Three lean years

What happened in our house

Three lean years

"Mama, I want to be a genetic engineer when I grow up.

I want to make a new species.

I can give you Mum the genes of a daffodil

so you can die every winter

and come back every spring again.

That way you can never die.

You’ll live forever.”

Sofie and I were walking fast down the Falcon Rd in Battersea, West London while searching for a place where we could eat something quickly as we had only half an hour before her ballet lesson. Sofie’s mind was already set on pasta Bolognese: as usual, I didn’t mind as anything would do for me. We were hungry and a bit tired after a busy morning at our house and then going on to spend an hour while driving from South East London down here.

What is happening with Solveig - the main character? Take a look at the sample of the app.

Looking attentively around and trying to locate anything which would suit us, I thought to myself, “Gosh, the requirements for getting a simple place to sit down to eat, are hard to satisfy especially when you’ve got a specific request and very little time. Definitely, a cafe where they serve food quickly would be the best, I thought, it has to have pasta though… I quickly added as I smiled to myself.”

We passed a local pub on the corner, followed by the proceeding line of shops such as Tesco local, Greg, Fish & Kebabs, chemist, cheap International calls, Balti Kitchen. There were people on the street passing us by as we walked as they kept on moving without having time to stop.

“Hurry up Sofie, we need to be back very soon.”

“Mama, why do you always keep rushing us like this?” Sofie cried back.

“Sofie we have a busy life” I explained, “Also, I want you to have an interesting life”.

I’m this kind of mother who would drive her own daughter through the whole London just so she can participate in the best ballet lessons in town.

“I want pasta” Sofie said impassively, pouting.

“Hunny, we can try but if we don’t see any place with pasta in the next 5 minutes, we will have to eat what is available, all right?”

While I spoke, my daughter could listen to the first sign of frustration in my voice.

“You said we’d have pasta in the car! You said it yourself”. Sofie shouted as I was feeling already guilty. I did not like her being upset.

“Yes, I did, didn’t I? Only if we manage to find something quickly.”

Being a child, my daughter didn’t care about privilege of having extra exciting life in one of the most extraordinary cities in the world. She was hungry and tired and would love to sit down with a hot cup of chocolate and pasta bolognese.

We walked another couple of minutes. During the walk, I almost lost my hope and started thinking how I was going to explain it to her while dealing with a sudden stroke of guilt flooding my brain.

“I screwed this up again”, I said to myself, “I shouldn’t have promised it.”

But then I turned my head and there it was – All’s place; a cafe with the picture of a big smoking pasta plate spread across the large window. Sometimes, things just fix themselves, I smiled broadly as the final realisation hit me. That meant we would have lunch and be in Miss Semenova’s class right on time.

We walked into Alls’ place and it was almost empty. It was a weird feeling as I thought it was lunch time; after all, I would expect it to be packed at about 11.45am. The lady with a proficient smiley face took our orders straight away, happy that we knew exactly what we wanted. We sat next to the window to have a view on the street and I began to feel suddenly quite happy.

“How are you doing, hunny? Are you tired of driving?”

“Not really” she said to my relief. “I actually quite like it.”

I knew it was often difficult for her but she never really complained about anything.

“I like going to that school a lot and I like spending this time with you in the car actually. She said as she look out the window.

“Really?!” I was almost grateful to her.

We had been enjoying the moment so much. It’s actually quite rare that we could sit and talk without being interrupted. I often felt guilty for not listening to her more carefully when I needed to do a few things at the same time.

Three years ago, when I announced I quit my job, I’d been overwhelmed with questions from every possible direction, but mostly from my family. “What?” “How?” “Why would you do that?” “What are you going to do now?” “Are you sure you are not going to regret that?” “Was your job that bad?” “Have you really thought it through?” “What are you going to do now?” “Maybe it’s not too late to come back you know.” Even more confusion brought the fact that I did not intend to find a new job at all. “I’ll try to establish my own business” I said. “Are you insane? You know how difficult it is. You have two children. You won’t have time.” It was more than enough to discourage the most passionate enthusiast not to mention me, the fragile being with the idea on the quite shaky footing.

I knew they were probably right, at least about the time, and that was really bothering me. I could not expect more enthusiasm from my family as always. I didn’t know the worst was yet to come. For the next several months I was bombarded constantly with questions “So… how is your business going? What are you doing now? Have you done it yet?”

At that point the truth was, I barely knew myself; what on Earth I am going to do now? I had a very slight idea, some sketches, lots of energy and that’s all, really. The only thing I knew for sure was I’m not going back to 9 to 5 routine anymore, unless I have to.

Impossible questions to answer were multiplying from every possible direction. Tirelessly I’ve tried to answer them. My explanations sounded very often weird to many people. Even worse, it started sounding ridiculous to myself after repeating it aloud so many times. The more and more I’ve been explaining myself the worst I started to feel. It was eating a lot of my energy, not to mention putting into the threat the last bits of my courage I kept clutching on to.

