How to Develop a Fear of Driving

This started out as a ‘how I’m tackling it’ sort of post, but I realised there’s quite a lot to say on developing fears that change (diminish) your life. So the conquering bit will come next…

Most people take driving for granted. I’m writing this for the handful of people who totally *get* the terror of manouvering a hunk of metal at high speed just inches away from other hunks of metal. Those people who feel so overwhelmed behind the wheel that they talk themselves into a cold sweat just sitting there. This is for you (though you driver-pros: you might identify with some of this if you’ve got your own personal demons… public speaking, heights, whatever).

SO. I passed my driving test half my lifetime ago. It was after a year of eager-to-please driving lessons because I was 18 and it was the thing to do. I never cracked it. I felt like I fluked the test, then went to live in Hong Kong, then York and forgot about the whole deal.

Then everyone got older, stopped being students and started driving. And slowly, slowly, slowly I started to feel less like a grown up and more steeped in shame that I just couldn’t do it. I tried a couple of times, driving round car parks. Nearly crashed into Sainsbury’s trolley park in first gear through nerves. I learned that I couldn’t drive. And I really didn’t want to, or need to, but I didn’t like myself either. Driving was what grown ups did and I didn’t do it.

I spent my twenties trying to brush it off. Richard and I didn’t have a car for ages, which was fine as we lived in a small, walkable city.  I told myself that car non-ownership was an ethical stance, we were happy living without one. (And that would have been great, were it true – rather than being an excuse. An acquaintance of mine once likened cars to guns: “You need to know how to use one, but never want to have to.” Extreme but not even something I could identify with, what with NOT BEING ABLE TO DRIVE.)

When I was pregnant I had refresher lessons, and my instructor was diplomatically but noticeably shocked by how in-pieces I was. Anytime another car came by I would shake and sweat a very distinct ‘about to kill-or-be-killed’ sweat.  I got to 38 weeks pregnant and unconfidently driving on A-roads when we called it quits – he was understandably worried about imminent labour (and, I felt, quite glad to let go of this rather strange client).

So it all went quiet again. Another half-hearted attempt during my second pregnancy, this time with a very nervous Richard in the passenger seat. I had a panic attack trying to park at a Homebase car park (we didn’t even want to go to Homebase, it was just an easy drive).

Why did this happen? How did I become so convinced that I was incapable of doing something that other adults took for granted?

  1. I never wanted to drive. I was doing it for all the wrong reasons: because everyone else was, because I felt I should, because I wanted to please people. So I never took charge of the learning process and got comfortable with what *my* needs as a learner were.
  2. I catastrophised. Everytime I sat behind the wheel I pictured everything that could go wrong, and the worst possible outcome. So turning left became a high stakes game of crash and burn and turning right didn’t happen at all. This froze me. Totally unfixable until I was prepared to face it.
  3. I only noticed the bad. If I drove and everything was fine apart from stalling at a hill-start, well, that was a write-off. No matter that I’d negotiated roundabouts, slow moving traffic, gear changes, tractors, the dreaded right-turns onto major roads and parked cars without incident. I’d stalled and therefore I couldn’t drive.
  4. I credited everyone else with absolute competence. It didn’t occur to me that (at least some of the) other drivers might feel uncertain about what they were doing. And that made the gulf enormous: us and them and I was evidently useless and could never become one of ‘them’. More than this, far worse, I began to sub-consciously associate the ability to drive with competence. And my sense of self-worth quietly eroded.
  5. I was terrified about what everyone thought. Making a fool of myself by not overtaking at the right time, or holding up a line of traffic by not spotting the gap to turn into. That mattered. So much. So much that it kept me off the road. Never mind that to them it would’ve been fleeting irritation at worst. And that, really, if they were that unhappy about someone else’s driving they were seriously in need of a new hobby or some meditation or something.
  6. I didn’t do anything about it. At first it because there was no need, and then it was because I was embarrassed and scared. But I let the rot set in and it grew rottener and rottener.

It was so readily done. Half a lifetime of talking myself out of the ability to do something. I’m working on fixing it (coming soon!).

