Tuesday, 19 March 2019

That second goodbye

Each morning, I see my teenager to the front door to send him on his way to school. Each time, we pray and embrace. Sometimes we resolve the conflicts that arise from the early morning rush, at other times there may be a last minute exchange about the details and timings of the day and at what time we will reconvene, occasionally there's a last minute prank or a little banter but each and every time, I stand by the door and I wait. 

I wait for his head to glance up, I wait for our eyes to lock and for his hand to rise to wave me farewell. I watch as he looks ahead, there's a pause and then it comes again; that second wave. The one that signifies a final goodbye before I close the door and disappear behind it. Each time (of late at least) it feels like the snip of the umbilical cord where one becomes two in a final act. This boy-man of mine, neither man, neither boy but still my little one. I will carry that second goodbye with me always, in a pocket near my heart just like a good luck charm (if I were to believe in such things), I will tuck his cockeyed half smile up my sleeve for safe keeping in case of needing to draw close to it later on, whilst smiling my own half smile thinking of the many times I have watched my own mother tuck a hanky up her left hand wrist. His purposeful stride, that mirrors his fathers and his fathers before, I will note down hurriedly in the notebook of my mind so that I will come upon words that describe it in detail in the days and weeks and months that are to come.  

Like a super eight film, I see flashes of colour and pop up events that inform of his thirteen years alongside me thus far. I glimpse that first morning feed at the newborn phase, the toddler years curled up with his arms ajar because of the chicken pox in his armpits, where only Winnie the Pooh on repeat would bring comfort, I snatch at the little boy with a raspberry on the end of each finger that devours four, five six ... nine and ten one after another and bares the crimson evidence all across his delighted face. I look over the fence at the child who finds the nookiest of nooks and reads and reads and reads only to forget about the love of reading and then to discover it again and again and forget it. And remember it once more. I cross the road and I see the boy that motions for me, eager to tell me his news, what he likes to eat, what he likes to watch, what he likes to listen to, what he believes strongly in, what makes him laugh, what makes him sad. He calls, then shouts, them whispers, then speaks and tells me softly, openly: 'I don't always want you to cross over the road without me. I can cross alone but we're both headed home so let us walk together.' I squeeze his hand in mine (recalling that it was once smaller than mine) and I whisper to him, 'Let us walk together, let us walk together, let us walk together.' Just then, I hear the clunk of the front door closing, I feel the weight of it on the palm of my hand and I realise all at once, that his life and mine, all of it flashed before my eyes in just a few seconds. In that window between the second goodbye and the close of the door, right there, like a dream. Like that moment between dream and reality, where you're undecided to which world you belong. Like a super eight, super sweet, super fly story of him and I, captured without us ever knowing.  

Tuesday, 25 December 2018

The Art of War

My heart is heavy, it feels like it's wrapped in chains - bound and padlocked - weighted to sink to the bottom of the ocean. With each beat, I'm sure it skips the next natural one, my rhythm off kilter. This season is not for me, however much I  try. It literally makes my heart skip a beat and in all the wrong ways. I feel giddy, panicked, awake, alert, in fight or flight mode.

At times, I experience a real sadness for my children. In anticipation of the future, and on their behalf, I mourn the lack of 'magic' that myself and their father fail to give to them. We can't, it's not in either of us. The gifts, the build up, the excitement, the expense, the waste, the overindulgence. It all sits heavy, right in the centre of my pulsating chest. I find myself not writing a letter to Santa but one to myself. It's a compilation of my failings for the year, for example; not managing to connect with a bereaved friend, feeling increasingly distanced and isolated from people whom I shouldn't, not modelling self care or self discipline to my children, not knowing what I want next - either for a meal, job, or in life generally - falling for the melancholy end of year drama every frickin' year.

Happiness is knowing that in just two days, my love and I will have two whole days alone, to rest, to process, to release, relent, to celebrate and surrender. It's all that my eyes are fixed on as I write at five a.m on Christmas morning, quietly tap tapping on my phone half hidden under bed covers so as not to wake my husband. Melancholy squeezes me tight as I think of leaving my boys, and I get caught up in a kind of dramatic 'we're gonna die in a car crash whilst we're away and I've been such a beast to them recently and they'll never know how much I love them and how they complete me' kind of vibe, you know? This season is not my season. I just ... can't. And the more I tell myself I should, the more I realise I not only cannot but I defiantly will not, neither mentally nor in spirit. It is a fight. I lose no teeth but the cuts keep bleeding and each time I look in the mirror, I see them pumping out blood to the rhythm of my heart attack, heart beat. I can taste the iron and it is a love/hate affair. 'Isn't it just?' I say aloud and with that, I watch myself post fight bidding the crowd farewell. I'm amazed at my strength, I lift my arms up in the air and proudly show my belt. I did it. I'm still the champion and my heart continues pumping it's heart attack bass line. I did it. I held onto my title. 'Going in one more round when you don't think you can, that's what makes all the difference in your life.' Always, Roc, you know it.

