The Sisterhood of Crackpot Mothering

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A free spirit. A wonderer and wanderer. Quirky. Day-dreamy.

These are words I often use to describe my 5 year-old, and now that I think about it, they are words that are sometimes used to describe me.

She is often the easiest of company. If she can take the world on her own terms, all is well.

But I noticed, early on, that she struggles with anticipation. She gets nervous if there’s a build up, if there’s fuss about something. Half-way through an expression of excitement she has changed her mind and doesn’t want to do it. She feels under pressure sometimes, when there really isn’t any… a kind of performance anxiety even when nobody’s watching.

September was tricky. P1. She developed a clingyness she hadn’t had before. She was one of those children who needed prised off their mum, finger by finger. But still, September of P1, that’s understandable, right?

*

It’s June now and since the middle of May she has, once again, needed peeled off me every morning.

This morning her Principal bent down and carried her in to school in her arms. They are so gentle with her. So positive and kind. Yet here she is on 1st June freaking out about going through that door.

The school office phoned on my way home. She’s ok. She’s settled. The Principal’s wearing her sun hat. She’s laughing.

Of course she is. I know she is. She enjoys school. But, yet.

*

Her little sister got baptised on Sunday and when I get in from the school run there’s a text from my mum.  She has sent a few since Sunday – texts that are careful not to make a fuss of me but that are checking in if I’m ok – if I have ‘recovered’.  She knows me.  The baptism was good, important.  Among people who are gentle and positive and kind.  But my mum knows me.  I freak out, sometimes, even in safe places, even in the midst of things that I want.

We joke, now and again, about the little triangles of pancake my mum produced a steady supply of in the run-up to my wedding.  She was well practised by then in the low-key art of caring for a daughter who feels sick when she’s nervous.  She just plated them up and left them quietly at my elbow, bite-size pieces of sustenance that would get me through.

Last night at bedtime Livi said it out loud: “I’m nervous about P2”.  It’s what I suspected.  It seems so early, so pointless, to start worrying about it now.  And yet, I get it.

*

I have described to friends how I feel like my intuition is broken these days, like I used to “KNOW” how to work with Liv, and now I don’t.  But I read this recently:

Intuition is not independent of any reasoning process. In fact, psychologists believe that intuition is a rapid-fire, unconscious associating process- like a mental puzzle. The brain makes an observation, scans its files, and matches the observation with existing memories, knowledge, and experiences. Once it puts together a series of matches, we get a “gut” on what we’ve observed.

Sometimes our intuition or our gut tells us what we need to know; other times it actually steers us toward fact-finding and reasoning. As it turns out, intuition may be the quiet voice within, but that voice is not limited to one message. Sometimes our intuition whispers, “Follow your instincts.” Other times it shouts, “You need to check this out, we don’t have enough information!”

In my research, I found that what silences our intuitive voice is our need for certainty. Most of us are not very good at not knowing. We like sure things and guarantees so much that we don’t pay attention to the outcomes of our brain’s matching process.

[Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection]

It’s a lovely idea that we might be wonderfully, naturally intuitive parents.  But it’s much more comforting to me that intuition is something I can go looking for, and remind myself of.

I have been doing that this week. I remind myself of my own nervous nature and how it hasn’t ruined my life.  I remember what it feels like to be cared for by an empathetic mother.  I read old favourite articles and books.  I take wise counsel.  I reawaken my instincts.

I started this blog post one evening and when I read it the following day the old gremlins were whispering – people will read it and think ‘Well of course Olivia has issues, her mother is a clearly a crackpot!’.  I told a few friends. They said: Me too.  Welcome to the Sisterhood.

*

My friend Tory told me a story this week about her son Noah at his nursery sports day. 60 kids walked out all completely fine, and in the middle of them, Noah, “walking along crying his little head off, upset and miserable.”  Everything in her story reminded me of Liv – how she could tell how difficult his first race was by the way he was running and the weird way he held his mouth.  Tory said so many wise things but among them this : “I hate that he cried at his sports day but I totally understand why he did.”

It’s not just going in to school that’s hard for Livi at the moment.  It’s been the Mayfair and her cousin’s play and swimming and church and choosing an ice-lolly.  I hate that she cries at these things she should love, but I understand why she does.

In my favourite parenting book, Simplicity Parenting, Kim John Payne calls it a “soul fever” when a child is being rushed along by too much stuff, speed or stress.  “Something is not right; they’re upset, overwhelmed, at odds with the world. And most of all, at odds with their truest selves.”  He advocates simplification – stripping away the distractions and clutter that monopolise our attention and threaten our connection.  “It’s about giving kids the ease to become themselves, and giving us the ease to pay attention.  To more fully develop, and to trust, our instincts.”

