a new car, new clothes, a holiday, sporting equipment, or some seriously expensive technology.

He would exaggerate his abilities, including telling little white lies about achievements. And when thwarted, he would behave in an extraordinarily arrogant way. I saw him do it to people – the sentences dripping with disdain – and I found it uncomfortable.

But the extent of these problems only became obvious when I began living with him.

 

 

The belief that you can fix them

 

Early on, I still thought I could help. I still thought I could fix. The subtle signs of things that were worse than I’d thought were things I thought I could manage. He was so very into me that I thought that alone made it worth it. And that’s the trouble with narcissists. It’s all full-on, intense attention, and it makes you feel like you’re connected in a way that ties you to them. By the time the worries start to surface, you feel like you understand them uniquely, and ought to give them a chance.

And there were some worries, even early on. The extravagant generosity he portrayed in the first months of dating rapidly fell away, and instead, I began to realise that I was footing the bill for everything. Because I hate the idea of girls being bought everything by menfolk, that suited me for a while. Until it became obvious that the borrowing of money wasn’t going to stop.

But I wasn’t allowed to get tough about money. He had two tools he would use to take down any complaints: the first, that every so often he would in fact buy me something. It would never be anything useful, or anything I’d asked for. It would specifically be something that he thought I ought to wear. Something that made me look “ladylike” in his eyes. Something that was “nicer than my current dresses” or whatever it might be.

The other was breathtakingly outrageous. The first time I well and truly lost my rag about his ever-increasing debts, and his spending instead of paying me back, he told me (without looking up from his phone screen) that “R’s dad should be paying more in child support. Why didn’t I go and ask him for some money?”

That particular statement – based on nothing but his own warped opinion, and spectacularly unfair when he was living the high life off me – made me so angry that I ended up walking out of my own house. But instead of causing any improvement or at least space, I was instead told via text that I should have some backbone in standing up to R’s dad, as if he were somehow the one with the right to decide how I managed that particular interrelationship, and I was somehow being taken advantage of by someone other than him.

 

 

Jealousy 

That little series of events spanned a few months in total, and was something that was to recur. But actually the first time I felt the sting of his extraordinarily nasty behaviour was pure jealousy.

He “happened to see” on my phone that I’d been facebook messaging a mutual male friend. Which is something, by the by, that I do, and I am never going to not do. It’s ok, in my very firm opinion for girls to have male friends when they are in a relationship. People can have friends of the opposite sex without it being a problem. I know, because I’ve done it.

So this “accidental” reading of my messages produced a monumental attack because, according to him, making a joking reference to a ridiculous Halloween costume someone had worn and putting a winky face meant flirting. That was it. A joke and a winky face.

The argument about it went on for an hour, after which I felt sick and beaten down, and had almost started to feel guilty for even daring to talk to some other guy. He cast doubt on the friend’s intentions, and made me think I ought to avoid talking to him. But at least after all that the argument was over.

But of course it wasn’t. It was round one in a constantly-recurring fight that went for hundreds of rounds. And there weren’t any bloody winners, either.

A week later, he “happened to see on my computer” that I’d been talking rubbish to an earlier ex of mine, with whom I’d remained on good terms. I’d made the obvious mistake (jeez, how didn’t I spot this?) of replying to a question about how things were going with Mr. Narcissist. This was apparently not ok. And then, a few days later, this ex sent me a picture of a clothing purchase and the stuff really hit the fan. It was in appropriate, I was told. And he didn’t see why I would even want to talk to the ex unless I wanted to get back together with him. With this person I had broken up with some while ago and who was also seeing someone else.

It wasn’t ok to tell him he was being ridiculous. He had a particular condition, he explained, that meant he obsessed about past relationships. And my behaviour had been wrong, which I needed to acknowledge. I should have told him to f*&% off and blocked him. (8 months down the line, I still hadn’t acknowledge this, and it was still a problem.)

Once admitted to, this particular condition of his became one of the most dominant features of our relationship. We could watch a film about a serial killer, and something in it would trigger his jealous thoughts, and he would become silent, and then the interrogations would start. And he wouldn’t stop questioning, coldly and harshly, with dripping scorn and total doubt in any of my replies. I could ask him to stop, and tell him I was upset, and he would carry on. Usually, he would give a sarcastic laugh and ask why his feelings didn’t matter.

 

Two things started to become immensely obvious as these interrogations recurred every couple of days:

 

  • That he wouldn’t ever, ever stop, until I was so upset that I’d broken down, which would eventually “get through to him.” Which actually, I’m not convinced was the case, in retrospect. I think he saw it as a victory. And then he could be apologetic, and tell me that he’d never meant to hurt me, that “no matter what he said, he still loved me.” Which went to show that he and I had very, very different definitions of love. Nowhere in mine was the desire to beat someone down and ignore their pain for the sake of something I wanted.
  • That he wasn’t “accidentally” looking on my phone, or my computer, or anywhere. He was doing it deliberately. He was checking up, constantly. And if I password-protected anything I was “clearly hiding something.” In contrast, let’s make it clear, everything of his had passwords.

The jealousy got worse and worse. I read up on it, and I stood up to him and refused to give into his questioning, even though that made him bully more and more and more. I told him at one point that I might have been drowning in front of him when he was in that mood, and he wouldn’t have cared, and in a moment of honesty, he admitted that was probably true.

I reached the point of really, truly standing my ground and saying “no” when I found that he’d gone onto my phone and blocked two of my male friends from all messaging contact. I only found this out when one of them emailed to ask why. And it was a great time to find out. I was on a night out with him and had made the inexcusable mistake of jokingly calling him a twat in front of his friends, and he’d spent the entire rest of the evening cutting me dead, and arranged to go clubbing with his friends, without in any way making me welcome. After I found out what I had, I decided to leave, and he followed me outside to tell me “Perhaps I wouldn’t call him a twat again” with a little smirk. And I replied, succinctly, that “Perhaps I wouldn’t have the opportunity given he’d blocked people on my phone without asking.”

