September Goodness 2012

Saturday 1st Sept

1. The sun coming through the window is so warm that my eyelids start to droop and the words on the page become blurry. When I wake, I find myself curled up amongst the crushed ironing pile in a house that is strangely silent. "Where's John?" I say sleepily to James, "He's asleep too," he tells me.

2. There's a silence in the garden as I prepare the dinner. "Is John ok?" I ask, sticking my head out of the back door. "Come and look" says James, "he's working." I watch silently as John picks up some grass cuttings with a spanner and carefully carries them over to a plant pot before going back for more. I never cease to be amazed by his ability to work.

3. As I pull the steaming plum clafoutis out of the oven and sprinkle the top with sugar, I wonder how long it takes to create a tradition. This is only the second year, but already plum clafoutis feels like an integral part of our family's late summer repertoire.

Sunday 2nd September

1. The tiny train makes John whoop and scream with excitement and so of course we have to have a ride. He sits seriously for the minute that it takes to travel around the little track, whilst we smile and wave his behalf. Then it stops, his frown disappears and he's once again overcome with excitement of it all.

2. John stands up on the counter and leans over Daddy's arm as he attempts to hook a duck. He reaches and misses, reaches and misses, until it seems as though he's been doing it all day. When James eventually guides his hook onto a duck everyone, including the stall holder, cheers.

3. Instead of doing the dishes I sit and watch the paralympics. It never fails to inspire.

Monday 3rd September

1. I hand John a piece of super-fine sandpaper and show him how to rub it on the skirting board. Together we sand and sweep, sand and sweep, until the skirting board is finished, dusted and all ready for varnishing.

2. "What do you want to do today?" I ask John. "See Hannah and Sarah and Grace," he says before launching into a rendition of the 'tap sticks song' that we sing every week at gymnastics. "You want to go to gymnastics?" I ask him. "Da," he says firmly. I don't know how, but he seems to know that it's Monday.

3. The evening's warm, so we sit outside by the canal. As we eat the sky turns red and orange and gold, and the food holds all the sweetness of the sunset.

Tuesday 4th September

1. Quite by chance, John and I find ourselves in an enchanted woodland. There are dappled pools of sunlight, tiny villages of mushrooms, a happy babbling brook and a mystical sort of silence. I'm not quite certain, but I'm fairly sure there are fairies.

2. James comes home between work and his meeting to bring me a cake and a kiss. The cake is a squidgy chocolate brownie that looks underwhelming but turns out to be so good that we polish off every last crumb. The kiss is everything that I need.

3. After dinner the phone calls begin and they don't stop until bedtime. They are from people who miss me, people who remembered, people who know me well. By the time I go to sleep I feel tired and loved and blessed. It's what birthdays are all about.

Wednesday 5th September

1 Gemma and I sit in the garden watching the boys play. The sun is warm on my scalp, John and Noah are taking turns on the slide and we have a whole summer holiday to catch up on.

2. On a whim, I pull out the paddling pool, scrub off the mildew and inflate its soggy sides. I pour in two sacks of balls and drag over the slide. And suddenly, the vision that I've been holding in the back of my mind all summer long is realised in front of me. I sit and watch it unfold as John whoops and splashes and giggles.

3. It's almost dark by the time I get out for my run and the road is a grey streak in the blackness. As I run the night noises crowd around me; the heavy movements of unseen cow, the scurrying of tiny feet, the hooting of courting owls and my own exaggerated breathing. I feel spooked and awed and exhilarated in equal measure.

Thursday 6th Sept

1. At quiet moments, they both come over to ask me how I'm doing now. "I'm ok," I tell them. "There's nothing I can do about it..."

"That's why you're running isn't is?" says Andrea. "Absolutely," I say. For a second I think I will cry, but then John shouts "Mummy!" and the moment has passed.

2. Once the chard is washed and chopped and piled in the scales I realise that we've not picked quite enough. "Can you pick me some more leaves please?" I ask John. He happily scurries round to the back of the house and comes in moments later with half a leaf scrunched up in his fist. "Thank you" I say, "Can you pick me three more?" He runs off again and again to complete this task, as I chop and grate and stir. It keeps him busy until it's time for him to climb up onto the chair and paint the filo pastry with butter.

