Home business, home education and health challenges: what makes us tic?

Oh dear. The words have dried up. Withered ashes in the cold, grey hearth of my creativity. How will I write today, without any words?

In my mind’s eye, I see the poor, soft, grey, shrivelled cinders curling slowly in the dying smoke of an exhausted imagination, all fight dissipated … extinguished.

Could it be those infinite, interminable, inky black nights, grinding my teeth into the white grit of sleeplessness?

Sandman’s dust gathers behind chalky eyelids, caking lashes together into a painful net, barring my sight.

Another hot, black cup of Jo steams its way through my arteries. My heart pumps painfully into action, but the fog in my brain barely wafts off its cranial foundation before settling back in force. The coffee steam seems to be condensing in my mind, clouding my concentration even further. My eyes steadfastly resist my urging.

Wake up! Look! See!

No. Stubborn pupils, they defy my supplication … and drift …

Fatigue has emptied my tissues of liquid. I am dry from the top of my once-creative brain to the tips of my bare, unpainted toenails. My skin is tissue paper, clinging half-heartedly to the juiceless flesh beneath.

Must. Drink. Water.

It is 10:45. I am late and behind, but I have already accomplished two things at work, and three at home. Perhaps that is better than none at all.

Of course it is.

I am committing to committing to far, far less. One thing per day in each sphere, and more is a bonus.

So I am already ahead of schedule.

The main thing I need to do today is send invoices and demand payment.

Then write and write and write … in the absence of words, how will I do that?

Perhaps I can through nouns, verbs and adjectives at the screen and hope for the best.

This week I finally comprehended that I really am not as good at Grammar Nazism as I thought I was. It’s always been “my thing”. The One Thing I can do better than anyone else. But no. It’s not. I was deluded and now, in retrospect, it’s hard to see how I ever held that notion. Or held it so long. Even in terms of people I know, I am, at best, one of the three best THAT I KNOW. And there are billions more of us out there. Well, millions, at any rate. Probably.

I expected to be deeply disappointed when I learned that truth. (Did I expect to find this out some day? I don’t know.) But in fact, I’m relieved. I’m just a person. As good as any, better than some, worse than many. Just me. As good as I can be right in this moment (with too little sleep and a very sore arm from too much typing (that’s not a thing!)).

I can experiment and practise and do more and new and different things and NEVER HAVE TO BE PERFECT. Ever. At all. I can just experiment an experience and BE.

It’s amazingly liberating.

Living on a tight budget can be hard. Maintaining optimism while doing so may seem impossible. But it can be done!

The most important thing to realise about being joyful on a shoestring budget is not to focus too closely on the shoestring’s length, or lack thereof. It is entirely possible to be comfortable and content on a small budget, but you need to not dwell on just how small that budget really is.

In our home, we have a lot of FUN. We laugh and play, and enjoy each other’s company whenever we can. We spend a lot of time facing away from each other, working on our various computers, and that’s not good. I wouldn’t advocate that. But the time we spend together is wonderful. The biggest part of my joy comes from my family and my friends.

The next thing is to make every part of life an adventure. Where we live is pretty far from most things, It’s off the beaten track and kinda remote and inaccessible. It means that getting anywhere (school, work etc.) is a little longer than it could be. It also means that having clients visit here is less than practical.

But it’s beautiful here.

We’re right on the edge of a nature reserve, so we see raptors soaring every day. We’ve had at least one mongoose in our garden – maybe more. We have night time visits from porcupines and owls. There are sometimes duikers outside, and we’ve even seen a few dassies (rock hyraxes), known for being extremely shy. There are humming birds in the reserve, a rare treat to see in action. And of course, we have monkeys.

We can go for long ambles in the reserve, trailing the crest of the hill and overlooking most of the main city, all the way to the sea.

How many people are lucky enough to say that?

So perhaps we’re a little remote, but it’s affordable and incredible to live here.

We can reframe our view of anything.

Our car is old and temperamental. But it’s cute and full of character. We’re blessed in that Papa Bear can fix it easily. And it doesn’t cost much in terms of fuel or repairs to keep it going. It’s true that you never know what to expect when you drive it, but that adds to the adventure and FUN of it all. We’re also not alone in being a single car family, nor in owning a jalopy. So we’re building a kind of a community around that fact, and there’s camaraderie and solidarity to be had in that, as well.

Noticing the world around us – mindfulness, in other words – is another brilliant way to develop and maintain joy. For instance, right now, the sun is struggling to make its appearance through the looming cloud banks. The landscape is black against a sky of lightening grey fluff. But there’s little about these clouds that looks soft or inviting. The sky behind those ominous volumes is the sickly yellow green of an old bruise, and it’s clear that Autumn has arrived.

