Safe as Houses?

Somebody tried to break into my garage a couple of weeks ago.

It didn’t really seem that big a deal at the time. We were watching tv and thinking about going to bed when there was an almighty bang on the garage door. We looked out to see three folk at our garage door. By the time we ran out, they had run off.

They didn’t get in. and they didn’t get anything. They just damaged the door a little and squashed a couple of my plants.

Not really that big a deal.

Or so I thought at the time.

Then a couple of things happened.

First our neighbour came over. He has cctv which happens to look in the direction of our garage. It was strange and a bit unnerving watching these people try to get into my home. But what really stayed with me was just how long they tried for. At the time we had thought it was just a bang and them running off. But it wasn’t that fast. They were there for over ten minutes. Just the other side of the wall I was sitting behind. And they knew that we were in the house.

Second, they tried to break into a neighbour’s garage a couple of weeks later. After our experience, we are a little over sensitive about noises outside, and have taken to curtain twitching in response to bangs. So when we heard a bang and saw a group out in the street, I went out to see what was happening. What was happening was a group of five trying their best to get into the neighbours home.

I would like to say that they ran off when they saw me. In fact, they carried on trying to get in for a while and then ambled away when they heard me asking for the police on the phone.

Apparently it is bikes that they are after.

We think our house was targeted because we have a bike rack on the car. The neighbour had the garage door open the evening before the attempted break in and some folk were seen having a good look in. The local gym has put out a message to all its members saying that bikes are being stolen from their car park. According to the local press there is a bike theft ‘crime wave’.

I didn’t lose anything. I wasn’t directly threatened. The whole thing was a bit of an inconvenience.

Except that it was more than that.

It was only this morning that I realised how much more.

This morning I went to get the cargo bike out of the garage for the school run and the alarm went off for no reason. My heart leapt into my throat and I burst into tears. In fact it was a fault with the alarm, now fixed, but my immediate thought was “there’s someone in here”. Not a nice feeling on your own in the dark.

Later I was chatting to a friend about the various attempted break ins. I also mentioned that I was really tired. And she said something like “is it the worry about the break ins which is stopping you sleeping?”.

At that moment I felt a rush of “at last somebody understands”. Because, until that moment, I don’t think even I had really understood.

I am not an anxious person. I don’t really worry about things. I see a problem and I storm in with action. This is often ill-thought through and overly enthusiastic action, but still, action rather than anxiety.

But for the past couple of weeks I have felt anxious. It is not even anxiety about any particular thing. I’m not worrying about break ins. It’s more of a constant, nagging, fretful, restless feeling.

I haven’t slept a full night since the night of our attempted break in. Usually my sleepless nights are caused by one or both of my children but not this time. It takes me an age to fall asleep and I frequently wake up throughout the night. I often wake up dreaming about break ins or thinking I have heard something untoward.

Anxiety and sleeplessness have been the biggest things, but that hasn’t been all. I have been irritable and depressed. I have been impatient with the children. On top of all this I have been laden with guilt because I am being irritable and impatient.

It has really not been a good couple of weeks.

At least I now feel I understand why I have felt so low. I think this is the first step to dealing with it.

I also understand why I have so desperately wanted time on my own for the past couple of weeks. As any stay-at-home parent will know, time alone is not easy to come by. It’s not that I wanted to do anything. I didn’t even want to go out and ride my bike. I just wanted to be alone, somewhere quiet. I think this was all part of trying to come to terms with the contents of my head.

Having understood it I know that it will pass.

But I wish that I could communicate to the people who looked at my home and saw it as a target, just what an impact they have had. Not just an impact on me but on my whole family.

They took nothing materially from me, but for now they have taken my feelings of safety, security and well being.

My husband is unlikely to get an evening out any time soon because I don’t want to be left in on my own. I am unlikely to get an evening out any time soon because I don’t want to walk home on my own. I am unlikely to get back to my winter turbo sessions any time soon because I don’t want to be out in the garage on my own when it’s dark outside.

They have also upset my vision of the world I want to live in. I don’t want to live in a world where everyone has security lights and cctv. Yet we now have security lights and cctv. Installing these has gone some way to restoring my sense of security. Most of the neighbours are also installing security lights and cctv.

I can kind of see a positive from all this negative. We are setting up an estate WhatsApp group. That way, if anyone is at home on their own and something happens to make them feel unsafe, they can call for help from their neighbours. Maybe this is neighbourhood community in the digital age. My vision of the world I want to live in does include neighbours who know each other and regularly chat and who can ask for and offer help.

If I could speak to the people who tried to break in to my home, I would simply like them to understand that taking other peoples property is upsetting, but taking their sense of safety is devastating.