3. The carpet man is probably saying something important about the fitting, but no one's really paying him any attention because John is running crazily round and round the newly carpeted room, his giggles manic, his screams electric with excitement.

Friday 7th Sept

1. It's the kind of day that demands to be spent outside. The air is light, the sun is hot, and the colours are tinged with gold. I strip John off, paste him all over with sun cream, and when he asks for the paddling pool I re-inflate it, re-fill it and replace all the balls. I can't escape the thought that this just might be the last day of summer.

2. Gemma shows up with a big bouquet of sunflowers. "I'm so sorry I missed your birthday," she says. "You didn't know it was my birthday" I say. I don't deserve friends like these.

3. At 5.30 I finally wake John from his nap. "Hello" I say as I push open his door. He opens his sleepy eyes and says "Bye bye" without missing a beat. He turns his head towards me, gives me the cheekiest of smiles, and both of us break out into giggles.

Saturday 8th Sept

1. As I tackle the mountain of ironing downstairs, James and John put up the curtain rail upstairs. I hear their voices drifting down the stairwell as they clunk and bang companionably together. I feel as though I'm listening in to the future.

2. James and John climb into the giant swing and demand to be pushed. I give them a little shove and watch them swing gently back and forth over the ground. "Higher mummy" shouts John excitedly. "Higher! Higher!" I push and push until the swing is racing back and forth in the cool evening air, and the two of them are laughing.

3. The new bedroom feels big and empty and impersonal. The new bed sits squarely in the middle of the empty space and the old mattress sits sadly on the new frame, looking small and squashed and insufficient. For a while, I lie in bed feeling displaced and slightly disappointed and mentally listing all the things I need to do to make this feel like a room. But then I remember the bare sheets of plaster board, the excruciating hours of easifill and the indescribable dust, and I realise just how far we've come.

Sunday 9th Sept

1. The big kids are wailing like ghosts in the dark as James leads John through the tunnels. At first I wonder if this will spook him, but the second John reaches the daylight he turns and runs back in. James and I stand at the entrance to the tunnel and watch him disappear into the blackness. We can't see him for a long, long time, but we know he's ok because of his distinctive high-pitched wailing.

2. John launches himself on top of me as I'm sitting on the sofa and then pulls back with dismay. "Orry mummy" he says quietly. "Didn't mean to." I look down and see that one of the buttons on my cardigan has broken in half. I cast around for the other half but can't find it anywhere. "It's ok John," I say, "I don't think it was your fault." "Da, John fault," he says emphatically before turning away to jump on Daddy instead.

3. I can't work out what's more delicious, the cheesy giant pretzels, the large tub of mixed olives, or the fact that we're eating them in the dappled shade of an apple orchard.

Monday 10th Sept

1. The promotions lady in Tesco clearly thinks I'm on the verge of a breakdown. "Are you ok?" she asks gently, looking genuinely concerned. "My card's bent" I tell her, "and it won't let me get any money out. I've got a trolley full of shopping in there." She comes over to look at the card. "Now, where is the nearest HSBC?" she asks, in the soothing tones that you would use for a distraught child. "Don't worry, I'm sure they'll let you leave your shopping and pick it up later." She looks as though she expects me to cry and even though I'm not feeling especially stressed, I suddenly wonder if I might.

2. John sets the standard for playdough monsters high, so I pull out all the stops to create playdough monster masterpieces. I'm proud of the two-headed monster and John loves the tiny baby monster, but my favourite is the star-spangled worm monster, who sports a moustache, wears a peaked cap and looks decidedly French.

3. After dinner James and John sit quietly muddling over a jigsaw whilst I clean up the dishes. Outside, darkness drops softly on the earth and inside there's a quiet warmth. It feels a bit like winter, and it's not altogether bad.

Tuesday 11th Sept

1. As I drift hazily between sleep and wakefulness, I hear a little voice on the baby monitor. It says "Come on mummy, come and get me!" and I open my eyes with a smile.

