Divorce: What I’ve Learned

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Two years down the line and my divorce is final. It happened last week, the week after I was made redundant and on my last day in the London office. It was a big day for life changes, that Thursday – divorce and redundancy – totes emosh, as the kids say.

Or actually not so totes emosh, really. I’ve known this has been coming for a long time and the only way I can describe how I felt upon being divorced is… weird. It was a totally unceremonious experience; I filled the final form out at home, signed it and drove it to the court on the way to work where it was stamped and put in a pile of other paperwork. Nobody congratulated me, offered me a coffee or asked me to marry them because I now legally can. As this happened so long after our break-up I didn’t really feel sadness, just a sense of finality, I guess.

I did use it as an excuse to have a pizza and wine lunch with one of my favourite soon-to-be-ex work colleagues, though. Every cloud.

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FYI: Pizza Pilgrims on Carnaby Street – disappointing and slightly soggy. Sad times. 

It has had me thinking about the divorce though, and what it has meant to us all. Someone asked me recently if I felt like I tried hard enough in my marriage and that led to more thinking. I can say with my hand on my heart that yes, I did try very hard to make it work. I think in any situation like this when there are children involved you do your very best to do the right thing by them, which mostly is to have two happy parents in love. And it’s because of this that I spent a long time feeling guilty and like I had failed by choosing divorce.

But it took the final stages of my divorce to realised I haven’t failed, not at all. Choosing to get divorced was instead the bravest thing I have ever done.

The Brave Divorce

I ‘had it all’ by many standards: a big house, a husband with his own business, two beautiful children, a car, money in the bank, a David Lloyd membership. But I was very unhappy – we both were, really – and rather than stay together because it was safe and the marriage was easy and familiar we both mutually decided to walk away. Him to London to throw himself into creating a successful business and me to I’m-not-quite-sure-what yet. Children and work, work and children.

I can’t even tell you how terrifying that was. I hadn’t been on my own since I was 18, had never lived alone or had to deal with things like bills, Council Tax and insurance. It might sound a but silly but I was really scared of that independence, managing my budgets, knowing who to pay and when. Looking back I can’t believe that I lacked confidence in what would turn out to be one of my favourite household tasks.

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Divorce doesn’t have to be sad. We worked through most of our issues before splitting up and then got the anger/sadness out of the way in the first six months. I’d say we’re friends now, though he might disagree, being on the receiving end of phonecalls that consist of “OMG IF YOU DON’T STOP FEEDING OUR CHILDREN SO MANY SWEETS THEIR TEETH WILL GET PULLED OUT” (basically, if you aren’t a fan of overreactions then don’t marry me or let me watch Junk Food kids). Looking back it’s incredible to see how different we both are independently compared with how we were as a couple; I know I feel like a much nicer person, less selfish and more hardworking. I am happy, content. And I say that after a night of broken sleep that culminated in me getting toddler poo on my leg (don’t ask).

The worst thing about the divorce has been the paperwork. Reams of it. And all in centuries-old legal speak… colour me confused. I managed the process without a lawyer, having already worked out finances and chidcare arrangements amicably with the ex and it’s been fine. It must have saved us thousands so we only ended up paying the court fees. Told you I was good at finances!

It feels like a door has firmly closed now and I’m excited about that. Rightly or wrongly I still very much believe in marriage and think it can be a wonderful thing. Divorce has been an experience, one I don’t want to repeat, but I don’t regret anything. It brought me Elfie and Hux, after all. But if I could give myself advice ten years ago it would be this: perhaps don’t believe you know everything there is to know about life and love when you get engaged at 19, eh?

 

The Redundant Life

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My job, my lovely lovely job in the brilliantly wonderful ad agency has gone.

It has moved down to London without me, like a 23 year old bright eyed graduate leaving home with stars in her eyes. Along with the rest of my lovely lovely team’s jobs, it’s migrated down the M1 to the big city for bigger and better things.

Obviously I, the mum of two children who are well and truly happily based 40 miles north of London, have not moved with my job. Remember when I left my previous job in London to spend more time with those children? Yep. I had to say goodbye once again.

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In a not-so poetic metaphor: redundancy is rubbish. This is the first time it’s happened to me and it’s been well and truly awful. Seven of us in total have been left without jobs in the department move and in truth it’s been a very sad situation. I loved my job, enjoyed going to work very much, saw my colleagues as friends and confidantes and to have that taken away quite swiftly was a bit shocking. As one of my work buddies put it (though she brilliantly illustrated this through the medium of unicorns so it was obviously heaps better) you go through the different stages of redundancy; you’re gutted, then angry, then you accept the news, return to being sad, and then move on to being mind-numbingly drunk.

