Sometimes when you’re hunting for unicorns, life gives you a goat

I took my eldest to see Despicable Me 3 recently. I thought it was brilliant – all of the 80s jokes were perfectly pitched to those of us who are now parents today. But there was also a sweet moment that stuck with me. **(Slight) spoiler follows**

At one point, Agnes, Gru’s youngest daughter, goes hunting for unicorns. She lays out a bunch of sweets and waits for hours in the woods until, sure enough, a fluffy one-horned beast appears. She brings it home and Gru is forced to inform her that it is merely a goat who lost one of his horns. He says tenderly, “Life is just like that sometimes. We’re hoping for a unicorn and we get a goat.”

And I thought, wow man that’s deep. Am I right? Think about it. Unicorns are the ultimate in awesome, sweet mythical beast. They are pure, fluffy and, apparently, poop rainbows. Why wouldn’t you want a unicorn? Goats, however, keep it real. They definitely don’t poop rainbows, they eat everything (and I mean everything) that they can get their mucky teeth into, and nobody likes it when you play the goat – even worse if you get their goat.

So, when you’re hoping for mythical perfection, you get real life. We can learn something here from Agnes’s response to Gru’s disappointing revelation (and forgive me if this is a slight misquote): “Well then he’s the best goat in the whole world!”

So, she didn’t get what she wanted. She got something that was less than her ideal fantasy of a mythical beast. But she saw the good in it and was grateful for what she had.

I can think of a lot of times in my life when I was hunting unicorns and got a goat.

I was going to be a famous musical theatre star but instead I have an office job. I was going to drive a Ferrari but instead I have a Hyundai. I was going to marry Robert Downey Jr but instead I married an IT consultant from Yorkshire. I was going to have a boy and a girl but I ended up with two boys. I was going to have ab muscles that you can see, but I never have and (I’m pretty sure) never will.

These were the dreams of an immature and inexperienced girl. They might have meant a lot to me at some point, and they served their purpose in keeping me motivated, but they were never really the right things for me. They were unicorns. My goats are much, much better.

Musical theatre would have been a hard life. Constant rehearsals, pressure to look a certain way, working late nights, moving from town to town all the time. It must be hard to start a family with a lifestyle like that. My office job is challenging without being overwhelming, has predictable hours with lots of holiday, and my colleagues accept me for who I am.

Ferraris are extremely impractical on British roads, would not fit all of my shopping, and with my driving skills it probably would have been totalled in the first month I owned it anyway. My Hyundai can totally cope with being rubbed up against a bush from time to time, and it can fit the spoils from a trip to Costco in the back.

Robert Downey Jr has bounced back from his drug problems thankfully, but I’m not so sure he’d be a nurturing life partner, and is really too old for me anyway. My husband cooks, cleans, changes nappies, listens to me spout rubbish all the time and basically puts up with me doing whatever I fancy. Who could ask for more?

Lots of people have a dream “gender pattern” for their future children, but us parents learn that that’s a load of rubbish. My two boys are everything I really wanted. They cuddle me and give me an excuse to watch kid’s movies and play with toys. They are smart and funny and have totally unique personalities. I did grieve briefly for not being able to buy pretty dresses and fix my daughter’s hair like having a real-life doll, but pretty dresses look hard to put on wiggly legs and I’m sure I’d be rubbish at combing the knots out of long hair.

Now I’m not going to try and feed you a line of effluvia about how chiselled abs are not actually all they’re cracked up to be. I can’t think of any reason rock hard abs would be bad. But we live in the real world. And in the real world, my love of donuts was never going to mesh with the visible ab muscles goal. And I’m okay with that. I don’t want to miss out on any food pleasures for flat ab pleasures. Anyway, I totally do sit-ups from time to time, so I’m pretty sure my abs are actually rock hard (underneath the layer of fat).

So there you go. My unicorns all turned into goats. And my goats are pretty awesome.

Now, I would like to recognise that sometimes life gives you a lot worse than goats. It might give you a stinking, partially decomposed and maggot infested ex-goat. I’ve had a few ex-goats in my time and things can be really, really hard. It takes time to move on from ex-goats, and sometimes a part of you never fully heals from the worst life has to dish out.

But maybe even on our darkest days we can remember the little things that we are still grateful for. If we can remember that sometimes things don’t turn out the way we expect, but that they can still turn out pretty good, then there is always hope, and something to look forward to.

Two Tiny Hands

Take all your problems & rip ’em apart

Take all your problems

And rip ’em apart

Carry them off

In a shopping cart

Be like the squirrel, girl

Be like the squirrel

– “Little Acorns” by The White Stripes

It’s not a well-known song, but “Little Acorns” by The White Stripes is a song to live your life by. It tells the story of Janet, who has been having a tough time lately. But as she’s walking one day, she sees a squirrel storing up nuts for winter. She notices the way the squirrel brings the nuts to her nest one at a time, and eventually manages to store up as much as she needs.