After I left, I expected some kind of apology. What I got instead was stunning. He messaged to tell me he wasn’t going to apologise, because he hadn’t done anything wrong, and then he went partying with them all and turned his phone off.

After that, I made him go to therapy. I made it a condition of our relationship. I should have walked out at that point, of course, but I didn’t, because in the end, he grovelled again, and told me it was something he needed help with.

 

 

“Look what I’m doing for you”

The idea of him striving to change himself “for me” was one that came up a lot after that. He began going to therapy (and complained how expensive it was whilst spending hundreds on designer clothing) and reading up on his jealousy problems.

For a couple of weeks, it improved a bit. I was harangued less, and told how much he loved me more.

But of course it was only a moment of quiet. And in the interim, he was quite happy to show some of his other major issues. I’d got a job that he considered better than his, and his “how was your day?” turned out to be an excuse to say, with utter contempt, “Wow, it must be great being Gytha. Everything’s just working out so well for you.”

I ask myself a lot why I put up with this even then. Even before some of the more major things that went on. Nowhere in my definition of a desirable partner is one who resents my achievements and wants them for himself.

But of course, he was “trying” – and he loved to remind me that he’d had a terrible time of it in his past. That he had really suffered.

The sad thing is, he had suffered. Some of it was not through his own doing, and a huge, huge amount of it was his own doing entirely. But I have friends who have suffered, and don’t treat people like that. I should have held onto that, and not been talked round by his poor-me stories.

 

 

The things I couldn’t deal with

 This is already a long and involved story. Credit to you if you’re still reading… But I wanted to go into the things that really did kick me out. And it took several goes, because I got talked round. But if you’re in a relationship that’s anything like the above, then I think it’s worth knowing that you can reach breaking-point, and that there are some things that even me with my understanding, fixing hat on, would not put up with.

 

  1. The other women

It’s commonly said that people who are terrified of being cheated on are more likely to cheat. And in the case of Mr. Narcissist, whether or not there was cheating, there was certainly some breathtakingly hypocritical behaviour. It came up a few times, with previous flings and with close female friends. He would message them whilst drunk and I wasn’t there, and then the next day, sit in front of me (somehow thinking I was stupid) and delete the conversations. Some of them he would get drunk with, alone, and somehow this was acceptable whilst me being allowed to even get unblocked content from anyone male was not. Others he was calling late at night, also whilst drunk, which I only realised after one of his friends audibly asked if he was on the phone to one of them at 1am when in fact he was on the phone to me.

But god forbid I should question him on this… He would be angry. He would tell me that he “would be angry if I brought this stuff up again.” He would delete messages “because I should trust him.” And somehow I would be brow-beaten into thinking that maybe he was upset because he really did hate not to be trusted…

Yes, I was an idiot. Over and over again. 😉 In the end, when I’d demanded absolute openness and honesty about all this, he deleted yet another set of messages between him and one of them (and by this point, I’d decided I wanted to check) and then lied about it.

 

 

  1. The lost kid

You know how in some romantic films, they show that the main character is with the wrong guy by having him do something really awful, so it justifies ditching him and going out with the hero instead? And how it often seems really overplayed?

Well I had one of those in real life. And it did, actually, do a pretty good job of hitting home.

We were on holiday, at the beach. It was the last day, and we were getting packed up to go home when I saw that there was a woman there who had the very clear, terrified look of someone realising she couldn’t find her child. When she said, “Where is he?” to her partner, I asked if she’d lost a child, and I could help. As you do.

Mr. Narcissist said sternly, “Don’t get involved.” I ignored him, and got a description of the child (who was three, and missing on a crowded beach – possibly one of the most terrifying places) and started to job towards the Life Guard while the two of them continued to look. Mr. Narcissist did not help. Instead, he called out from behind me, “Fine. I’ll see you back in Cambridge then.” And continued to pack the car.

I went on doing what I did, and we found the kid at the far end of the beach on his own. A three-year-old. We’d alerted a lot of people on the way and there was a big search going on by the time we’d found him.

Mr. Narcissist hadn’t finished packing the car by the time I returned, and hadn’t left for Cambridge, but uttered no word of apology. I then had to endure a long drive back with him when I was too furious to even speak properly. I demanded an explanation, and was told that I’d been “flapping about, embarrassing myself.” Which just goes to show that people’s opinions of what does and doesn’t make them look bad can be profoundly different. To me, for example, the selfish a%$^@!& who carried on packing the car was going to look a lot worse than the person helping find a missing child.

 

 

  1. The money

It wasn’t just the owing money and then spending, the fact that he would somehow run out halfway through the month and have to be supported by me for half of every one, despite my disposable income being lower and despite the fact that I had a child to support. It wasn’t just the fact that he lied about it, like the time that he ordered a spanking new computer and claimed it was costing £25 a month, and then it arrived and I opened the invoice and found that he’d paid £2,500 in full.

It was the fact that he responded in exactly the same way as with those texts to girls – with anger, with brow-beating, and with the critical “You’ll just have to trust me.” The fact that when pressed, he said he’d been given the computer money as inheritance, for example, and I was interfering in his family.

And it was, worse than that, the fact that it emerged that he was stealing from his family whilst borrowing from me, and that the amount he owed them was breathtaking.

 

  1. The time he said R’s dad wasn’t allowed in “his” house…

 

…because he insisted on reading a message that R’s dad had sent and there was something ALMOST A LITTLE SARCASTIC in it about himself.

Funnily enough, he did not get his way over the house that he wasn’t even paying rent in at the time because he “couldn’t afford it.”

 

 

  1. The killer: his treatment of R

 

There are lots of things you can put aside and not act on, but seeing your child start to get bullied (about getting out of bed, about eating messily, about not tidying up enough) and get more and more anxious is never going to be one of them. He had expressed himself keen to get involved in parenting, and then when it finally started happening, it wasn’t parenting at all. It was controlling. It was wading in and deciding in his almighty wisdom that R was “too needy” or “too messy” or “too scruffy” or whatever the hell else, and that somehow he needed fixing. And it was the fact that when I put my foot down, he said “Well I’m not going to change, so it’s him or me.”

