10 January 2006

The Year The Adverts Made Me Cry

Get one thing straight. I don't do wimpy and hopeless. It is anathema to me - revolting and beyond all humiliation. Crawling under a rock to die cannot be an option - so when I say 'cry' I mean total, absolute exhaustion and anger and self pity and a whole host of ugly and furious emotions.

Dissatisfaction is a wonderful thing. That might sound perverse but only a vegetable would be content wherever it was, so its a good sign that you are alive, that you have goals, that it won't always be like this. As proof, if you've ever felt enraged at something and looked up to see others in the same position, blankly carrying on as if there was nothing wrong, don't they always look like sheep? Like cows vacantly chewing the cud?

I digress.

I've been over to Jess' site today. She is a 29 year old mother of three, and seriously pissed off at being stuck in a rut. Quite rightly, she used her blog to explain that in no uncertain terms. Very therapeutic this blogging malarky - allows you to spit all your fire so you can turn round gently when the kids want something else (only the tenth thing in the last five minutes) without doing your scary impression of Mrs Loony-lady-on-the-edge.

I nearly commented, I mean I have a whole load of things I did, approaching 30 and a single mum myself (jobless, even, then) and I wanted to share. Her friends who know her better seemed to be offering hugs more than advice, so I stopped myself.

It's a terrible temptation, when you know it all, to share with people whether they want you to or not, you know. Eeh, its hard being omnipotent. Ahem, see my life path number in the post below. That's me. Perfect. So no more bloody argument.

Here, anyway, are some of the certifiable behaviours I exhibited back then, just to have an outlet for self expression.
  1. I would find a bit of countryside, or by preference a railway bridge with a train going under, and SCREAM as loud and as hard as I could. Just one scream, one full power, pre-prepared, full venom Graaa type scream. Wonderful.
  2. Stack all the sofa cushions in a corner and talk to them abusively like they were the bastard son of a something that had irked me, whilst simultaneously kicking the shit out of them until I was right out of breath. Very important that. Anger produces adrenalin. Unexpressed adrenalin saps you of all your energy, and then starts screwing with your liver. Better out than in.
  3. Do the Jane Fonda Workout twice a day. I was on overdrive at this stage. OK creepy ex was cruising past the flat to check up on me /terrify me at 2 or 3 am, so I'd learned to listen hard enough from a third floor flat to hear wheels creeping up with the engine off, and then to hear the handbrakeso I'd know it was only a car. (The sound of a Honda CX500 engine can still make me jump, so can the sight of an old Polaris fairing.) I was keeping a large saucepan under the bed to defend myself and my kids, because I didn't want to stab him and go to jail. Anyway, in that state I was living on coffee, smokes and pure adrenalin, so Jane Fonda was easy. It backfired slightly in that it only took a month for me to simultaneously feel great and look like something from Belsen. Honestly. I was never built to be seven stone. It back-back fired because people assumed I was having a tough time, when for the first time in ages I felt in control, so suddenly I got a lot more attention and offers of help. Little things like tips about the local Gingerbread club, etc, invitations round for coffee. I guess when you look stern but healthy people don't like to pry - whereas when you look half dead the nicer ones step straight in.
The one time I really got upset was at Christmas, the first Christmas I had covered on my own, on benefits handouts. It was bad enough that my daughter's friend upstairs was showing off the newest trainers when all my kids had were stocking fillers - things bought for a pound, one at a time, over the whole year. My cousin found out I had no money even for pound shop decorations, and sent me a load, after I'd sat up all night with the sewing machine and crepe paper I cut into strips, running up old fashioned garlands and a few big bows. We had a secondhand fake christmas tree - 3' tall and made of silver tinsel, with the tinsel nearly all gone. I made parcels as decorations for it, using wrapping paper scraps and old matchboxes.

I was fine; I was even proud of what I'd achieved and knew that relatives would give the kids decent gifts. OK so some less insightful people thought I was a little weird insisting that satsumas and mince pies were only for Christmas day and shouldn't be eaten before that. I pretended it was family tradition. Really they were the only 'special' between meals stuff that I had, to make Christmas day stand out, and anyway not enough of them to start sooner. If someone had fed the kids full of either before the day, then that would have been all the difference and excitement sucked out of it.