2. "This is your ice cream shop" I tell him, "and you are the ice cream man." I tie the ribbons of his apron and squirt shaving cream into a bowl. "I i-eem bam!" says John excitedly as he begins spooning shaving foam into the ice cream cones in front of him. I watch him working carefully, taking great care not to spill any foam, for a long, long time, and only when he looks ready to wander do I come along to buy my ice cream.

3. "I'm sorry," says the efficient sounding lady on the other end of the line, "that course is full." "Oh no" I say, deflated, thinking how cross James will be that I hadn't booked it earlier and realising in that instant just how much I wanted it. "You can book onto the course in January if you like" she adds helpfully. "Never mind," I say, flatly, "I'll leave it for now." The lady pauses for a moment and then says, "Just let me check that again for you, there may have been a cancellation." Two minutes later she calls back to tell me that there are indeed two spaces and that I can enrol straight away.

Wednesday 12th Sept

1. John and Noah are doing something mischievous in the dining room and we can hear their giggles floating back to us through the kitchen. Their laughter ripples and swells over and over again and suddenly Gemma and I find ourselves laughing too. Our laughs rise and fall in time with theirs and it's impossible to stop.

2. The second she starts to cry, my eyes fill with tears too. I know that exhaustion so well. I want to tell her that it's just a phase and he's a good little boy and she never needs to feel like a failure with me. I give her a big hug instead. I hope that she knows all the rest.

3. After a long deliberation, and many frustrating false starts I decide on pear and chocolate crumble. It's probably the only thing that I can make with the ingredients that I have but its rich and sticky and fruity, and an undeniable success.

Thursday 13th Sept

1. "On guard!" John shouts as he brandishes his sword towards me. "On guard!" I reply, lunging towards him . We clash our swords together in the castle courtyard and then rush out towards the gate. "I knight" says John proudly, waving his new sword in the air. "I know," I say. "Why don't you be the knight and I'll be the dragon?" I raise my arms and flap towards him, roaring ferociously and gnashing my teeth. People may be giving me strange looks, but I'm having too much fun to care.

2. My legs hurt as I begin to run, but it's a golden evening following a long grey day, so I lift my chin and pound the road whilst the evening sunshine transfigures the countryside around me.

3. After I've finished setting the flowers on the altar, we walk back down the lane hand in hand. The air is cool and crisp, and John runs back and forth between our outstretched arms, his giggles drifting happily up into the quiet autumn air.

Friday 14th Sept

1. Despite all the odds, John settles down quite happily and drifts quietly off to sleep. I sit amidst the chaos soaking up the silence. It might only have been four children playing noisily on my floor, but it felt a little more like forty.

2. It's dark by the time we pull out of Birmingham New Street station and the world is twinkling with lights. I sit gazing past my own reflection at the world slipping past me and feel the intoxicating fizz of freedom. I'd almost forgotten how it felt.

3. I round the corner to see my brothers waiting for me beyond the ticket barriers. They both grin broadly as they spot me and come forward with exaggerated waves. "Alright love" says Alistair, giving me an enormous hug, "Anthony's drunk." Anthony gives me a goofy smile and then comes over to hug me too. I grin like a small child at my brothers. Oh this is going to be so much fun.

Saturday 15th Sept

1. Over brunch Anthony asks me how it's going and so I tell them everything. For a long while I hold it together as I tell them the details, and answer their questions and fill them in on the science. But they're so understanding, they know me so very well, and after all, they're my brothers - and soon I'm crying into my duck egg.

2. We wander through a gallery crammed full of ceramics. We pass through a room displaying mosaics. We walk through an exhibition of glass and then we sit and stare at a large Persian carpet. From time to time they ask me "What do you want to see?" but it really doesn't matter to me. Today is all about the company.

3. At first people laughed politely, awkwardly, glancing about nervously to gauge the reactions of their neighbours, but now the theatre is in uproar and the noise is electrifying and I'm leaning forward in my seat, screaming with laughter, along with everyone else.

