But courage, child: we are all between the paws of the true Aslan
C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle
Image by Snakeartworx
But courage, child: we are all between the paws of the true Aslan
C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle
Image by Snakeartworx
I have a WordPress mentor – even though she may not know it yet! Somewhat ironically, here in the online world through Barb’s let it go coach blogs I’m learning a huge amount about the power of disconnecting from the internet. In our screen-free times we can unexpectedly find kindred spirits, just by being present. And yet, there is community right here too, in the web.
It seems only appropriate at this point to remember the exuberant ‘Thanks Tim’ (Berners-Lee) tribute to this crazy new connected world…
What delights me about this film is that I remember what so many of us Brits loved about the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony – it connected us with real stories of real people, and celebrated the madcap wonderfulness of this little island we call home. This flash-mob performed by the all-volunteer cast of ‘Thanks Tim’ invites onlookers to share the moment, to share the excitement.
Now, I’m holding my hands up – today has not been an entirely screen-free day: clearly I’m here on the laptop writing! (and I’ve used WhatsApp & nhs.net email while in a car park) However, in the main, my phone has been lost at the bottom of my handbag. So today there were some really uplifting moments of human connection.
I dropped off yesterday’s batch cooking with one of my dearest friends. On my to-do list for the rest of the morning (typed on Google Keep, of course) was email chasing, Facebook group moderating, long-overdue texts to friends who pop in to my mind before I go to sleep. But on my heart was to sit on my friend’s bed, bring her some breakfast and just be present with someone who I love to bits.
Keep list abandoned, I had some time to walk to the high street in the autumn sunshine. It still feels so warm here in Devon on days when there is rich September sun and blue sky. I’d got my outfit wrong for the temperature (cowl-neck grey knitted jumper and black leggings) and so decided to browse the Hospiscare charity shop. I was laughing with the shop assistant about the fact that I’d had to wear my running trainers to the school run with this outfit, because I have no shoes except flip-flops and a pair of Fly wedge sandals. I managed to find a pair of red suede pumps for £3 and a Jaeger jumper-dress with a red trim for £6. It was really nice to head off to my lunchtime meeting without the running trainers!
Google maps (I know!) found me a great route on the country roads to my meeting venue. As I was driving over a humpback bridge and up a huge hill, there was a guy with his thumb out for a lift. I was fiddling with the volume on the car radio to hear the Google directions, and didn’t really register him at first. Husband might have something to advise about this – but I pulled over and asked him where he was heading. He just needed a lift ten minutes up the road on my route, so the poor guy climbed into the back seat (Little One’s car seat was in the front passenger side) and over a serious amount of detritus in the foot-well. He was a chef who’d had an unexpected night out following a private function and needed to get home to collect his car. We had a great chat about Eldest’s ambition to bake cakes & patisserie professionally, and he was so enthusiastic about the potential to make a career of it. He really brightened my day, and gave me a hug and a huge thank-you when I had to get out of the car to let him out of the child-locked door. I carried on my journey with a smile on my face.
The meeting venue was just beautiful, right by the river Plym. It was in full flow and we could hear the rush of the water while we talked about the development of the ‘We are Family’ course for parents of young people with psychosis. It was one of those meetings where we were really tuned in to each other’s perspectives and there were brilliant ideas about how to make the course a true space for peer-support.
Little One was crying when I picked her up from the playground. Tears rolled down her cheek as she huddled in the heavy rain-storm (welcome to the Devon weather). She was worried that we wouldn’t be able to play in the park on her scooter as I’d promised. I had no coat, the new shoes on… but there was a kids’ “Mr Tumble” umbrella in the car, she had her showerproof coat on, so I reassured her that of course we could get the scooter and she could have a spin in the park.
I stood in the park, in the pouring rain, in my red shoes with the tiny yellow spotty umbrella. More moments of humour and connection as the mums and dads passing ‘complimented’ me on my choice of rain-wear.
So I guess the lessons learned from today are twofold:
Alien in form
Clinging, gnarled and spiked, to the tree-branch
Deep softness of silk within
We looked inside when you were just a teardrop seed
Now your skin is hardened, polished
Smooth and cold in our palms
Treasure of autumn slipped into our pockets
Yesterday was the last day of the girls’ summer holidays. We planned an outdoor pool swim at Exeter University (Little One in her wetsuit!) and a vegetarian lunch in the city centre.
Sitting in Herbies cafe I felt a rush of emotion. I looked at my girls and blinked away the happy-sad tears. This was the space where I had begun to truly find my love for Little One three years ago. The space in which I became a mummy again.
Back in those days we would arrive early, after the “Jumping Beans” dance session at Exeter Phoenix Arts Centre. The same waitress would greet us with crayons, a colouring book and a smile. She would bring a red wooden booster seat which made Little One feel so special. I would have the lunch special: warm, comforting dhal spiked with ginger and chilli.
Yesterday we had other plans for the dhal. In our car park we had found a young girl curled up on flattened boxes, shrouded in a grubby white blanket. My girls were very shocked and upset, so I suggested to Eldest that we could ask if she’d like us to bring her some food after our lunch. We took back a warm foil box, a paper bag of fluffy naan bread and chatted for a few brief moments.
I can’t even begin to imagine the circumstances that had brought her to sheltering in a car park. On the way back to the shops, I held my girls’ hands that little bit tighter. When we returned we were relieved to see another stranger sitting down with her and talking about her appointment with a housing officer later in the week.
Shopping for an Autumn outfit for each of the girls, I smiled at their different personalities evident in their choices. A ‘Millenial pink’ batwing cropped jumper with shoulder studs for Eldest (when did pink re-enter her consciousness?) I didn’t tell her that batwing was a favourite of mine at her age! A maroon sweater with gently gathered shoulders and a heart made out of reversible sequins for Little One. She spent a happy half an hour smoothing the sequins up and down with her hands. Deep, sparkly gold in one direction and muted, matte gold on the other.
