Author Archives: Feisty Mama

Sunday morning

blankie

There’s a baby girl sleeping in a cot in the corner of our bedroom where the chest of drawers used to be. Just like that, so readily, we’ve moved around the detritus of our lives to create space for her.

Once upon a time I would have said we didn’t have the room but there she lies, proving me a liar. Taking what she needs and giving so much more.

She’s wrapped in a fuchsia, fleecy blanket – the one and only item that I purchased for her in a mountain of gifts lavished on her – and almost every time I tuck it round her limbs I am reminded that in the blinking of an eye the time will come to pack it into storage. I imagine one day folding it into a box of things to be moved with her to wherever she is headed, and I feel both dizzy and anchored by the knowledge that the time will fly.

None of us knew we needed her until she came. She knew though. You can see it in her eyes.

+++

The air is thick with the lazy indulgence that only Sunday morning can afford. We decide against church today, without saying why, circling around what kind of season this might be and why driving for an hour in the quest to feed your soul can sometimes feels like folly. Today, a dusty corner of the internet offers up unlikely scriptural truths, and uncommon silence is my choice of worship.

My bedroom is a sort of sanctuary, and not having anywhere to be for hours is a kind of balm to a busy heart.

+++

I found a blog depicting a blonde, eight-year-old tousled-headed boy whose birth story I vividly remember reading, and I dive eagerly back into his mother’s life, grateful to be reminded of a time before.

We wrote about our lives on the internet before that was normal, and then stopped when everybody else around us started.

Back then we hit publish with a foolish bravery, foisting our thoughts upon the world without hesitation. Now almost every single soul does that on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis. Now I dither over the ‘share’ button feeling strange for inviting scrutiny.

It occurs to me that we have this in common, my fellow bloggers from before Facebook and Twitter curtailed all our words – our blogs first unearthed for us our furtive urge to write. Back then we wrote for virtual friends in the margins of our motherhood, stealing time between naps that were never long enough.

Now we mother long-limbed, effervescent back-chatty boys and girls, and the words we write turn into crisp, real-life bank notes with which we pay the rent. It’s a magic alchemy, and it seems uncanny that the internet paved the way for us to sustain careers doing the thing we used to do for love or fun, or to keep us sane, or just because once we started with the words and stranger-friends we couldn’t stop.

But here’s the thing, to steal a phrase. While turning words into pay cheques is what we once considered to be living the dream, it turns out the dream’s still there, only now we’re too busy living it to attend to it. We’ve still got books unwritten, and the irony of that smarts as the words mount up around us.

+++

I can hear articulated machinery and I’m not sure if it’s in my head or real. It started when I was pregnant and I put it down to superhuman senses; an odd mama-gift that must have served a purpose in the days when having a child required you to ensure that lions didn’t eat it.

But the baby’s here now leaving me with much less need for overly-acute hearing skills, and yet I still hear the relentless thrum-thrum-thrum of a building yard and it sends me quietly demented. I won’t notice when it stops until all of a sudden I’ll realise that I haven’t heard it for a while and I’ll momentarily miss its steady comfort. And then I won’t believe it was ever there at all.

Treasure

It’s been a while since I’ve written like this, and it feels as though I’ve forgotten how.

I’ll spare you the self-absorbed monologue about how writing about private stuff in the public domain makes me squirm, though, and just say this.

My kid had an operation today. Nothing major, and so ‘routine’ that it barely warrants mentioning – not least when there are kids the world over waking up tomorrow with life-limiting conditions.

But it’s moments like today that draw you up short and make you remember that you’re alive – actually actively engaged in the precarious business of living, with all the risk and hope that hangs in that balance.

I didn’t cry today, even though I felt like it. I dug deep and found a reserve of strength for my boy’s sake.

“Stay strong and plaster that smile on for the patient,” wrote a new-found / long-lost friend in the last email I read before we left for the great hospital adventure this morning, and it anchored something in me and reminded me that I can ‘do’ strong when it’s required of me. When it matters.

But afterwards when it was all over and I was satiating my tired soul by surfing my favourite blogs I suddenly found myself caught off-guard by someone else’s words, and a small, startled sob escaped without my permission. But in that moment of unanticipated emotion all the day’s worries slipped their moorings and finally sailed out to sea.