I don’t think there’s a universe in existence in all the possible parallel worlds where I would have said, “Oh, goodness, well I’d better choose you.”

I mean, what the hell was he thinking?!

 

So these things happened, and I tried to get out, and each time I got talked back round, until the last one. When it was one time too many and I wasn’t going to do any more of this any longer. And of course I was “abandoning him when I most needed it,” and I “didn’t understand that love meant supporting people through their problems.”

In the end, you can’t be told by someone else to get out. You have to be ready to do it, and to have finally broken the feeling of dependency. You have to have grown tired of the romantic declarations and the apologies, as well as of all the horrific, bullying behaviour.

I’ve taken damage from it. I know that I still carry it around now, even if it lessens a bit every day. I was vindicated in my belief that, although he felt he “needed me” (which I accept, as narcissists can be as needy as anyone else) it wasn’t me he needed – it was someone. He very quickly found another girl to control; to syphon money away from; and no doubt also to cling to and expect admiration from when he needed it. And although I still feel sorry for him, I feel an awful lot more sorry for her, and for everyone else he damages in his headlong pursuit of his fantasy ideal life.

 

For anyone who wants to ask any questions or talk directly, I’d be really happy to. I don’t think there’s any replacement for the sharing of experiences and mutual support. So just drop me line – thesolitarygyth@hotmail.com

 

 

 

Just One Thing… An Advent Calendar of Bedtime Procrastination

R and I have a bit of a ritual, developed over the last couple of years. It’s all a typical bedtime routine, with some jumping on the bed; some failing to get into pyjamas; some sudden request for food or drink; some haggling; a bit of “I forgot to do my teeth”; and finally, a kiss and a hug and a “Night night.”

But then, just as I am dancing away, carefree, to my own evening time to myself, comes the inevitable and dreaded phrase, echoing out of the darkness: “Mummy, there’s just one thing…”

Now seasoned parents will know that this is 99% of the time a ploy for attention. But because of that one time in one hundred when it isn’t (that time when it was actually another boy bullying him in the lunch hall, which he hadn’t told anyone about is a pretty good example) I usually sigh, and say, “What?” (Or, you know, tease him for the pathetic voice and then ask what the matter is… I feel this is an important learning point for children. They obviously need to know when they’re opening themselves up to ridicule. And if that isn’t actually good for them, it definitely makes me feel better.)

I decided it might be interesting to record what those “one things” actually are for a while. They range from the heart-rending to the seriously ridiculous. Given that the time-period basically coincided with advent, here’s a little advent calendar of late-night whinges, random thoughts, emotional blackmails and occasional bizarre meanderings:

  1. Earlier on, when you said I had to go to bed, it upset me a bit and that’s why I didn’t want to read a story. But now I do actually want to read a story and it’s making me really sad because I always have a story unless I’ve been naughty, and I hadn’t been naughty. It was you being mean to me, so really that’s you being naughty.
  2. You said I could have another biscuit at lunchtime and then I forgot so I only had one.
  3. What does arse mean?
  4. Today we had the rhyme rocket in and they’re these people who do poetry, and they come into school and do all sorts of rhymes for everything, like “jam” and “ham,” and then we had to think of rhymes too, so I thought of loads, but I didn’t get picked when I had some so I started to put my hand up all the time, and then I only actually got asked when the rhyme was with “through” and the only thing I could think of quickly was “poo” and then one of the teachers told me not to be silly. But I wasn’t actually being silly, it was just the first word that came into my head, which wasn’t my fault.
  5. Today at school, Amelie told me because we were going to get married, which she always says, she could tell me a big secret, which was showing me her kilt. Only when she showed me the piece of paper, it wasn’t a big secret, it was just a drawing of a grid with “KILD” written underneath. I don’t even know what a kilt is, but I don’t think that’s what it looks like OR how you spell it.
  6. You know that nightmare I had before that I wouldn’t tell you about? I’m ready to tell you about it now.*
  7. I accidentally buttoned up my onesie with my willy sticking out.
  8. How does your brain work?
  9. I haven’t seen you very much today and I need a bit more time with you. If you come and snuggle in bed with me, that will make me feel more cared-about.
  10. I can’t think of anything nice to think about to go to sleep. Last time you said if I thought about Legoland that would make me get to sleep, but I was making a list of rides in my head that I wanted to go on next time and because I went to sleep I forgot them, so now I won’t know.
  11. I’m still hungry.
  12. My foot’s sore.
  13. I keep thinking about not being able to get to sleep.
  14. Do you think Harry Potter could use his own blood in a polyjuice potion to make himself look like Lord Voldemort? Or would it just make him look like himself?
  15. I wanted to play with lego but I forgot because I was drawing pictures, so now I haven’t got to play with lego at all today.
  16. Earlier, when you called me a grumpy-grump, it actually really upset me. I don’t like being teased when I’m tired.
  17. I don’t want to have a healthy breakfast tomorrow because it’s late. I’ll be tired in the morning so I should probably have some Nutella to make me feel better.
  18. Did you hear me do a fart? It was a sneaky small fart. It sounded a bit like a mouse.
  19. I actually wanted some more tea but you distracted me so I’m really hungry now.
  20. When I’m asleep, do the elves walk on me?
  21. I’ve got a loose nail on my finger, but I don’t want you to touch it because you might make it hurt.
  22. I thought of a joke, but I can’t remember it.
  23. I did a really nice thing for Granny but I don’t think the elves saw.
  24. What if I get out of bed because I have a bad dream and I need you, and Santa comes while I’m out of bed, and then he has to come and put the presents in your room, and then I go back to my room later and I don’t get any presents and you get all my presents?