Sunday 16th Sept

1. The market is packed full of people, but it's easy to spot Sarah because she's carrying a giant bunch of sunflowers over her shoulder like an umbrella. Every time I catch sight of her I think she looks like a film star.

2. I have never smelled so many delicious smells. They drift around the market and mingle on the breeze, evoking memories of countries that I've visited and images of distant lands that I can only dream of. For a while I wander about feeling hungry and unsure and a little overwhelmed. Then, just as the decision becomes too difficult to manage, Anthony's there, taking my arm and guiding me towards some Japanese dumplings that are every kind of perfect.

3. As soon as I get home I tiptoe up the stairs to peek in on John. He's breathing quietly in the darkness, and for a moment I hover over him, taking in the perfection of his silent, sleeping self. Suddenly, he opens his eyes, looks straight at me and smiles. "Night night sweetie" I say, bending down to stroke his cheek. He murmurs something softly beneath his breath and then snuggles his face into his blanket as I tiptoe quietly back out of the room.

Monday 17th Sept

1. For a moment there is silence, broken only by the sound of toddler babble, and when Sarah and I peek through the door we see the three of them playing perfectly together.

2. The second we walk through the surgery door, John begins to cough. "It's ok," I tell him, "we're just going to speak to the health visitor, we're not here because you're poorly." John ignores me and coughs his loud, exaggerated cough some more. He coughs dramatically in the waiting room, he coughs pointedly for the benefit of the health visitor and he doesn't stop until we've finished our appointment and made our way back out of the surgery into the sunshine.

3. After dinner, James and John sit looking through the free magazine that I picked up at Tesco. " What's that?" says James pointing to a large autumnal spread. "Squirrel" says John. "And that?" he asks. "Squeak squeak" says John, smiling at the harvest mouse. "And that?" says James pointing to a hedgehog. "Pineapple" says John with all the confidence of a two-year-old.

Tuesday 18th Sept

1. "Let's go and play in the little houses" I say, as we round the corner into the farm. John runs ahead of me down the lane and disappears into a play house whilst I lower myself onto a bench and let the sun's rays soak deeply into my scalp. I sit quietly with my eyes closed whilst John runs back and forth bringing me odd assortments of cutlery and plates of plastic chips. I know that I'm only half-parenting, but for once I think that's ok.

2. "This is a special picture, and you have to cover all of the paper with paint" I tell him, handing him the paintbrush. Very carefully, John splodges paint on the paper until all of the white is covered, and when I peel off the stars and moon, his little face lights up in delight. "More! More!" he demands, as I cut out a little string of paper people and carefully glue them in place.

3. I crack my shin as I'm moving the bench and immediately crumple in pain. For a second everything is blurry and strange strangled noises sound from my mouth. But then John is there kissing my leg and saying "all better now", and I'm not quite sure why, but it is.

Wednesday 19th Sept

1. The speech therapist doesn't tell me that I need to send him to nursery, and she doesn't tell me not to worry. Instead, she takes all the time in the world to listen. And when she tells me what I already know I feel lighter than I have done for weeks.

2. The boys sit side by side on the piano stool and begin to play with glee. They bang against the keys, giggling wildly, and then reach up to flick through the music on the stand. Gemma and I watch them with a smile and then both reach for our cameras at exactly the same time.

3. After dinner, we walk down the road to watch the tractors making hay. Afterwards, John rides home on James' shoulders babbling about the tractors all the way.

Thursday 20th Sept

1. This time I don't need to coax or chase or bribe or scold. John runs about by my side as we negotiate the shops and makes impromptu trains out of display racks. He chatters to me as I scan the racks of duvets and he trots beside me as we walk back to the car. It's rather nice to have a companion.

2. "Have you finished your crisps?" I ask. "Da" says John holding up the empty packet to show me. I glance over my shoulder at the quiet boy in the back seat and see an explosion of tomato puffs. There are crisps across his cheeks and over his nose and half way up to his eyebrows. They cover his hands and his jacket and his knees and are plastered across the car seat. "Were they nice?" I ask him, handing him a wet wipe. "Da" he says distractedly, licking his fingers one by one.

