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An exercise in frustation

21st February 2022

I’m running an experiment in frustration this week. My sister is two weeks away from being due to give birth, though the doctors would be happy to induce early. She’s recently moved into a smallholding which turned out to have no central heating in a house with large rooms and only one fireplace. As well as the house itself needing to have more work than was apparent when my sister and her family bought the place (the oil boiler, for example, was old but allegedly functional – but was dead when my sister moved in), there’s also a lot of work that needs to be done outside to allow the livery yard and therapeutic work that is planned. There are a couple of livery ponies already onsite, but the yard needs more work before more ponies can come.

There’s a lot to do. But I’m chronically ill, my sister is heavily pregnant, and my brother-in-law has a full-time job. The evenings are dark, so he can’t do much – any – outside work once he’s back from his job. They had a working party over the weekend, but it was Storm Eunice, and it turned out that some different tools were needed from a shop that closed over the weekend. It’s half-term, so my niece isn’t going to childcare, which means more effort and less rest for my sister on a week where she really needed to make good progress on getting the smallholding ready for more business.

My biggest frustration is that, at a time when my sister really needs my help, I don’t have the physical capacity to offer it. I already ‘helped’ with some of the lighter jobs at the working party, things that didn’t really need much walking, but even so by the end of the day I could hardly walk. And I spent the next day in bed or watching TV, and most of the one after that too. And I still felt wobbly from fatigue; more cold than usual; hungry but not hungry at the same time; building up a sore throat and aching sinuses and flu-ey feeling and extra pain. I’m feeling low and depressed, which is usually just because I’ve overdone things, but it takes days to get the energy back to my level of normal – which is still substantially reduced relative to the average unfit-but-basically-healthy person.

I want Sunday to be God’s day, but it’s hard to go to church when I’m totally out of capacity for activity. It’s stupid to go to church when I’m so tired I can’t even sit at my computer to do some Bible reading or reflection or writing, so I didn’t go to church, but I hate that I couldn’t. If I try to help my sister out with some of the stuff that needs doing this week, I could end up missing church again and not using my Sundays for prayer and bible study, and that is gutting.

So this week’s experiment is: how do we deal with the frustration of more work – and urgent work – than there is capacity for? How do we deal with knowing that not getting the work done has a major financial cost for a smallholding that really needs the business to pay its way; but getting the work done has major physical costs for two people (myself and my sister) who do not have the capacity for it? My sister is about to give birth. She ought to be resting, relaxing and staying warm. She shouldn’t be doing manual labour, worrying about how to get things done that she can’t do herself, and living in a cold house where walking into a 16-degree room feels ‘warm’.

Do we push through, and relax the week after knowing that the work is done so things can settle down a bit now, and my sister can build up strength in her last few days before she welcomes a new child into the outside world? Or do we leave it, possibly for months, because there isn’t the healthy capacity to do anything about it?

And how does this make us feel towards God? So far, I have learnt a lot at the emotional level about accepting that we live in a frustrated and frustrating world. That storms happen – literal storms – that hold work up. That pandemics happen, which slow down solicitors and estate agents and councils, and mean moving into a property four months after expecting to; four months further into pregnancy; and a four-month delay that means not being able to get a new heating source into place until most of winter is passed, rather than getting it in before winter.

God could have changed all this, but he didn’t. My sister did learn that she didn’t want to live in the hills, as she always used to want to, because hills are out in the countryside and they’re an effort to climb and they’re a long way from anything useful. Getting into the smallholding later than September but before the end of the year, too late to get a ground source heat pump in before Christmas, would have been horrendous in terms of the sheer length of time living in a house without proper heating. And putting ponies onto a field at the start of winter, when the grass is not growing and the ground is wet, is a good way to ruin a field quickly and reduce the speed of growth of grass in spring. So there are good points to waiting until January to move in once it was apparent that September was not feasible.

My sister does have me available to offer some help, albeit it is limited and at a high cost to me. I enjoy helping though I also look forward to the day when both children are in primary school and my sister and I can have slightly more of our personal lives back – but that’s just the cost of having children, and I am happy with that even though they are my nieces rather than my daughters. My sister also has her mother-in-law on hand to offer some help with my niece and nearly-born-niece, but she has moved across the country to live with my sister and needs to be building up her own life, routines and friendships. My brother-in-law is strong and healthy, and can afford to pay for childcare for niece 1 (two half-days a week). It is a fabulous site with good potential, and a lot of people have taken an interest in it and want to be involved in the future. So there are many things that we thank God for.

We just have to get through this week and see what we can achieve without breaking myself, my sister or the business.

28th February 2022

Well, the week passed, and we didn’t break. My sister took her daughter out to some soft play centres on the two mornings that I was staying with her, meeting up with friends who could keep an eye on the children and physically go after them if needed. I stayed at my sister’s place and did some slow farm work. After a short session on the first day, I was so tired that it took me over 15 minutes just to walk the 100m back up the field to the house. My dad went over at the weekend to spend a day helping my brother-in-law with the more strenuous tasks that my sister and I no longer have the strength to do due to our chronic illnesses. I spent all of Saturday in bed or watching TV, after which I was able to get to church on Sunday evening.

