Martyr, me?

27 Apr

If in doubt, blame the cat

I used to be a martyr. It’s hard to admit this. I’d sooner confess that in the mid-90s I regularly dyed my hair so it looked just like Geri Halliwell’s, than tell you that I was a martyr, because martyrs are the worst kinds of moaners. They talk with a tone that suggests “poor me.” They react in a passive-aggressive manner when they want something done; they would rather puncture holes in their weak chests than admit that they are eternal victims with an inability to take responsibility for their own fate in life.

I’m glad that I’m not a “poor me” person anymore, because I tend to be able to get myself out of ruts now, and don’t rely on other people to do it for me. That’s not to say that I don’t have a voice inside that sometimes screams out with a sense of outrage to someone who’s behaving badly “WHAT ABOUT ME?” but I don’t. If I want to be heard now, I try to speak in a tone that is not laced with a heavy dose of emotional blackmail.

It’s all too easy to look for somebody else to blame when the shit hits the fan. Sometimes I look at the cat and think “If you weren’t so overweight then we wouldn’t have paid out hundreds of pounds to have a cat tunnel built into our wall. Your fat ginger arse would have fitted through a normal cat flap and I could have gone to Berlin for the weekend, or, more pressingly, repaired the hole in the bath.” Long soaks and holidays will have to wait until next year and I sometimes want to kick him out into the garden but don’t, because I’m not prone to animal cruelty and it’s not his fault. In fact, when misfortunes occur or a bad week descends upon me or the family, there really is no blame involved at all. It’s just what happens.

This morning, after a very testing couple of hours (I was woken by my son telling me he’d wet the bed again) I approached every problem with a sense of sanity and proportion. I had combed every last visible nit out of my son’s hair by 7.30am; I’d scrubbed the pissy mattress and done the laundry by 7.45am; I’d dealt with my daughter’s wart by 8am and counselled her on the commonness of such ailments, and advised her to tell the boy in class who had called her “gross” and “diseased” to simply bugger off, or she’d rub it onto his nose so he’d get one too.

I also managed to take a deep breath when my husband – whose stress levels have gone through the roof in the last couple of days – told me he was leaving for work an hour earlier than usual. He likes it there. Home makes him feel uncomfortable when the kids are being normal. My old self would have shooed the children away, opened the door for him and whispered “It’s fine. I reckon I can manage to struggle through the rain with all the children and lack of a raincover on the buggy that YOU left in the park last week. But hey, at least your work colleagues will experience the nice you, which is something we have not been entitled to here for the past few days.”

At the doctors in the afternoon (my knee problems and my daughter’s wart cream prescriptions) the baby pulled a bookcase on himself. After the initial shock of the screaming and the badly made Ikea shelves quite literally dismembering the dolls that had once lived on them, we checked for bumps and bruises. In my “sensible” head, the one that did not allow for blame to creep in, I told myself that a doctor’s surgery is the best place to be when accidents happen. As it turned out, the baby was not concussed and for once I praised the flimsiness of flat-pack chipboard furniture: anything handmade out of real wood would have surely crushed him. I did not pick up the phone and say to my husband: “If you had stayed that extra hour this morning, things would have worked out better today.” I simply went home.

The transformation from martyr to mindful saint (ha!) has been a slow one. When I had my first child in my early twenties I imagined that the days of acting like a child were over. I quite simply thought that, once babe was placed in my arms, I would say goodbye to the days of acting like an overgrown teenager. Not so however.

There were episodes when I would look for anyone else to blame but myself when things didn’t go according to plan. If I ran out of money at the end of the month because my measly wage wouldn’t cover the rent, I would often blame something as ridiculous as my father being absent a lot when I was a child on the fact that I was struggling: anything but take responsiblity for the fact that I was a young, single mother who was not very good at budgeting and useless at finding well-paid work. Now I know if I had taken charge of the situation, I would have moved on a lot quicker in life.

A common complaint in recent years has been that I never have enough time. Most would say “well, who does?” but the solution would be “take time off when you can.” My husband has always been very forthcoming about telling me to go out whenever he’s at home. My old reaction would usually have been “I’d like to go out, but I’m really exhausted, having been woken by the baby and the rubbish truck and the neighbour having show-off sex next door.”

Anything would have been an excuse for not having a good time, because I wanted to remain the victim. But now, I take him up on those offers. I go out occasionally, I have fun and deal with feeling tired sometimes. After all, I don’t want to be the kind of woman who calls her child in 20 years on Christmas Eve, single, depressed and depressing, to ask if a turkey for one can be microwaved. No, for now I can pass the martyr badge onto my husband, who said at breakfast yesterday: “It’s alright. Give the last proper slice of bread to the children. I’ll be fine with the stale doorstep.”


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