Saturday, 15 December 2018

To and Fro

Sometimes it is a hum. A quiet, constant droning hum - always there - always, unstoppable. It is a comfort and a hindrance depending on the message it echoes, depending on the unconscious voice being familiar or being that of a stranger. It is I and We all at once, just like the days of childhood spent with siblings, where there was no I but always we, no singular only plural. Sometimes I crave the We of times past when it did not occur to me that there would ever be days of I. The We of siblings is like no other We, love or hate the We. Sibling We is irreplaceable. It is tender and savage. Bitter and sweet. Hard and soft. Full of laughter and tears. Forever changing. My mind thinks mostly in the I now. It shifted with time and tragedy and let downs and disappointments. It gave up. Surrender came begrudgingly at first and then the I began to stand and bellowed for independence until I gave in. I wanted peace and goodwill. I sometimes feels alone even when surrounded by the most exceptional love of the creatures you have found and chosen and the ones you have given life to. I sometimes just wants the closeness that comes from late nights spent in the bed of your kin, talking about what you'll do 'when you grow up', 'where you'll live', 'whose house you'll spend the most time at'. It would be cruel, pessimistic and unfair to say that We lied and told untruths. It would be an even greater lie, if I said that they weren't dissatisfied with the reality of a grown up We. Growing up is a painful, succumbing, prickly affair. It is also full of shades of sunshine, sprinklings of gold dust and the cultivation and gathering of the sweetest memories. It is a mixed bag. Figuring out whether to ask We to leave forever is as hard as choosing only I which quite frankly would just be boring and tedious. What remains is a little of each, a little of everything which means a mix of the bitter and the sweet and everything in between and in constant oscillation. This is the to and fro, the swaying and the swayed, the to-ing and the fro-ing, the to-ing and the fro-ing ...

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Unknowingly, I told a lie

God's plans are not my plans, no Sir, no Mam. I learn this more and more over time. Just a few days ago, I wrote a post titled: 'On having a dirty house and why I won't clean up the crumbs, no matter who is visiting.' So there, right there in the title, I lied. And yet, just a few days ago I sincerely meant each and every word I wrote. It's what's so temperamental about me and perhaps you, perhaps all of us? So much is about 'that' very moment, the present, the now. On Friday, I returned home from work to find two brothers (my sons) fighting. It was unclear if fists had been raised or if just words had been thrown like punches but the younger of the two was on the floor sobbing. I immediately set to work, like Columbo, trying to find the trail to solve the crime. I had my most serious 'mum voice' on when I heard the key opening the door and my husband tentatively shouting, 'Hi, I've got Harry with me.' My first thought 'Oh no, not again! The last time we saw Harry, the kids had to be told off!' Then my next thought was, 'But it's Friday!' - the house is at its dirtiest on Friday because I clean at the weekend. So, I swallowed my pride thinking how proud I was and am of the new me that refuses to get bogged down in futile, petty details. Our home is 'homely' I said to myself and continued on with life. Then, later that night, I got a message from my husband just before midnight saying that our friend (who he was out with) had missed his last train home and would be heading back home with him and would be sleeping over. Already tucked up in bed and slowly drifting off, I leapt out of bed and began 'the clean'. I cleaned the bathroom, made a makeshift bed on our not very recently vacuumed sitting room floor, changed pillow cases and found extra blankets and returned to bed, smelling of cleaning products and feeling ever so slightly like a fraud. Well, crumbs are annoying and no one wants to willingly revel in crumbs surely?