Only I missed out on the drunk part because I had a stinking cold. WHY ME, WORLD?!

My team left a week ago and I had my final day in the London office last Thursday, having agreed to work from home to help manage the new staff bed-in for a couple more weeks. But it’s difficult, it’s hard. I miss my work friends, I don’t have a job to go to when this one ends and I’ve never been in this situation before. I am a fan of routine, I like knowing where I’m working, when I’m working, where I’ll be in six months (as much as I can, anyway). Not knowing makes me nervous. Not earning makes me nervous. Kids need shoes and all that.

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I have, however, enjoyed being a bit more present in the children’s lives. Being able to dawdle on the school run and chat with the other mums rather than scoot straight off to the office has been lovely. Taking Hux to pre-school (I was always at work for the 9.15 start) is amazing. Not having to plan my free time down to the second is pretty cool. I have freedom for the first time in a long time.

It’s a shame you can’t use freedom to buy your groceries, eh?!

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I know I will be OK, I always am. I work hard and I will find work again, whether it’s freelance or in a new agency, I have faith that a combination of my career history, work ethic and the universe will make sure the next step is a good one. Until then, here’s to that freedom.

And if anyone needs a freelance digital guru you know where to look (here! here! here!).

How To Have It All

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For the longest time I believed that ‘having it all’ revolved around ‘what the outside world thinks you have’. I thought it meant how big your house was, how new your car was, what your husband did, how well behaved your kids were, what clothes you wore.

And it wasn’t until I found myself at actual rock-bottom, as a single parent with no reliable income and zero husbands, that I realised how wrong I was. Having it all is absolutely nothing to do with what you have and is absolutely everything to do with who you are.

Here’s the thing as I see it: we have an insane amount of outside influences in our lives. Blogs, media, friends, co-workers. And it’s so easy to look at all these influences attaining society’s idea of success and think, well, this is what it means to be have it all, isn’t it? And so we strive for these things that we see as measures of success and happiness with little or no knowledge of whether or not it’s going to make us happy.

We go from thinking we have to have THE CAREER (check) to THE KIDS (check) to THE HOUSE (check) to THE CAR AND THE CLOTHES AND THE HANDBAGS AND THE RESTAURANTS… and it’s exhausting. Keeping up with the Joneses becomes a full-time job and actually, who says that having all that stuff will really make you happy?

I used to be one of those people. I was so desperate for the world to see that I was living out someone else’s idea of perfection that I totally lost my way. I didn’t understand how I wasn’t happy when, to an outsider looking in, I had everything you could ever want. The big house (cripplingly expensive), the lovely children (ok, they really are lovely), the car, the opportunity to be a stay at home mum, the nights in fancy restaurants, the nice handbags. For a while I really did have it all, except I didn’t.

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Where I went wrong is that I didn’t understand that my version of ‘having it all’ might be different to the media’s, to what is generally accepted as being a life that you strive for. Even though I woke up on Monday morning with a whole week of nothing but being a mum ahead of me – a situation so many women dream of – I was drowning. There was nothing more daunting to me than working out how on earth I could fill five days with toddler groups, coffees, nap times and educational play (still not sure what this entails). As much as I wanted to be I just couldn’t make myself one of those (incredible, admirable) women who was a happy full-time mum.

To them I say: wow. Being a full-time mum, it really is the hardest job in the world.

It wasn’t until now that I realised the meaning of ‘having it all’. Yet there’s never been a time in my life when so many outsiders looking in have said to me, hey Alice, I don’t know how you do it.

But you know how I do it? I do it because this is my having it all. It turns out that my version of having it all is getting up in the morning and spending a couple of hours with my children (we had chocolate pancakes this morning!) before taking them to places I know they will be educated, well-looked after and loved. My having it all is spending 9 hours a day running a team, working my business mind, accomplishing professional goals. My having it all is earning good money so I can build my little family a really great life and maybe get my hair or nails done once in a while and feeling happy that I’ve worked to deserve it. My having it all is coming home after a busy day to cuddles with my two little people on the sofa and eating the weekend’s leftovers for supper, knowing I’ve given my all to the day.

I don’t have a husband to support me, a huge big house or a no-pressure open-ended maternity leave. But THAT’S OK, because all those things didn’t make me happy, anyway. Looking back I can say that now, though life has never been so challenging, I really do have it all. And it is such a relief to have finally discovered what that means.