In an article I love about slowing down kids’ schedules, especially introverts, the author writes about how his 6-year-old son Felix “isn’t always cognizant of his needs”.  I have to deliberately remind myself of this.  Olivia isn’t cognizant of her needs.  She wants to do All The Things.  But all the things exhaust her, especially at the minute.

June is full of events and outings and changes in routine.  Each one seems like a good thing, but when Olivia anticipates what’s ahead, combined with finishing P1, it sends her running to the toilet.  So we have cancelled some outings, replaced them with things like ‘Chicken drumsticks for dinner’ and ‘Walking to the café for a bun’, and truthfully, even CBeebies on the sofa instead of ALL the time in the sun.  And she hasn’t complained like we thought she would, in fact she seems at peace with the schedule.  There is a certain kind of anticipation, is there not, in chicken drumsticks and a wee bun, that couldn’t make anyone nervous?

*

I have thought all week about Liv, about my mum, about my own anxious self.  Liv has wobbled and I have wobbled.  It’s Friday now and I feel like the quiet voice in my gut has got a bit clearer, and calmer.  She’s out of sorts.  That’s ok.  I can care for that.  And also, it isn’t everything she is.

We walk home from school on Friday afternoon and she sidesteps into the doorway of the old music shop to do this geeky dance to the music.

She always does that.

It’s one of my favourite things.


photo credit: Poison Ivy via photopin (license)

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The Miseducation of Wee Frizz

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Olivia, our eldest, starts P1 in September.  We have not had to make too many educational choices yet in our time as parents.  But, with those we have had to make (nursery, primary school), we have found ourselves weighing up what matters to us, what are the things we have opinions about, and, what are the things we actually don’t have opinions about.

Without judging, we are free to not care about some of the things other parents gush about.  Otherwise, we will constantly sway from one school or nursery to another, second-guessing our choice.  Otherwise, all the opinions around us will feed our fear of missing out, of our child missing out, whatever choice we make.

So it was the noticeboards, the uniform, the space, the Maths scores, the Christian ethos, the reputation as “just a better school”?

Without judging, we are free to leave those as other people’s reasons.  We are free to have our own.

I don’t have a strong, clear educational philosophy. My approach is probably best summed up as hesitant and open.

Hesitant: I’m uncertain about our measuring sticks, about what we consider as ‘success’, about what educational attainment really means.

Open: I click on the articles about Finland or homeschooling or why homework isn’t necessary. I’m not on a soapbox about any of those things, but I find them interesting. I bear them in mind.

With each educational choice I have as a parent, with each article I click on, I am being asked to consider what is best for my child (maybe children in general).

From the day they are born there is this emphasis on what they are learning and (when we’re not too tired to brush our own teeth) we try to adjust our environment and our words and the toys we provide accordingly.

I am hesitant and open, knee-deep in figuring things out, but I do know I want to cast the net of ‘learning’ as wide as possible.  What’s at the end of this obsession about learning environments and stimulation and bed-time stories for my girls?  Say we get our educational ideal and we nurture well at home and they grow up articulate and intelligent and capable. What then? Well-paid jobs?  Well-run homes?

At 4 and 2 I delight in their curiosity, their love of learning, their language acquisition.  I want it to grow, at home and at school, but not as a means to an end.  I don’t want a qualification or a job to be the full stop to their curiosity or their way with words.

*

I have been flipping all these thoughts over recently, taking a break from obsessing about how we are shaping our children and thinking more about those of us who are already grown-up. Am I the adult I was educated to be?

What does it mean now, at 35, that I was taught and nurtured as a child?  How do I honour my ability to read?  What do I choose to do with it?  Where does my curiosity take me these days?

Sometimes it seems like we want to know how to develop and stimulate our children, while numbing and exhausting ourselves.

In an essay that I love, Anne Lamott asks some writing students if their children grow up to become adults who spend this one precious life in a spin of multitasking, stress, and achievement, and then work out four times a week, will they be pleased that their kids also pursued this kind of whirlwind life?  “If not, if they want much more for their kids, lives well spent in hard work and savoring all that is lovely, why are they living this manic way?”