If nothing else, I think this all sums up exactly how much suffering one six-year-old boy can endure in silence for 23.5 hours of the day. What a hero…

 

*This one was actually worth hearing. His nightmare was that he was outside the bathroom and I was having a shower, and then he could hear me crying and the shower had turned into a strange sucky thing with a white square which was from another bad dream he’d had, and I was going to get sucked up by the shower. Which does, in fact, finally explain why he never lets me have a shower in peace. I always thought he was popping in to check I hadn’t turned the shower on and then got a load of lego out to do without him.

 

If you enjoyed this, don’t forget to like and share. Or try a few other related posts like The Thirty Things Guaranteed to Cause a Five-Year-Old Melt-Down or How Not to Travel With a Four-Year-Old.

26 Things Which are Not OK Even Now We’ve Voted for Brexit

I’m pretty sure all of this will not apply to 99% of the people reading. And I’m sure that most of you are going to be in agreement.

But even if it’s for that 1%, or just to reaffirm what is and isn’t ok (since that seems to have become a little muddy of late) here is my list of what is not ok:

 

  1. Abusing people for their race on a bus because they asked you to stop swearing.

2. Throwing beer at someone after you abused them on a bus because they asked you to stop swearing.

3. Racist abuse. Full stop.

4. Any kind of racism of any sort whatsoever.

5. Feeling magically entitled to ownership of and rule over everyone in your country because of an accident of birth.

6. Posting hate mail through the letterboxes of people who come from other countries.

7. Telling anyone to “go home” unless, for example, they are drunk and you’re talking about their actual home nearby, and you’re doing it to help. You should still consider adding “please” or framing it as a suggestion, by the way. Because these are basic manners.

8. Any twitter post which smugly celebrates the fact that you were squeezed out in this country instead of another.

9. Any attempt of any kind to attack other people on social media, regardless of their ethnic background, their country of birth, their political or religious beliefs, their sexuality, their hair colour, their gender, or their choice of outfit. This is STILL NEVER GOING TO BE OK IN SPITE OF BREXIT.

10. Stealing. It’s still against the law. Even if you’re stealing from people you deem not to belong here.

11. Physical violence. Yup, still against the law.

12. Making everyone else who is British utterly ashamed that we have the same kind of passport.

13. Hate-fuelled untruths.

14. Hate-fuelled untruths printed on buses.

15. Hate-fuelled untruths spouted at the remaining EU member states (you know exactly who you are…).

16. The printing of hate-fuelled lies on the front page of Britain’s best-selling newspaper.

17. Sudden hypocritical denigration of the racism caused by the hate-fuelled lies printed on the front page of your paper over the preceding few days.

18. Any attempt to maintain that austerity and the NHS crisis is to do with an influx of predominantly young, working-age people from other countries instead of a financial problem (caused in the large part by the elite from our own country) compounded by a government determined to cut taxes whilst also cutting services (pretty few of them are immigrants, too).

19. The grouping of people into “immigrants” and “British” based on what they look like.

20. The grouping of people into “immigrants” and “British” based on what languages they speak

21. The grouping of people into “immigrants” and “British” full-stop.

22. This happening:

Screenshot 2016-06-29 13.18.48

 

23. And this:

Cl-XMkEXEAAedD4.jpg

24. A failure to have any decent human sympathy for people fleeing war and conflict.

25. A belief in your god-given right to decide who is in and who is out – except for your right to decide whether BRITAIN is in or out, which you’ve already exercised your right to.

26. Hiding behind vacuous statements about “decent people” being disadvantaged by any other group of people who have not personally attacked them in any way. Personally, I don’t think that “decent” covers anyone who wants to discriminate racially.

27. The spreading of any agenda which does not have, at its heart, tolerance and humanity.

The Thirty Things Guaranteed to Cause a Five-Year-Old Melt-Down

I spotted and re-read The Thirty-Nine Things Guaranteed to Cause a Four-Year-Old Meltdown a few days ago (and by the way, it’s sad how often I do this. Mostly to think “Hey, I was funny!” and occasionally to think, “Ouch. How did I miss the five typos?!” The life of a tortured writer…). Re-reading it made me think about how things have changed now that R is five-going-on-six.

But actually, it partly made me think that things don’t change all that much at all. The triggers have changed, but the meltdowns are still there. Less often (partly because he goes to bed earlier now) and less long-lasting, but just as heartfelt. Because it’s terribly, terribly hard sometimes being a small boy.

So here’s an updated list – the thirty things guaranteed to cause a five-year-old melt-down. Either it’s a shorter list because he’s getting older or I’ve started to zone out when some of them happen.

Any counter-comments from other parents much welcome. Or, you know, if you have boyfriends, girlfriends, friends, etc. who are just as bad, by all means post away.

  1. He accidentally turned off his kindle.
  2. His kindle ran out before his audiobook finished.
  3. He tried to charge his kindle but the charger wouldn’t go in the kindle because it was actually the charger for Mummy’s Macbook and now it’s jammed into the squidgy casing of the kindle.
  4. He put the wrong number on a page in his non-fiction book about traffic lights
  5. He tore out the wrong-numbered page from the non-fiction book about traffic lights he’s writing and then realised he’d written on the other side of the page
  6. He tore out all the pages of his non-fiction book-in-progress about traffic lights and put them in the bin and now he wants them back in his notebook
  7. I came upstairs when he shouted not to in a muffled voice that I couldn’t hear properly.
  8. When I came upstairs I saw him in the middle of getting himself ready for bed all by himself as a surprise and I ruined it.
  9. I wasn’t that impressed with his surprise given it actually meant he had his bottom out and was lying on his bed reading a book about aliens because he’d forgotten what surprise he was doing and started reading
  10. There was no more nutella.*
  11. I had the last of the last nutella, which means it’s my fault that there isn’t any more and I should have known it was gone and got some more from the shop.
  12. It was time to stop playing with the lego.
  13. When tidying away the lego, I told him off for not in fact putting away the lego but driving all the cars up the bookshelf.
  14. He broke one of his cars trying to drive it up the bookshelf.
  15. He didn’t actually choose to play over reading a story at bedtime, he changed his mind and now he wants a book.
  16. I won’t let him read a book when I KNEW he really wanted to read a book and SHOULDN’T have let him play instead and now I’ve made him really upset.
  17. It’s five thirty in the morning and I won’t come downstairs and play lego.
  18. His seatbelt won’t go in.
  19. He told me his seatbelt wouldn’t go in and I asked him to stop fiddling with the string he’d tied to the headrest whilst trying to do the seatbelt, because it might help.
  20. He’s now got the string he tied to the headrest tangled in the seatbelt because I distracted him.
  21. He didn’t want that shape of pasta.
  22. I put the lego piece in the wrong place.
  23. He wasn’t taking the M & Ms, he was counting them and now I ruined it.
  24. He can’t go to bed because he’s still really hungry.
  25. He didn’t want a banana, he wanted something else so he’s still really hungry.
  26. I overtook the Alfa Romeo while he was trying to draw its logo.
  27. The Alfa Romeo logo is too small to see properly and he’s ended up doing a scribble on his page of car logos.
  28. He dropped his biscuit.
  29. He didn’t want another biscuit, he wanted that biscuit.
  30. It’s still bedtime.