 

 

A Catch-Up Mind Dump. You’re Welcome.

The thing about sharing your life a couple of times a week through your computer is that if something happens and you’re unable to do it for a while it just becomes harder and harder to get back on to it. Your list of ‘things I want to tell that bunch of virtual strangers’ becomes almost insurmountable as you try to prioritise exactly which recent life event you want to broadcast first. Cos I’m sure you’ve all been waiting with baited breath for the next update… ;)

You can blame my radio silence on EE for thoroughly ballsing up the transfer of my broadband service to them (four and a half weeks I’ve been without my lifeline, FOUR AND A HALF WEEKS), my new job for being amazing but for making me so tired I have no words left in my head come 7pm and the children for being children and demanding things like food and attention from me, the little life suckers.

Shall we do a quick life update so I can pick up where I left off? Yes, let’s.

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So the work is great, and even though I’m doing five days a week I’m no more tired/stressed/mental than when I was working four. I don’t miss the commute into London but still get to go in to the big city a couple of times a week so it’s all-round perfect, really. The environment of the ad agency is just wonderful – full of creative and inspirational people – and I genuinely look forward to going to work every day. I get to drop the kids off at school and there’s nothing like knowing I’m only down the road from them. Oh, and FREE BREAKFAST. I basically have it all. Along with a new addiction to coffee.

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Elfie is loving school, loving it. Every day (usually when I’m tottering up the driveway to her classroom clutching book bags and water bottles 5 mins late as per) I feel thankful for choosing such a wonderful place for her to learn. She’s becoming a very opinionated assertive little thing (definite future CEO) and I’d say Reception Year is doing a great job of bringing out the best in her.

Hux is Hux and is adorable. He’s a little monkey, obsessed with his Woody toy and any time he has an item of new clothing (“MUMMY BUY NEW JUMPER FROM THE SHOP!! NEW DINOSAUR PANTS!!” repeat ad infinitum). In a nutshell they are the perfect children, the odd tantrum in Waitrose excluded (thanks Hux, that was well embarrassing).

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It’s most definitely not summer anymore. I’m pretty crushed about that. I’ve been putting the colder weather to good use though and have been to IKEA twice. And I bought a Christmas present!! In October!!

I was dating someone and then I wasn’t. Joined Tinder for 24 hours for the self-esteem boost and got thoroughly depressed at the state of people on Tinder. Swore off relationships for a while to focus on work and writing but as you may have noticed I haven’t been writing, so make of that what you will… ;) I tell you what though, whoever said that the best things happen when you aren’t looking for them was absolutely right.

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This winter I really want to get more done, you know? Better myself a little – do things I’m proud of. Cook more, read more, drink less, work hard, save up, enjoy my friends, laugh a lot. 2012 was tough, 2013 was better, 2014 has been a vast improvement and I’m SO. EXCITED for what’s in store; everyone in my house is happy and we all have so much to look forward to. I’ve been feeling like I should do something to mark it, like get a tattoo, but because I’m terrified of tattoos I’ll probably just buy a new pair of shoes and write about it. LIVING THE DREAM.

Let’s not leave it so long next time, eh? I have so much I want to write about – becoming a feminist (yeah, I think that happened…), getting back into the workplace as a mum, these great new mugs I bought, my new utility cupboard, solo parenting 2 years in, my new role models (Sheryl Sandberg! Bryony Gordon! Lena Dunham! Girl Power!). Oh what did I say? Yeah, living the dream.

Turning That Frown Upside Down

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This morning I woke up on the wrong side of the bed.

Not literally, you see I seem to stick to the left side (never been a starfisher) but I woke up in a vile mood. Grumpy. It was 6am, I was tired, Hux was shouting about wee wees and all I wanted to do was go back to sleep.

I got up, grabbed milk for the children and heaved myself into the shower. It was cold and I wanted to get back into bed. I tried on four tops, two pairs of trousers and three pairs of shoes before deciding that everything looked rubbish anyway so it didn’t matter what I wore. On Hux’s demand I got the iPad for him and he demanded “Toy Story, no TANGLED, mummy, but I want FROZEN!!! Where’s Toy Story?”.

I huffed that I could only find two pairs of clean pants for Hux because I think his nursery aren’t offering him the potty often enough and he’s going through multiple changes a day (#mumlife) and wondered if I’d get judged for Elfie’s choice of outfit (yellow shorts, red tshirt, knee high school socks – I think we were having a similar wardrobe crisis). We drove to nursery and both children wailed as I left, I could see their fat tears running down their cheeks through the window and it felt dreadful.

