Happy 72nd birthday dad

Dad and me in 1971
Dad and me in 1971

Today would have been my dad’s 72nd birthday.

If he had still been alive and healthy, I wonder what I would have bought him for this birthday…

Dad loved watching Scottish rugby (he would have been very animated watching today’s six nations match against France). He loved motor sports—bikes or cars, it didn’t really matter, although he had practical, hands-on experience of bike racing when he was younger.

At one point he was very much into building models of motorbikes, and his early love of steam railways led to him collecting 00-gauge Hornby models with a long-term plan of converting the old wash-house built next to our house into a room for his model railway.

He sang and acted, he played bagpipes, and he used to enjoy sitting on the edge of my bed listening to Queen, especially “Radio Ga Ga”.

I wonder what he’d have been into now had he not died at the age of 52.

Happy birthday dad, I love you.

Empty flat

Reuben and Joshua's bed
Reuben and Joshua’s bed

I struggle with weekends at the moment.

During the week I’m busy. I usually rise around 05:45, say morning prayer, have breakfast (usually porridge… what can I say, I’m Scottish), get myself together and head in to the office early. In the evening I return to my flat and get stuck in to hall life and other little projects that I have on the go right now (writing, illustrating, music, reading).

Most weekends I have my three children over, and I love it. I love them. I love being with them. I feel whole again. They have such energy, such life, such wild imaginations and we spend hours riffing off each other’s silliness with word play and rhyming (earlier today we had “stranger danger with the lone ranger”, and “I am Gimli, son of Glóin, son of… George?!”).

Some weekends they come over on Friday evening, still in their school uniforms, bouncing with energy, irritable with tiredness, overflowing with cuddles. A few hours later, they are asleep in bed, and I’m either asleep too or I spend a quiet evening in the lounge enjoying the emotional glow of having my boys with me again.

Saturday is usually filled with all sorts of activities. Reuben enjoys lying beneath his duvet on the bedroom floor with his tablet, watching cartoons on Netflix or Minecraft tutorials on YouTube. Joshua and Isaac migrate from the sofa to my PC and back to variously play computer games on my PC (mostly LEGO, although they’ve recently got into the multiplayer Ballistic Tanks and Dirt 3 rally) or their tablets. Usually at some point the LEGO comes out. Yesterday Reuben presented me with a packet of Papercraft models he’d received for his birthday asking for some help to build them. Translation: Dad, could you please build all of these for me while I watch?

Minecraft, but on paper: Papercraft.
Minecraft, but on paper: Papercraft.

This morning I heard Isaac (who will be six next week) exclaim, “Look at me! I’m doing elf parkour!” while playing LEGO The Hobbit.

Sometimes we’ll go out, though by the weekend they are often ready for a quiet day in, especially if the weather is foul. (Me too!) Yesterday we went out shopping for new winter hats and gloves, and they then spent a couple of hours (and most of the heat from the flat) traipsing in and out to play in the snow.

By Sunday lunchtime I generally begin to feel melancholic and heavy as I begin to anticipate the loss that I will feel when they have to go home. It’s unusual for me not to shed a tear after they are driven away. Not always immediately, but certainly at some point.

On some occasions Joshua (mostly) has simply refused to leave and has curled himself up in a ball on the sofa in a sulk and has stopped responding to any encouragement to leave, or simply repeats “I don’t want to go!” Sometimes I’ve just let him stay for a few more hours and we’ve enjoyed a fabulously fun afternoon, just the two of us, before cooking dinner and driving him back to Anstruther in the evening.

This is the hardest part of the separation for me. I’m sure I’ve said this before—I’ve certainly mentioned it in conversations more than once. I can accept that Jane doesn’t want to be with me: I’ve broken up with girls in the past. But it hurts to not live with my children.

I’ve often wondered what other people think about me because I moved out. It wasn’t easy. I think it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. On the day I moved out, my brother at times had to physically carry me. I’ve never experienced grief like it—my father’s death nineteen years ago was a walk in the park (well, in the cemetery, at least) compared with this. I would have happily stayed with them but it’s less socially acceptable for a mother to move away from her children than a father.

During the week, where I can, I nip over to Anstruther after work to see them for an hour or two, in a house from which my memory is slowly being erased. It’s not enough, but it’s better than nothing and it keeps me going until the weekend when we can enjoy another few days of silliness and laughter and cuddles together.

This weekend, for some reason, the WiFi went off in my flat. So it was a good opportunity to introduce them to the wonders of setting up a portable WiFi hotspot using my smartphone (4G, thankfully). And then watching them gobble up about half a month’s bandwidth allowance in two days between them on their tablets.

We also started to play around with Microsoft Kodu, which is designed to introduce children to computer programming.

