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How to explain to Duncan that his girlfriend can’t come and live with us, after falling out with her mother?

The world of a sixteen year old is very different from that of his middle-aged parents.

I do feel sorry for him when I refuse. It’s true we do have the space – though we don’t actually have a room spare to give her. But he can’t see what we lack – and maybe it is just as well that he can’t. As a family, we are chronically short of time, and energy. Duncan’s sister Julie has been very ill over the winter, in and out of hospital. She needs to know that she can take the time and space she needs to recover without worrying about anything else. And Joe and I need to be able to relax when we come home from work – years of caring for Julie have taken a heavy toll. The last winter has been tough on all of us, we just don’t have the emotional resources to deal with anything more demanding than deciding which movie to watch.

The Elsa we have seen is a lovely girl – kind, resourceful, and sweetly vulnerable. Other people’s teenagers are always more appealing than your own. It’s been a pleasure to have her around. Perhaps it would do us good to open up to someone outside the family?

But no, reason kicks in: is this really doing Elsa any favours? Most parents are there for life: she will have to mend the relationship with her mother sometime. At sixteen, storms come and go – but let’s face it, back at home in your own bedroom is still where you would rather be. And what will she do if and when she falls for someone else if she depends on Duncan’s family for a roof over her head?

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When I tell people that Julie has gone back into hospital, they’re often very dismayed and shocked. I can understand that, though I wish I could explain that by the time an admission to hospital takes place, it comes as something of a relief to everyone concerned. The worst time is the time nobody else sees: the time immediately before admission, when the crisis is building, and we’re descending into chaos.

I try to keep normal life going as long as possible, even if it’s just going through the motions. This is because often we do pull back from the brink, and it’s easier to get back to normal if you’ve kept the engine running. So often Julie has hardly missed a day at college, and I’ve hardly missed a day at work, and nobody is any the wiser, even though the most appalling scenes are being enacted in our bathroom, and we’ve spent half the night in A&E.

But sometimes the crisis does gain the upper hand, and you find yourself going over the cliff edge. And actually once you’ve let go and committed to falling, free fall is quite a pleasant sensation. (Just as long as you don’t think too much about what’s going to happen at the bottom.). Just before you let go is a horrible feeling: everything is starting to disintegrate under the pressure, you miss out on sleep and exercise and eventually you know you’re losing. I know I’m feeling the strain when I start doing things I never normally do: putting my keys down in the wrong place and spending half an hour hunting for them, or snapping at someone at work. For a day or two, going to the hospital and letting somebody else take over the job of caring for Julie is a secret relief.

Of course hospital is not an easy solution and not a viable long term one. Acute psychiatric wards can be tough environments, even when they try to be comfortable and welcoming: impossible to disguise the amount of human suffering they contain. This is Julie’s first stay in an adult ward, and there are new norms and protocols to adjust to. Everyone seems so much older than her; everyone seems to smoke. Visiting there after a long day at work is a strain, and Julie is missing out on college. But they try to relieve distress, it’s a place of safety, and the initial plan is for her to come home again very soon.

When I get up on Saturday morning, I should usually have some bread dough waiting for me in the fridge.  Sourdough is so slow I can do its first prove overnight if I chill it.  But how cold it is kneading it straight from the fridge!  See that big bubble just under the surface, waiting to be popped.Image

By the end of the morning, with the first load of school uniform humming away in the washing machine, a few less weeds in the garden, and the crossword done, it has nearly finished its second prove (in my warm cupboard).  It usually comes out of the oven sometime after lunch:Image

and the difficult thing is to let it cool right down and not to eat it straight away while it’s hot!  On a good week it lasts through till Monday, but some weeks (if there is some good jam to go with it) it doesn’t make it past teatime.

 

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A mother is a machine for converting dirty laundry to clean clothes; discuss.

I don’t know how I came to be the only one that does the laundry in our home. We certainly never had a discussion about it. Probably, when we were a young couple, I offered to put his laundry in with mine. If there’s one thing I could say to my younger self, it would be this: it is not cute, it is not grown-up to share a washing basket, unless you also share the laundry task itself. Before you know it, you are a middle-aged woman, with a dodgy back, wrestling with six wet pairs of adult-sized jeans.

Saturday is my laundry day because it is the first day I do not have to work, and the first day the children take off their school uniform. There is just time to get it all washed and dried before they need it again on Monday. Of course, I have duplicates of most things, but there are always a few items that can’t be duplicated.

I know that laundry is no where near as dreadful a task for me as it was for my grandmothers, or even my mother with her twin tub and outside line. For me, most of the challenge is the logistics: sorting, planning the washloads so that we are not trying to dry everything at the same time, then sorting out the clean dry clothes back into cupboards.

But this is precisely the reason why it resists all my attempts to pass the chore onto the rest of the family. Brute labour might be something they can do, grudgingly, but the rules of laundry are as complex as the offside rule in football. As a set of individuals they are incapable of coordinating use of the various machines. None of them seem able to sort socks into pairs, or assign the finished pairs to their correct owner, without raging arguments.

I have tried teaching each person to do their own laundry, I have tried doing it collectively, I have tried rotating the chore around one person after another, I have even tried making it into a game, but to no avail. Laundry remains, fairly and squarely, a task for me alone.

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