I want much more for my kids, I suspect we all do, that’s why we deliberate over their choices and why we click on those articles.  And yet, the multitasking, stressful life is where so many of us land.  I don’t want to waste a good education pursuing that life and I don’t want to be a mum who models it.  I want them to see that I’m still curious, still reading for pleasure, still learning new things.  I want them to see that their dad and I are intelligent in different ways and that we make room for our passions and our interests.  Every time I obsess over their environments, I want to pause and look at mine.   Am I the adult I was educated to be?

 

I look at my environment
And wonder where the fire went
What happened to everything we used to be?

[The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill]

Career Break

“Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?”

[Mary Oliver]

“You know who I miss? I miss the coach’s wife,” 

“You know who I can’t wait to meet? The principal’s husband.”

[Coach & Tami – Friday Night Lights]

career break

My friend Sue asked me in the pub and my classroom assistant asked me in the store. I have tried to explain by text, and over tea and biscuits at church. I have mulled it over at length with my husband and discussed it in tiny, fragmented pieces of toddler-interrupted conversation with my friend Jude.

I’m taking a career break.

Everyone wants to know why I am taking a career break, and I have stood, a little bit stuck in the corridor and the staffroom and on the phone and beside the car. I struggle, sometimes, to know what I want to say.

I have been thinking about it.

Here’s what I want to say:

I have a leaning towards a quiet, simple kind of life.  In this current season of life the combination of teaching and having very young children makes life frantic.

My husband has a busy job. He has busy days, or weeks, or things to do at home. He tries to tell me about it but I cannot hear it. I am kind of pissed off about it. What about my busy day, my busy week, my things to do at home?

Frantic is not a life I want to  live. I’m an introvert, so although I love people, I recharge by being on my own. I am not a multitasker, or a go-getter and I understand that now. I am a recovering perfectionist, recovering people-pleaser, recovering efficiency-chaser. Those things damage me but still attract me like a drug.

We have a leaning towards a quiet, simple kind of life. We notice we don’t have it, but seem to have resigned ourselves to its absence. We acknowledge good things: our children, worthwhile jobs. We accept other things: small house, negative equity. C’est la vie.

Frantic is not a life I want to live but it seems inevitable somehow. I start to pay attention to my dissatisfaction but, as a woman, I don’t have the vocabulary to express it. Isn’t ‘busy’ a badge of honour? Isn’t ‘tired’? Isn’t part-time work the best of both worlds?

There is an old favourite quote rattling around inside me, that Henry David Thoreau one, about going to the woods, about wanting to live deliberately.

One Saturday morning I read a post from Glennon Doyle Melton about her daughter telling her she was gone too much for work, that she needed her home. Glennon was  proud of her daughter because instead of feeling ashamed of her needs: she spoke them to her people.  “She did not assume that something was wrong with her because she didn’t like the way things were arranged. She assumed there was something wrong with the way things were arranged.”

I get it. And I realise, I don’t like the way things are arranged. I speak to my people: my mum over sushi, my husband in the kitchen, my friend Rachel via email.

I didn’t like the way things were arranged but I was uncertain about arranging them any other way. When what you are rearranging is your work life, your career, your side of the SAHM/working-mum divide… then a lot of fear kicks in about making the wrong choice.  As I pondered a change my friend Rach picked up on my fear – fear of doing the wrong thing, fearing of missing out on something. She reminded me of Brené Brown’s voice in our culture of scarcity. She reminded me not to be ruled by a fear of scarcity, but to come at this with a belief in enough.

Once I started talking to my people I realised how much I wanted to be fully present in one place. How much I wanted to live deep, instead of wide.

Sometimes when significant things are shifting inside us, everything we read, or watch, seems directly related to our situation. I found myself relating to Wendell Berry’s fictional barber Jayber Crow in his journey to freedom from the pressure that he ought to ‘make something out of his life’. I found myself relating to Shauna Niequist in Bittersweet as her to-do-list became so long and far-reaching that she eventually added the line: DO EVERYTHING BETTER. She writes that one of her core fears is that someone would think she can’t handle as much as the next person. Other women can travel and work and have kids. Everyone has a house to clean. Why can’t I pull it together?

I found myself listening and re-listening to Brené Brown as she reminds us not to hustle for our worthiness.

I found myself pausing in the Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd as Sarah fought to hold on to the most important pieces of herself when her desire to be a lawyer was not just derided and dismissed by her family, but almost beaten out of her. And later, when she lost the man she loved because she would not give up ‘her ambition’. There are so many stories of women that stir me, and I start to become unsure of my burning desire to do the school run. We can’t do all the things, but am I choosing the wrong things? In this novel Sarah understood regret and she said “I’d chosen the regret I could live with best, that’s all, I’d chosen the life I belonged to.”