Driving to the station I worried about a situation that’s been weighing heavy on my mind. I muttered over the fact my favourite parking attendant wasn’t there so I had to walk across the car park to buy my parking ticket. My tea was too hot, the station too busy. It was going to be a bad day.

But then I sat down on the train and read a Facebook post from my friend Stu.

Stu is one of my oldest friends from High School and we went through a lot of things together – most notably Reading Festival 2002, and our weekend jobs, right Stu?. He lives in Melbourne, Australia and works for The McGuire Programme, a company that helps individuals overcome a stutter to become ‘articulate, well-spoken people’.

Stu’s post said:

I had a call from a recruitment consultant this morning, she wanted to ask me some questions about a guy who came into her work looking for a job.

He’s a grad from The McGuire Programme and has been working on his speech for about a year, so I answered a few of her questions about how I knew him, how he had been progressing over the past 12months and how these traits (commitment, ownership, punctuality, etc) were translatable into a work-environment. After 15 minutes of chatting, she started telling me of her encounter with this Grad:

A couple of weeks ago this young man had walked in to her office unannounced, with a resume looking for work; he’d had a brief chat with her and his stutter/stammer had been noticeable.
About 10minutes after he’d left the office, she was talking about the meeting with another lady in the team when the same guy came back in. “Oh, have you forgotten something..?” she said.
“Actually, I wanted to be honest with you about my speech and by doing that I’m cancelling out any negative feelings I might have about the speaking situation…” he replied.
She told me how inspired she felt at his courage and bravery to come back to the office and explain his work with The McGuire Programme Australia so she immediately decided to bring him back for the full interview process.

Again, he came back and demonstrated his work ethic, determination and commitment to overcome the speaking challenge, despite any fear, anxiety and uncertainty about what the interview process comprised of, which left her with the impression of a great young man, full of character that she would be confident to put forward to her clients for a role.

Not only that, but she actually said “I’m determined to find him a job through our company and I’ve already been ringing around other branches to put his name and resume forward, he’s such a wonderful young man.”

So thank you to Owen Westwood for bringing a big ray of sunshine to my dreary, cold Wednesday morning. You have a fervent supporter at Adecco in Dandenong and she simply can not speak highly enough of you or your commitment to improving yourself.

It really made me think.

Have I really just wasted the first part of my morning feeling sorry for myself because I’m tired/cold/my bulging wardrobe isn’t suitable/the sun was too bright?

The kids cried at nursery but I know full well they’re fine 30 seconds after I leave.

My tea will cool down, I will enjoy my day at work in a job I love.

I felt like a total dick for whinging when there are people out there doing actual inspiring things, overcoming obstacles in their life to be the best version of themselves.

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I knew it made sense when The Universe emailed me this morning to say:

Appreciating what you have little of is easy, Alice.

Appreciating what you have lots and lots of takes a spiritual master.

And you so have lots,
The Universe

I spent five minutes counting my blessings: I have two beautiful children who are being played with and educated at a great nursery while I work in a job I love that allows me to spend time with them. We have food on our plates, a roof over our heads and clothes in our wardrobe. The sun is shining and there’s a man out there who wants to treat me like a Princess and surprise me with flowers after work. Yes, a couple of things are wobbly but I have a life full of courage, motivation, love and excitement.

Isn’t that amazing that I have these things in my life?

Take five minutes to think about your lot: what are you grateful for today?

The Life And Times Of A Working Mum

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6am: alarm goes off. I swear like a sailor because really this is way too early for any human to be awake. Hi, I am not a morning person, nice to meet you.

6.15am: the latest possible time I can drag myself up out of bed. Get in the shower before the kids stir which usually wakes Elfie up. Make a cup of tea while I’m heating up milk for them (obviously never have time to drink it). Wake Hux up with milk and have a cuddle. Start the daily debate over exactly which dress Elfie will wear. This can take a while and usually involves a drawn-out debate touching on the finer points of how Queen Elsa dresses.

6.45am: get myself dressed while Elfie and Hux either argue (and sneeze) over the iPad or perform an impromptu stage show in their bedroom. I have never been allowed to watch the show; Elfie says it’s not for mummy, it’s for ‘the people’. I have to step over ‘the people’ to get into their room. Get the kids dressed and downstairs because then we have a small hope of grabbing breakfast before we leave. Attempt some make-up, check the kids’ nursery bags have everything they need (sun hats, coats, spare clothes, baby wipes, sun cream, nappies, kitchen sinks…) and my work bag has everything I need (Oyster card, notebook, phone charger, train entertainment, purse).

