Sunday, 31 July 2011

Recovered


I may no longer have the perfect picture of John splashing with the hosepipe, and I may no longer have twenty-seven shots that record a second-by-second account of his joy.

But I have this little glimpse of the happiness that was had, and really, it is enough.

Enough to remind me of the perfect giggles that rang across the valley as water sprayed though the air, enough to bring back the pure elation on his face as he spun and shook the water from the hose, enough to help me recall my Dad's grunts and cries as he was splashed unexpectedly in the face and enough to remind me of the clear brilliance of that silent summer's day when the air was so light it was cool.

It's not the perfect picture - but it's enough to remind me of a beautiful summer's moment and so for me it's more than enough.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Homemaking Is Not a Competitive Sport


Despite my constant efforts to master the art of calm contentment there's a competitive streak in me that just cannot be quelled.

It's a deep-rooted component of the person that I am; it's the one that once prompted me to re-write an A grade essay because only an  A+ would do, it's the one that drove me to spend hours in the university library when many of my friends were out living and it's the one that makes me shy away from competitive sports because I know where my capabilities fall short.

And so when I sit down with the laptop at the end of the day and browse through the highlights of other people's lives, there's a small part of me that flounders in failure.

I see loaves of freshly baked bread on large wooden chopping blocks, beautiful vases of wildflowers placed picturesquely on the edges of bookshelves, handmade shorts on the legs of beautiful little boys and sumptuous alfresco salads on candle-lit picnic tables.

And although I relish the sight of such things; although I pour over them in reverence and inhale them deeply into my soul as though they have the power to restore me, the competitive edge that lurks beneath my contented exterior feels crushed, because my homemaking skills simply can't compete.

My house is not a haven full of handmade art and homemade cooking. It has a Tupperware box containing mouldy cheese in the garden and a bag of pasta by the broken cat flap of the old front door. It has rotten vegetables in the veg box and outgrown clothes in drawers. It has bottles of long-corked wine under the stairs beside piles of un-ironed clothes and the remnants of last year's unwanted Christmas presents; and it has half-finished sewing projects in boxes in an extension that's still a dusty and un-inhabited shell.

And so as I look at the glimpses of beauty that are evident in other people's lives and feel the competitive urge to compete, I have to remind myself that homemaking is not a competitive sport, look for small ways to introduce beauty into my own flawed and fallible home, and find solace in the fact that if there were a prize for the most glorious vase of pink sweet peas, mine would surely be in with a chance at first place.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Powerful


It's strange when James is away. Exhausting, of course. And difficult.

No matter how much support I may get from my parents, no matter how many trips I may organise with friends and no matter how many bright and summery days I may be blessed with throughout the week, the responsibility of parenting is heavy when it falls solely on me. 

I lie awake at night like a lioness, feeling fiercely protective of the quiet little thing that sleeps with its bottom in the air; and even when he's busily engaged during the day or quietly napping in his cot there's a part of me that's alive and alert; watching, listening, parenting.

And even though it's exhausting and terrifying and there's a part of me that's resentful of having to do it at all, it makes me feel powerful in a primal and fearsome way.
  

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Lost


The camera bleeped three times at me and then flashed up two exclamation marks and this alarming message: "Card Not Initialized."

It refused to be read in the card reader; it refused to function in the camera, it refused to mend itself magically, and it refused to heed my heartfelt prayers.

And so, after half a week of worry, several trips to the computer repair shop and an evening full of tears, I've come to accept that three month's worth of photographs have been wiped from the card.

Some have thankfully been recovered, some have been re-formatted into mosaics that are beautiful and heartbreaking, some offer the tiniest tantalising glimpses of the pictures that once were there and many have been lost for good.

And although I'm thankful for those that still remain and grateful for this blog which continues to keep my memories safe, I cannot help but feel mournful for the tiny glimpses of everyday life that have been lost, fearful for the memories that may be lost with them, and strangely bereft in the face of such a small and everyday disaster - as though it were a small slice of my boy's childhood that has been eradicated rather than a few mediocre pictures documenting sunshine and smiles.

Friday, 22 July 2011

The Question



The old lady smiled at John and then asked me the question that I've been asked countless times over the past fifteen months:

"How are you enjoying being a mother then?"

It's a question that's a favourite amongst casual acquaintances and rarely-seen relatives and it's one that I still haven't got the faintest idea how to answer.

Because how could I answer it honestly?

How could I explain the pleasure and pain that this journey through motherhood has brought?

How could I tell them of the fears that are always chasing the joys or the smiles that always follow the tears?

How could I sum up the exhaustion, the elation, the loneliness and the love that I feel on a daily basis and how could I put into words the awesome responsibility of parenting that turns me cold with fear when I stop and consider it too deeply?

How could I begin to explain the mind-numbing tedium of time spent with a baby or the unbearable frustration that can come from trying to tame a toddler, and how could I begin to expound on the patience and endurance and contentment that I have learned as a result of doing both these things?