One thing that I did learn is this: Friendship and kinship and relationship does genuinely surpass the embarrassment of crumbs. Watching my sons engaging with Harry (a close friend of their fathers) a man full of rich experience, a gifted musician and educator, an actor and teller of great stories. The boys deeply entranced by his knowledge and his sharing of facts, by his charm and their not quite knowing what are truths or half truths, just about able to keep up with his quick wit and cleverness with words. The morning after brought more delight in the form of conversations over teas and coffees, the thirteen year old playing guitar for a seasoned pro and receiving feedback that I can only imagine, will stay with him forever. Later in the day, before lunch, we all piled into the car and drove Harry back home to Leamington. He entertained us the whole journey and even when traffic slowed us, his running commentary on the pedestrian carrying an umbrella and walking just ahead of our car, kept us giggling for a good while and again later on when we spoke of it once more. When we arrived at Harry's home, he nervously invited us in. I was delighted. I am not alone. Others worry about their crumbs too. Harry's home was perfect. Spectacular. Filled with all of the vibrancy and range and brilliance and precision and extrovertedness that is Harry. 'Your flat describes you, without you having to' I told him. It reminded me of one of my favourite books 'Paris Interiors' that featured the homes of many creatives. It the home I dream of for myself when I think of the self without a husband or children. I think I made my husband a little sad when I described this but it isn't meaning to be so. Just that idea of a place to be that inspires and nurtured, surrounded by books and music and plants and photographs and vinyl and candles and more books. A haven. A place to be. It is a wonderful thing to have friends to share with your children. It is a privilege for them to learn from the experience of others, others that are other than their parents too. It was a delight to watch Harry doing what Harry does, with all the flair and nuance and cleverness with just a dash of cheekiness, just like a musician. My youngest wants to play trumpet now, 'just like Harry'. Don't we all. Don't we all. 

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

On having a dirty house and why I won't clean up the crumbs, no matter who is visiting

I have a dirty house. No, really I do. When I began working full time around two and a half years ago, my thoughts turned to the many conversations I'd had with many of my friends (and fellow mothers) who discussed with me the frustration of working all week, only to have to work some more at the weekend carrying out household chores. Some talked about how they were negotiating with their other halves so that they could hire help, a cleaner. Thus giving way for them to spend time with their children/family or having time for self care (most likely at the bottom of the list of priorities). As time has passed over these thirty odd months, I have delegated more and more to my offspring. They each have weekday and weekend chores and they are very basic. Put dishes away, take recycling out, make beds, lay clothes out for next day, pack bag ready for school. Less regularly, they are asked to wash dishes, iron clothes, vacuum the house, clean the bathroom and toilet. Often, my husband and I find ourselves absorbing the delegated chores back into our own duties, thinking that we are being kind and helpful to our not so little anymore offspring. Well, this week, I lost it. There's nothing worse than feeling that you are being taken for granted, that your offspring (who you breastfed and tenderly weaned, whose poop you endured, whose every need and whom you mostly put before any needs of your own by the way) are behaving consistently selfish. I lost it. I shared my feelings. I shared the stress of the accumulation of duties that need carrying out versus the depleting amount of time set aside to complete these duties. I shared again, how they need to do their part and step up once more, as they have in so many, many ways that have made me immensely proud in the transition I have made from stay-at-home mum to working mum.

So. As much as everyone is doing their part and as much as my husband and I drill in this notion of working together as a team to make our family life run smoothly, I am coming to accept this. My house will sometimes be dirty. I know that my offspring won't always move the sofa to vacuum the nooks and crannies behind it. I know too that they might not move every shampoo bottle, cream or vitamin bottle off the ledge to clean the bathroom properly or remember to change the hand towels. I know they definitely won't remember to dust ... anywhere. I know too that when the weekends come, we can't wait to get out and be in the countryside, to explore new places, to go on road trips and when this isn't a priority none of us feels quite so alive as we should. For this family adventure time to happen by hook or by crook, sometimes other things have to get knocked further down the list of duties. This is ok. So if you come to my house and there are a few crumbs down the side of the sofa, I know they're there. It's just not important enough anymore for me to prioritise getting rid of them. It's taken a long time to reach this acceptance but boy, am I glad.

