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.
I’ve spent a very humbling couple of weeks catching up on the BBC3 Queer Britain series. One of the early episodes was entitled “Does God hate Me?”
You may want to look away now if you consider yourself a conservative evangelical. The programme highlighted just some of the pain and shunning that gay and transgender people of faith had experienced. The more and more I thought about this episode, the more I realised that in my original post I had still separated God into the dichotomous genders and of ‘male’ and ‘female’. How much could I blow the conservative mind if I were to say that the word “intergender” may actually best describe God?
I’m heartened to see churches like Steve Chalke’s Oasis Church in Waterloo leading the way in the UK in an open, inclusive, intelligent and thoughtful approach to theology and its application to issues of sexuality and gender. We have a lot to learn.
My inner critic seems to have a field-day with me after work events that I feel passionate about. I’m not even really sure if I want to lay this bare, but maybe these black words on a white screen will resonate with someone else, like me, who needs a reminder to bring kindness back to the unkindness they find inside.
“Give someone else some space to talk
Dominating the room, so eager to share your viewpoint
You consider yourself an expert?
You’re nowhere near
You’ll have to learn to shut up before you can truly support someone else”
Kindness today means saying hello to my inner critic and recognising her for who she is. Telling her that I know some of her observations may be grounded in truth.
Telling her I trust that in my working future there will be people – a supervisor, a therapist, a friend – who can gently guide me in finding the balance of listening and sharing. Kindness today means switching off my phone and its Twitter feed from the day, helping my Eldest daughter to make brownies, kissing my Little One to sleep. Watching a documentary about whales and crying about the mass stranding on the beach, letting the tears fall for all kinds of different reasons.