by Mothership on March 10, 2010

When I was a little girl my father had a young secretary called Sue who used to play cat’s cradle with me whenever he brought me in to the office. She had big square, black rimmed spectacles, long, dark, center parted hair and slightly dumpy legs poking out of a short tunic dress, the kind worn with a sheer white blouse with a big floppy bow at the neck.  Sue was married to a skinny man called Barry with spots on his cheeks and a  sandy coloured brillo pad where his hair should have been. He wore grown-up versions of the grey, perma-crease trousers that schoolboys wore back then , and when we went round to their house for supper their sofa was covered in creaky, shiny plastic wrap.
Barry was very proud of their brand-new semi with its brand-new furniture, but even at six I knew that Sue did not belong in this prefab showroom hell.
My dad often spoke about how bright Sue was, what a shame she had not continued in her education and taken advantage of her intelligence – she could go so much further, he said. Sue may not literally have overheard him, but at the cosmic level she was obviously listening. She was destined for more excitement than shorthand and
The Generation Game on Saturday nights.
One afternoon Dad picked me up after school and drove me back to the office with him. I bounced up and down on the cracked vinyl back seat of our ancient Volvo, chattering excitedly about how much I was looking forward to seeing Sue.
He gently broke it to me that she would not be there that day.
Or the next day. Or for quite a bit, maybe forever.

I was gutted.  Sue was the highlight of the office as far as I was concerned.

“But why?”  I asked, “Where had she gone?”

It emerged that Sue had actually done what most of us only dream of. She had quite literally run off and joined the circus.

Sue had fallen in love with a knife-thrower and decided on impulse to leave her husband, her home, her job, upping sticks amid much shouting and drama in the middle of the night in order to be the lady who has daggers thrown about her shape.  She also assisted her new lover in his other act by humping crocodiles onto a table so he could stick his head into their prised-open mouths.

I was incredibly impressed.

Although I would not previously have thought it possible to think more highly of Sue, at that moment she went up approximately 1,000,000% in my estimation.

Which one of us has not considered running away to join the (insert proverbial circus of your choice) at some point in our lives?  I know I do it almost on a daily basis.

I’ve been finding it rather hard to achieve anything recently.
I am continually starting creative, exciting and life-changing projects with great enthusiasm, energy, hope and belief.  Yet somehow, between the school runs, playdates,  trips to the paediatrician/dentist/whatever, I seem to lose my impetus. Could I have mislaid it in the freezer section on my well-worn path around the supermarket? This is the one I do several times a week hoping for some kind of culinary miracle (God not obliging, churlishly).   I seem to have sprung a sort of happiness leak due to my general tethering to the house in order to tend to the needs of children and facilitation of a desperately busy-at-work husband. I do try to keep topping up the optimism tank with new schemes and formerly fail-safe remedies but it’s just not staying full long enough to keep me going for more than the local chores.
There are so many things I want to do! I  keep getting glimpses of them. I have great bursts of energy and thrills of ideas, and then the doors of domesticity seem to close in on me with garish primary coloured rocks on one side and hard to fathom places on the other.

It’s ironic, really. When I had all the time in the world and no obligations to anyone other than myself I would long to have a family to love and look after. I imagined myself indispensable and beloved and this would take me out of myself so that I would not suffer the existential angst that tortured me and prevented me from reaching my full potential. Now I have a family to love and look after and they do take me out of myself, making me indispensable and beloved except now I’m tortured and suffering from existential angst because I want to get back in and realise my full potential.

I am keenly aware that nothing can replace the swiftly disappearing tininess off Two and Five. Every time my boy learns to say a word in grown up speech his sister and I quickly train him back into baby talk which is shameful but we can’t bear the loss of ‘lellow’ and ‘hooway!’ He stayed home from nursery today with an ear infection and we sat together watching In the Night Garden, he insisting I keep my arms tightly wrapped about his warm little body . At moments like these I have an unambivalent sense of purpose; I am there to protect and care for my child and nothing is more important or sweeter than that.
But when Five is throwing a wobbly over seemingly nothing, Two is drawing on the wall with indelible ink, the cat sicks up on the carpet, Husband snaps at me, my hair is dirty, I have not opened my mail in three weeks and I find a bottle of milk leaking on to my looks-like-it’s-been-jumped-up-and-down-on bed which had been made up perfectly with clean sheets not an hour previously I find the thought of running off and joining the circus hugely attractive.

I am aware that this is all a matter of balance. If I worried less, if I managed my time well (how many of you that actually know me are on the floor in hysterics at this notion?), if I were better organised, if I just got on with it, if I could just be content with what I had, if I could find the OFF switch in my brain, if I could process emotionally what I know intellectually then everything would be fine.

And mostly, of course, it is.  I am here, after all, not at the circus (although you could argue that point some bathtimes).

But that does not mean I don’t dream about it. Just as (Husband, are you listening?) I would dream of here if I were there.