On our way home I dropped a card at Herbie’s for the waitress we met three years ago. I wanted to thank her for being a special part of my recovery. For helping me to build memories of myself as a good mummy, not a depressed one.
Thank you, Herbie’s – we will be back.
I was talking to my husband a couple of nights ago. I reflected on the ways that life seems to need a bit more fine-tuning for me than the average bear.
I’m enjoying it though, you know, the fine-tuning. Sitting down with my Google calendar on the cusp of a new term, and making sure there is space. Space to book in a day for oddly compelling jobs, like sorting out the crap drawer (we all have one… the random keys, Blu-Tac, tape-measure kind of drawer).
Space to swim in the river Dart or the sea down at Jacob’s Ladder. To take a flask of peppermint tea and rest by the water’s edge.
Fine-tuning this term has meant resisting the temptation to take on a few more paid hours. To recognise that Eldest has both excitement and challenges coming up as she starts high school, and she may well need her mum more. She sometimes talks about her fears of me becoming unwell at the start of a new academic year – it’s such a season of change.
But this year the change is good. It’s a change in my expectations of myself, a willingness to leave space and embrace it. Two Septembers ago I was afraid of the space, driven by a fear that – at 40 – I was pretty much at the last chance saloon in terms of finding a career.
This September I’m at peace. The work will still be there when the time is right.
Outstretched arms tanned by the peaty water
Bracelets of sunlight gold
Caress of swaying reeds
The fells slumbering giants
Rain-mist falling on closed eyelids
Upturned clouds in the water
The only sound the ripple of each stroke
There are those moments when Little One’s needs teach me something about my own life.
Picture the scene: a rainy Saturday evening, empty stomachs and a last-minute plan to head to Nando’s (it’s already an hour after Little One’s bedtime). Even for those of us blessed with usual levels of sensation Nando’s is noisy, busy and fast-paced. For Little One the sensory input of music, conversation, the clatter of cutlery and the whirr of ice machines is only one part of the picture. She’s fascinated by details many of us would just gloss over – the baby in the high chair five tables away, the texture of the wooden chicken on our table, the woven basket hanging on the wall.
Especially when she’s tired, Little One finds it incredibly difficult to settle and focus in such a magnificently stimulating environment. As we waited for our food to arrive, I had the feeling we were on the precipice of a meltdown if we tried (and failed) to coax her back to our table simply because it’s “good behaviour” to sit with your own family and not go and stare at someone else’s baby.
I happened upon the ice cubes. We spend a lot of time in cafes asking Little One not to dip her fingers in her drink and play with the ice cubes. This time though, the little chunks of melting ice in her glass were the tools she needed to help her tune out. She sat in my lap and I felt her muscles release their tension as we experimented with the ice, swirling it with the straw, holding a tiny piece in our palms to see how it turned back to water. I enclosed her with my body, spoke softly and attentively to her as we turned our focus inwards.
I really needed that moment. So often as we try to mould her behaviour to our social norms – don’t play with that, sit still, come back to our table – I feel overwhelmed, tense, hyper-vigilant. In this space, playing with ice at the table, I joined her world. The hubbub around me melted away. The fears of judgement from other parents melted away. Little One doesn’t yet have the skills for a mindfulness practice such as the breathing space, but she intuitively sought the ‘mindfulness of the ice’.
I am intrigued by this quote. Little One and I found it today on a mosaic bench in the garden of the Thelma Hulbert gallery.
We had spent an unexpected, peaceful hour looking around the Evolver Prize exhibition and playing with oil pastels in the cafe. It repairs something in me to take time to enter Little One’s sensory world. Her favourite painting had row upon row of tiny details in watercolour – dogs, cats and birds hidden among the busy gardeners Emma Burleigh: The Ashley Vale Allotments
My drawing took on a familiar shape. Lines of blue-toned pastels forming an almost complete circle, arching back and wisping away. This wave-like shape has appeared many times as I paint in the solace of psychiatric hospital art rooms. Repair. The same icon, a completely different space.
I still don’t see myself as an artist, perhaps a creative. There is repair in the words I type, the inner journey I write about.
My favourite artwork was Donna Peek: In Search of the Divine State Encased in each capsule of the oval pill-packet were miniscule Russian dolls. In the opposite packet were icons of womanhood. It made me think a lot.
Each day I press three different shaped tablets out of their blisters and into a pill dispenser. There’s energetic Venlafaxine, somnolent Olanzapine and, moderating it all, Lamotrigine. A lot of fine-tuning of life, work, screen-time and dosages is needed to keep things in a good state. The “Divine State” was tempting all those years ago… but steady is better. Steady allows for repair.
End of term raggedy-edged children; filling up the diary for the Autumn term; chasing endless invoices. All of these things are soothed by moments of pause.
Pause to soothe my body and mind in the sea. Ever-changing, some days aquamarine from the top of the hill and so clear when I swim that I can see my shadow on the pebbles beneath. Some days lifting and lowering me in the swell, clouded with red silt. Other days vigorously powerful, a mass of white foam and tumbling stones.
Pause to settle into a child’s pace for a while. Peep from the double doors in the kitchen to watch Little One delighting in blowing bubbles in the garden. Lie for a while on Eldest’s bed, look up at the home-made lampshade and feel the beat of her music pulsing from the stereo.
Pause to read a novel. Switch off the world, the internet, the television. Rest my head on my husband’s shoulder. Sip a glass of wine. Stay still for long enough to let the words of a blog take form.