Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Surfacing


For weeks now I've been looking at life through a fog. The world's been dense and dark and exhaustion has held its heavy hand on my head. I've hauled my body through the endless days and then slumped miserably into bed at night.

I've written little, photographed nothing, smiled only when required to and cleaned my house a lot. The balance has been all wrong.

But earlier this week, for no discernible reason, the fog thinned and dispersed.

I awoke and the world looked bright and when I flung open my window I gasped at what I saw.

What - is it already Advent? Are there wreaths to make and presents to pick? Are there soups to make and bread to bake? Are there beautiful roses on my mantelpiece? Is that my happy boy saying "Choo Choo!"? Are there candles to light? Friends to meet? A house to build? Gifts to stitch?

Oh life feels full and fun again - I'm so excited to be awake.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Season's End


I keep waiting for the day when I'll wake up and the world will smell of winter. When the damp smell of decay will be replaced with the crisp smell of cold, and the soggy end of a season will be swapped for the sparkly promise of a new one.

And yet every time we venture out, we find that Autumn is still lingering around the edges of November.

The world is still damp, the air is still mild, the earth still squelches underfoot, and the last of the colourful leaves still spiral lazily through the air.

And so even though I'm anxiously awaiting winter, we're still basking in the glorious business of Autumn.

We're still running through bright, squelchy leaves, still spreading our arms and soaring like aeroplanes in wide, damp meadows, still lifting our smiles to the sky and watching leaves as they flutter towards our faces, and still running without the hindrance of coats.

Because any day now I'll open the front door and the air will be empty, light and cold, and if this is the last day of Autumn I want to make sure we enjoy it.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

First Art


For some reason, I put off John's introduction to painting.

I persuaded myself that we were always too busy, or John was too tired, or the light was too poor for photographs and I waited and waited for the perfect moment when his concentration would be complete and my camera would be at the ready and this momentous milestone could occur.

And then suddenly, on a rainy, no-nap afternoon, when exhaustion was crushing my capacity for patience, the dark was creeping in at the windows and I had no idea how to fill the time until my mum arrived, that perfect moment arrived.

I splashed paint into some dishes, sat him up at the table and watched in awe as my boy become an artist.

I watched him dip his brushes seriously into the paint trays and then purposefully arrange thick dollops of paint on his paper until a colourful symmetry had been achieved.

I watched the absorption with which he painted and the silent satisfaction with which he surveyed his finished masterpiece.

And as I laid my camera aside, knowing that we there would be plenty of other times when we could repeat this activity under the blessing of bright sunshine, I wondered why I ever bothered to delay such happiness and vowed to make more of an effort not to let my own agenda hinder my ability to parent.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Happiness


Sometimes I feel as though I'm forever chasing after happiness.

I chase it clickety-click across the internet, I search for it miserably in garishly bright shops, I chase it with lists and plans and unachievable dreams, and yet somehow it seems to flutter away from me, like the leaves that wind their own way from the trees and land far from my outstretched hands.

But John's happiness is instinctive and easy.

He doesn't chase the leaves that are still fluttering through the air just beyond his reach, but sees the beautiful golden ones that are already nestled about his feet.

He picks them up and treasures them.

He smiles because he's happy.


And as I witness his wholehearted happiness and spend time in his calm and contented presence, I learn afresh what it means to be happy.

I see the beauty of the life beneath my very feet and I stop searching for something that's forever beyond my reach.

I pause and remember that I'm happy because he's happy.  

And I wonder once again how it is that this small boy is already so much wiser than me, and whether I'll ever be as good a role model for him as he already is for me.

Friday, 18 November 2011

All I Want For Christmas


"Choo Choo!" he says over and over again as he picks the fresh logs out of the log basket and arranges them in a perfectly straight line.

"Choo! Choo!" he says as he manoeuvres them across the room with his stuffed toys aboard.

"Bye Choo Choo", he says bending to kiss the logs tenderly before climbing the stairs to bed.

And I wonder why it is that I ever bother buying him toys.


Monday, 14 November 2011

Remember, Remember


A week later than planned, we finally lit our bonfire.

We watched the flames leap towards the stars with a roar of enthusiasm and then settle themselves into a comfortable crackle, we perched ourselves on the damp wooden bench to eat our hot dogs and then we watched the fireworks that Daddy lit for us with unrepressed boyish enthusiasm.

I cradled John's padded little body in one hand and cupped warm cranberry punch in the other, and the tiny bonfire cast a magic glow on John's face as short showers of stars burst through the blackness and then disappeared into dark clouds of smoke.

And as John clapped with unreserved joy and cried "Stars please Daddy," between each shower of sparks I thought: 'I will never have another bonfire night quite like this', and the thought was beautiful and burning, just like a Catherine wheel.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Bubble Bath


I'm always exhausted by bath-time and he's ready for bed, but bubbles mean that the day always ends with a burst of exuberant joy.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Sixty


This weekend my Dad turned sixty. You will probably never meet him but here are ten things you should know about him:

1. Earlier this year he came off his bike a short way into the second stage of his ironman competition, badly breaking his collar bone. He waited for the ambulance to arrive and collect the seriously injured man behind him, patched up his bike, mopped up the blood, then cycled the remaining 100 miles one-handed. And then he ran a marathon.

