Saturday, 30 June 2012

At The Zoo

Today we took John to the zoo.

We showed him all the animals that you could possibly imagine, from elephants to emus and chimpanzees to cheetahs.

He saw monkeys that could hang upside down by just their tails and bats that swooped soundlessly through the dark, and we lifted him up high to show him  lions gnawing chunks of meat and elephants embracing with their trunks.

We introduced him to animatronic dinosaurs that roared and stretched and rolled their yellow eyes...

...and that seemed friendly enough, until one spat unexpectedly on my leg, and then turned frankly terrifying.

But the highlight of the day? The one that made his whole face light up with joy and left him giggling with unsuppressed glee? The one that he had to be dragged away from kicking and screaming because the excitement was just too great?

It was the monorail.

Sometimes I wonder why we bother.

Thursday, 28 June 2012


All my life I've looked over my shoulder, comparing myself to others.

It's driven me to work harder than I thought possible and achieve more than I thought I could, and at the same time it's made dissatisfied with my achievements and my looks and my choices, and discontented with my own happiness.

Lately, I've noticed that I've begun to impose my comparisons on my boy.

I listen to his friends chattering in semi-coherent sentences and trying out semi-intelligible words, and I worry that his speech is slow. I see two-year-olds who are already potty trained and I panic that he's behind. And I see little ones dressing and undressing themselves, and I feel ashamed that my boy still relies on me to put on his jacket and take off his shoes.

And as I hear myself saying "Pippa can say horse" or "Why don't you take off your shoes like Hannah?" or "Sara's speech is amazing! I can understand every word she says," or even "You're so much better at eating than Elodie" I realise that I'm becoming the voice in his head that will make him dissatisfied with his life; I am the nagging compulsion that will make him look over his shoulder and compare his happiness to others, and I feel searing horror at the thought.

Because I never ever want my boy to measure his beautiful, perfect self in relation to others, or to feel that he is a greater or lesser person because of the comparison. I want him to always be as fully content in his own nature as he is today, and I know that he will reach all those milestones that I worry over so fruitlessly at the perfect time for him and in a manner that's entirely his own.

And so, little boy, I promise that I will try harder. I will try not to compare you to others, and if that proves impossible then I will at least try not to voice my comparisons out loud.

I will simply marvel at your unique and wonderful self. Because really, you're incomparable.

And that, more than anything, is what I want you to know.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Midsummer's Eve

Every year, for some unexplained reason, I feel the Midsummer's call.

Perhaps it's he fact that I grew up with a healthy half-belief in faeries, perhaps its the pull of the sun or perhaps it's a jumble of half-remembered stories that makes me think that magic at large on this night.  

Whatever it is, Midsummer makes me want to walk barefoot through tall grasses, and dance naked beneath the moon. It makes me want to wake up before sunrise, pick wild flowers in the bloom of the afternoon, and watch firelight flicker through the dusk.

And so this year, as Midsummer's Eve dawned bright and warm, I decided to honour the call. Even though it was just an ordinary Wednesday, and nobody would understand, and it sounded a little pagan, and it was just us three at home.

We tied ribbons from the trees, gathered wood for our fire, picked flowers together in the tangled jumble of our garden and wove them into a crown. We set out flowers and stones on our little table and then I sat in the earth with my boy by my side and lit us a Midsummer's fire.

And as the sun set and the fire crackled, and we sat on the grass drinking elderflower fizz and eating the charred feast from the fire and laughing, laughing with John, I realised I'd made my own Midsummer's magic.

Because for one special night we were celebrating the beauty of life in the great outdoors, and it was quiet and simple and magical, and everything that Midsummer's Eve should be.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Father's Day

Somehow, without any planning, it just so happened that I got to spend Father's Day with my Daddy.

And even though father's day means very little in our house, I could not think of a nicer way to spend the day, nor better company for my boy and me.

We walked around the lake that I have walked around so many times before, whilst John gathered wool from from the fences and collected sticks for us all to fish with, and when we came to the giant hill at the end, my Dad scooped up my tired boy in his arms and half-ran up that hill as though he weighed nothing at all.

