What do I want?

I shook myself, trying to regain some semblance of control of what was going on inside my head and quell some of the more strident voices that are clamouring for attention. Get a grip, I told myself, these are my thoughts, I am in charge here, it’s time to stop. Just stop, okay? What is it that I actually feel is right for me? Take what John thinks out of it, take what Keeley or Kira think out of it, what do I want?

Oblivious to the Pacific Ocean, its surface glassy and sun-kissed, its waves dotted with tanned, fit surfie-types who had succumbed to the ocean’s seductive call to come and play (and possibly drown or get bitten by a shark), I continued my stormy stomp down the beach, completely unaware of the sand massaging the tension from my feet but uncomfortably aware of the sand scrubbing away the remnants of the blisters there. Blisters that I got after a beach walk a few days ago, when I crossed the carpark while wearing no shoes.

It was one of those scenes that Aussies are gleeful about posting on social media with titles like “Stupid tourist burns feet trying to act like local surfies. I almost died laughing! Watch this, it’ll make your day!” As I stepped onto the carpark, it took a couple of strides for awareness of the heat beneath my feet to register with my brain. Doing my best to be nonchalant about the whole thing and pretend this wasn’t happening; I am Australian after all, I should be able to walk across a red hot carpark without looking like a shoe-bereft city slicker. I walked faster and faster across the carpark, until finally, all decorum and composure thrown to the wind, my feet blistered and burned, I broke out into a tippy-toe sprint, desperately trying to put as little of my body onto the red-hot tarmac as I could while I frantically scurried to the safety of shade.

Today, my feet-protecting shoes left at the top of the beach for the walk back to the car, I grumped my way down the beach, wrapped up in my own little anxiety-ridden, stress-filled, what’s-the-point world as I turn the question over and over in my mind: what feels right to me? This was really, really difficult, much more difficult than it ought to be.

Cue rolling eyes. I’m fifty-five years of age, I’ve done a bucketload of personal development work, I’ve been a life coach, I can smell this kind of block at a hundred metres in a rainstorm. Let’s face facts, after everything I’ve done, I should be transformed and enlightened by now, in spiritual nirvana, I should not still be doing the whole people pleasing thing. A vision of a book with the catchy and not-at-all-dramatic title of ‘How People Pleasing Nearly Klled Me’ flashed through my mind and another wave of guilt hit me. I still haven’t read the thing. I bought it knowing that I need to get out of the habit of doing things to please others but quite obviously, I also didn’t want to ACTUALLY stop the whole people pleasing thing.

I sighed. Then I sighed again, just because I liked the feeling of hopelessness that comes with that kind of sigh. You know the one, your shoulders lift as you breathe in, and then when the air goes out of your lungs, your whole body seems to sink down into the ground, so you feel two or three inches shorter, like you’re getting smaller and heavier, more depressed and insignificant with every molecule of air that leaves your body. Some sighs make you feel contented or blissful or relaxed, they enliven and invigorate you. Not this kind of sigh. This kind of sigh enhances your feelings of despondency and misery and poor-me-I’m-so-misunderstoodness.

I tried again: what DO I want to do? What feels right to me? I struggle to take everyone else’s opinion out of the equation. The thing is, when you love people, it’s very difficult NOT to take into account what they want and as a parent, a good portion of your life is given over to making other people happy. Sure, there are times when you have to put your foot down and do things the child doesn’t like, but for the most part, the driving force is to make sure the child is happy. So how does stopping people pleasing come into the equation then? I’m damned if I know.

An attention-seeking wave made a solid attempt to get higher up the beach than its friends and after a brief but bitter struggle with my inner King Canute (the one who believed his innate Kingliness was sufficient to stop the tide), I irritably adjusted my walking course to avoid the wash of water, vaguely wondering whether the tide was coming in or going out because I wanted to walk in a fairly straight line and I wasn’t going to be able to do that if I was going to be inundated with water every few strides. I wrestled my mind back to the problem in hand. I’m in completely new territory here, a land never before inhabited by Mummy Karen: what do I want? If I ignore what anyone else thinks and whatever possible consequences there might be if I do what I feel is the right thing for me to do, then what would I do?

I listened to all the thoughts skidding across my mind. I can’t just ignore what other people think, if I do that, they might not like me. What if – gasp of horror – people think I’m wrong? What if – stomach lurches in a sharp descent – I actually AM wrong? And what if I’ve been doing it wrong all these years? What if I’m really a crap mother and I’ve screwed up my kids’ lives by behaving the way that I do? If I ignore what John says, came one thought, maybe he’ll finally get sick of me and leave me. I felt like a knife was twisting in my stomach. Then the rational side of me snorted. ‘Mate, if he hasn’t left you yet, he’s not going to leave you over this. Next!’ The Poor Me thoughts took a turn towards the unexpected: well, what if I really do have an emotional IQ of about 2?

