Tonight, as I watched fireworks from my bedroom window, I pondered how strange it was to be essentially imprisoned in your house after 7pm every evening. No option to pop out. No-one to fetch anything for you. I started to think about it too much and was gripped with a claustrophobic tightness that spread across my chest.
I told myself off for being weird then, but that made me think about just how weird I have become as a result of spending the best part of 17 months in my own company night after night. You don’t notice not speaking. Especially in daylight. You can’t believe you don’t utter a single word after the sun sets, apart from perhaps to tell the cat to piss off (because by then you have either been at work all day or looking after a disagreeable toddler all day and you are ratty and tired and every last drop of your sympathy and understanding has been used up). Sometimes spending these too-short evenings alone has been a good thing. In some ways I am more myself than I have ever been in all the years I have spent in ill-fated relationships, consistently failing to work out how to share my space and myself with another person who won’t behave exactly as I want them to. But I am also aware that I am withdrawing. I feel alienated and angry. Sometimes I hate everything and everyone for no good reason. I spend too much time on the Internet and social media, which – although my only real window to the world from my prison – ultimately leaves me feeling dissatisfied, like eating a huge pile of junk food and afterwards wishing you’d had a baked potato instead. I feel like a victim, a trait I absolutely deplore in other people. I have to remind myself that I am not a victim of anything. In so many ways I am the lucky one.
Recently I have wondered whether I would be a happier better mum if I gave up certain things and became a Normal Mum. If, once the toddler was in bed, I did a bit of housework, or cooked something that consisted of more than a packet of microwave rice or a hot cross bun warmed slightly in the toaster, or did some ironing in front of the telly, or planned the week’s meals, or cleaned the mud off the toddler’s shoes, or filled in a bit more of that baby records book, or unpacked and repacked work and nursery bags, or baked something the toddler could have as a snack, or got something out of the freezer to defrost, or did my nails, or ordered some birthday/Christmas presents online, or put the laundry away, or wrote a letter, or watched part of a film with a glass of wine.
Instead, I occasionally load the dishwasher before pretending I can’t see the rest of the mess, getting my pyjamas on and curling up on my bed with my laptop. I hang around on Twitter too long, window-shop on Spotify, send a couple of messages to friends on Facebook Messenger and finally open up the Word document that is my novel. I then spend a couple of hours staring at the screen, desperately squeezing words from my brain. I will sit there, veering from determination to despair, forcing myself to create something, changing the musical accompaniment several times in case that helps, getting sidetracked on YouTube and pretty much constantly thinking about eating. I go to bed too late with that screen haze feeling and a tightness behind my eyes. And the harder I try the more I cannot write this book.
My life is chaotic and untidy and exhausting, but what I feel like I am doing is valuable and important and much more worthwhile than having a relaxing evening doing bits and pieces or nothing at all. I need this: these three or four hours at the end of the day that I have slaved for. My me time. The only chance I get to pursue the one remaining dream that being a single parent can’t stop me from achieving.
But now I’m wondering whether this almost obsessive desire to “achieve something” in my spare time is doing more harm than good.
A week or so ago I was recovering from a sickness bug and not eating enough to get me much past 9pm. One night I went to bed straight after the toddler did and got 12 hours of wonderful blissful sleep. I was so well rested I started waking up at 4am, not tired enough to get back to sleep. I didn’t drink coffee or tea at all for 7 days. I probably looked better. I felt annoyingly cheerful at work. I wondered whether I was a more patient and energetic mum. I stopped feeling like a victim. I sunk into bed with a book and slipped happily off to sleep. Life was about nothing more than doing the mum thing or the work thing to the best of my ability. No aspirations. No projects. No targets. No pressure.
It was easier.
So maybe I should put the novel away for a while. Maybe it doesn’t matter as much as I think it does. Maybe I’ll give myself a break and get some rest. Because maybe the 17-month-old with the diva attitude currently sleeping peacefully in the next room means I am already achieving more every single day than I had ever thought possible.