This is what I read:

I spent the evening last night in Brett’s hospital room.  We sat side by side, watched T.V., passed the baby back and forth and didn’t say a whole lot to each other, but the anxiety for today’s events was palpable.  Before I left, I felt the need to say something important, so I asked him if he wanted me to pray.  

“I will,” he answered. 

We don’t really “pray” out loud a lot together other than our holiday meal grace, the first mile safety prayer of our summer road trips and the “thank you” prayer that’s whispered on the evening of our babies’ births.

But last night’s prayer is one I will never forget. We huddled together while Brett whispered some simple and honest words that spelled out a love letter for our family. 

I know there will be hardships in life.  Sometimes I think I prepare for them almost too much–like I’m silly and naive if I enjoy the comforts of life without making mental notes about how it could be different.  That’s not the definition of gratitude though.  The best way to prepare for those moments when they come–and they will–is to focus on the present.  To love everyone around us as best as we know how.  

Yes, this. Exactly. Tonight’s gratitude for an op gone well could so easily have been something much more somber. But in the joy that comes with a happy ending let me not lose the awareness that not every day will end like this one. Harder times will come; loss of all sorts is written into the source code of all life. But it’s in the moments when hardship feels so palpably close – within touching distance – that I am most viscerally reminded that all of life is a ‘gift’. Sometimes you can’t see treasure until you get a glimpse of what it would feel like to have it stolen.

And I will remember this: Our boys at the dinner table last night clinging worldlessly to one another with an iron grip. They call each other names and sometimes treat each other with contempt, but a heartfelt man-hug between two brothers sincerely sorry to be spending the day separated by surgery is a picture that paints a thousand, million words.

I’m glad I got to see it. But gladder still that they’ll be back to kicking each other underneath the table by breakfast time tomorrow.

Lighten the darkness

It always seems ironic to me that when something big happens I usually lose the inclination to use words.

But I’m here, showing up at the page to quote a cliche, because sometimes it makes sense to do the thing that makes no sense. To try to wrap words around something so inexplicable that words themselves seem trite, offensive, hollow.

It doesn’t feel like the most wonderful time of the year. But Advent, to me, is a time of waiting in the darkness, and we all know all too well that recent days have indeed been dark. 

The news full of stories so close and yet so horrifying that I can’t bear to watch, and can’t sleep when I force myself beyond the numbness to pay attention. Violence erupting in the midst of a society that is supposedly a paragon of peace. Fleeting fear and the recognition that I have allowed myself, without question, to be intimidated into writing about babies because they’re so much more palatable than bombs. The spectre of mental illness stepping out of the shadows and casting a ghastly gloom over the lives of even those previously untouched by it. The sudden and unexplained death of a young woman we knew. The financial pressure and burden of impossible expectations that creep in at this time of year.

And it doesn’t end there, because even as we grieve the loss of children who look just like our own, we are complicit in turning a blind eye to the daily loss of thousands more children who die because of poverty, but who don’t look like our own bright-eyed, smiling darlings. I turn away from reading or writing at times like this because it seems impossible to explore these themes without sounding sanctimonious or soap-boxy. So much easier to look at pretty pictures and pithy quotes on Pinterest.

It’s difficult to resist the urge to be swallowed by the darkness, but Advent serves as a reminder to us all that our stories don’t end alone in darkness.

Light is coming, whatever that means to you.

And if it means nothing then you can, at least, be the light that comes to others.

This is why I’m not on Pinterest

Behold, I made advent cookies.burnt

And promptly burnt them.

Which is why I’m not on Pinterest. My life just rarely measures up to those shiny pictures of domestic perfection, and there’s not much market for sharing your baking fails.

BUT. I filled the Advent tree. In a haphazard sort of fashion.

“Quick, help me hide these cookie cutters,” I hissed at the husband, who is so accustomed to strange instructions that he barely flinched.

“Then write a cryptic note and shove it in Day 4 while they’re not looking,” I whispered. The penny dropped and he saw where this was leading.

But suddenly two small faces appeared at the kitchen door, smelling trouble.

