During childbirth, there’s a phase called transition. You move from riding contractions to the urge to push. Often, this is a time when you feel utterly convinced that you can’t do this any more. That your body wasn’t designed for this degree of effort.
I remember the sips of cold orange squash my husband gave me through a straw as I hit the wall during my own transition in labour just over 12 years ago. The sweet, icy energy and the tenderness of a husband in waiting. I stepped out of the birthing pool and into the bathroom of the delivery suite. From there my body took over. Determination, resurgence of physical strength, intense focus.
And then she was here. The moment of tearful announcement from my husband:
“it’s a little girl”
Holding her, wrapped in a towel, eyes dark as ink. Our new life begun.
I find myself in another ‘liminal’ space now that the little bundle has begun her life as a high school student. On the boundary between being needed and being in the way. Between parent and confidante. Sometimes the ‘cool mum’ who her friends like to be around, sometimes completely out of touch.
It’s definitely been unsettling, but most days it’s kind of fun. Our new life begins.
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.
Life sometimes feels very squiggly when you are in a period of remission. You’re busy trying to rebuild life and pick up old threads but there is messiness in trying to find your equilibrium.
I used to feel quite scared of the scribble, the days when out of nowhere I don’t feel like getting up again or I find myself mind-busy and frazzled. But as you look at the featured image for this blog don’t you think that in some ways that the messy line is actually quite beautiful?
Quite a few things have been squiggling me lately (but I’m learning to accept them as part of the beautiful tangle of life and recovery). I was offered an ongoing role facilitating mums’ mental health courses from September this year. In many ways it’s the role I have been dreaming of – but I knew I had to turn it down at this point in my own life journey. I felt torn between guilt and relief as I sent off the email to say no. No is a hard thing, but a precious thing too.
Little One has been providing us with some very tangly challenges. The shift from winter to spring has really unsettled bedtimes and we have had more than a few nights of really screaming at the top of her voice “It’s day not night! I don’t go to bed in the day!” There have been moments of parenting genius like digging out the ‘Sunshine at Bedtime’ poem from Shirley Hughes Out and About collection. There have been many more moments of wondering what on earth to do and the pain of listening to an angry, crying child behind the bedroom door who is so very, very tired but doesn’t understand.
Eldest is going through her own messy time at the moment too and I’m there helping her to untangle some of it. There have been many cups of tea and slices of cheese on toast at the end of another upsetting day at school. Friendships for pre-teen girls have always been challenging and fraught, but it doesn’t make it any easier knowing this when your precious girl is in tears as she tries to be her authentic self and gets knocked back.
I had something of an epiphany in the midst of the tangles. I’ve been searching so long for that time I go “back to work” and I’m healed, whole, a functioning member of society again. That time when I’ll have the career success I imagined when I headed off to University back in 1994. But the thing is I already have a career. The most important, draining, fabulous, meaningful work I could have imagined. I’m a mother to Little One and Eldest. The paid work is going to have to continue to take a back seat, as much for my wholeness and well-being as theirs.
My kids are great at helping me to learn how to enjoy the moment! This half term we have painted pottery, prepared fresh squid from Leeds market and spent a lot of time in parks. It’s been a real joy to have my energy back and to spend time with family Up North. Eldest has been perfecting her cartwheels in the garden and on the seafront, and Little One has been relishing the time to play with her babies, do dressing up and enjoy cuddles with her Uncle, Auntie, Grandma and Grandad.
Half term has felt like an opportunity to drop the pace a bit, and to treasure time spent with our family. I was able to take my mum out for an afternoon drink at a cosy pub and we caught up about her recovery from a stroke last year. Like me, she’s learning to pace herself and we are both finding out what helps us to have ‘active rest’. Mum had made me the most beautiful patchwork swimming bag for my bikini and towel and we bought some fabric together for a secret project for Eldest’s birthday.
Today it’s swimming at the pool and chilling out in Exeter. It’s only eight weeks then until we break up for the summer, and I know I’m going to keep learning from the way my kids live their lives in the holidays.
Bank holiday weekend was wonderful. I’m tentatively hopeful that I made the right move with my meds, there’s a feeling of ‘the old me’ returning. Enthusiasm and hope feel stirred again, it’s such a relief.
I took the girls to Saunton Sands beach while Gallant Husband cycled there to meet us. Eldest enjoyed the freedom of popping to the beach shops on her own, clutching some spending money. She came back with a tiny sculpture of two dolphins riding a wave for me, and a mermaid doll for her sister complete with a hairbrush and fish companion. Little One loved combing the mermaid’s hair and putting her in the rock pools to swim.
Gallant Husband arrived just in time to give Little One lunch whilst Eldest and I grabbed our wetsuits, stretched them on and headed for the waves. Eldest had her new scorpion bodyboard and the gently sloping beach meant we could practice manoeuvring the boards in fairly shallow water. Once we were waist deep the waves had enough power to give us some really good rides. We practised jumping onto the bodyboards at just the right moment. Twice we caught a wave together and found ourselves gliding side-by side, laughing and smiling into each others’ eyes as the wave bubbled underneath our boards. Eldest used to say when she was a little girl that she wanted to be a mermaid when she grew up. It was brilliant to have our very own mermaid moment in the waves that day. I’m hoping for many more as we head into summer.
Little One calls me ‘mumma’. I love to hear her say that word, it took so long to come in those months when we were hanging on every syllable. Today has held real joy in the simple moments with my girls. Watching Little One splash around, full of delight, at the swimming pool. Seeing the water jets tickle her legs and tummy and watching her jump and twirl in the fountains. Watching her grow in confidence with each soaking.
I help Eldest with her underwater handstands. She asks me to twirl her around by her hands like a ballet dancer in the water, just like we used to do when she was small. I find myself marvelling at the graceful, tall young person she is becoming; I remember so clearly her clinging on to my shoulders in the pool as a little girl, now she is a confident mermaid.
Back at home, Little One loves to cook with me. She peels the leeks, cuts up the green beans with scissors and we peel carrots together. She’s so content in these moments. I need more of this in my gap year, more time to simply be ‘mumma’.
Eldest and I had a wonderful day together today. It’s quite rare that we get some ‘grown up’ girl time so we made the most of the sunshine and the city. We browsed John Lewis trying out fragrances, admired bags in Topshop, New Look, Cath Kidston and H&M and then Eldest had a splurge at Primark. At Lush we had a chance to make our own bath bomb with cocoa butter, vanilla and ylang-ylang. Fresh, zingy pickled ginger and cucumber maki rolls at Yo! Sushi finished off a day of really treating ourselves.
As we headed around the city, we wrote phrases from the walls and windows of shops and lyrics from songs we heard to help us write ‘found poems’ when we got home. Here are our two found poems celebrating a sunny mother & daughter day.
Greetings from the land of summer!
Open up this box to find a collection of treats
A coffee crafted just for you
Strawberry and cranberry smoothie
Fig and cassis eau de parfum
Dust off your highest hopes –
Create your perfect day
Beautiful beginnings –
Wake up to white!
The land of summer
Inviting you in