 

 

* So this one didn’t change.

** I hope the picture is appreciated. My laptop is FULL of these because he opens up photo booth every time I leave it unattended.

How Not to be a Pushy Cambridge Mummy

As is probably obvious to those of you who’ve read a few of my parenting posts, the best way of summing up my “style” is probably “Making it up as I go along.” And I’m going to make the basic assumption that most parents do this. Nobody seriously has time for parenting books when they’re struggling to have enough clean small-boy pants for the morning and remember who’s picking him up later on.

So I basically wing it. But it’s like a swan. On the surface of it is an “I’m sure it’ll be fine” flapping about (people forget that swans flap), while underneath it all are the paddling feet of “Oh my God, I totally did that wrong.”

Beyond being afraid of the obvious ones, like the fear of turning R miserable, arrogant, unfeeling, psychotic, TV addicted, unhealthy, smarmy, angry, spoilt or so nerdy that nobody can talk to him, I have The Fear. It’s the Cambridge Mummy fear, and it’s always there under every interaction.

The trouble is, I see pushy parenting whenever I go out in this fine city of ours. Yesterday, I actually also saw a mum sitting outside Starbucks with her two-year-old, smoking whilst on the phone, and handing him rizla papers to play with. So I’m not saying pushiness is the worst.

However, when Horatio or Pandora is being put forward as some kind of a poetic genius to the store assistants of John Lewis, it makes me cringe first – and then wonder if I’m unknowingly as bad afterwards.

So here is my self-made guide on avoiding being a pushy Cambridge mummy. And remember, it doesn’t relate to anyone I actually know. I promise.

  • Don’t name your child Horatio or Pandora.
  • If too late for no. 1, work very hard on a nickname that sticks.
  • Never complain that your child is not on the more difficult reading books like some of the children, because he “Concentrates better if he’s stretched” and needs moving up.
  • Never compliment your child’s genius to another parent unless said parent is related to you and dotes on your child as much as you do (and note here, even if they are, they probably don’t…)
  • If your child is complimented by another parent, say something rude about them to take away from the compliment. Avoid doing this loudly enough for the child to hear. (This is my method, and it seems to work well. Other answers on a postcard.)
  • Don’t let your five-year-old add “apogee” to their list of tricky words for school. (OK, this was my bad. But it’s off Bedknobs and Broomsticks, so I’ve decided it’s allowed.)
  • Never google things like “What to do if my child is a genius” whilst in Starbucks and your laptop is in full view, and your child is at that point stabbing the table with a bent straw and screeching that it’s broken.
  • Don’t tell them about Oxford, Cambridge and Mensa when they are four.
  • Don’t dress them in a suit to look round their reception class.
  • Don’t decide that they have a gluten intolerance just because Gwyneth Paltrow’s children apparently have one.
  • Never tell other parents that you don’t do playing at the park, you do edu-play.
  • Don’t snigger when your child puts down an adult and is actually right. (I am useless at this one. Absolutely useless.)
  • Don’t buy all their clothes from Joules.
  • Don’t take them around Waitrose and declaim at all the high GI food they should be avoiding.
  • Don’t take them to more than one yoga class in a week.
  • Don’t insist that they count to twenty out loud (aged three) in front of your group of friends for a seriously tenuous reason based on the number of biscuits they dropped.
  • Avoid encouraging them to name their dolls after Salinger characters.
  • Don’t declare to everyone who will listen that your child has only ever enjoyed classical music.
  • Put away the rubix cube.

 

Fifteen TV Programmes that are Hugely Improved by Adding Words

I’m not sure this is really a blog post. It all started as a game to while away a long car journey. I think there was something that I thought would be better if it could be “To the death” and then I started thinking about adding words or letters to all TV programmes.

But now it’s become a THING in my head, and I can’t stop adding in text whenever anyone mentions anything that’s on TV. So I thought I’d share some of my favourite concoctions with you in the vain hope that they might end up getting produced:

 

Come Dine With Me and Putin

Contestants smile and make polite conversation while simultaneously attempting to impress their hosts and worrying about what’s in the sushi.

 

The Crystal Meth Maze

Each week, a team enters the vast, booby-trapped meth lab of a bald dealer and attempts to earn enough crystal meth to fuel a crazed, gold-and-silver-token-grabbing trip in a giant crystal ball.

 

The Ex-Wife Factor

Simon Cowell is tied to a chair, blindfolded, and made to listen to performances from all his exes. He must correctly identify each or be slapped about.

 

The Medieval Apprentice 

A group of hopefuls battles through a series of gruelling tournaments to win the right to be apprentice to the tyrannical Sir Alan of Amstrad. Each week, Sir Alan chooses the worst performing would-be apprentice and fires them over the wall of an enemy castle with a trebuchet.

 

Strictly Come Morris Dancing

Does it need an explanation…?