“You’re hiding something,” the designated spokesman said, accusingly.

better“Yes,” I said, decisively, quickly reasoning that lying would be of little help to me now.

“So scoot,” I added, authoritatively. I braced myself for their refusals and a swift end to my Advent efforts but to my complete surprise, they played along, and disappeared from view.

There followed an impromptu game of hunt-the-cookie-cutters, with us calling out instructions from the door. “Warm. Hotter. Scorching,” we cried while they ransacked the room, until the youngest spun on his heels and bemoaned “I don’t know WHAT you’re talking about.

Fortunately at that very moment he tripped over the At-At, and the hidden cookie cutters were dislodged from their cunning hiding place. I knew Dada would be good at this.

And I didn’t even burn them all, so it wasn’t a complete disaster.

Clearly neither child is exactly enamoured with ginger biscuits, but Dada is impressed.

And sometimes you’ve just got to take whatever praise you can.

Advent? Bah Humbug

I bristled at the first mention of Advent this year.

It seems it’s de rigueur to ‘do’ Advent these days; to mark the month that leads up to Christmas in some sort of reflective, thoughtful way.

“Well I’m not doing it,” I said aloud to no-one. But the sound that echoed back across the empty room sounded strangely like: ‘Bah Humbug’.

We tell ourselves we’re eschewing all the things we hate about Christmas – the commercialism, the excess, the pressure to spend endlessly in the quest to buy the perfect life. We try to calmly side-step all those things that just bring yet more emptiness, and instead embark on an effort to make more space in our lives for the stuff that really matters.

But I am rubbish at this, much as I wish that wasn’t true. So as friends around me revel in the joy of their Advent experiences, I go to bed grumbling at myself for all the things I haven’t done to make Advent special.

I could have filled the children’s Advent tree with paper notes – one for every day leading up to Christmas. I’d have scribbled an idea for something fun to do as a family together every evening, or maybe I’d just have written a little love letter to my lads. Instead the tree is gathering dust on a shelf in the untidy playroom. I could use Advent to finish knitting the scarf that I promised my boy last Christmas. Or was it the one before?

This is no joy-filled alternative Advent and it’s certainly no way to slide into Christmas, with a heart full of half-finished thoughts and a list of undone but well-intentioned tasks.

And the irony isn’t lost on me, that instead of investing in a deep, soulful season of inner quiet I am floundering, feeling like I’ve fallen at the first hurdle in my race to make Christmas somehow special, different, real.

Instead of soaking up the joy of a peaceful season filled with inner reflection I am grumpy and disgruntled. There’s no point filling the Advent tree now, I mutter, not remembering that late is always better than not at all.

I long to know the sense of anticipation that a friend and Advent fan speaks of so emphatically – she says it renders silent all the stress that Christmas has become synonymous with. But I’m just stressed because I haven’t managed to de-stress before the stress has even properly begun.

It’s all folly, of course, or can be if we’re not more careful.

Advent, like life, is not a competition. I don’t need to jostle for place and purpose in my quest to find the meaning concealed in this season – I just need to sit with a friend who gets it and ask her to teach me what she’s learned.

My house doesn’t need to be spotless before it can entertain the presence of a Christmas tree, I realise suddenly. If Advent is all about waiting in the darkness for the light to come, it  surely doesn’t matter if part of my Advent-uring is marked by moments of gloom, disarray and inner disorder. If anything, that only makes my Advent all the more authentic. As long as I don’t stay in the darkness, and avoid the temptation to make it my home.

“Light is coming,” I say aloud, striking a match for a candle and searching for Carols on Spotify on a chilly Monday morning, instead of setting my face resolutely to the shocking onslaught that is the usual start to the week.

And so, almost as suddenly as it will end, my season of Advent has just begun. Three days late, and off to a wobbly start, but all the sweeter for its unlikely, uncertain, humble beginning.

My husband wakes me with hot coffee and mention of a thought-provoking little something that he has read. This cup has become my daily bread of sorts, and as I drink it in I am renewed. By caffeine, yes, but by so much more than that besides, so I drink it in on my first (third) day of Advent as if it is the elixir of life.