I blinked. Well, if I’m perfectly honest with myself, that is probably an accurate depiction of my emotional IQ. I can be very immature in a lot of ways. Like right now. If I take away all the frills and fluffy stuff and get down to the bare, brutal facts, what I want to do, what I REALLY want to do, is emotionally hurt Keeley to the same extent that she’d emotionally hurt me. I cringed; there is such a thing as being too honest. But there it is: what I want is a bit… okay a lot… of righteous retribution. It’s what I’d normally do, how I’d normally react and to hell with the consequences for myself and the impact on others.

Tonight, though, Keeley is going to her first ever formal and is up to her well-trimmed eyebrows in nail-biting angst about the whole thing. Or she would be nail-biting if she hadn’t just had her nails done. I want to be included in that, I want to know what she’s up to, I want to share it with her and be involved in the excitement. But I also want to make her DEEPLY sorry that she lied to me. It’s like I’m almost afraid of talking to her… alright, I’m avoiding talking to her because although I do want to talk to her and find out what she’s up to and be a part of it, I also want to scream at her and make her understand that she is never to lie to me again. I’m avoiding calling her because I’m not sure which side of me will rise to the surface when I speak to her.

I groan to myself again because that’s me pussy-footing around the truth (again) but it does bring me nicely back on topic because John’s stated opinion, and the cause of this beachside existential crisis, was that I should just drop the subject until after the formal. Because, he said with upsetting candour, if the past is anything to go by, I’ll just make her life hell, ban her from going to the formal, then possibly catch myself because I’m being mean, and relent and let her go at the last minute. But I’ll only relent AFTER I’ve made sure I’ve embarrassed her in front of her friends and caused her all sorts of heartache and stress. Continuing his frank declaration, he stated that he doesn’t blame her for lying to me, what do I expect? Keeley knows how I’m going to react to what she’s trying to hide, and she’s not going to risk that getting in the way of her going to the formal.

He’s quite right. That’s exactly how I want to react. With an effort worthy of Wonderwoman, I grab hold of all the bickering factions in my mind, wrestle the different feelings – that I’ve let John down, that I haven’t done the right thing in raising the kids, that I’ve got everything completely wrong – to the ground, then firmly sit on them to give myself a bit of space (peace & quiet) to think. A couple of errant self-recriminations escape from under me and echoes of “I’m not good enough” and “I haven’t done this right” bounce around in all directions.

I really need to figure out what feels right to me. My immediate reaction of telling Keeley she can’t go to the formal is an old and well-used one, but is that just my ego wanting to spread the pain that I felt from being lied to and have the person who’d caused the pain to understand how I felt by making them feel the same way? Probably. Do I want to react like that? Yep, sure do. Is it mature and indicative of a high EQ? Probably not. Should that be a gauge in how I behave? Not if I’m going to trust myself.

Lord, sometimes I hate being able to think. I wish I was a cat and I could just laze around in the sun, looking for the next opportunity to irritate some human by sitting outside the door looking as though I want to come in and then walking away when they open the door for me. Life would be so much easier if I could just do that. Sadly, no can do. Realising that the sun is beginning to burn a hole in my nose and my chest is feeling suspiciously raw, I turn and walk back towards the car and continue my convoluted deliberations with the occasional distraction. It’s interesting how different the ocean looks, depending on whether you’re facing the sun or looking away from it; the light seems to reflect differently.

The thought that here is an opportunity to grow keeps niggling at me. I don’t know how to handle this, I’m in a strange new world of behaviour, I’m learning something new. Maybe I really could just sweep the lies under the carpet until the Formal is over. Doing that would be completely out of character, for sure. Dropping the whole thing and pretending it didn’t happen feels weird. In one sense, it goes completely against everything I believe in; I’m allowing someone to tell lies and get away with it, even if they only get away with it for a few days. That doesn’t feel right, it feels strange, it feels wrong.

The cries of self-recrimination and screams for righteous retribution were now quiet enough to allow a few new thoughts to come through: what is more important to me, communicating how upset I am (i.e. making Keeley pay) or being a part of Keeley’s first formal?

Ooh, that’s a tough one. My feelings of worthiness as a mother are intricately tied up with my children’s behaviour. If I allow Keeley to think for a second that lying to me is okay, then I’m letting myself down. I indulge myself in another one of those heaving, heavy-hearted sighs.

As I’m thoroughly enjoying wallowing in my moral crisis and pondering the depths of the ethic quandaries in which parenthood places us, a lady, who’s at least ten years older than me, overtakes me like a Porsche going past a Reliant Robin (the three wheeled car that Mr Bean had).

Where the hell did SHE come from? This is NOT acceptable. I am fit and healthy, the epitome of fifty-something womanhood. I will NOT be overtaken by galloping geriatrics.

Fine, I think to myself, I’ll leave hauling the little madam over the coals till Monday. This is an opportunity for personal growth, is it? Right, grow I will. I pick up the pace, heading after the striding woman with the sturdy legs. As I lift up my head to look around, I come to a second decision: you know what? I’m just going to go at my own pace and not worry about what anyone else is doing. Now THAT is an opportunity for growth for me.

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