How could I describe the pure joy that's borne on my baby's beautiful smiles and the peace and purpose that he's brought to my life, and how could I explain that there are moments when I've sat and cried on the kitchen floor because the helplessness that I've felt?

And how could I tell of the contentment that I've found in the everyday moments of life along with the accompanying panic that these moments are slipping through my fingers even whilst we're living them?

"I'm loving it" I said to the smiling, well-meaning old lady, just at I've said to everybody else that's ever asked.

Because it was the answer she was expecting to hear, it was at least partly the truth, and if she's a mother herself then she'll already know all the rest.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

An Experience


It all began when James flicked through his diary and listed his weekends away.

"Duke of Edinburgh weekend, the reenactment weekend that Matthew wants us to do, stag party weekend, and then a full week away with my Duke of Edinburgh gold group..." he said, flicking the pages of his diary and looking somewhat sheepish.

And entirely of my own volition and without any prompting whatsoever I said: "let's all do the reenactment weekend together."

So after weeks of stressing and sulking, and after cursing myself repeatedly for uttering those few foolish words, we headed down to the Kelmarsh Festival of History to join the Coldstream Foot Guards Regiment for one weekend, and to journey back in time to the Napoleonic era.



It was a strange and surreal experience. 

We abandoned our comfortable clothes in favour of hand stitched linen undergarments and heavy, woolen cloaks; we abandoned our warm house for a canvas tent that sagged as the rain pooled in its roof and we abandoned socially accepted behaviour to participate in a strange sort of charade that involved grown men barking orders at one another and rushing about self-importantly in their splendid military garb.

And even though I've spent the past two days trying to mentally deconstruct and compartmentalize it, I still can't quite work out what to make of it.

Because there were moments of magic even amongst the misery of torrential rain and sopping wet shoes, and yet there were moments of despondency too, that left me wondering what on earth I was doing grappling with a cape that was intent on throttling me whilst chasing my boy in a dress around a large, wet field.  



I have no idea how I will remember this surreal weekend that interrupted our sedate and ordinary life in the years to come, but I hope that it will be with wonder.

I hope that I'll forget the boredom that came from hours spent sitting in a wet tent with strangers; the despondency of rainy mornings and leaky tents; the  pure rage that left me shocked and shaken when James abandoned me in a cold tent with a screaming baby whilst he went and 'found the camp' via the beer tent; the discomfort of ill-fitting costumes and the exacerbation of spending time with strangers who found it hard to distinguish between the real and imagined.  


And instead I hope that I'll remember the quiet wholesomeness of the life that we lived for those days. I hope I'll remember the smells of woodsmoke and wet grass; the sight of hundreds of canvas tents stretching away towards the horizon; the peace of sitting around a campfire late on a summer's evening whilst long shadows stretched over men intently polishing their muskets; the relief of a warm cup of tea on a long, wet morning, the simple joy of bread and jam, the bizarre cuteness of my baby boy in a bonnet; the way strangers oooh'd and ahhhh'd over John and stopped to take his picture; the serene magic of watching my babe become hypnotised by the wisps of cloud that floated in front of the full summer moon; the thrill of taking part in such a splendid and sumptuous spectacle, the excitement of seeing Roman soldiers and medieval knights and vikings wandering quite naturally past our camp; John's unbridled excitement as the Spitfires roared overhead and the pride that I felt each time someone complemented me on his cuteness and unnaturally good nature.


But most of all I hope that I remember the quiet contentment of my boy; the way he adapted quite naturally to this strange new reality that we thrust upon him and amused himself for two long days with pieces of wood from the woodpile and scraps of bread from the table, and the way he never once grumbled in spite of wet clothes and late mealtimes, lack of sleep and an onslaught of strangers.  

And I hope I remember that the next time I land myself in the midst of some strange and surreal experience, I needn't worry about my boy, because he's the definition of adaptable and he teaches me lessons in contentment each and every day.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Barefoot Afternoons


All week, as the skies have opened and sunshine has poured forth onto the earth, we've been spending our afternoons barefoot. 

We've been busily working our way through our mornings, with their usual tasks and trips and toddler groups, but our afternoons have been as free and clear as the blue skies overhead.

We've sat in the overgrown beauty of our garden in between the heavy branches of the fruit trees and stretched our toes out amidst a bouncy carpet of clover. And as the bees have droned in the flowers and tractors have droned in the distance, we've delighted in doing nothing.

Sometimes we've read, sometimes we've scrambled and played in the car and sometimes, when the garden has started to seem small, we've wandered down the lane to pay a visit to the horses; but mostly we've spent our time soaking up the silence and the sunshine, and it's been restorative, restful, beautiful and blissful. 

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Special


There was a time, before John was born, when I could have walked through this garden as nothing but an anonymous nobody. Strangers would have seen me without really noticing me at all and passed me with nothing but a absent-minded glance or a semi-courteous nod, and then I'd have gone on my way, forgotten.

But now that I have a little boy to chase, I'm suddenly something special.