“Read me what you read,” I say, without looking at the clock or putting off my deeper instincts because of some lesser but more unbending requirement of our morning routine.

He reads, and tears slide silently down my cheeks as I busy myself hunting for the school dinner menu. I berate myself for being so quick to cry (and so slow to put things away in any sensible orderly fashion) but by the time he stops reading I’m not the only one in tears. There is no time left to dissect the moment  (the school bell still rules, even when endeavouring to slow down for Advent) but I just let myself be confounded by unexpected, inexplicable emotions. And drink more coffee. And then we laugh, and it feels like I had forgotten how to breathe until that impromptu, smiling exhalation.

I might even fill the Advent tree today. I’ll chase out grumpiness and welcome in the peace that passes understanding. I’ll reset my default mental setting from ‘scarcity’ to one not of abundance but something much, much better – sufficiency. Truth be told, I’ll probably never finish knitting that darn scarf, though.

“Advent is a winter training camp for those who desire peace,” wrote a man called Edward Hays, silencing my Advent-critic and heralding my own season of learning what it means to wait and hope. To anticipate, with all the stretch that brings – from the tiny tingling fear that hope might not be fulfilled, to the buzz around my bones that I might yet see more than I can ask for or imagine.

We all need something to hope in.

We are all waiting.

These dark days of Advent aren’t without their difficulty, and making them come alive with real meaning is not as easy as some suggest, but they are days worth ‘doing’.

And worth doing with all your heart, however messy.

Growing Pain

“We try to avoid pain but actually it’s the only way we grow.”

A dear friend wrote that in an email recently, and I visibly deflated. Not in a bad way, but the wind whooshed right out of my sails as I winced in recognition of the profundity – and painfulness – of that statement.

Life is painful right now. And yet relative to real pain – the loss of a loved one, a terminal diagnosis, or all the unspeakably sad things that I am afraid to watch on the news – my life probably looks like a walk in the park. 

It sort of is. Or at least it has been. But I’ve been carrying around a collection of menacing little fears for a while now and recently they’ve started to take their toll; weighing me down, dulling the colour of life’s brightest moments, and leaving me with that unmistakable nagging sense that there may be trouble ahead. 

And then trouble did indeed present itself, as it invariably does in life. But it all got me thinking… in my rage and disbelief at the circumstances that have brought me to a place of sharp and sudden pain, am I missing an opportunity to grow through this?

Because if so, I’d like to get the growth thing over and done with right away so that I can get my pretty life back on the rails, please. 

Except that’s not how it works, I know.

A quick backwards glance through the painful moments of the past reveals that good has indeed come from bad things before, and that even my darkest moments of despair have left a deposit of something golden and enduring in my soul. 

Am I a ‘better’ person than I was before those moments? I can’t say for sure, but I know I wouldn’t trade who I am now for who I used to be. I am grateful for the way pain has etched itself into the nooks and crannies of who I am, because it taught me things I never could have learned in any other way. Pain sometimes has purpose, even if the circumstances that cause us pain seem utterly cruel and pointless.

If we can find a way to reach beyond the confines of pain, it can yield something priceless. I am choosing to believe that, hoping for a miracle, and trusting that there are sunbeams just beyond the edges of this particular storm cloud, which can’t last forever.

I’ve already learned to listen to my instinct well before it has the chance to prove me right. I’ve picked up some valuable life lessons, and I’ve discovered what it’s like to feel squeezed into a tight and hopeless corner. And consequently I know I am already different – softer and more sensitive to circumstances that have seemed alien to me until now. 

And while I’m hoping for some swift respite from life’s harsher lessons soon, I’m also determined to lean into the fulness of this opportunity for growth. 

As Henry Miller said: All growth is a leap in the dark; a spontaneous, unpremeditated act without benefit of experience.

It helps to remember that I’m growing, not just falling blindly through the darkness.

The gift

Watch this.

Weep until you can barely breathe.

And then cherish, above all else, the gift of the perfectly ordinary day.

Days like this

I rarely blog about triumphant days, mainly because I find it hard to write happy stuff. How do you say ‘today was spectacular –  my kids were enchanting and my parenting was top-notch’ without sounding self-congratulatory? And really, who wants to read about how perfectly other people parent?