While we shared the beautiful moment, Sofie cried out suddenly, “Where is my bracelet? I lost it, mum I lost it!”

“What bracelet Sofie?” I inquired, my face looking worried.

“The one I got from Jessica! I’ve never taken it off and I remember it was on my wrist when we were driving.”

“Oh, I have no idea what happened”, I said. “Do you think you could’ve dropped it on our way here?”

I could see her chin starting to crackle and in no time, she was crying her eyes out. “Sofie, I’m so sorry, I don’t know what happened to your precious bracelet, but never mind, it’s only a bracelet and it was just plastic ring, wasn’t it?”

“But I got it from Jessica”, she said, weirdly surprised by my insensitivity, “and I have been putting it on since two weeks ago when she give it to me. Forever! Mom. I said I’ll be wearing it always and I don’t want to lose it!!”.

At that point, I began to feel sorry that I had called it a plastic ring. I really regretted saying it. I was starting to get the feeling that our lunch was not going to be peaceful after all when our eyes latched on to a small boy walking down the street. He was about 8 year old, cheeky smile on his freckled, pale face. His curly black hair was being blown backwards by a little wind and he was jumping up and down while walking down the pavement and juggling something in his hand. As he passed by cafe’s window, we continued to stare at him, or more precisely at the thing he was bouncing in his hands up and down.

“It’s my bracelet!” Sofie cried loudly and before I knew it, she jumped out of her sit, ran outside and yelled towards the boy “give me my bracelet back!”

Sofie ran with the speed of light. For a girl who is usually daydreaming, she was very quick and sporty, any onlooker would agree. I tried to catch up with her, shouting at top of my lungs. “Soffieee stop please! Stop! Sofie what are you doing?” The boy started laughing and ran away from her as quickly as he could. Sofie, on the other hand, had almost reached him when he suddenly turned to the right and started running down a small street towards the garden wall at the street end.

He stopped; stopping Sofie as well in her stride. I caught up with them, completely out of my breath.

“Give me my bracelet back!” Sofie shouted angrily as she stretched her hands towards him, “it’s from Jess!” she continued.

“What do you mean? It’s my bracelet and I’m not giving it to anybody!!!”

I quickly realized it was mostly my responsibility to remember all our home rituals to help my kids make great memories. Seven days a week, twenty four hours a day. The calendar is endless. Bonfire nights, fireworks, pumpkin carvings followed by advent calendars and extensive christmas preparations. Easter egg hunts, birthday parties, school fairs and trips. Six weeks of summer to be organised. Amazing photos which need to be taken. Precious artwork which needs to be collected and preserved as well as special marks they are making, first stories they are writing, unique ornaments and sculptures, letters, drama plays. There are also school holidays, lots of them in fact, kids sick days, schools trips (which I was often volunteering to help), extra school projects, medical visits, family events preparations and lots of after school lessons and clubs. On top of it, I required my best, a secretary skills for organising their extensive social lifes. Playdates and meetings, buying presents and gifts can be a job on its own.

I’ve noticed with amazement that every evening my brain was completely dead. “There is absolutely no chance to stay sane” I worried. I really needed to focus, work hard, make plans, be creative, but I was being constantly interrupted. Sorting out various needs of my kids was my primary job. Very quickly I realised that the only time I was going to have is between 9.30 – 2.30. Only if I’m lucky. Five hours a day at best. In front of me there was this long, gloomy time when I was trying to figure out what to do with these precious hours. One has to be very strong minded to fight the temptation to put the dishwasher on and load a washing machine when kids are at school. Also whatever you’re up to, please don’t start cleaning your house when it’s you time to do creative work.

It’s challenging to be a full time mum to two gorgeous children, but it’s almost impossible on top of it to be creative with constant mental overload. I declared I was almost ready to give up.

”You have to seriously take some of this stuff on your laps”, I said to Dark D one evening. Then I’d indulged into my speech to elaborate and draw a better picture on how much work it all costs. “I exactly know Sabs, but I’m doing what I can too”, he said, “I’m trying to give you as much time as possible, I can, though, do the night time routine with kids as I actually miss them”. To be honest it gave me actually a bit of extra time and after initial drama we’re all use to it now.

I did the best I could I’ve thrown myself into work. Highly motivated at once, I really tried, but even with my best of intentions after a few months I found myself going nowhere. My project was going very, very slow. I way passed my initial deadline of few months and I was nowhere near the end at all.