After about a year Sue was back at her old job. The knife thrower had turned out to  be  grumpy in the morning and have terrible breath. Worse, his aim was alarmingly erratic. There were rumours of scarred arms and unpleasant encounters with undermedicated alligators. Nonetheless, how amazing to have done it, whatever the outcome. I still get goosebumps thinking about how ecstatic she must have been to cast off her tunic and pussycat bow and step into a spangly costume and a pair of satin high-heeled sandals after years of fetching coffee for the boss from the machine in the fluorescent-lit corridor. It can’t have been easy to go back to the ordinary routine after a breakout like that. I’m sure she did derive comfort from central heating, a fixed address and a steady paycheck though.
I also like to think there might have been some pleasure in regaling an awe-struck and worshipful six-year old with true tales of life with a traveling circus.

When I dream of the circus, I dream of Sue.
I see her casting off her dowdy secretarial mantle,
taking to the air in a sparkly costume of rash courage.
Dodging knives!  Battling alligators in the spotlight!
Oh yes! When I dream of the circus I dream I am Sue.


1 Nicola March 10, 2010 at 3:42 pm

I totally relate to what you are saying. Most of the time I feel I am living in a circus…only it appears that I am the hapless clown, somehow out of step with everyone else. There are no sequins and the only big top is the Gap overstretched version, which I have a habit of wearing on a daily basis.

I love the way you wrote this post. It was so heartfelt. I get it – I bet a lot of us mums do.

maybe we should all just run off to the circus together…if only for a weekend?

(Which reminds me – this summer I am determined to take a couple of trapeze lessons, goddamit. Although I might give the sparkly knickers a miss.)

2 Arlene Wszalek March 10, 2010 at 5:39 pm

It always seems as if the world’s only truly renewable resource is the to-do list, and it likewise always seems that taking care of our own emotional and physical selves never rises to the top of the list.

God knows I’m not given to quoting @mrskutcher, but I’ve never forgotten something she said in a Vanity Fair interview about 20 years ago: “You CAN have it all… just not at the same time.”

Fantastic post! xx
.-= Arlene Wszalek´s last blog ..Wzzy: Congrats to Zoë! RT @zoecello 2 new blog posts: "Album, SXSW, LA show" & "Expanding" =-.

3 Gappy March 11, 2010 at 12:19 am

‘We’ve Come a Long Way Baby’

Perhaps, but still so far to go. Loved this post. Go Sue, go Sue!
.-= Gappy´s last blog ..Blogging on Blogging. =-.

4 London City Mum March 11, 2010 at 1:55 am

My dreams are far more basic. They involve sun, sand, sea and a comfortable lounger under an umbrella (that’s me being sensible for you, avoiding sunstroke) and the pile of books I want to read.

With no constant interruptions courtesy of little people.

If I joined a circus the kiddie entourage would follow me.

.-= London City Mum´s last blog ..Wish you were here – postcards from the edge of sanity: Part Quatre =-.

5 London City Mum March 11, 2010 at 6:00 am

And before I also forget and am distracted by dreams of other places, tag for you over at mine.

.-= London City Mum´s last blog ..Wish you were here – postcards from the edge of sanity: Part Quatre =-.

6 La jongleuse March 11, 2010 at 1:41 pm

I hear you sister
.-= La jongleuse´s last blog ..Music Corner:Bonnie Prince Billy =-.

7 Knackered Mother March 11, 2010 at 2:59 pm

Lovely stuff, you are clever x
.-= Knackered Mother´s last blog ..Winey Happy People =-.

8 Signature Scent March 12, 2010 at 5:25 am

That certainly chimes a few cords with me!

9 GEekymummy March 12, 2010 at 10:08 pm

Lovely post. Btw your blog looks fab on my iPhone, lovely interface, did you add something fancy?
As for dreams and plans and the impossibility of executing them it helps me to break them down into smaller actions. The whole can be overwhelming but by defining the next action, taking it, taking satisfaction in acheiving it, then deciding what the next actual actionable step is, you get where you are going.
I rarely take my own advice, but when I do Iget a sense of accpmplishment, and get things dine.

10 Patty March 13, 2010 at 2:15 pm

Sometimes I wish I had enough courage to run away and join the circus, it seems like such an exciting life!

11 Meredith March 14, 2010 at 3:58 pm

Another brilliant post! I think this HAS to resonate with all moms. It is so hard to find yourself with so many things you really want to do for yourself but no time or energy because of taking care of the kids and the home. I have even whittled down that list to a measly “write for an hour after the kids are asleep” and how many days that gets pushed aside because of intense feelings of lethargy once the kids are asleep and the dish washer is on and the clock strikes 9, sometimes 10pm before I get a moment to myself.

I know a woman who chucked it all and ran off, not to the circus, but to Europe. She left her husband of 10 years and her 2 kids and ran off to be with a guy she met online. Ironically Sue is cool because she only left her seemingly boring husband but this lady, no one thinks is cool, because she left her kids. (She came back 6 months later because the romance fizzled and now has visitation rights to the kids, but still – awful).
.-= Meredith´s last blog ..A Tale of Two Blogs =-.