This is Isaac's latest world and Rover.
This is Isaac’s latest world, and Rover the robot.

Using nothing more than an Xbox games controller (and/or keyboard and mouse) Kodu allows you to easily create games within a simple point-and-click environment. It was amazing to see Isaac get into it and think through how to build his world and program the controller with the basic framework of when X, do Y, e.g. when I press A on the gamepad, fire a missile; when I bump into a rock, make it explode; or when I press the right trigger on the gamepad, make my character grow to four times his normal size. Their experience with Minecraft: Pocket Edition has done wonders for their creativity and problem-solving skills.

And so… to my usual Sunday evening routine. Over the next few hours I will sink back into the silence of the flat, enjoy the warmth of the memories of another fun weekend with my children, and look forward to the next one. And prepare for my week ahead.

A weekend of LEGO building

Kylo Ren's command shuttle and Poe Dameron's X-wing fighter
Kylo Ren’s command shuttle and Poe Dameron’s X-Wing fighter

Reuben and Joshua have spent the weekend building LEGO models they received for their eighth birthdays.

Reuben built Poe’s X-Wing Fighter (75102) while Joshua built Kylo Ren’s Command Shuttle (75104). And so that Isaac wouldn’t feel left out he received a wee silver Captain Phasma stormtrooper minifigure.

It took them pretty much all day, finishing just before bedtime.

And so the divorce proceedings begin…

Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon cover, showing a prism

Tomorrow morning marks the formal beginning of divorce proceedings.

At 10:00 in Dundee, Jane and I will meet with two mediators (one also a solicitor) from Relationships Scotland to begin ‘All Issues Mediation’. The end result will be a document, a Mediation Summary, that sets out (I presume in legal-ese) the terms of our proposed agreements resulting from the mediation which we then take to our own solicitors and ask them to process it, to make it legal.

This evening I had to fill in a 10 page document ahead of tomorrow’s meeting that lays out my full financial situation as of the formal date of our separation: Saturday 14 November 2015. It wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it might be, although I am still a little confused about pensions and insurance/assurance, and all that other serious grown-up stuff.

The last six months have given me some perspective on the whole thing, especially my last four months living in hall as the warden. While I miss my children desperately, I do otherwise feel happier than I have felt in a long, long time. I feel more like my old self, but a little wiser and more experienced old self. And that is a good place to be to go into these pre-divorce proceedings.

I don’t feel angry with Jane, I don’t even feel sad now. I know that we tried our best—I certainly know that I tried my very best to make things work. We just couldn’t make it work—we simply couldn’t communicate on the same wavelength. We were like two magnets pushing against one another. Or like when coloured lights come together they produce white: together we lost our identities, our uniqueness, our vibrancy. There is no point in me holding on, or resenting, or feeling hurt. That’s not the road to healing or wholeness.

I have said from the start that I want our divorce to be carried out in a kind and caring way, with grace and respect. I want to model to the boys the kind of behaviour that demonstrates that even though our marriage relationship came to an end it can be ended in a way that allows us both to walk away with dignity.

I will try to blog what I can about the process in the hope that it helps others going through a similar situation.

Gardening, stamina and Joshua’s chalk drawings

Our back garden in a state of order
Our back garden in a state of order

One of the delights of this past weekend — apart from almost seeing the blood moon eclipse last night (there was too much cloud cover at 03:47 when I peered out of my south-westwards facing study window) — was getting the back garden tidied up.

Of course, the front garden still looks like a jungle. (Sorry neighbours!) But the back garden looks splendid and neat. The secret to tidy-looking gardens, I believe, is simply in defining straight lines and borders. It’s a bit like web design. But without the benefits of flexbox.

What is frustrating, though, is that my stamina still hasn’t returned after last year’s headache.

It’s been over a year now since I was in hospital. When I got out my GP said that I shouldn’t expect to begin to get my energy back until January or February; it was more like April when I began to feel that I was making some improvement.

But then in July the headaches began again. I know I was pushing myself too hard: cycling every couple of days, staying up too late, and I need to get my eyes tested again (appointment booked for Monday).

Time to reel myself in a bit and be a bit more sensible and disciplined.

Still, in the meantime at least the shed is tidy. And who doesn’t love a tidy potting shed?

Look! You can now walk in through the door and not tread on something.
Look! You can now walk in through the door and not tread on something.

And I think I may have discovered that Joshua is the secret identity of Banksie.

I love this cheerful drawing of a man and... a thing.
I love this cheerful drawing of a man and… a thing.

Seemingly to the right of the cheerful man is his thought bubble. I need to ask Joshua again what he’s thinking. Because I seem to recall that it was something random. Like a pie.