I’m still pretty tired today so am planning another quiet day, but I’m not so wobbly in my legs as I was.

There’s still work to do to get the smallholding properly set up. I’m not sure what my brother-in-law managed to do on Sunday, but it’s possible that I may manage to get a bit more stuff done this week. However, my niece again is not in childcare on Thursday so that will hamper things unless my sister is able to take her out without needing me to go too.

The ground-source heat pump should start being installed on Wednesday, which is my sister’s due date. It takes ten working days to install, which means the first two weeks of my sister’s new-born will be in a house without central heating. They may just have to spend a lot on electric heaters to get more of the house up to a decent temperature. We’re talking low thousands of pounds here, to heat a house for two months. Admittedly it had to be brought up from a very low temperature, which didn’t help, but it’s still cold. Also, it was discovered that one of the electric showers was wired into the main electric circuit, rather than on its own circuit, so a fuse was blown when a shower was turned on at the same time as four electric heaters being on. Oops. This also means that there is a limit to how many heaters they can run at the same time, as they risk blowing the fuse again, so the house can’t be made warmer for baby H.

7th March 2022

Another week has gone, and my sister has given birth to her second daughter. Last week some good progress was made on the track for the horses to get between their fields and their open barn, with leaf litter and suchlike cleared off to reveal a good hardcore surface to strengthen the horses feet and most of the posts for the post-and-rail fence put in. We are very grateful to God that there was such a good track underneath all the debris. A family came over and helped to move some heaps of soil and stones out of the way, which was immensely helpful. I’m still feeling somewhat weak and wobbly, which is concerning, but the sunny weather has been a great joy and help. Niece 1 has been happy to spend time outside playing with water, which has been a great help in terms of keeping her entertained and also making sure that she gets some fresh air and sunlight.

My sister is struggling though. Labour is exhausting, and of course her husband was up half the night with her. My mum has her own work to do and health needs to look after, and my sister’s mother-in-law is almost 70 and naturally needs to experience life at a slower pace. Given my sister’s own health needs, raising a toddler and a newborn is going to be a challenge. The question is whether things will get easier as my sister recovers from childbirth and settles into a new rhythm of life, or are we going to have to find some major changes in order to support her? I am already at the limit of my capacity. If my brother-in-law manages to get the track system complete this or next week, then that will be a big help as there will no longer be any need to do work outside on the smallholding for some months to come, and my sister can get some more liveries in to help with the finances. It is also good for the ponies themselves to be in a slightly larger and ideally stable group.

21st March 2022

When I thought last week that the end was in sight for the initial set-up of the livery business, I was wrong. There is still quite a bit of work to do and despite exhausting myself again, there is yet more that needs doing and needs to be done urgently. This includes finishing off moving one of the piles of soil and rubble, adding some new surface to the manege and harrowing it level, finishing off some fences and gates, and mending some stable doors. There’s more as well but I’ve forgotten what it is. My brother-in-law has also been fitting insulation in the loft space of the house, which has been an arduous task due to low rooves and random boards that needed moving, and that has taken a couple of days’ work which was really needed outside. But the loft insulation has to be in by the end of the month in order for my sister to claim back the cost of the ground-source heat-pump that is currently being installed.

There is some nervousness around the heat-pump as a part hasn’t arrived for it yet, and the grounds-man broke his hand so the company has to find someone else to complete the digging and back-filling. There has also been major hassle trying to fix a leak in the mains water pipe, as it is an old pipe with leaks in several places so the plumber has had to replace the entire section rather than try to find and repair each leak. Unfortunately, there’s a fair amount of concrete and granite around, which is making it very difficult to get a new pipe into the ground. The plumber says he’d be happy to never go back to the smallholding again!

This is proving a really frustrating time. I had hoped that the frustration would be temporary; that we’d get the necessary work done and then rest. It hasn’t worked out like that. Instead, there’ve been good moments (when a task was easier than expected, or a higher quality outcome was achieved) and bad moments (things that took a lot longer, or didn’t go well).

We are focusing on the good things: there is a good hardcore track for the horses; the weather has stayed dry for the digging of the ground-source heat pump which has meant the work hasn’t been held up and the grass between the trenches hasn’t been ruined; there are now four horses on site paying livery, and another three owners interested in the remaining two places; baby H has gained weight, is feeding well and is sleeping in a cot or a pram (unlike her sister, niece 1, who took weeks to gain weight, would take an hour to feed and had to be woken up half-way through, and for weeks would only sleep if being held); and the weather is lovely which means I has started to be happy going outside again.

On the downsides, my sister is still exhausted from labour and frustrated at the lack of time she is able to spend with her husband and two daughters due to the need to be doing work on the smallholding. She is also worried about coping when Stu goes back to work. There is still much work that is needed on the smallholding, and with a fair proportion of what is left requiring physical effort, there is a limit to what I can do.

It is easy to focus on the negatives. But honestly, the fact that H will sleep outside in a pram and doesn’t need to be constantly held is such a major blessing and we are very grateful to God for it. Things would be immensely harder if we adults weren’t able to all get enough sleep nor carry out domestic and external chores.

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