Five things we learned on our camp trip

We spent the last few days camping with friends. It felt like going home. Moments of joy while feeling fully myself among people I care about and admire. We paid very little heed to the clock, and watched the skies and the trees instead. Here are some things we learned.

1. You need (at least) three breakfasts

Brioche and scotch pancakes have become our starter breakfast of choice. Instantly grabbable from the sleeping bag for waking-up munchies. Minimal crumb-age. Sweet and comforting to ease you into the morning, but not too sweet. Great for fueling up while unearthing the crayons and football (Ro and H) or making the first tea of the morning (Rich). I was asleep.

Ro and H follow that up with a roaming menu of ‘cereal with red bits’, apricots, raisins and whatever else they can forage while drawing, waking up our friends, creating caves for midges or playing some version of football.

We then cook sausages (of course).

2. Woody Debris Dams are a thing

Richard told me about this on our walk. When twigs and things get caught up in a stream they form  a natural barrier. It also has a more technical name that doesn’t sound as good (just say ‘wooden debris dam’ aloud for a moment). They are healthy for rivers because they promote biodiversity though creating habitats and establishing a natural flow.

Here’s what one looks like:

P1040591

3. Take more blankets than you think you need

You can do so much with a blanket. Picnic. Dress up as Elsa or other icon of choice. Mop up a spill or towel yourself dry if you can’t be bothered to find the towel. Layer over roll-mats to create extra insulation and warmth. Layer over sleeping bags/duvets for same. Drape over shoulders for post-dusk hot chocolate/whiskey. Wrap around your feet when it’s 3am and you’ve not slept because your toes are jangling with cold.

4. The mundane is no longer so

So much of camping is about the basics – preparing the next meal (or cup of tea), trying to keep the inside of the tent relatively mud-free and dry. And so the basics take on a magical slow quality of their own. Everyone sat chopping veg together, or the littles harvesting buttercups during a washing up session. Conversations are opened and everything is interesting. Indeed, when I asked Ro about her favourite bits of the trip, up there was “When that man let me watch him clean the toilets.”

5. The optimum number of footballs is one per child

Ro and her friend Ed spent much of the time running around with a football. And fairly frequently, as you might expect with two 4 year olds, a tussle broke out about whose ball it was/whose turn it is/what game was being played. And then the second ball was offered. Cue the end of arguments, around 30 seconds of playing separately followed by some newly invented game bringing them together again. An abundance of footballs, an abundance of play.

When I grow up

What would I do if money was no object?

I don’t know. That’s the problem. Part of my problem is that I’ve not wanted to fail, so I failed in the most miserable way: by not moving myself – not doing the scary things. My twenties were spent in a state of fear: of not being good enough, of not changing job because I didn’t want to risk un/underemployment, of not challenging myself, of not spending time in the company of people I admired because I wasn’t interesting enough.

I’m over that now. Becoming a parent blew all that apart. My world was re-centred. I had to do stuff I had no clue about, go to new places, I met loads of new (wonderful) people, I realised that no-one else really knew what they were doing either.

So I’m coming to a new understanding with failure. I see it as the best way to learn about myself and the world (this is something my children seem to know instinctively and I want them to keep this wisdom for as long as possible).

But focussing on what it is I want to do, there’s the rub. I was a classic ‘good all rounder’ at school, and got so focussed on chasing the top grades that I lost the ability to work out what really made me light up. And then I treated work as an extension of school, trying to work out what the right thing to do was according to my teacher (boss).

And I’ve now worked out that life doesn’t have to be, shouldn’t be, like that. That it’s far better to make your own way doing the you-stuff rather than the what-other-people-say-stuff. I’m still struggling with that.

Writing helps. Writing’s always been there – the times I’ve been most proud of at work were either when I’d written something powerful (or when I’d spent time listening to someone and they’d felt supported). Writing’s what I turn to when I’m trying to work things out (hello there, current blogpost!). And writing’s something other people say I’m good at. To the point where I’m being asked to do it for money. But now what?

A lesson in how to choose

I’ve had such a frustrating evening. I wanted to relax. I wanted to do something in the present moment that felt absorbing, fun, wholesome.