3. To accurately compare the dimensions, we pile one mattress on top of the other on top of the brand new bed. Then of course we have to climb on. We roll and jump and bounce wildly, occasionally shouting "Be careful!" as an afterthought to John.

Friday 21st Sept

1. I have elaborate plans to bake biscuits and then build a fort, but John is so utterly absorbed in his train track that he's completely oblivious to my presence. For a while I hover patiently, waiting for him to loose interest, but his absorption is so intense that eventually I abandon my plans and tackle the ironing instead. I work my way through one full load and read two chapters of my book as he toots and chuffs happily on the floor.

2. I light the candles as I lay the table for dinner. Somehow salmon and leek filo parcels seem deserving of candles.

3. The living room is clean. The windows are washed, the book shelves are dusted, the toys are cleared and the mantel piece is polished. For the first time in a long time time I feel as though I can breathe, and so I settle down on the sofa for movie night with my hubby.

Saturday 22nd Sept

1. All of a sudden, in the midst of our giggles, John bumps his head into my mouth so hard that I fear my tooth might be loose. We both reel back from one another, clasping our faces in shock. "Are you ok?" I ask in a muffled whisper, my hand clasped to my mouth. "No," he says mournfully, his hand cupping his head. "Are you ok Mummy?" he asks me. "No" I say back to him, quietly. I lean over and give his head a kiss, and he looks up and kisses my cheek. "All better Mummy," he says with a slightly mournful smile.

2. I cannot remember another day when the air has been this beautiful. It's crisp and clean and light and tingling with the promise of change.

3. After half an hour of excited browsing I leave the shop with a length of sparkling sequined silver fabric, two lengths of super-cheap jersey, a couple of squares of bright yellow felt and a pretty good plan. It's feels especially good to have a plan.

Sunday 23rd Sept

1. "Let's get mummy!" cries James all of a sudden. "No!" I squeal, trying to run away. But it's too late, the two of them are already pouncing on me and attacking my tummy with ice cold deodorant cans.

2. "And what do you do when you're not being a full time mum?" he asks me. "There's never a time when I'm not a full time mum" I answer, cringing silently inside. "That's pretty much my life." "Good for you," cuts in his wife suddenly, with feeling. "I did the same thing and I'm so glad I did. It's a wonderful thing to do." I stand speechless for a moment, basking in the unexpected affirmation. "Yes," I tell her, when I've recovered myself. "I'm really happy."

3. We sit around the table for a long, long time after the plates have been cleared, chatting, laughing and watching the boys play noisily. Outside, the rain drips steadily on a grey world. Inside, it smells of roast pork and woodsmoke, and blackberry and apple crumble.

Monday 24th Sept

1. She tells my just how bad the situation is, and I don't know what to say. Later, I give James an extra tight squeeze and an extra special kiss. I'm so very lucky to have him.

2. The fire engine that we squealed and pointed at earlier is sitting at the end of our road, sirens flashing. "Look John!" I shout excitedly, slowing right down as I pull into the turning, "There's the fire engine!" I inch forward down the road just as two firemen round the corner to tell me that the water pipe's burst and the road is closed. They look thoroughly miserable in the torrential rain, but John doesn't seem to notice. "One fireman! Two fireman!" he squeals in a frenzy of excitement.

3. John is screeching at me urgently from the potty and I run to see what the commotion is. Between his chubby knees I spy his first pottied poo. He looks shocked and proud and exuberant and traumatised. I feel rather the same way.

Tuesday 25th Sept

1. The parcel has been sitting on the shelf for over a week waiting for a rainy day, and today is that rainy day. "Look John!" I shout, just as the whining is becoming unbearable, "the postman's brought us a parcel!" We both tear open the paper to find eight tubs of playdough and three sheets of stickers. I whisper a prayer of thanks for Grandma, whilst John squeals and giggles with excitement.

2. There's a moment, at the end of a long day when dinner is cooking, classic fm is playing, John is chalking, I'm sewing, and life feels exactly the way that I always imagine it should.