And as I trailed behind them up the steep slope, the sound of John's giggles floating back to me down the hill, I thought of all the times that I'd been carried so effortlessly in those strong arms. And I felt lucky to have been there, and lucky to be here, and so very grateful for my Daddy.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Wet and Wild

We set off despite the relentless rain and the promise of gales and drove to a quiet campsite, hidden amongst the feet of the the mountains.

We pitched our tent beneath grey skies, on the shores of a silent grey lake, and when we ducked inside, the sound of the raindrops pattering on the tent-top made us cuddle our knees and cradle our hot chocolate and snuggle up in our sleeping bags with gladness.

I've always said that I hate camping in the rain, but this week there was a magic in the wetness.

The mists clung around the tips of the mountaintops and drifted slowly through the valleys, and the skies hung moodily above us as we dodged showers and splashed through puddles and rejoiced in sudden flashes of sunshine.  

By day we  lit fires, cooked sausages, explored castles and travelled winding mountain roads.   

And by night James and I sat outside our tent overlooking the quiet grey of the lake and listening to the crackle and pop of the fire whilst our boy in his new sleeping bag chattered quietly to himself and cheerfully resisted sleep.

With our chairs pulled up close to the flames, the fire burning our cheeks and baking our knees, the cold creeping up our backs and the damp clinging miserably to our socks, we watched the night close in over the campsite as we toasted marshmallow after marshmallow and filled our mouths with their crispy, molten goodness.

And despite the rain, or perhaps because of it, this little camping made me feel wild and fully alive and free.

Perhaps I don't hate camping in the rain quite as much as I thought.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Jubilee Party

After weeks of worrying that too few tickets had sold and the party would be a flop, and then days of worrying that too many tickets had sold and we'd never have enough food, I awoke to rain.

It was the thick, endless kind that coats the daylight in a gloomy shade of grey and drums the earth with a repetitive rhythm that offers no hope of a reprieve. It splashed on soggy streams of bunting, it dripped down the roadside party signs and it turned the church field into a pool of mud.

And so, after weeks of planning and dreaming up and discussing the perfect party, I had to resign myself to the fact that our Jubilee party would be held in the unromantic setting of the functional Parish Hall.

I watched as dreams of a village gathered in a bunting-strung field slipped away into the puddles, and as images of little girls running through the grass trailing bubbles in their wake, Chinese lanterns drifting whimsically up into the starry sky, accordion music floating out from beneath the peaks of gazebos and a burning brazier shooting golden sparks into the dark drowned amidst the downpour.

For a few hours I stamped and sulked and bickered with God, and saw only the grey.

But then there was no more time for sulking because there was Sunday school to run and a final shopping trip to make and salads to prepare and pudding to make.

Lots of puddings to make.

All afternoon, I mixed and whipped and sliced and stuck and sprinkled.

I loaded my dining table with desserts, and when they were done I loaded them into the boot of James' car, and headed out for the party.

And despite all the gloom of the morning, and the madness of the afternoon, the party itself was perfect.

Family after family tramped out of the rain into a hall that had been transformed with bunting and fairy lights, and suddenly it was a celebration full of chatter and noise and food and drink and laughter and flag-waving, national-anthem-singing joy.

We served up plate after plate of food, until no one could eat another bite, and John, who could not be dissuaded from thinking that it was his birthday and that this whole elaborate party was for him, and who could be heard singing 'Happy Birthday to John' quietly to himself throughout the evening, partied like a pro.

He ran happily about with the big children whilst James and I worked, and when the clock had struck half past ten, the rest of the children had gone home and James and I wearily wiped tables and stacked chairs and searched in vain for lost crockery, John clambered onto the stage and danced with all the clumsy, joyous abandon that only a tired toddler can.

I'm not sure why I wanted to organise a Jubilee party so very much. It's not because I'm a royalist (although I think that perhaps at heart I am) or because it wouldn't have happened without me (because I'm sure in some form it would) but because I want to be a part of this community in which I live.

I want to know the people I pass on the street and I want my little boy to be known and loved by a family that's bigger that just us three.

And as I watched proudly as my happy boy ran between well-known legs and received flashes of well-known smiles, and ate bits of well-known people's biscuits, I realised that that's what I'd achieved. And it felt flag-wavingly, cork-poppingly good.