Clever Janet sees this as a metaphor, and realises that if she takes the “one acorn at a time” approach to her problems, they will be more manageable.

Okay, so it’s sort of a silly song. A hard rock riff and an entreaty to be like the squirrel. And it also might be something that we all already know implicitly. Of course it makes sense to break problems into smaller pieces to make them more manageable. But knowing something doesn’t mean we always do it.

So what are the problems that sometimes overwhelm us, and how can we “be like the squirrel”? Here are some situations where being like the squirrel has helped me.

 

Grief

Regular readers of this blog will know that I keep banging on about the death of my grandmother, who brought me up in my early years. It’s been a couple months now but sometimes I’m still suffocated by sadness and I just miss her so much. I had read about it before, but now I know firsthand, that grief never really goes away. Some days are better than others. Let each moment of grief be it’s own little acorn that you acknowledge. I’ve been allowing myself to feel sad when it happens, rather than trying to just carry on, even though that sometimes seems like what everyone expects.

Work

I work part-time but I’m pretty sure I’m still doing a full-time job and then some. I never, ever get to the bottom of my to-do list and sometimes I worry that I’m not keeping up well enough and I’ll get in trouble. But actually, everyone is just as busy as me in my office, and we’re all doing our best. So I just take one small task at a time. And I try not to multi-task, because that is a way of doing lots of work but never finishing anything.

Money

I also, like most normal people, do not have as much money as I would like. I have a lot of bills, like childcare, to keep up with. And I’m not very good at budgeting or saving. If I try to impose an austerity regime on myself, I’m going to (a) be miserable and (b) fail at it anyway.

So my acorn approach is to just think a little harder about each time I want to do something that costs money. How much do I really want/need this thing? Is there a way of doing it cheaper? And each time I manage to save some money by thinking it through, that is a small success.

My house is a tip

This is one that I get pretty stressed about. We have too many toys, but it hurts my heart to get rid of things that were loved when my children were smaller! Am I the only one who gets sentimental about brightly coloured plastic?

Sometimes I start planning to get organised, but am discouraged by the enormity of the task. One thing cascades into another until I just don’t know where to start. Saying I would just do one job becomes just as difficult as trying to do it all at once.

So I’ve started taking a more novel approach and applying complete and utter blinkers to certain bits of mess. Instead of focusing on doing small jobs that might ultimately add up to a tidy house (neeever gonna happen), I just focus on the things that really need keeping up with. The dresser near the front door always gets piled up with loads of random crap. Fine, I’m ignoring it. But I’m going to keep up with the washing. Sort of.

I wish I had more close friends

Becoming a mum changes your social life forever. I used to constantly be with friends, and I had a different friend for every situation. I could call up my “going to the theatre friend”, my “going on holiday” friend, or my drinking buddy. When I had my kids, I grew apart from some of these friends, either because they had kids too and also had no time, or because we were now living such different lifestyles.

I have found it difficult to make mum friends in my local area, and only have a couple ladies who I consider real friends and not just acquaintances. I sometimes feel pretty depressed that I can’t find a group of friends to hang out with at a moment’s notice, or even just that I feel so socially awkward  and isolated among groups of mums on the school run.

But you know what, it doesn’t even matter. Quality over quantity. I’m putting more energy into the little acorns I’ve already collected (the genuine, proven friends). And every time I feel awkward on the school run, I’m just going to carry on saying hello to people even when they don’t respond, and smiling at them all like some sort of maniac.

I’m a shouty sweary mum

When I get stressed or worried or upset or hurt, I shout and swear. That is my reaction. It’s something I’m working on. But I still sometimes step on a bloody lego brick and then turn the air blue in front of my children.

Or when my 5yo is completely ignoring my entreaties for him to stop chewing on a fidget spinner before he chokes on it, and the 10th time I ask him I shout, FOR GOD’S SAKE STOP CHEWING ON THAT BLOODY THING OR YOU’LL END UP IN HOSPITAL!

I am aware that this is not ideal parenting. Judge me as you will.

But I’ve also gotten better and better at showing more empathy with my children. When they get upset about something like misplacing a small plastic junky toy, or because one brother knocked over the other’s tower, I’ve learned to say “I’m sorry honey, I know you worked hard on that tower”. Instead of what I’m thinking, which is “get the f**k over it already”.

So every acorn of positive parenting, every time I offer some extra praise, is one to add to the pile that is making up for the fact that my eldest definitely knows all the swears and how to use them. I’m also working on replacing my swears with rubbish replacement words too. Like “oh FFFidget spinners” or “GoddaaaaarNit”.

Do life’s little problems sometimes get you down? What problems could you add to this list, and how do you deal with them? Here is the song, btw:

Tammymum
The Pramshed