Thursday, 22 November 2018

First Frost

The alarm sounds and immediately we're all resistant, our senses telling us to remain curled in our thick blankets. We all take a few extra minutes processing what is to happen next, all except my husband. He rises quickly, fearful that slumber will steal him away again. Last night without realising the turn of the weather, I had already decided to gift the boys a bacon sandwich for breakfast. It was after watching my eldest lifting and dropping thick globules of congealed weetabix from his bowl the day before. A true sign of being 'weetabixed out', a signal to tag in something new. My heart hits a quickening pitter patter as the teenager looks me in the eye and utters words of thankfulness and gratitude and gives me one of those smiles that makes you filled to the brim, the sort of smile that you could draw on with a pencil, its just so perfect. I leave the house with layer upon layer, ready for my daily walk to work. Today the ground is glistening, cheekily shining and showing off its newly acquired armour. I step carefully, thinking especially of the tenderness in my right knee. As I walk I catch sight of the glorious low rising sun, she is magnificent today and the reddest I have seen in a long time. I mistakingly glance at her, mesmerised. She returns my gaze and leaves me with spots before my eyes and I delight in the nostalgia and think of girlhood and memories of playing in the heat of the African sun, a different friend. A different time. I walk on. Past the folks breathing out billows of smoke, their faces marked with the concentration of ice removal and the weary interruption of routine. The season is upon us and suddenly thoughts of festivities stir in me: the scent of cinnamon and orange, of Christmas cookies baking and homemade concoctions of warming alcohol. A mental note made to retrieve the wooden advent calendar from its loft hiding place, to begin a list of ideas for stockings that need filling with the lovely but simple things in life. My motivation motto that I use annually when buying gifts for those boys of mine: something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read. It is still so fitting, still so perfect. Late night drives. Walks, short and long. Visits to the prettiest of villages with picture perfect scenes of decorated trees and sparkling lights. Thick socks and blankets and oodles of hot chocolates. Finding pubs with real fires and cosying in for shared puddings and warm drinks. Moments snatched for journalling. Time spent sat in silence amongst loved ones, each person doing their own thing. Books sifted through and perhaps even read. Letters written and perhaps even sent. Popping out on foot for items forgotten and left off the list that suddenly you can't do without. Films. Ahhh, dear films. All the favourites and the hope of some new. Coffee. Fresh, fresh coffee and the ritual of preparing it. The soundtrack of home. The promise of the new. Vinyl and pain au chocolat and scrabble and early mornings when there's no place to be and no rush to go. This first frost has stirred a-plenty and I am thankful for all that it is bringing my way. I'm swept up in the magic of the season, a Grinch no longer perhaps or for now at least.

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

A trip to Slad in search of Laurie Lee

A couple of weeks ago, during the half term holidays, we ventured to one of our favourite places. We took a spectacular walk through Woodchester park, a place we return to again and again, this time admiring all the shades of autumn. A wondrous display of leaves scattered Pollock style across the landscape and upon the floor making the most delicious of swishing sounds as our feet moved through their clusters. The day seemed cold, only for us to take off layer upon layer, undecided about whether to leave coats off or on, a true sign of our mild start to the autumn season. This trip, we finally decided to make the trip to Slad to visit The Woolpack. The Woolpack is a freehouse immortalised by the writer Laurie Lee who lived and died in Slad and wrote of his childhood spent in Gloucestershire. We have spoken often of visiting but somehow have never got round to it even though it is a mere fifteeen minutes away from familiar haunts of ours. As I remember now, it wasn't the easiest of days. The thirteen year old  and the ten year old were hard work. It is the bickering phase, perhaps one of my least favourite spells. Whilst sat in idyllic surroundings, drinking our cokes, munching on crisps, listening to locals relaying farm talk and how they were 'done for the day' and feeling extremely English (in the best of ways) sat gazing at the open fire and breathing in the perfect scent of a combination of wood burning and ale and hot pies, I resorted to swapping seats with the ten year old to try and dissolve some of the tension. My husband and I glanced at one another and we whispered to each other how we might return alone another time and stay at one of the bed and breakfasts nearby and enjoy an evening of slow living in this inn. Of course, adventuring as a foursome is magic too even with the ebbs and flow which is always worth remembering. I was hugely inspired to leave my words here once more after our visit to Laurie Lee's resting place, in the churchyard just opposite his beloved drinking place. I hadn't really believed that I would be so impacted by this biography of his Cotswold boyhood. But there again, I never thought that I would fall so deeply enchanted by the Cotswolds. Childhood and legacy and moments and the passing of time, all so precious. It is wonderful to be reminded to depict the passing days in words and pictures, to leave some trace of the mood and current interests and concerns. Recently, my sons and I trawled through some old posts here and we were all struck by we were quickly transported back in time to earlier days, lovely, simple and ordinary days. Sometimes the ordinary becomes magnificent with the passing of time and the memory of times that will never return again. So, here is an ode (of sorts) to those who have gone before, those who inspire and those who grow and go on to become their finest selves, this is our hope.