3. Even though the endless rain is pounding the ground I still go out for a run. The ground smells of damp earth and fallen leaves, and when I come to an enormous puddle that floods the entire road I barely hesitate before splashing straight on through it.

Wednesday 26th Sept

1. For the first time in four days the rain stops and we venture out into rain-soaked world. The air is heavy, and the ground is sodden, but the sense of freedom is immense.

2. After I've given up on the hope of an afternoon nap, I pull out the new sticker book and sit John up at the dining table to show him how to work through it. Together we count, stick, colour and draw. I think perhaps he enjoys it almost as much as me.

3. "John need potty! John need potty!" he cries, a note of urgency in his voice, and in a blind sort of panic I hoick down his trousers and bundle him onto the potty. He sits there quite serenely, grinning whilst he wees. "Look mummy!" he shouts, proudly when he's finished. I lavish him with praise and wipe his bottom with a giddy sort of joy. Every time it happens I feel as though something miraculous has occurred.

Thursday 27th Sept

1. Baby Charlie murmurs when he's placed in my arms and then settles right back into his sleep. I hold him easily on my lap, with plenty of space for him to stretch, but his little legs stay curled up tightly next to his tummy the entire time.

2. The second James gets home, John launches into a detailed explanation of Autumn. I catch the words "leaves" and "trees" and then watch as he throws himself down on the floor in a dramatic explanation of the season. It's not until he proudly points to his painted Autumn leaves that James has any idea what's happening.

3. James tells me quite sternly that I should just go to bed and so with half a sulk I do. Lying in the comfort of our grand new bed with the quilt tucked up to my chin and a whole night of sleep ahead of me, I realise that he was right - this was the best thing that I could possibly have done.

Friday 28th Sept

1. "You're the cutest" I say, cradling John on my lap, his long limbs flailing as he battles my embrace. "No, mummy cutest" he tells me. "You're funny," I say, laughing, letting him clamber over my back and press his face against hair. "No, mummy funny," he responds with a giggle. I haul him over my head and dump him safely back on the floor. "I love you," I tell him. "No, I love mummy," he says.

2. It's at the point where I'm sitting on the doorstep crying whilst John kisses my hair and says "all better" in an uncertain little whisper, that a car pulls into the driveway. I quickly wipe my tears and smooth my hair and curse under my breath, but then I see that it's James, home quite unexpectedly at 2.30 in the afternoon, and I'm so pleased to see him that the tears seep out afresh and I collapse into the cuddle that I so desperately need.

3. "Just call me, no matter what time it is," I tell them. "I'll keep the phone by the bed and I'll come straight over." They promise me that they will. I've always wanted to be this sort of friend.

Saturday 29th Sept

1. "Good morning," I say, "You had a good lie in." John frowns up at me from his cot. "No lion" he says firmly. "Not lion," I smile, "Lie in. You had a good lie in." He looks at me as though I've gone completely mad. "No lion in" he mutters, turning his face away and burying it in his blanket.

2. James has taken John to do man work at the church and so the house is cloaked in silence. For a couple of golden hours I work in the quiet, soaking up the solitude. And then all of a sudden it's too lonely and I can't wait to have them back.

3. As John runs up to me for a cuddle, I realise that he has a large, fresh bump right in the middle of his forehead. "What did he do to his head? I ask James. By way of an answer he turns to John and says: "What must you not hit with the hammer?" "Window" says John, quietly. "And what else?" asks James. "John head," he says with a sheepish little grin.

Sunday 30th Sept

1. It takes a long time to walk home from church with two pairs of little feet in tow. We walk and stop, walk and stop, encourage, cajole, and carry. As we walk I glance over to James and he smiles a little sorry smile. I think we're both thinking exactly the same thing.

2. There's a moment where John's asleep upstairs and Pippa's asleep in car and I feel a little like Mary Poppins.

3. Driving home on my own through the dark, I open my lips and scream from the depths of my soul. It doesn't make it easier or fairer or better, but at least it gives it a voice. 'I did a good thing today' I think to myself, and I know in my heart that it's true.

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