That’s not what compels us to surf the internet in the evening when our kids are finally asleep and we could be doing anything we want. Truth is what draws us – other people’s truth, the kind that reflects back elements of our own, making us feel less isolated and more capable. And thus somehow more valid. In that way, the truth really does set you free.

It’s much easier to write the difficult stuff – the mess and heart-ache and stretch of parenting and family life. Writing lends itself  readily to melancholy, I think, and a kind of alchemy takes place when you wrap words around your day, reaching for the perfect way to capture a moment or feeling that you would otherwise have forgotten by tomorrow.

I argue with myself that blogging is intrusive and thrusts my little lads and what should be the secrets of their childhood into the public sphere. But still I show up here, laying down the difficult days on a bed of words that have the power to soften the sharpest edges of that day. (And the real secrets are always just ours to share.)

But it hasn’t escaped my attention that my bias could paint a distorted picture of family life. I might sound ungrateful, moany even. But that’s ok. Because sometimes blogging can even be an incantation. You despatch something into the ether – something that lays bare the vulnerable moments that we all instinctively shrink back from – and in so doing you find more capacity for them. And less proclivity to shrink.

But.

But.

But.

Today was triumphant! I had braced myself for absconding and spoon-wielding children this morning but when my youngest fell into the fish tank – oh yes! – I laughed instead of shrieking.

I burned the sausage rolls that were meant for packed lunches and managed not to lose my cool. (But how’s this for irony – I promptly popped more in the oven and took them out as soon as they had turned a perfect golden brown, but one son brought his home in his lunch box at the end of the day, deeming it ‘too burnt’. I even managed not to mutter ‘Well you should have seen the first batch’.

We ate tea together and NOBODY cried, shouted, threw anything or had to be sent to their room. This may be a family first.

And after tea we played Good Things, Bad Things, Funny Things and then told Knock-knock jokes until we laughed so much it was all veering dangerously close to going a bit nuts.

The sight of my kid crying with laughter might be my favourite memory ever. I’ll relive that one in my final moments on this earth. Sweeter still is the visible delight he takes in his own ability to make us laugh, and as his eyes shoot from me to Dada and back again to check we’re still clocking the wonders of his wit, I want to find a way to bottle the glorious essence of this exact moment of their boyhood.

I read another chapter of Wind in the Willows at bedtime, and it soothed the very fibres of my soul while my kids lay in their beds listening quietly. No interruptions. No shenanigans. Just a calm and peaceful end to the day.

I got an email – about my son – that affirmed brave things I had tentatively begun to whisper in my heart. It made me cry great hulking shoulder-shaking tears of joy, and when I pulled myself together I was sure I heard the sound of the wind returning to my sails.

WHOOSH.

Above all, today was restorative in too many ways to count.

There’s nothing remotely smug or self-congratulatory in that. It’s just plain old-school thankfulness.

Back to school blues

Fotopedia.com Stefano Costanzo

This morning, while other mums were no doubt whispering sweet nothings to their little charges in a bid to ready them for the first day back at school, I was yelling at mine to pick up their toys from all around the house, and threatening to make them late if they didn’t stop moaning and start tidying.

Harsh.

We made up, of course. And before we left the house a tender-hearted exchange took place, in which I likened my children’s vehement disdain for tidying their toys to my dislike of doing laundry.

“If we want to have clean clothes instead of stinky ones then washing, drying, ironing, folding and putting away our clothes is just a dull thing I have to do,” I said, momentarily dazzled by the fleeting brilliance of my off-the-cuff analogy.

“Can you imagine what would happen if I rolled on the floor moaning about how much I hate laundry, instead of getting your school uniform washed and ready? Tidying away the toys and Lego and dressing up clothes when you’ve finished playing with them is just something you have to do if you want the joy of having those things.”