“… So how is your business going? Have you finished yet” “When are you planning to finish it? Seriously is it really taking so long?” “So what are you really doing?” “Well..I’m still working on it.” It felt suddenly to me like I’m explaining myself to every person I’m meeting. The circle of terror in my brain started to spin. For months and months I didn’t have anything new to say except “I’m working on it”. My brain was trying to negotiate its way out of it, but it’s not so easy to do.

”If you don’t give me my bracelet I’m going to take it myself”, Sofie said as her face grew angrier.

I never expected my daughter to be so determined, and feisty.

“Sofie what are you doing, maybe it’s not your bracelet you don’t know it’s yours”, I’ve tried to intervene. “It’s not possible anyway. I don’t know what happened to it, but let’s go back to the cafe”.

“Mama, why you’re not on my side?” Sofie said in a disappointed tone.

“Hunny, I’m always on your side but you can’t take something from that boy if you not sure it’s even yours.”

“I’m sorry”, I said to the boy, “my daughter thought your bracelet was her bracelet. She had exactly the same one and she had just lost it”.

He laughed cheekily and didn’t reply, bouncing the bracelet up and down. Gosh, it was very annoying but I tried to call to my higher feelings and ignored it.

“It was nice meeting you” I said instead, “Is your mum anywhere around?”

He shook his head and pointed to the garden behind the wall.

“Ahh. that’s where you live.” I took Sofie under my arm we started to walk back.

“Mum, if it was his bracelet don’t you think it was weird he had just started running straight away like that”, she pointed out.

“All right, maybe it was a bit unusual but you know, he probably got scared, you shouted at him and he just ran”.

“He definitely didn’t look scared!” She sneered. Nevertheless we both turned our heads to look at the boy again and the street was completely empty.

Being overwhelmed with everyday duties and working without seeing the clear goal in front of me is hard and it’s easy to lose a sense of direction. However one important thing I’ve noticed is no matter how slow and painfully I was moving forward I always noticed change for better. Every time I’ve compared my work with what I had a couple months ago there was always progress for better. Small but always progress. That’s what was motivating me all the time.

”Where is he,” I asked. “Is he gone to the garden? That’s weird because I don’t see any gate.

Maybe he’s truly a ghost!” Sofie had offered.

“Don’t be silly, my love. He’s not a ghost”, but somehow, I started to worry about him. Why was he wandering through the streets on his own like that.

“Let’s have a look through the wall mum!”

“Ok let’s do it”. I agreed without any resistance.

We tried to find a convenient place to climb the wall so we could peek inside. Instead, we found a small metal gate on the left hand side, hidden beneath the climber. When I pushed it gently, it opened and even though I knew that it’s not a good idea to get into someone’s garden uninvited, at that point, I didn’t care and my brain was a bit blurry. I had a strange feeling that something is not right in this whole situation. We walked into an ordinary town garden, quite big according to London’s standard. There, we saw an old, small frame man playing with a tiny dog, sitting on the nice curved bench. He looked at us and smiled.

“O dear god, how I got into this” I thought. He’s going to call the police and with my eyes I visualized a headline in a local newspapers reading, ‘Crazy mom invades people’s garden in a search of a plastic bracelet’. It was too late now to just disappear so I said “Hello, I’m sorry to walk into your garden, but we had just seen a small boy and we were worried about him.”

No matter how much busy you are just snatch and steal whatever time you can get to do your thing. Even if it’s only a bit, it’s still more than nothing. Cut out whatever is pulling you down and do what matters to you.

“Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

Angela Lee Duckworth At TED Talks Education

Persistence, perseverance, grit and passion is the most important, but how to keep it going? Many times I imagined I was a survivor. Providing emotional support for my kids and sorting out their lives, in my mind, I was taking every moment to plan what to do next, when finally I have a moment to sit down, I’ll know quickly what to do.

It’s become a standard, I always carry my computer with me. I know every possible cafe in the whole area. I know their wifi passwords and where the sockets are located. I divided my work by the stages of my brain. When tried I can do some boring, not requiring concentration work, saving the most productive time for creative work. Here and there, whenever you literally can. It really surprised me how much work I could get done this way.

Being busy definitely taught me one more thing. The importance of rest and surrounding myself with something I like. It can be really very small things. It can be exercising, going out occasionally, reading a book very rarely, having my nails done, self-support groups, motivational talks, talks with people who really inspire me. Whatever truly brings me joy. It really works its magic. Slowly changes my routines and changes my life for better. The next best thing and probably the hardest one I’ve done is to stop to worry so much. I almost made myself immune to any negatives coming my way.

Slowly one by one I was doing my tasks, going through my plan. Until I realised even though it takes much longer than I expected it’s always moving forward.

Eventually, my first step took me almost three years instead of a several months I’d initially planned.

Starting your own business is very often a lonely task. Especially when you have a busy live and lots of responsibilities at the same time. There is really no need to constantly explain to the outside world what is your motivation and what you are doing. It’s a waste of energy – I would think now. There is no need to justify your own choices. No one has to really know what you doing. It’s only you that counts.

