Monthly Archives: September 2012

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.

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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.