My Child My Self

Babies don’t see any separation between themselves and their primary caregiver. They view mummy (or whoever their primary caregiver is) as a part of themselves. Research suggests that this phase ends at around seven months. More details here.

Sometimes I wonder how this separation and independence works from a mother’s point of view.

I think I sometimes find it hard to accept that my children are people in their own right. That they are not a part of me. That I do not have a right to their innermost thoughts and feelings unless they choose to share.

Don’t get me wrong. I want my children to be independent. I want them to be themselves. I don’t want them to depend on me for their happiness.

But I want to know what is going on in their heads.

Right now my son is worried about starting school in August. He is not great with change and this is a huge change for him.

Right now I am worried about my son being worried.

I want him to talk to me about how he is feeling so I can understand him better. So I can help him better.

But he doesn’t really want to talk about it.

Not to me or to anyone else.

And that is his right.

He is his own person.

So how do I help him?

I have come to the conclusion that all I can offer him is my love and my acceptance. And all I can do is wait. If he knows that I am here for him and that I want to help then he will ask for my help if he wants it.

It sounds so simple but it is so hard.

Waiting means watching him worry. Waiting means seeing him unhappy. And no parent wants to see their child unhappy.

It would be so much easier if my son really was a part of me. If we weren’t separate. Because then I could handle it all for him and he wouldn’t have to feel unhappy.

But if our parents protected us from every negative emotion in life, would we really be full ourselves?


Strengths and Weaknesses

I have always been a ‘strong person’.

I have always seen this as a positive quality.

Recently I find myself questioning what this actually means. Am I really that strong? Is it really such a positive trait?

Physically, I am definitely strong. I ride a cargo bike, often loaded with two not-so-small children and all the stuff which seems to be required when leaving the house with two children. Not to mention that the three year old is currently refusing to go anywhere on the bike unless she is carrying several stones from the driveway.

But physical strength is not really what I mean by a strong person.

I have a strong character. I have a good idea of what I am and what I am not. On the whole, I am happy with who I am. The things I do, I do for myself and my family. I don’t do things ‘for show’. My husband has a similar outlook which made for a wonderful wedding day. We kept all the bits of a wedding which we liked and skipped all the bits that we didn’t. It was very much ‘our day’ and we both loved it.

But strength of character isn’t entirely it either.

I am a strong person because I am balanced and stable and not easily overwhelmed by emotions and that means I can be emotionally strong for others.

I think that is a big part of what people mean when they describe me as ‘strong’.

But it’s not true.

But it’s not real.

But I am not even sure it is possible.

The same as everyone, I am balanced and stable sometimes and unbalanced and chaotic others. I do get overwhelmed by emotions. I get overwhelmed by my emotions. I get overwhelmed by the emotions of others that I love, especially my children.

But I don’t often show it.

I have mentioned my parents’ divorce before.  It was a time of huge emotions. Huge emotions for me. Huge emotions for the people I loved the most. The kind of huge emotions which can leave you struggling to see anything positive in life.

It was the time when I learned to be emotionally strong for others.

It was the time when I learnt to detach myself from my own emotions in order to deal with other peoples’.

More than twenty years later, I am realising that this is not a positive quality.

More than twenty years later, I am realising that I still have not re-connected with my own emotions.

I realise that I have not just detached myself from the emotions I felt more than twenty years ago. I have perfected the art of squashing any emotions which threaten to overwhelm me.

I think about this now because I think about my children.

I think about their emotional life.

Young childrens’ emotions are so out in the open. They haven’t yet learnt to worry about how their displays of emotion impact on others. They feel extremes of emotions over the most seemingly trivial issues. They display every emotion they have.

As a stay at home mum I deal with my childrens’ emotions all the time. As frustrating as that can be, I love that they wear their hearts on their sleeves. It means that I can know every part of them. It means that I can really connect with them.

But can they really connect with me?

Should I show my emotions to them like they show their emotions to me?

My immediate answer is no. I know how it feels to see your mum crying and trust me, it feels horrible.

But does that mean I should never cry in front of my children? If so then I have failed.

Like any mother, I do not want to see my children in distress. But we cannot protect our children from everything and they will inevitably feel distress in their lives. So I want them to learn how to cope through distress.

I want my children to know that it is ok to feel whatever they are feeling. I want them to know that they do not have to control their emotions, they just have to control how they act on those feelings. I want them to know that I will do what I can to help them when they do not like how they are feeling.

I tell them this now. Usually along the lines of “It is ok to feel angry, it is not ok to hit your sister/brother”. I show them by accepting their anger and giving them a cuddle (on the days when I get it right).

So maybe it is ok to cry in front of our children. To cry and to tell them “I feel sad”. To show them that the world doesn’t end when we feel sad. To show them what a difference they can make to somebody who feels sad with the healing power of a cuddle.