2. If you ask him about it he'll say "Well, you know...it was...you know," cough awkwardly and act as though it's the type of thing that happens every day and is barely worth mentioning at all.

3. He has been on a coeliac diet for the last twenty years, which means that every day he eats bread that tastes of cardboard. I have never even once heard him complain about it.

4. His whole face is designed to smile.

5. If the thought of money so much as crosses his mind he'll reach down and pat the small change in his right trouser pocket. He will then reach into his pocket and give you everything he has. And offer you more besides.

6. He builds the best obstacle courses, rope swings, water slides, camp fires and forts. He makes the best train noises. He pulls the funniest faces. And he can play with all the enthusiasm and tirelessness of a child.

7. For the last fifteen years he's celebrated his birthday by selling neon-bright glow sticks and whirligigs to over-excited children on behalf of the Rotary Club at the village bonfire. This has made him very happy.

8. He lives entirely in the present. This means that he is always late.

9. His enthusiasm is legendary, and contagious. If you spend enough time with him you will start smiling / exercising / bell-ringing / running triathlons.

10. He is the best person in the whole world to share good news with. His joy for your joy makes your happiness complete.

Monday, 7 November 2011

The Day After The Party


The party was a strange affair where people drank champagne, laughed too loudly, said mean things with a smile to amuse a room, talked about themselves and their accomplishments and assumed that the rest of the world was impressed.

And throughout it all I smiled and drank and laughed along, whilst feeling exhausted and uncomfortable and inadequate.

Because I don't have a closet hung with cocktail dresses, I don't live in a Georgian manor house in the country, I won't be employing two and a half thousand people next summer, I haven't spent hundreds of pounds on Olympic tickets, I haven't been to Sierra Leone or South Africa or India or Vietnam, I've not had dinner with Tony Blair, I've not been introduced to the Queen; I won't be going skiing this winter and I'm not funny or witty or clever in the sort of way that you'd notice.

My life's not interesting or impressive or important.

It's a simple life where I wake up on a Monday morning and cuddle my boy in bed. I wash the blackened Pyrex dish and smile when it sparkles; I let a tired little boy watch cartoons in his pyjamas; I meet up with friends whom I love and tell them that their babes are beautiful; I make my boy beans on toast for lunch and then gently wash his orange face; I gather yet more apples from the grass beneath our tree and I make a jug of apple juice; I sit in silence as John sleeps and remind myself of the beauty of the world; I cook and clean and shop; I sing my boy lullabies before bed; I weave my thoughts into a blog post and I go to bed happy.

It's just a little life, it's not changing the world and it doesn't translate well into dinner party chatter, but it's valid, it's mine and I happen to love it.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Coconut Hill


This is the hill that stretches steeply up towards the sky behind my childhood home.

I led the first ascent of this hill one summer's day many years ago, armed with a hand-drawn conqueror's flag, a bag of iced gems and a Tupperware box filled with dry Frosties.

My brothers and I didn't take the road that wraps itself around the hill and leads you gently to the top but instead we dumped our bikes at the bottom and scrambled our way up the steep slope to the summit.

We planted our crested flag with pride, we ate our iced gems and Frosties, I declared that the hill would be thenceforth known as Coconut Hill and then we scooted back down the hill on our bottoms as fast as we possibly could.   

Since that first ascent I've spent many hours at the top of Coconut Hill.

I've run across it, I've sat on it, I've cried on it, I've sledged down it, I've eaten picnics atop it, I've prayed on it, I've laid and watched the clouds on it, I've jumped in cow pats on it, I've skidded and scooted all the way down it, I've stood in awe and surveyed the ever-changing view on it, and I've dreamed some of my most  powerful and long-lasting dreams on it.

And on Sunday afternoon, whilst John caught up on three hours of lost sleep, James introduced a new generation to a love of the mountains, my Dad painted the eves of his house and my Mum baptised four new members into God's family, I snuck away, all alone, and climbed it.

I watched my long shadow stretch ahead of me as I wound my way up the steep road and I smiled as I saw the valley spread out below me. 

I hopped over the new fence that now runs alongside the road and ran with my arms stretched wide to the ridge of the hill, where you can look down and see the most beautiful view in the world stretching out as far as the eye can see.

And as I settled myself beneath the lonely windswept tree that sits defiantly on the horizon, I felt solidness of the earth beneath me and the thinness of the air above me; I listened to the silence of the sky and I soaked up the solitude of the place.  

"Hello, Old Friend" I whispered to the hill.

And the hill kept its silence, but I'm sure I heard the wind bend and whisper in my ear, "Hello You, Welcome Back."