The kids weren't so far from losing the other parent and as we lived in a flat I always humoured them by having the TV on while they got to sleep, just so that if they settled and then stirred, there wasn't that moment of fear that it was too quiet and I might have left them too.

I didn't really used to watch TV - I read or pottered about being an anal perfectionist housewife. I'm not naturally domesticated, but we are talking about a time in my life when spotting a streak of dirt or speck of dust was as much achievement and change of scenery as I was going to get. Once the kids were in bed, slam, that was me on lockdown for the night, indoors on my own, same as all single parents.

Sat on the living room carpet however, safe to get presents out of hiding and wrap them, but not safe to turn the TV off, I had no choice but to absorb what was spewing from the box in the corner. I was already offended by the Maxell cassette tape adverts - they would play a tape of a classical singer to make a crystal glass smash 'because the recording was so pure'. I was already angry beyond belief that advertising executives could smash something so expensive and then rub it in your face five times a day. That glass was worth, what, 100 tins of savers baked beans? 100 meals?

Once I'd got my dander up, once my anger and therefore my focus were aimed at the TV, then it hit me between the eyes and I couldn't tear myslef away. Sandemans Port, visually proclaiming that it was the best thing to go with your huge block of blue cheese on your huge and expensively adorned dining table in your huge detached house - you know, the one with the huge front drive for all your disgustingly wealthy looking relatives to park their BMWs and come in and share the bottle. Advert after advert after advert - it wasn't the product that got to me, ever, but the lifestyle they were selling and the assumption that joe ordinary could even aspire to faking that sort of sumptuous living, just once a year. The conclusion I came to that so many people had it all, and didn't even know they had it all, while I had sod all, had given the lot to my kids and it still looked like nothing. And I cried.

Please go over to Jess' site - Just Some Thoughts and say good things to her. Say 'Awww', say 'I promise it gets better', even say 'I'm with you girl the world IS full of bullshit', just say something, ok?

Oh and Jess, my mother once said to me that when your kids are ten years older, you look and feel ten years younger. I shrugged it off as a vacuous and unhelpful platitude, until about a decade later, I happened to realise she'd been right.

Hang on in there.


mommyguilt said...

Thanks for the heads up. I,too, can relate to Jess. I left her a comment and I blogged her (and your fabulous stress reducing suggestions - I have an Ex who did that too). I'm certain our wonderful community will step up one more time.

doris said...

There was an ad or two where they would smash a grand piano. There is nothing on this earth that could justify to me that it was OK to ever smash a musical instrument, even if it was only an image of a piano, which it wasn't.

Billy said...


Thanks for your help regarding south coast tourism. Much obliged.


supermom said...

I didn't sleep when he left either. (I live in the middle of nowhere and I watched too many horror movies....) He would also show up in the middle of the night (even though he had left me). The worst part was that I didn't have a driver's license, any family or friends in the area and was pregnant with our 4th biological child (I had 4 at home already because I had custody of my niece). Can't say things are a whole lot better. It will be 8 years this April that he left and I lived your Christmas story this year except I didn't cry. Why? I learned to always have hope. In the beginning, I cried in the dark after the kids went to sleep.
As far as Christmas this year...the kids got presents from my sisters, their father and my parents...so it wasn't that bad.
Right now, I am going through a yucky season...I have no choice, but to encourage myself!

zilla said...

Heading over to Jess's next.


You are a marvel. I have such respect for you.

jane said...

You are such an amazing woman with a heart that literally melts away pain. Your post reminded me of the poorest times when raising my kids alone, but in a different sense, they were also the richest.
For halloween one year, we had nothing for costumes, so I got a big silver trashbag, poked a hole in it, stuck it over my son's head & wala, he was a BUG! He absolutely loved it.
The tree you described sounds put together out of love, devotion & determination.
There is no word to describe how much I admire you.

fineartist said...

Difficult situations really get the creative juices flowing, yes?

I am heading off to Jess’s tomorrow, as it is late here, thanks for the point in that direction.