The boy who has been collecting smiles since the day he was born is still working his wonder on the world, and people are drawn towards us as we wind our way through the flowers.

Old ladies stop to pucker up their wrinkled faces and smile as though his mere presence brings them untold joy, strangers who were walking quite purposefully stop to watch him climb stairways and explore the texture of a box hedge, and people who were lost in thought or busy in conversation stop me to comment on his busyness, his enthusiasm for life, his mischievous smile and his content yet inquisitive spirit.

Of course there will come a time when John's simply another boisterous boy or another mournful teenager and he will be nothing but an anonymous nobody just as I once was.

But just for now, he's special.

And as I walk with him, smiling at the people we meet, flushing with pride at their kind comments and glowing with appreciation for this small person by my side, I can't help but feel that I'm special too, simply because I'm with him.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

One Day Of Summer


This weekend, Summer decided to stop by, and smile on us for a day.

It poked its head through the rainclouds, pitied our pathetic indoor play and invited us out into the open to savour sunshine for a while.

And so, with grateful hearts and sunkissed smiles, we basked in the glory of summer. We lay in a carpet of clover and counted the apples on the boughs overhead, we slathered suncream on our skin and then coated it with a crispy layer of sand, we set up our brand new play tent and played peekaboo until our cheeks hurt from smiling, we pointed at helicopters that passed overhead and horses that passed on the road and waited for John to squeal in delight, we transported the treasures that we'd bought at the food festival out into the garden and watched John snaffle them whole, we wriggled our bodies into the tiny play tunnel and watched John fall about laughing as we found that we were stuck, we abandoned naps and trips and tasks in favour of soaking up the sun, we feasted on cherries and watermelon, Stromboli and brownies, and as evening fell we lit the barbecue and let that evocative scent of summer wash over us like happy memories.

For one blissful day we celebrated the sort of summer that you imagine when you close your eyes and picture it on a bleak midwinter's day, feeling the sunshine slow time to a standstill, and relaxing as the warm weather made our worries slip and slide like the butter left in our butter dish.

And today, when I woke up to rain, I smiled. Because I held a taste of summer tucked up inside me like a secret, and no matter what the weather did, it was staying there for good.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Personality By The Pound


At the beginning, it was weight that he gained by the pound. But just lately, my boy's been gaining personality by the pound instead.


Every day he's busier, naughtier, more adventurous, more dextrous, funnier, sillier, more purposeful, more communicative and more boyish, with more of his own likes, dislikes and desires.


He climbs on every surface in sight, he runs at life from morning to night, he has an insatiable appetite for fruit, he loves books and horses and tractors, he plays happily for hours in the driver's seat of the car, he brings me his shoes when we've been stuck in the house for too long, he has an unstoppable compulsion to bite, he laughs like a maniac when we spot rabbits in the garden, he says 'tree' and 'apple' and 'baby' and 'pooey', he brings me books to read every time I sit on the sofa, and he works tirelessly at his life's mission to redistribute our belongings throughout the ground floor of the house.


And as we watch his personality flourish and grow before our very eyes, I can't help but feel that it was there all along, and that time is simply stripping away an outer husk that covered it to reveal the person that he was born to be.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Carrot Cake



For two days, my mind has been wrung dry. Emotions that I can't name and thoughts that I can't contain have saturated my brain and memories that once sat quietly at the back of my mind have flooded to the forefront, stinging quite suddenly, like tears.

And so today, with the aftermath of the funeral still suffocating my sanity, I baked myself a carrot cake.

And as I baked I thought about the cake that we ate once the funeral was over, the awkward conversations with unknown relatives had been borne, the enormity of the occasion had been digested, and the tears had been forgotten. 

We'd kicked off our uncomfortable shoes and shed our sombre clothes, and we'd sat in the splendor of Granny's garden, pouring tea from her silver tea-pot and eating carrot cake off her china plates.

We'd lifted our faces to the sunshine and felt our bones lighten with the warmth, and we'd chatted about holidays and future visits, bickered over the last slice of cake, and smiled and laughed and talked.

It was all completely normal, except that Granny wasn't there; and it had occurred to me that this was the simple reality of the matter and this was how it was always going to be.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

The Best Things In Life...


On an overcast afternoon, during a severe bout of toy fatigue, I almost climbed into the car and drove to town to buy the boy something new.

But when the rain clouds thinned and the sun broke through the clouds, I gathered up treasures from the floor of my garden instead, and presented them to him in a plant pot.

I set them on our little garden table, beside a big bowl of water and a few twigs and then I sat back on the grass and basked in the blissful sound of silence.

I watched him choose apples and pebbles with serious deliberation and then plop them into the water; I saw him stir the stew with intense concentration and I sat quietly as he scooped dirt up with his spoon and transferred it from one pot to the next with utter absorption.

And as I watched him work, and marvelled at the intensity of his play, I knew that no matter how many toy's I'd bought him or how much money I'd spent, none of them would have held his concentration so completely as this.