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7.30am: leave the house for the 15 min drive to nursery. Depending on whether or not we’ve had time for a ‘proper’ breakfast the kids munch on bananas, breadsticks and shreddies. Try not to feel so guilty as at nursery they’ll have toast and fruit at 9.30. Hux never too excited for his mum to leave him with his teachers though I know as soon as I go he enjoys playing with his friends. Elfie slightly more excited but not as much as at term-time which is when she gets to spend an hour or so at Gagi and Papa’s: they give her bacon and egg for breakfast. Bacon and eggs > playing in a sandbox. Fair enough.

8.22am: I board my train to London having had a chat with my favourite car parking money man. Sometimes I buy a cup of tea but I’ve spilt boiling hot liquids on two different commuters in the last three months so… yeah. Depending on how tired I am I either work, sleep, read or watch Mock The Week on my iPad. I enjoy how the LOLing at the comedy disconcerts the other commuters.

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9.10am: pull into London. It’s crazy how you position yourself on the train affects your ongoing journey; I always sit at the front of the train so I can beat the crowd, otherwise you can be stuck on the platform for five minutes. The escalator down to the Northern Line at Euston isn’t working at the moment which is a big fat pain in my arse and adds an extra three minutes onto my precious short journey.

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9.30am: Old Street. Power walk to the office in Shoreditch and catch up on overnight blog posts from the world of interiors. Check Twitter and Facebook feeds (for IKEA, not for me, duh I already did that on the train ;). Make sure there’s great content lined up that day to share on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. I don’t have time to eat breakfast at home so I either have a green juice from POD, porridge from Pret or some Kale and Apple juice from Waitrose. This is me trying to cling on to some sense of healthy diet in the face of a million croissants.

10am: department heads meeting, catching up with what’s going on with the production of the magazine and how the Social Media activity can support it. Earlier on this month I helped Homes Editor Jo co-ordinate a storage makeover and shoot at the home of one of my favourite New York bloggers which was really exciting.

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10.30am: catch up on emails, have a bit of a chat with followers on Twitter. Check on how my targets are looking for the month and compare with my strategy.

1pm: I try not to eat lunch at 11.30 but it’s a challenge. I either walk to either Itsu or Pret and return to eat at my desk while perusing blog posts. If it’s a nice day I go to sit in the park and on Fridays visit Whitecross Street Market – YUM. I like lunch.

2pm: more meetings. I’m working on a couple of really fun projects at the moment – one is monitoring how the rest of the 31 countries in Europe are using our content – so it’s time to catch everyone up on where I’m at with them. Elfie and Hux’s nursery send little videos of what they did that day and they’re with my mum at that point so we have a lovely chat. Apart from that one time I discovered they had Hand, Foot and Mouth disease… that wasn’t so lovely.

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4pm: review how the Social Media posts have been received that day and have a peruse of IKEA’s Pinterest account.

5.20pm: tie up any last-minute emails or issues before hometime. On Wednesdays the kids’ dad comes to put them to bed so I’ll pop for a burger and a glass of wine with a friend or Mr Alice, otherwise it’s straight back to Eustom for the 6.13 train.

7pm: arrive back into Milton Keynes station. It’s a 15 minute drive to pick up the kids from my parents’, then back home for bedtime. Once a week I’ll hang around with them for a chat and a glass of wine while Elfie and Hux run riot in the garden. When we get home it’s milk and stories; they’re never in bed before 8pm but I don’t mind anymore (I used to be a 7pm bedtime Nazi). That time in the evenings with them is so precious.

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8.30pm: decide I’d better have dinner. Shamefully my diet is no-where good as it used to be but I really struggle with the time and energy to cook solid Paleo meals. Consider it a success if I don’t eat a jar of salsa and tortilla chips (oops).

9pm: answer any essential emails, write blog posts. My email account is one thing that has suffered over the past few months and I’m kind of scared to look at it. Put a load of washing in the machine, stick the dishwasher on. I love my box sets and I usually tidy the kitchen or cook a big Spag Bol to the tune of Grey’s Anatomy.

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11.30pm: fall into bed, realising I should have done this an hour earlier. I like to try and read before I go to bed – my gorgeous friend Neva bought me a book subscription for my birthday and I have Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg burning a hole in my nightstand – but I normally fall asleep before I’ve had time to read a page. FAIL.

11.45pm: suddenly remember to set my alarm. I haven’t forgotten this part… yet.