Words are beautiful, and harnessing them to capture the moment, like a mental snap shot, engages all my senses and anchors me in the moment. I feel connected to where I am. I am not looking ahead, at the insurmountable mountains of work I have ahead of me. I am not looking behind, at the delicious slumber I left (and ache for) too early this morning. I am here, now. I am in the moment, and everything about this particular particle of day is mine. It is beautiful. I am rich.

Listening is Loving

Listen to hear.
Listen to understand.
Don’t listen to answer.
Don’t listen, waiting all the while to come back with something witty and insightful.
Sometimes, you might find yourself with a mouthful of teeth and nothing intelligent to say.
That’s okay.
Don’t be afraid to be honestly at a loss for words.
It’s not about getting your words out, after all.
It’s about getting their words in.
When you listen to hear – to understand – asking insightful questions, probing deeper, will come easily – naturally, even.
We send all of our lives desperately seeking to be heard, to be seen, to be acknowledged.
It starts with us. It starts with me.
If I want to be heard, I need to be hearing.
If I don’t make it a real and natural part of my daily habits, how will anyone else?
Maybe no one else even knows it’s a thing.
Maybe they’ve just never thought of it before. Or perhaps it’s so far removed from their experience that they have no template on which to model their behaviour.
Perhaps, if I do it, if I start to listen, to hear, someone else will notice, and start to do the same. Perhaps someone that person listens to, hears, will realise consciously what has happened – what great gift they’ve been given – and perhaps, just maybe, they’ll pass it on.
One by one, we could infect every person on the planet. We could share the listening until the whole world is listening, hearing. Seeing.
“It is impossible, when once you know another’s story, not to love that person.” Just imagine the love we could birth around the globe with this one simple act: to listen. Imagine the wars we could end with the simple choice to hear, to understand, instead of answering or being heard.

Just think.

Listening is loving.

And LOVE is a verb. It requires ACTION. Let’s take it.

Today is a change-of-season day. Summer clings to the sky, but it’s a half-hearted attempt at staying. She may love the African jungle, but the sophisticated, cosmopolitan North is calling. Autumn rouses slowly, pushing off the covers like a reluctant bear after a satisfying hibernation. It’s just a little early for her fiery robes and the eddies of leaves that dance around our autumnal boots in March and April. But her eyes are open, and there’s just the faintest smell of fall-like morning breath. On the breeze, the softest whisper … “is it coffee time?”

I have always loved the magic of Autumn – once I decided to notice it. I had to write an essay for school, and it required a mental shift towards this season that, until that moment, I’d largely ignored as just another faded interlude on the way to Spring (my favourite) and Summer (the best of all). But there’s electricity in the air all Autumn long. The magical colours and crisp, cool zephyrs that lift those flakes of fire and wave them briefly, gently, in front of your face, before whisking them off to entertain some other wayfarer with their bright and happy hues. The very real sense that the world is going to sleep – reluctantly, like an good natured but overtired toddler after too much Easter chocolate. (This is when we have our Easter down here in the South, after all.) The static electricity that adds a dimension of adventure to everything we dare to touch, as the air gets drier and drier.

Today is not Autumn. Not yet. “Officially”, it starts tomorrow. But this morning is painted in soft strokes of misty silver. The air is snaps with early-morning cold, even though it’s nearly 9AM. The song of birds is quieter than it was at dawn, and blanket of fog lends an ethereal, otherworldly silence to everything it touches.. There’s a sense of quiet anticipation in the air, and I find myself looking forward to what the next quarter may bring.

The things that matter most

Sunlight dapples leopard print on the over-long grass. Shadows dance between the blades, a spontaneous game of hide and seek as they play with the bugs and birds and morningness. A cool gust lifts the dew for a moment – just long enough for the sun to touch it with his brush of magic. Solar sorcery vapourises the tiny water drops. A soft, otherworldly cloud hovers just above the earth, watering the ground that gave it life.

Mist creeps in on kitten feet. Indolent as a tom cat, it crawls onto my car, curls up, and takes a nap. The windscreen wipers cannot budge the lazy foggy feline – just damp enough that I cannot see; too dry to let the wiper blades glide across the glass.

The early morning is a cotton wool cocoon, cosseting me close in a hazy hug. Every sound is dampened by the drifting dew. The artificial quiet is a balm to my crowded senses.

Distant dogs celebrate the joy of being alive. A postman! Let’s greet him! A monkey! Let’s chase him! Cars! Let’s catch them! Dogs! Let’s call them! Every moment of being is joy and energy for them, and they waste no time in declaring it to the world. Their barking is a rhythmic staccato, just far enough from my window to act as a helpful metronome, propelling the day towards its crescendo.

In my office, there’s no sound but the dependable ticking of the clock, and my favourite sound of all: fingers tapping the keyboard. Let’s write some words!

Actually, my favourite sound is the sweet voices of my darling girls. Their laughter is the music of angels, the birth of fairies, the joy of life itself. Exuberant and unrestrained in the fresh innocence of childhood, it fills the hidden corners of the soul with vigour and happiness. Who can help but smile in the face of such unabashed enjoyment of being?

