When The Living Ain’t Easy

cairnSometimes it feels as though I don’t really know how to be alive.

Everyone else around me just seems instinctively to get it; they move through the rhythms of living with a surety that mystifies me.

How does life seem to come so seamlessly to some, while mine all too often looks like a tangled, ugly ball of loose, lumpy threads that it might be easier to toss away than attempt, painstakingly, to unravel and make neat?

I remember learning to write my name in primary school, joining dots on a photocopied worksheet until ‘H E I D I’ magically appeared. Except once I joined the dots all wrong and I can still remember the crushing taste of failure at five years old. My dots were disconnected and I couldn’t make my name appear; my identity lost, in the erratic act of careless dot-to-dot.

Maybe time has embellished the memory but I think I ripped that worksheet to tiny shreds, little fists fuelled by a five year old’s angry heart. All my life that feisty five year old has followed me around. She’s called Perfectionism. Sometimes I’m thankful for her presence – she gets things done; other times her fiery assertion that we should rip up all the mistakes and just start over can make being an adult somewhat awkward.

Some things can’t be started over but the universe’s great secret is surely that the imperfections – the flaws and failings which that five year old can’t seem to tolerate – are where the good stuff happens.

But sometimes I still can’t seem to join the dots. Perhaps the real challenge is to learn to love the mishaps we make instead.

“On the weekend I exhale. Sometimes I fall apart. Sometimes we argue. Sometimes we fall harder in love. Whatever happens there always magically seem to be enough moments to reconstitute me for another week. Magic,” writes a blogger whose work I’ve followed for years now.

My weekends aren’t like that. All too often I collapse on Sunday longing for the quiet predictability of work on Monday, yet regretting seeking solace in the thing the weekends were made to be an escape from. Do we work too hard, are our kids deprived of attention – hence the crazy-making antics – or am I just not cut out for life on earth?

I’m tired of Googling for answers on how to tackle sibling squabbles without banging heads together, and I feel at a loss as to how to make the moody, monotonous reality of daily life behind our flaking front door more closely resemble the shiny family snaps I share on Facebook.

Sometimes life just feels artless, and pretending otherwise serves no-one.

I’m tired of nursing awkward fears; that I’m doing life wrong, that I care too much about what people think of my kids – and by extension, me – and that I lack the capacity to be thankful for a life so free of true grounds for misery as to be almost unbelievable.

So I take each one, like a stone in my pocket forever weighing me down, and I place them on the ground before me until a sort of haphazard altar has appeared.

Then I dress my three-year-old for church with her grandparents and she babbles something joyously about hoping there’ll be chocolate eggs in the garden after lunch. My heart sinks for the disappointment that’s ahead, as I realise the last time she wore her Sunday best was for the Easter service. I can’t bring myself to tell her that this time, there are no hidden eggs waiting to delight her.

Then I exhale too, and plot to fill my newly light and stoneless pockets with Smarties to hide around the garden, and I resolve to tell the five year old to take a hike today.

Perhaps struggling to join dots is fearless nonconformity by another name, and what feels like mess is art, if you trouble yourself to consider it from a different angle.

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