Thank-you for your response to my question: what’s the regret you’ve learned to live with?
You stopped me in my tracks when you said that your greatest regret was having children.
At 63 I look back and saw what an awful mother I was sometimes. I never actually wanted to have children, but I did. I was too young and I didn’t even know who I was myself, let alone know how to raise a child.
I wonder whether you were ever able to have a discussion about parenthood back then with your husband? Many of us just think having children is something we are supposed to do.
I remember what it was like becoming a mother, which I never thought would happen. I was so late coming to motherhood that my husband and I thought about it deeply, knowing it was something that would profoundly change us, but that we both wanted that transformation.
Motherhood suddenly dumps a load on your shoulders, or at least, that’s how it felt to me. Then there are the expectations. A new mother is always expected to have the answers and to know instinctively what to do. It’s the one area where ‘fake it till you make it’ doesn’t work.
Ellen, I sense that you have thought long and hard about this regret.
I didn’t know how to love them unconditionally and allow them to be children. My mother once told my sister that she had to teach me how to love my baby. When my sister told me, I was hurt and angry and my first thought was, if that’s true then what does it say about MY mother?
You have shot an arrow through the key question of life Ellen. What is love?
I see love as very much a verb. It’s persistence and showing up when you don’t feel like it. It’s trying to soothe and explain when you are tired. It’s holding and comforting when you feel angry or hurt. It’s discomfort. It’s trying, failing and trying again. And it’s saying you are sorry many times over.
Love is nothing like the adrenaline-fuelled passion that I used to think it was.
Ellen, though you regret what you went through you don’t regret the individuals you brought into the world:
I took the responsibility of parenthood seriously and I aways put them (the children) first, always had food on the table and I sent them to a church school as it was all I could afford.
Looking around at our society I can see many - including me - who struggle with parenthood. It’s one of the hardest roles in the world. And yet your boys, now adults, are making their own way in the world.
They have turned into lovely men and I am happy for them both.
It sounds like you have accepted those difficult, earlier years and realised that though a tough lesson, your regret helped you to grow as a human.
Thank-you so much Ellen, for helping us and sharing your thoughts.
Thank-you for your colourful and heartfelt responses to the question I posed: what little-known thing would you like to be remembered for?
What is fascinating to me is that most of us singled out ordinary things that matter to us; what we are passionate about and our deep desire to learn and to love.
I realise the things I’m most proud of are often completely unpaid and not on my CV. I don’t talk about them either.
MaryAnne speaks of being remembered for unselfishness and generosity when she was in need of these things herself.
And Joseph speaks of the people whose lives he helped put back together after they had life-changing injuries. That is enough, he says.
Joseph is right. That is enough. It is more than enough.
We should just get on purposefully with our lives or as the notebook cover says ‘Do Good Everyday’, because for many people, life itself can be a struggle. I know it is for me. Writing this series gives me the opportunity to imagine how I’d like Jane to be. But Jane isn’t like this all of the time. She can be petty and mean and small and demeaning.
As for my answer to the question about the little-known thing I’d like to be remembered for, I haven’t yet achieved it. What I would like to say is that I was good at saying sorry.
The younger Jane, regarded apologising as a weakness. I saw it as giving in. My apologies were shallow and full of excuses.
Even now, it takes time to arrive at a point where I can make a wholehearted apology, which is one where I accept full responsibility. I am a work in progress.
Most of us will never reach the heights of David Suchet with a glittering career forged by wonderful acting skills. But I’m with him on remembering the smaller roles we play in our lives. By searching deeply we might find something richer and possibly more exciting than our familiar, favourite Belgian detective.
This question was inspired by David Suchet's comments about how three-quarters of his obituary would probably be about Poirot and he hopes a few lines might mention the other wonderful characters he's played.
I wonder, is there something you achieved, discovered or are proud of that not many people know about?
Thanks so much for answering my question: what’s the hardest time of the year for you?
Most people replied that Christmas is a difficult time of year due to loneliness, nostalgia for their childhood and reminders of the loss or distance of family.
Can I share something with you, Heidi? The hardest time of the year for me is New Year’s eve. I think resolutions are pointless. A ‘commitment’ is much better and it doesn’t need to be done on January 1st. Over the past few years I’ve worked hard to ignore the hype around NYE. However, a certain person in my life loves fireworks, so our family attends the early show, just to see the joy on her face.
[By the way, I don’t make resolutions anymore, I do a regular stock-take which I’ll talk about in another post]
Heidi, the hardest time of your year is school exam time.
“I have two children with learning difficulties (dyslexia, dysgraphia and dyscalculia),” you say.
I can’t prepare myself. I know it’s coming and I feel so much for my kids. For me personally, it’s like an impending tsunami. I try so hard to prepare myself for the anxiety and the stress. The kids know they have to go through this process at school and I have to let them go…my heart just breaks.
You say your experience with children who struggle with literacy and numeracy difficulties is a kind of grief. This makes complete sense. You grieve because it’s confounding and upsetting how hard life can be for people that you love. You wish you could change something to make it easier for them. However, you know they will eventually have to navigate their own way.
I have not had a personal experience with learning difficulties, Heidi. However I have interviewed many extremely successful people who live with dyslexia. The singer Leo Sayer couldn’t tie his shoe-laces by the age of twenty-one. Until he was an adult, he didn’t have a diagnosis for the way his brain worked. However, he seems to have made a truce with his dyslexia:
“I think sometimes those things allow you to train your brain in other ways, and your heart in other ways, to actually get through life in different ways. It certainly grew my creativity,” Leo Sayer said.
Another person who touched me with his story was the artist Joshua Yeldham:
“Well, I was drowning in life in that whatever I touched at school was deemed a failure. So every exam I failed. And no-one at that point knew that I had learning difficulties. Later the word 'dyslexia' came out. But back then it wasn't picked up and so I was a failure.”
The blue owl image on this post is Joshua’s work. It fills me with joy and curiosity and I love it to bits. He wrote about his childhood experience in a brilliant book called Surrender.
Heidi, I know you also help other parents of children with learning difficulties and I thank-you for the work that you do in growing our understanding.
Don’t forget a bit of self-care. When exam time comes around again, I wonder if there is anything you can do to try to ride the approaching wave - apart from run, which you playfully suggested :) I feel confident your wonderful kids will make it through the giant maze and I imagine you waiting at the exit, arms open wide, ready to guide them through their next challenge.
Love, Jane x
(Blue Owl - Morning Bay' used with kind permission of Joshua Yeldam)