12 Mothership March 15, 2010 at 12:26 pm

Nicola. I encourage you to wear the spangly knickers, even if they’re under your sweatpants. It’s the symbolism! Reclaim your sparkle, it’s there in your heart. (I would come on that trapeze course with you but TERRIFIED of heights)
Arlene. I do hope @mrskutcher is right about having at all sequentially. That means I’ve got a LOT to look forward to.. And yes, self-care at the bottom of my to do list. Need to move it on up.
Gappy. Quite! And go, you, go!
LCM. then the beach IS your circus, no? Tx for the tag xo
La Jongleuse. I think a lot of us feel like this. So tired, so tired..
Knackered Mother. You, my dear, are always so kind about me. Thank you.
Signature Scent. Tx for commenting. Oh yes. See you at the circus?
GeekyMummy. I can’t quite remember how I did that formatting thing, but it’s all in that iPhone post a few back. It was not something particularly clever on my part – more of a checking of a box, I think. You’re quite right about the breaking things down. I feel a bit tired when I think of doing that. Just off for a nap..
Patty. I believe it was exciting. And also mundane. Grass always greener, eh?
Meredith: You have more to deal with than a lot of us, I’m amazed you have time to read anything, let alone write for an hour. Isn’t it interesting that we applaud people who follow their dreams right up until children are involved and then they are suddenly the most selfish people on the earth. And women are vilified far more than men on this one, I think. Still. I have to say, being a child who was left behind by a mother, that it is pretty damn awful. If I ran off to the circus I think we’d have to be a family act..

13 Steerforth March 15, 2010 at 2:11 pm

That was one of the best blog posts I’ve ever read. You’ve summed it up perfectly. I can see my life slipping away and yet all I ever thought I wanted was a house near the countryside and two children.

I feel grateful for what I have, but rather bored with the person that I’ve become.
.-= Steerforth´s last blog ..Hampton Court Palace =-.

14 Mothership March 15, 2010 at 8:16 pm

Steerforth, that is quite a compliment coming from you. And I do so know what you mean. Me too.

15 Slummy Single Mummy March 16, 2010 at 6:01 am

I love this post.

You always write in such an honest and thought provoking way, I’m always excited when a post from you appears in my inbox.

Keep up the good work – it is great to know I’m not alone in feeling how I feel sometimes. I will keep Sue’s example close to my heart!

.-= Slummy Single Mummy´s last blog ..Happy Mothers Day! =-.

16 Metropolitan Mum March 17, 2010 at 3:21 am

Don’t you dare run off. There is way too much potential to do that. Now sit down and write a book! Do it! Do it! Do it! I am in love with your writing, and I promise you I’ll buy your book. And I’ll even buy a copy for each of my girlfriends as birthday presents. I cannot promise you not to hug you at book signing time, but I’ll by the book!

PS: Little L started nursery two weeks ago and I was so happy when they called me on the 3rd day to pick her up as she was unwell.
.-= Metropolitan Mum´s last blog ..Malnourished Monday #14 =-.

17 Mothership March 17, 2010 at 2:59 pm

SSM. Thanks so much, I can’t tell you how much those words cheered me up.
MetMum. I am not going anywhere, sorry to say. And i will try to write my book, I keep trying! I’m emboldened by your kind offer to buy it (that’s 2 copies at least I can tell the publisher..)
Oh, it’s so hard to let the littlies go, isn’t it? But so nice to get a break, too..

18 shayma March 22, 2010 at 3:38 am

MTFF, you write so, so beautifully. i enjoy reading all the beautiful descriptions, the cracked seat of the Volvo or Sue’s dress. really beautifully written. and made me laugh, as always. who goes off to the circus!? x shayma
.-= shayma´s last blog ..La Vita è Bella: Dal (Lentils) in the Pakistani / Afghan Manner =-.

19 Mothership March 23, 2010 at 8:09 pm

Thank you, Shayma. V. kind words! And now you know. SUE went off to the circus (thrills!)

20 Iota April 4, 2010 at 6:26 pm

Ooh, no, not the circus *shudder*. Too dark, and disturbing. Though well done Sue for getting rid of the tunic and pussy cat bow, if only for a while.

My mental escape version of running away with the circus is to imagine myself in some hugely impressive high-powered job, with underlings who listen to what I say, and act on it – gasp – without me having to repeat it four times and threaten to dock pocket money. I see myself in a smart suit not a spangly leotard, and sitting in an air-conditioned office (that someone else has vacuumed) with a great cityscape view not hanging from a trapeze in a draughty and dirty big top.
.-= Iota´s last blog ..Easter Interlude =-.

21 The Poet Laura-eate June 8, 2010 at 1:11 pm

A splendid post.

I do hope she had other break outs as time went on and one day it paid off for her. Brillo-hair man sounds like a fate on a par with death.

I’ve got a screen test for a TV series later this week, so fingers crossed my own circus breakout is in the offing.
.-= The Poet Laura-eate´s last blog ..SplutterSplutter (the new name for TalkTalk) =-.

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