Their soft whispers in the night, giggling after hours, sharing deepest secrets, telling stories, imagining universes far from ours in every possible way. Their sweet trust as they crawl into bed with me after a scary dream. Their fiery outrage as they stand their ground, defining their personal boundaries, defending what they believe. The trust with which they share their thoughts and ideas – hoping for acceptance, understanding. Patiently conceding when we’re too busy. Always waiting for us to put down the phone, close the laptop, and listen. I am unworthy of their trust and patience and infinite forgiveness. I squander precious moments and miss out the big things with the small.

What would my life be like if I had only a year to live? Just 365 short days. What things would I do, and what would I stop? Yes, we still need to eat. But working an extra minute when I could be laughing with an angel – is that a worthy trade?

Really, I only have about 2000 weekends left. How will I spend them? If I stop worrying about the legacy I will LEAVE, and start thinking about each moment that I miss, what really matters then? Is it possible to meet deadlines AND play with children? Is it simply a matter of more realistic deadlines? Yes, I believe it is.

I need to start right now. I need to unpack my To Do list, break it down even further, and email each person on that list an honest and realistic explanation for the delay, and expected delivery date. And I need to keep those.

When that is done, I need to stop working every hour I’m awake, and start investing in my children. I think I’ll start with long walks in the bush, and leisurely afternoons painting. Maybe a day or two at the beach would suit, as well.

Yes, I think that is the solution. Trying with all my might to fit in another ten minutes here and there; trying so very hard to “just get through this lot” before I change my life: none of that is working. I am exhausted, demoralised, self-destructive and, frankly, fat. I feel I “deserve” treats for working so hard, and I resent every single impingement on my time. That changes today. Here. Now.

Curtain twitching

I’m peeking through the black drapes of sky like a curtain twitcher spying on the neighbours. Today wombles innocently about her business on the other side of the window of sky, while I cocoon inside my closed-in house of night.

The early dawn is softly silent. A thundering clock – silent as a tomb by day – beats the steady passage from night to day like a metronome, waiting for the conductor to tap his baton, so that today’s dawn chorus can commence.

It is indeed another day in paradise.

Soon the day will be here in force, bringing with it all the rough-and-tumble action of a busy family day. These few minutes are my meditation. My solitude. My peace. Mine.

Spilling words onto the screen empties and soothes my mind. Making the words beautiful feeds my soul. I’m sure it’s excellent practise.

It’s 5:07 and it won’t be long before the house wakes up. Golden, glowing, fuzzy-around-the-edges from recent dreamy slumber, little nymphs wander into my space and fill it with shiny auriferous light (isn’t that a wonderful word?). In their half-waking state, each nymph is a mystical conduit connecting my grounded reality to the magical land of sleep and dreams and truth.

In time with the sun’s dissipation of the mist swirling outside my window, day wipes away the external vestiges of their magic and renders them mortal.

But I know what lies within.

I see their mystery and enchanting truth.

Homeschool update

It’s been two weeks.

Red Riding Hood is taking strain at school. She says she hates going, and every morning is an anxiety filled knot. It builds in her like yeast in dough. She’s had a melt down at school and another one last night. Her arm hurts from writing. The noise overwhelms and distracts her. She can’t concentrate, and she is anxious. She is moody and withdrawn all the time.

She IS learning, and she’s slightly ahead of her age in terms of speed and cognitive skills. But the school is everything I didn’t want for them: regimented, noisy, overwhelming. They can only eat or drink during their breaks, something we very specifically did NOT institute in our “home school” as it was too restrictive and, in my view, unhealthy and unnatural. There’s a little bit of room for self-study and following rabbit trails of personal interest, but for the most part it’s very literally by-the-book.

They’re learning to write poetry, though. That’s gotta be a good thing.

Intriguingly, Goldilocks LOVES school. She’s battling to concentrate more than ever before, but she loves the learning and the routine. She’s a year behind where she would have been if she’d been in “regular” school, but she’s coping very well. Her writing, as ever, is legendary – at least in terms of content. The technical bits, obviously, need a lot of work. But less than before, so that’s good.

The thought of trying to do it myself again just overwhelms me. I am exhausted as it is, and when I see how much effort their new teacher invests, I know I don’t have the personal resources. In fact, I don’t have the personal resources for anything right now.

The great irony and awfulness is that I am actually considering putting Red on anti-anxiety meds to cope with the stress of school. Can you believe that?! It’s mental. It goes against everything I believe: regimented learning, controlled by a syllabus. Cattle-pen classes forcing kids together for extended periods without food or water. It’s a bright and happy and free place, but it sounds like Auschwitz.

And now I’m actually considering drugs.

Good grief. What have I become?

I sincerely hope my children survive their childhood relatively in tact.

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