 

The Big Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Theory

Three geeks share a flat with a flying car. Nobody understands each other, but we can all laugh at the geeks because it’s allowed.

 

Drug Deal or No Deal

Contestants are offered a range of unidentified illegal highs by an increasingly desperate Noel Edmonds. Who will strike the multi-million-pound Colombian pure jackpot?

 

The Antiques Roadshow Comes to Brixton

The nation’s favourite antiques enthusiasts value the exciting finds that Brixton’s inhabitants found in someone else’s attic, whilst outside, the charming locals introduce them to the idea of cars on bricks.

 

Holby City Council

Life or death scenarios prevail as a group of valiant, under-staffed council workers attempt to deal with the daily struggles of the Holby area.

 

Family Planning Guy

Peter is a family planning adviser with no discernible knowledge of contraception. Hilarious antics ensue as he attempts to convince everyone that babies grow under bins. Meanwhile, a bin with the mind of a genius adult teams up with a dog to thwart him at every turn.

 

Kung Fu Master Chef

A group of professional chefs must do battle against the clock whilst cooking the perfect roux. They are judged on both flavour and deadly violence. Contains strong language.

 

Chess Match of the Day

Join the commentators as they take you through the most gripping, exhilarating matches, square by square. And then give you a run-down of it afterwards in real time.

 

Escape to the Country that Has No Extradition Agreement with the UK

A group of happily married crime duos looking to retire in a hurry seeks the help of the enthusiastic presenters to find the perfect overseas getaway.

 

How I Met Your Grandmother

I don’t think I want to think about this one any more deeply.

 

If you enjoyed this, don’t forget to click the “like” button – and follow the blog, too, for lots of ridiculous lists and stories of minor disaster.

 

 

 

Thirteen Things my Five-Year-Old Really Should have Thought Through

I’m told that children have to learn a certain amount by experience, and that you can’t tell them everything. Somehow this is part of the learning experience, and is healthy and good.

I find myself doubting this when I see my small boy stuck, for example, in a cardboard box he decided to sit on the edge of. It doesn’t look the most educational position to me. But I’m doing my bit for parenting. I try to take photographs whilst I let him learn.

So here are the ten times since turning five that R really should have thought things through:

  1. The time when he piled up eight sofa cushions on top of the sofa, climbed on them, and ended up hanging off the curtain rail, which came out of the wall on one end.
  2. Before squeezing “glue” all over a piece of wrapping paper, and then discovering that it was actually white chocolate icing.
  3. That time when he poured himself a really big glass of milk, carried it to the carpet, saw the lego, forgot the milk and kicked the glass over literally ten seconds later.
  4. When he said “I never want to play with you again, EVER” – to the one person he lives with all the time…1795354_735734149851275_4171096334895559046_o
  5. The time he decided he didn’t want to eat a tuna sandwich and hid it down the edge of the sofa cushion, and then took the cushion off a week later to build a fort and got mouldy tuna sandwich all over his hair.
  6. Before he carefully drew his own picture, watched his older friend draw her own careful one, and then scribbled all over hers, laughing.
  7. The time he shredded all the remaining loo roll and chucked it down the loo WHILST doing a poo.
  8. When he tried to balance his small chair on his skateboard and then sit on it.
  9. Before drawing a cylindrical rocket with two circular boosters on the bottom.
  10. Before forgetting he was two years older than last time and laboriously squeezing himself into this car…Rufus squeezed into small car
  11. Before jumping out at me SO MANY TIMES in one day that I did it back and made him cry.
  12. The time he filled the bath up to about an inch off the top, got out, and then stood on the edge and jumped in.
  13. When he actually let me count to three before getting into bed.

If you enjoyed this post, don’t forget to like and follow! You may also be interested in The Eight Most Embarrasssing Things my Three-Year-Old has Said; The Thirty Things Most Likely to Give Me Parent Rage; How Not to Travel With a Four-Year-Old and The 39 Things Guaranteed to Cause a Four-year-old Melt-Down. 

Ten Days, Ten Dates

This is something suggested to me a while ago, and I’ve been mulling over doing it. There have been short periods of time when it wouldn’t have been appropriate, but I figured it’s time to take advantage of the current single status and hit the dating scene purely in order to provide you all with blogging entertainment.

So to that end, between now and Christmas I am going to go on ten dates with randomly selected people. I want to do this without once going on a dating site (since we all know my few disastrous forays into that realm) and without knowing who I’m going to be meeting up with for maximum hilarity.

Here’s Where You Come In

The best way to get set up is by your friends, apparently, and in this group I’m including Facebook and Wattpad and blogging friends. Friends know you best. So they both know the sort of person you’d meet up and have a lovely evening with, and the kind of person you are going to clash with BIGTIME, and end up having some kind of a showdown with.

I’m leaving this up to all of you. You can message me on Facebook or email gytha@outlook.com to arrange the details with me, without once telling me who I’ll be meeting, or why you think it would make good blogging material. If you want to set me up with someone you think is quite nice, that’s fine. Or with a mega-nerd so it’s awkward, that’s fine too. With a massive fascist is also fine. I can promise no actual physical violence. You can even send me on a date with someone I know if you think it’d be funny or if the individual and I are overdue a catch-up.

I will then blog about each and every encounter, without ever mentioning names (unless the date wants me to) or too many identifying features. What I will promise is a good few anecdotes and disasters, and enough of an insight into the date and into me to make it genuinely good reading.

I can also promise that the date will not have a totally terrible time. Pain in the ass that I am, I can be relatively entertaining and nice when I want to be, and I will also promise to dress up nicely, depending on venue.

A Few Rules:

I’m not expecting any free dinners. Bills will be split equally. I’m big on that.

Dates will ideally be in Cambridge. If they are in London or other nearby places, I might have to suggest a slightly different split of the bill in order not to destitute myself following the train fare.

No actual psychopaths, please. I’d like to still be around to blog about it the next day. I may also live blog a few details at the time. Or live tweet or something.