“Why would you worry about him?” He asked.

“He was wandering through the streets on his own”, I replied. “We just wanted to make sure he’s alright and that’s all. Is he your grandson perhaps?”

“Does making sure someone is alright include walking into someone’s garden?”, he laughed as he inquired.

My blood froze, but he continued talking.

“Time is passing by so quickly like the blink of an eye.

He is so small I’ve noticed.

“Now all has changed’, said the man. “Why were you chasing him”? He suddenly inquired.

I could feel my face burning. “We weren’t really chasing him. My daughter thought he had something she had lost, so she got running after him.”

“I see. I’ve done that once myself. I wanted to have things and I was running to get them, I lost something more important; my own memories with my family I haven’t really made. The memories I lost”, he said sadly. “But I got lucky again my memories now can grow again and again”.

He looked so old as he spoke. I know it’s not possible but I could almost swear he got older while we were talking.

We heard a cracking noise from the other side and immediately turned our heads and saw a little boy standing there.

“Hi again” the boy said.

“Are you alright? We were worried about you”, I offered, hesitantly. “Is your mum staying here? And is that your granddad?” I turned my head but the old man wasn’t there. Instead, the little doggy ran and jumped at the boy.

“Of course I’m fine”, he said, “It’s my home. I’m catching my memories”, he laughed as he patted the dog.

“Were you really worried about me? Or is that what you wanted?” he said as he begun to bounce the bracelet in his hands again.

“I don’t want your bracelet anymore. It’s just a stupid plastic anyway.” Sofie said suddenly. “You can keep it. I don’t think Jess would mind if I have it or not and by the way I was also worried about you even though I don’t know you that much.”

“Really?” he seemed to be happy to hear that someone cared about him. “Can you visit me for a while again?” He asked in an enthusiastic tone.

“Mum, can we stop for a minute next time we are at ballet?” She asked.

“We’ll try” I said unsure.

“Never forget, the most important thing is the time you spent with people you like”, said the boy. “Now I have to go and you go as well”.

We turned, towards the gate and as we walked through the street once again, we looked one more time at our new friend. He was standing on the wall of his garden smiling but he was much bigger now, looked like a teenager.

Was it a good decision? I felt many times completely insane, scared, and nervous. The lack of money and not having a pension in the feature is a daunting prospect. How am I going to make it, what am I doing? Those questions had never really stopped. Some days, however, I was supercharged with hope and, most importantly, enthusiasm. It’s a beautiful feeling when you’re doing something for yourself at once. I had lots of ideas, I was very creative, I was on top of the world. It’s a roller coaster of emotions all the time. Always, though, even in my biggest panic, when I ask myself “would you like to come back to the office?” the answer was always clear and very simple to me – never in a million years 🙂

As we returned to the café, our food was already on the table. Then we went on to have a great time talking to each other. Even then I haven’t slip my eye from the watch. When the time was up we had to run again.

“We’re late” I smiled as I checked my watch and beckoned to the waitress. Sofie tripped on the corner of the street. We looked and there it was – Sofie’s bracelet.

Whenever you feel something is starting to fall apart again it’s time for a change. Small changes very often lead to big changes. Anything that can make you feel better would work. Completely ignoring what people were thinking and saying I was slowly working my way through it.

We ran as quickly as our legs could carry us. Rushing through the reception to the girls’ changing room, Sofie put on her ballet clothes with a sickening speed as I helped to tie her hair in a clumsy ponytail.

“I don’t want to be late” she cried, “Miss Semenova is going to be cross.”

“Just hurry up Darling.”

She grabbed a bottle of water from my hands and jumped towards the stairs. Then, she rushed upstairs with the gait of a unicorn, straight into the Nureyev studio. Miss Semenova looked at her sternly as she surveyed her clothing. As she wanted to say something, her mouth opened but instead, she decided to take a look at the watch to confirm if her course of action would be right. It was exactly the time that her class was stated to start. She looked again at Sofie and said, loudly.

“Ballet bun girls from next week on… only…! Now let’s start with a warm up.”

The first time I really feel maybe what I’m doing is not completely insane was when I showed my work to my kids. Shortly after that the letter arrived from my beloved 7 year old daughter:

To Mummy,

I would like to support you with your animations.

Here is some money from Daddy.

I and Sasha have been watching your animations on my computer and they are great!

Alexander is always smiling and I like that!

Abby is my favourite because she looks a bit like Jessica..

From Sofie


Three lean years feel now like one of the best in my life. It’s like swimming in the sea full of colourful fish. It’s hard to be in a precarious situation but the freedom to do whatever you want is the most wonderful feeling in the world.

Sabina DeptuchSabina Deptuch