Out with the old and in with the new, hopefully

New Year's Eve is a time for reflection on the past 12 months, and optimism for the next. But what has 2012 taught me?

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So, farewell then 2012. A year that started for me with the earth quickly shifting; a couple of weeks into the new year, my long-term relationship was over. And so, after 11 years as half a couple, I've spent this year lost, panicked, deeply sad and in utter shock.

That's not to say there have been no highs, but they have been maniacal, and the lows have been long and deep. I've bored everyone senseless: one poor man I cornered in a coffee shop, telling him in minute detail about everything, and I mean everything. And I barely knew him!

I've had heated fights with close friends about not very much. I put the phone down on one when she told me she wasn't sure she liked my new fringe. An ounce of perceived criticism and I was off.

"My fringe!" I yelled at her. "What's wrong with it?" I then went in to a long rant about how my new fringe represented everything I felt about me and the representation of me and … it was the action of a mad woman. My friend, knowing this, forgave my pathetic outburst.

So yes, I have certainly felt on the edge. I have four children – three boys aged 16 (the eldest by an ex), nine, and eight, and a daughter, aged five. It's a tough enough balancing act at the best of times, but, with all that was going on last year, utterly, utterly draining.

But now, new year, new opportunity – a chance to wave goodbye to 2012 and to view it with a little more perspective. Amazed as I am to admit it, it has not been all bad. For I do think I have learnt more about life and love than in any other previous year. Sure, it still feels as if I am teetering on the brink of something big, but the difference is, six months ago, I saw this as bad, precarious, nerve-racking. Now, it represents a chance to begin again, and comes as a blessed relief.

This is new for me because, usually, I mistrust New Year's Eve. It has always been one of these evenings with so much weighted expectation behind it that it has generally been a disaster. I have never really been entirely happy to say goodbye to a year in such a seemingly cavalier fashion. How can a party, a glass of bubbles, a rendition of "Auld Lang Syne" (can anyone remember the second verse?) really sum up what a year has been about? I have always felt I am somehow being pushed forwards, scrabbling like a hamster still desperate to whir around its wheel, when I haven't quite dealt with the past.

Yes, reader, like you perhaps, I have had my share of failed parties with their miserable soundtracks. There were the times as a tremulous teenager, desperate to bag myself a boyfriend, I spent three consecutive New Year's Eves at an overly lit-up pub in my Home Counties town clad in a ra-ra skirt and drinking Southern Comfort and lemonade. Without success, until year three when I pulled Paul, the son of a local builder. He drove a yellow Ford Capri, wore loafers with tassels and listened to Shakatak. We dated for a year and, when we split up, he was so upset he crashed the Capri on a roundabout in Slough. I hear he is now an estate agent in Datchet.

There were other venues, other men. But the song remained the same. In London, cold and jostled with my then boyfriend, a penniless Australian. In Edinburgh, cold and jostled and ending up feeling alone in a strange hotel room (don't ask!). In New York, with my firstborn, aged two, him clinging to me in my arms in Times Square, head on my chest, his father glaring at me and wishing he were elsewhere, a more fun place, somewhere warm, lively, with drink and loud music

Worst of all, though, was the millennium New Year's Eve, where the pressure to have the bestest of all times was at an all-time high and I was at an all-time low. I was back in the Home Counties, separated from my boy's glaring father, and watching telly. The highlight? Attempting to cook a duck à l'orange for my mother. I massacred it, having no idea how to cook anything much at all. "It's such a difficult bird," my mother said sadly before we clinked small glasses of sherry and went straight to bed after the clock struck midnight.

But still, I survived then as I will survive now. The new year is indeed cathartic, a chance to wipe the slate clean, to push the ever-elusive restart button. To reboot a cranky old machine, if you will, and to look forward with hope and love.

Learning from what has gone on and accepting it all, I believe I can face this new year with a sense of calm determination. The key, I think now, is to take responsibility for our own actions.

Take Dawn French. On a recent Desert Island Discs, she talked of how she expected to be good at the things to which she sets her mind. When she decided to write a novel, she just told herself: why not? Why shouldn't she be able to do it? Why wouldn't she be good at it? So off she went and wrote some very good books. I nearly fell off my chair when I heard that.

So I am going to be more like her: I've already started. I can now plumb in a washing machine, fix a tap, sort out the heating, all courtesy of the local plumber. When he came out to fix my bleeping, burping boiler and asked where the man of the house was, and I wailed back "I'm the man!" he took it on himself to give me a crash course in plumbing-for-beginners.

I have reached a crossroads this year and, as it has gone by, I have realised that while, of course, it's important to try to choose the right path, once that decision has been made, then stride forwards. Acknowledge past mistakes, of course. Recognise all the pain we are capable of inflicting on other people. But also realise this: I have no desire to erase even the bad things that have happened. Every day, I am thankful of all those events that have shaped me, the rough and the smooth.

Obvious, I suppose, but I am not the same woman as the one in Times Square clutching that tiny boy. I was on the verge, back then, of leaving New York, leaving his father, starting a new life as a single mother living in the English countryside. Nor am I she who saw in 2012 with an impending sense of doom.

At the beginning of the year all I could see was the massive gaping terrifying hole I was about to fall into. I am in my mid-40s, a single mother to four children. I am not getting any younger and little bits have chipped off me. I am not sure when I will feel whole-hearted again but I trust that I will. I may not be exactly as fresh and as new as once I was. But I can still feel that beautiful sense of wonder.

I feel it every time I look at my eldest son. He is 16 now, on the verge of adulthood and yet, despite his tender age, so wise, so Zen-like, so accepting of just about everything. He brings a freshness to everything he does. For me, it's like experiencing life all over again with new eyes. He is making his own history now; many of the things he does are firsts – first relationship, first alcoholic drink, first taste of academic success, possibly of failure, his first terrible wrenching experience of heartbreak. All these things are new to him. I worry about him, but I am also excited for him, and I remember how it was, how glorious and heavenly it is to fall in love, how gutting it is to lose it. Who would change that really? Those heady highs and excruciating lows. How wonderful for him to feel emotions with all that intensity.

And the others? Well, there will be more of the same. One will again lock himself in the loo because he has been asked to do his homework; another perhaps will once more fuse the electrics by trying "helpfully" to fix the toaster with a knife; and my daughter has, yet again, smeared my lipstick all over the bathroom mirror (and it's Chanel!) I will sink to my knees and pray for mercy.

But we are all still here, all messy and funny and crying and laughing, sometimes all at the same time. We are a family, and love conquers everything.

So my new year's resolution is to stop worrying about things I cannot affect. Instead of feeling angry, lost and terrified of the future – and being eaten alive by my cats as a lonely old woman, I shall, instead, let it all go. This is not a year to worry and fret. This is a year of consolidation, of laying new foundations for myself and my family, of finally going to bed alone and waking up alone and finding it's an OK place to be.

And as the summer approaches... who knows? Fun? I hope so. Whatever, I shall endeavour to feel a calm sense of freedom throughout 2013.

My eldest boy said to me the other day: "Don't ever give up, Mum." Then, he winked at me for, in all honesty, he knows I never will. Cheers, everyone!

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