There will be no bad behaviour on a first date, which means the blog will maintain its PG rating. Just so everyone is clear what a “date” means. I have standards, you know…

I am boringly heterosexual, so would ideally like dates with guys.

This all relies on the fabulous people I know getting involved, so please step in as soon as you like. I’m looking forward to getting these set up and to what disasters I can come up with.

Let the chaos commence…

 

 

 

Flesh and Fabric – Poetry Collection

I wanted to post up my Flesh and Fabric poetry collection, beginning with a few recent ones and moving backwards.

I can’t promise any consistency of subject matter beyond what-I-felt-like-writing, but that’s probably about par for the course…

  1. Scratches

There’s a tree

that overhangs my road.

It smells a little bit the way

you taste.

 

It’s a tricky,

hard-to-pin-down smell.

It reaches out to me

on the wind,

enticing, only to turn sour

as I draw close.

 

I want to bury my face in it –

I want to cut it down.

I could so easily

touch its glossy

leaves

and believe

that their vivid colour

will be enough.

 

I could happily burn it

and dance in its ashes.

Smear them on my face and

into

my hair.

Revel in the charred,

tangy reek

and carry an ash-scent version

of you

as I left.

 

But I’m afraid

of it never washing off.

That I will carry the traces

of you

forever.

 

There’s nothing left

except to walk

another way.

To drag myself

the longer,

darker way

home.

 

Read on: 2. Silk

 

 

 

Surviving Single-Parenthood when Everything Is Awful

One single-mum’s 13-point guide to just-about-scraping-by

I don’t think there’s been anything in my life I can equate to how hard it is to just hold my s*** together when I’ve felt like I’m falling apart. There are going to be times in every parent’s life when the poo hits the air-con: the times when you want to swear, and rant, and throw everything in and go to bed/Fiji/the nearest wine bar and you aren’t allowed. And that’s tough. But I’ve been thinking a lot about the 1 in 4 of us experiencing mental health, and realised that means that out of all the parents and single-parents in the world, there are going to be other people who’ve spent a long time trying desperately to keep their head above the water while being the best parent they can manage to be.

I have absolutely no qualifications in this. If there were single-parenting exams, I’d like to think I’d manage a B but luckily nobody has suggested them yet. However, if you’d like to feel that there are at least some other people going through the same rubbish, then read on. I’ve got a few pointers, and maybe you’ll have some too.

1) Stop giving yourself such a hard time

It’s the first on the list because it’s the one I fall foul of most often. I always want to be super-mummy; and also super-rower, super-cyclist, super-writer, super-friend and super-well-turned-out. None of these are easy, and doing them all together is tough. It’s ok to go back to bed sometimes, or to do a shorter run than you’d intended. Most days, getting out of the house with Rufus actually dressed in non-pyjamas (ideally clean ones, too) feels as much as I can manage. It’s a bonus if I am also wearing some form of clothing. When things are really bad, the process ends up taking forever, because it will frequently be interrupted by me standing completely still in indecision, being gripped so hard by worries about what I have to do that I can’t function, or being unable to cope with a small wiggling, complaining, not-getting-dressed-person without snapping. So this is where point 2 comes in…

2) Start being proud of the small things

Don’t go overboard with this. It’s difficult to take yourself seriously if you give yourself a big thumbs-up for putting on a sock. But instead of getting into the car in the morning having finally levered the two of us out, and immediately starting to worry about being late; about how I have so much to do today and have already lost time; about that appointment I was supposed to book but haven’t – I try very hard to take a minute to think “We made it this far. Go me!”

3) Ask for help

Obvious one, but surprisingly difficult to get right. There’s no way you’re going to feel good about yourself if you’re asking for it all the time. And frankly, you’re just going to piss everybody else off. They have their own stuff to deal with, and that’s valid too. But when things are really, really bad, and you don’t know how you’re going to get through the day, you can’t seem to respond to your four-year-old telling you things without him shouting “MUMMY!!!” eight times and then resorting to using your first-name, and when you sit staring at the lego and think that if you have to get up and make something with him and praise him for it and make whooshing noises whilst it flies around, you might scream, then it’s time to put out The Call. A small respite to retreat to bed or go and do some work without interruption can sometimes be all that you need. I’m lucky enough to have Rufus’s Dad not too far away, and the grandparents, too – and although they often have e.g. late shifts, etc., they are genuinely happy to help when they can. The only thing I lack is someone with a car to give me an occasional break from the nursery run, but I’m working on it.

4) Tell your child/children that you love them

It’s not your fault if the way your head is makes you distant now and then, or grumpier than usual. And it’s not your fault if the small people in your life pick up on this. But you can make it a lot, lot better if you apologise for it and reinforce (to the point where they tell you “I KNOW Mummy, you always tell me”) that you love them. This is harder when they are smaller, but then cuddles can do a lot too. I’ve actually realised recently that if I snap and then say “Sorry for snapping. I’m just tired and not feeling great. It’s not your fault, I shouldn’t have done it” then R understands and feels better about it. Which makes me feel a bit better about it. I’m still going to feel inevitable guilt about the fact that I am providing inconsistent parenting and boundaries, and about the fact that he’s not getting my full attention in the way he should, but talking about it openly helps.

5) Work out what is making you feel worst, and be harsh in removing it from your life 

If it’s an apparent friend who isn’t one, or an activity that is pressuring you, or even a job that is making you miserable, then trust me – it isn’t worth it. For me, this was particularly tough because I have twice come to realise that the relationship I was in was having a really detrimental effect on my mental health. When something shifts from being a support to being something that makes you happy to something that is eating away at your self-esteem or is stressing you out – and that goes on and on and on even after you’ve raised your concerns – then you have to get out. It doesn’t matter if the individual involved isn’t trying to do it. If they can’t (or won’t) change, and it’s a major cause of unhappiness, it has to go. This is probably the hardest thing to do, because as well as knowing you’re going to hurt them, you’ll probably be used to turning to them for a hug when you need it. Sometimes your self-esteem will make it almost impossible to face up to being single, and you may find the thought of them with someone else makes you feel actually ill. You’ll also have the knowledge that there will be a good while where you will feel actively worse, because you will miss them; you will doubt you’ve made the right decision; you’ll be facing more on your own. But gradually, the feeling will fade, and you will start to feel better. And let’s face it: if it makes you a better parent, then it’s a no-brainer.