Not endlessly browsing Facebook and HuffPost.

Not scrabbling around finding new playdates, weekend trips, picnics to plan because that gave me a sense of purpose.

My problem? Not settling into something. Not giving it a go, and chance to take root. I rejected all the books on our shelves. Ignored the yarn waiting to be crocheted/knitted up into some mangled creation. Found reasons not to go for a run or bake cakes for our picnic tomorrow. Niggled at Rich who thankfully saw straight through me and didn’t take the bait.

And now I feel yucky, all twitchy and cross. It reminds me of being desperate for a wee when I was small and almost bursting because I couldn’t choose the perfect book to read for that 3 seconds I sat on the loo (I’m not the only person who did that, am I? Am I?!).

The truth is, when I did eventually pick a book, it was fine. It was the right book. Pretty much any book would’ve been the right book. Just making a choice and going with it was all I needed to do to enhance my youthful weeing experience.

It seems I never learned that lesson. The hours I spent hopping in front of my bookcase. And that’s how I’ve ended up here now, writing an inane post about wee.

Busy is the new fine

I don’t know whether that phrase popped up on my newsfeed, or whether someone said it to me, but it’s true. I’m pretty sure that most people respond with some form of “Oh, you know, busy” when asked how they are. Busy is expected, acceptable, good.

I was thinking about this tonight when looking at our weekly commitments from September, armed with a piece of A3, divided into the days of the week, and some post-its (I’m totally a 20th century sort of lass, this blog’s a late evolution of a now-full beloved yellow notebook).

I ended up with pink bits of paper everywhere and in a right lather about it.

I want to make sure that we can make some of our local home ed meets. We’ve been going for the past year and met some inspiring people and done some fun things.

I want to give Ro the chance to be away from us. She loves that, gets so buzzy about telling us about what she’s done (in many ways she’d love school, but that’s a whole other post).

I don’t want H to be forgotten in all this. I want her to have time to hang out with some littlies, develop her own peer group, have chance to be a toddler.

And we need to make sure we have time to see friends, that we can start the swimming classes Ro’s asked for, that I get some time to work, that there’s plenty of time for playing.

It’s too much. Too busy. How’s it going to work? When do we get to stop and notice the flowers turning to blackberries, press our noses to the paving to watch the ants – real up close and personal – like we did today?

And then I had some chocolate orange and felt calmer. We’re feeling our way at this. Doubtless we’ll get things wrong, but there’s no blueprint. Ro and H are navigating the world in their own ways. They just need time and space to do that.

And hell’s bells, our girls are good at telling us what’s good for them and what isn’t. We’ll work it out together.

Leaving the fear behind

Our decision-making about our children’s education started out very much tied up in fear and discomfort.

We knew that we didn’t like the way primary education was going, with baseline testing, a focus (which may no longer be the focus but was looming scarily large under Gove) on a military ethos and its related values of obedience and conformity. And we thought we just did not want to be part of that, however nice the local schools and teachers were (and however much they tried to mitigate the effects of those dehumanising policy decisions).

So we looked elsewhere and the fear turned to a sense of astonishment, of possibilities. We’re so lucky to live near a number of home-educating families with older children. Seeing them in action, going about their days, enjoying life, asking questions, climbing trees shot to pieces my mental image of a rather grim household sat around the kitchen table with workbooks.

Imagine if our children could spend their childhood finding out about the world at first hand, at their own pace, getting their hands dirty, playing with friends of all ages, finding out answers to things they care about, making connections, together.

Imagine that.

A season of change

Things are changing this summer. The biggest shift will come, oddly enough, when we *don’t* change anything. Come September we’re going to be carrying on life as we know it – Ro, our eldest firesprite of a daughter, won’t be going to school.

This continuation on our part feels momentous, moving us away from the norm and very firmly towards a life more closely aligned with our values. So this blog’s a place to capture some of how we navigate that, how we find our feet as a home educating family.

It’s a time of change for me too. Over the past year I’ve completely changed my relationship with (paid) work, set up a freelance writing business and started to think over the choices I make and what I want my life to stand for. So I’ll be writing about my own continuing education too (and try and not be too navel-gazey about it).