That seemed to go over well but when the school run was finally finished, with its maddeningly unending list of vital things to remember to bring with us, I sank into the driver’s seat of my car, deflated. (Incidentally why does it seem that you have to take enough things for a week’s holiday with you on the first day back at school? And we haven’t even begun with the reading books or homework etc…)

I hate to think of my boys feeling flat at school because the morning started badly, and when the house is finally silent and there’s no-one here to argue with, I chide myself for my bad form on the first day of school. (But then my darling husband comes to my defence, pointing out that I had to contend with one child climbing out of the window (yes indeed) and running around outside like a whirling dervish when he was supposed to be picking up Lego, and another child who hurled a spoon across the breakfast table in a fit of self-conscious rage. These things would surely test even the most zen of mothers.)

I run through all the things I know about how to deal with inevitable challenging moments in parenthood. Having written about all manner of parenting issues for various clients I am well versed in everything from how to incorporate elements of non-violent communication (NVC) into my parenting repertoire, to what various leading child psychologists might have to say about why my children behave the way they do.

And yet. None of that really helps in the heat of the moment when you just feel like you’re losing it.

And afterwards, when the moment is consigned to the past and all you can do is vow not to repeat the experience, nothing much helps you move on. I email a friend in the hope of finding an ally when I really should be working, then I begin a frantic effort to spring clean the house, as if purging it of two months’ worth of school-holiday-induced family detritus will somehow right the wrongs of my earlier short-temperedness. I start cleaning out the cupboard under the stairs without even thinking about it, as if overcome by an inner neat freak, hell bent on stamping out every molecule of dust, sand and disobedience. Like that will change the way I feel inside. I even contemplate cleaning out the car, and my wider family (who often suffer the misfortunate of having a lift in it) will testify that something has to be really up before I deign to spend a precious hour on that dreaded task.

All too late I realised I hadn’t managed to take those cute ‘first day back at school’ photos that I had in mind either – and then it occurs to me that being honest might be much more valid. Admitting that I forgot to take those photos because I was too busy losing my mind over Lego doesn’t feel good, but it’s the truth.

And laying bare your truth, however shabby or shameful, can be just as life-affirming as taking snaps that paint the picture of the perfect family life we all aspire to. Maybe more so.

Flawed and sorry isn’t exactly the look I was going for this morning when I was getting dressed for the first school run of the new academic year but it’s authentic, and sometimes that’s more important than aping an ideal.

Today, I’m not that shiny, happy mum who proudly beams for the camera between two bright-eyed boys.

But that’s ok.

I might be her tomorrow. As long as everyone picks up their Lego and nobody climbs out of any windows.

I love September

Flickr: in da mood

I love September. I always have. And not just because it provides the perfect excuse to buy my favourite fripperies like new shoes and notebooks.

There’s just something about the changing of the season at this time of year that speaks life to me.

Of course, I yearn – like everyone – for summer to arrive, and all the more so since moving to the coast, where winter can seem interminable. I love the long-awaited unfurling of summer and that milestone moment when you pause as you leave the house to shrug off a layer, tentatively trusting; a seasonal leap of faith.

But, for me, none of that compares to the easy contentment that September brings. I feel it on that first Autumnal day when there’s an unmistakable cold snap in the air. It’s a wistful feeling at first – you pull on a pair of warm socks for the first time in month; an act of submission – a silent acknowledgement that summer is over. She always leaves without warning while your attention is diverted, gone before you even have the chance to ready yourself for her departure. I think summer hates goodbyes.

Some mourn the ending of the summer and stand in her wake for days, struggling to adjust, wishing she’d lingered just a little longer. But I wrap myself in Autumn, letting it nestle around my shoulders like the proverbial security blanket. Summer leaves me feeling listless; strange. So much pressure to relax. But September permissions me to indulge in my natural state of unceasing activity. Autumn is for picking apples, making jam, and serving hot buttered scones beside the fire. September is synonymous with doing.

I love the sounds of Autumn first thing in the morning, and waking to the chill of a window left open just enough to let them in. A car door slams and the muffled strains of music on the radio dance into life as the engine wakes. Tyres crunch on gravel and every note in the this Autumn morning symphony is possessed of hope. And purpose.

The new shoes and stationery are emblems in themselves of a season of new focus, and energy renewed by summer’s fleeting kiss.

So, to butcher a phrase, don’t cry because summer’s over. Smile because it happened. Then wrap yourself in September’s cosy arms.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 39 other followers