6) Regulate your caffeine and sugar intake

I can’t stress enough how much simple chemical effects can make you feel on the edge of an abyss. Caffeine may seem like a good way to wake up and get moving, but if you’re struggling with depression and/or anxiety, then once it wears off, you’re going to feel bad. I have actually got to the point where I couldn’t see any good anywhere in the world, for no reason other than a sudden lapse in strong coffee. And if that had happened on a really bad day, I’m not sure what would have happened. Sugar crashes are just as bad. It’s easy to comfort-eat, but I feel a whole lot better if I restrict that to bread and nuts and leave off the sweet stuff. Plus it has the added advantage of meaning I don’t feel bad about being a greedy fecker. Win all round! (NB – regulating your child’s sugar intake can really help too…)

7) Get out and see your friends – even when it’s tough

So often, I really don’t feel like doing this. It seems like too much of a drain of my terrible energy reserves, and it looms up like a big ugly scary toothy monster (which says nothing about my friends, I promise. None of them are in any way big, ugly, scary or toothy – even the rowers). But the moment I’m out of the house with the people I care about, I feel better. They give me something, and I talk about (and think about) things that aren’t just “I’m not coping,” “I haven’t done enough work today – how am I going to manage it all?” or, you know, 1001 ways to torture publishers who leave you hanging around for a response. And if – as I found recently – doing this on one really important occasion means that you pretty-much-for-the-first-time-ever can’t row the following morning and have to find a sub, or you have to postpone a playdate, or you haven’t tidied the house when someone comes round, then that’s ok. If anyone has a real, genuine problem with you letting them down for a reason they can’t be bothered to understand, then they aren’t worth your time.

8) Get out with your little people

It’s another hard one. As I mentioned in point 1, the dressing routine, etc. can be horrendous. But just knowing that you’ve taken them somewhere that’s a bit special makes you feel like a better parent. It gives you something to talk about with them that the will engage with, too, and hopefully save you from having to pretend to be a Mummy Pterodactyl in a duvet nest. And on the really plus side, you might tire the monsters out and actually get some rest later…

9) Get them to bed

…linked to point 8: it often seems easier to just let a child stay up and occupy themselves. At the end of the day, when you feel like you’ve exhausted yourself by just trying to keep it together for the last 12 hours, putting on the TV and sitting on the sofa staring into space while your four-year-old watches it have a siren-call. But you know you’re storing up trouble. It’s harder in the short term to do the bedtime routine, but in the longer-term, you’ll have a less-tired (and therefore easier to deal with) child; you’ll have some evening to yourself; and you’ll feel like a better parent. And following on from point 2, try and get other people to do the bedtime routine now and then.

10) Stop looking at your phone for validation

This is relevant for everyone who is struggling a bit, but it’s more significant when you’re a parent. Being unable to go five minutes without looking to see if someone’s messaged or emailed is not good for your relationship with your child, and it’s also totally pointless. Nothing in the world of the internets is going to make you actually feel like you’re worth something. Whereas there might just be someone in front of you who will. The flip side of this is that you can’t be the perfect parent all the time, and it is ok to do a little of your own thing when you have them with you. So my method of dealing with this is to give myself half-hour windows where the phone goes away. Usually it ends up being longer, because R and I get doing something, e.g. gardening, den-building, constructing a lego-tower to the ceiling. And then that feels like you’ve got over an addiction and should have some sort of a medal.

11) Dress up a little bit sometimes

It’s all about self-care, and it’s important. Catching sight of my reflection as I leave and seeing a nice-looking, well-presented person makes me feel like I must be on top of things. Whereas, by the way, the rest of the time, wear sports’-kit, have mis-matching socks, don’t brush your hair – and forgive yourself. You’re human.

12) Make lists of things you have to do

Blindingly-obvious thing to do, I know. But when super-anxious, it’s the one thing that goes out of the window. My mind instead flits between eight different things I should be doing, and I stand frozen thinking about them all, or start them all and don’t finish before another one occurs. My new list-method is a week-long one, because if you have a bad-day, a daily one makes you feel useless. I tick them off as I go, and if a day goes by without any being achieved, I try and squeeze in a super-easy one before bed. And if I don’t do any, I work out some for tomorrow and try to stick with it.

13) Keep doing things for other people

This is about more than just making yourself feel like a good person. It’s also about forcing yourself to think outside your own problems. Getting a sense of perspective is invaluable, and it’s unbelievably hard when struggling with depression. The other thing this does for you is to ensure that people don’t see you as a drain. It’s quite possible that isn’t what happens, but in my head, it might, and so this makes me positive that’s not everyone’s perception. On the flip side of this one, which is a really important thing too, don’t drive yourself into the ground for other people. If you really can’t drag yourself out to go and do someone’s shopping, or turn up with wine when someone is low, or take time out to have coffee when you are stressed beyond belief, then it’s also ok to say no. Other people are a fantastic support, but they can also be an inadvertent drain. So work out your boundaries and stick with them.

Above all, I guess, the message of all of this is to do the positive things and be proud of them. If you’re doing the single-parent thing, you’re already rocking, so embrace it with both hands, feel proud and keep doing it. I’d give you all a medal if I could.

If you’d like a lighter look at single-parenting, check out The 8 Most Embarrassing Things My Three-Year-Old Has Said and The 30 Things Most Likely to Give Me Parent Rage. 

Gytha is an award-winning novelist, scriptwriter, blogger and copywriter. You can follow her on Facebook or Wattpad, where her fantasy series The Fragile Tower and YA romance The Cupid Touch are currently available to read.