And so, I am choosing the life I belong to. A quiet, simple kind of life. A career break. And I am fighting the urge to hustle for my worthiness in this decision. There are so many ways to arrange, and rearrange things, so many different kinds of worthwhile work, so many worthwhile ambitions. We may all have little regrets along the way, about the things we don’t get to do, but let’s choose the ones we can live with best.

There is work to do that is only mine to do: a child that is ours to raise, stories that are mine to tell, friends that are mine to walk with. The grandest seduction of all is the myth that DOING EVERYTHING BETTER gets us where we want to be. It gets us somewhere, certainly, but not anywhere worth being.

[Shauna Niequist – Bittersweet]

Small Things: Self-Pity Bender

I love Tory Stirling‘s voice – both at my kitchen table and on the internet.  Tory responds to life with her whole heart, and mind.  I was so glad when she started writing earlier this year – I see so much of myself in her honesty, yet Tory doesn’t leave you in her messy kitchen or anxious mind, she is always listening to what God would say, instead.  And I always need to hear that.  I’m excited to share this post from her for our ‘Small Things’ series:

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My mum called round quite early one morning this week. Two of my kids were sick and so she kindly offered to take my eldest girl to school. We were enjoying some idle chit-chat when my little boy Noah knocked his bowl of CoCo Pops right off the table. It smacked against the wall and hit the floor with a splat. Chocolate milk and little smushy puffs of wet rice – everywhere.

And I tried really hard not to freak out or go mental, because my mum was there and I want her to think I’ve got this, that I’m in control.  I want her to think I’m not a nutcase who wails like a banshee at her kids first thing in the morning. But it’s really hard. Because I’m tired, my very bones feel sore from lack of sleep. There’s runny noses and coughs and dirty school jumpers and sticky floors and my slippers have giant holes in them…

And that’s when I hear it – perhaps I feel it – the darkness settling into my heart and mind.

‘Is this really good enough? Is this the best you’ve got? This job you are doing, this morning, today – it’s not really good enough is it?

And yeah, my husband is a fireman, which in the most part is really great. The shift work means he’s off a lot and we have time to hang out. But the pay-off is the night shifts.

There are times I really enjoy the quiet and the space and my own company.  But mostly, I sort of hate it.

I miss the presence of having another adult in the house. I miss the noise he makes (so much noise!). And sometimes when his night shifts approach I feel a fear creeping up on me. It’s not really a fear of intruders -after seven years of weekly night shifts I am kind of over that now.

It’s actually a fear of having the three kids on my own.

See, I worry about them wakening up. And never going back to sleep.  I worry they’ll get really sick and I won’t know what to do. I worry they’ll have a full hissy fit or total meltdown during the night and wake up our neighbours. I worry about how all this lack of sleep will ruin the next day and how it’ll all be my fault.

I have a fear that anything less than a full night’s sleep will mean my performance as a mum is flawed, rubbish, poor.  So I need everyone to sleep.  All night. Which, based on the ages of my three kids, is a tough order, not to mention absurd! I know this!

But when you start to believe the lies that fear and insecurity whisper in your ear, this is what happens – you go a little bit nuts. Rational thoughts leave you and they are replaced with the crazy.

Whilst out running the other day (totally! – it’s like Forrest Gump with pink Nikes and a swishy ponytail) I saw this billboard for McCain Oven Chips with a tagline reading ‘Teatime – where the good stuff happens’. There’s this teenager whispering something to his mum at the table and the scene looked quite jolly and meaningful and civilised. And as I ran on I thought – Mr McCain, teatime in our house is NOT where the good stuff happens. Teatime is often a battleground, willing everyone to just stay on their chairs or eat just one more pea. It’s where the main aim of the evening becomes keeping our juice in the cup or to just stop the banging, stop squirting red sauce on absolutely everything, stop spreading dinner on the table, stop making each other cry.

And yes, of course I know the reason for this behaviour. I know this is not a reflection on my inabilities as a parent. I know ‘this too shall pass’ etc etc.  But still, the fact remains, as I ran along that road these are the words I carried with me – ‘Teatime in your house is not good enough’.

So these little events seem like nothing but actually they culminate in a self-pity bender and I wind up thinking like this;

I am only as good as the teatime bliss I can pull off.
I am only as good as the peaceful night’s rest experienced in my house.
I am only as good as my accident prone son allows me to be.

The question ‘Are you good enough?’ can really mess with my head. I can literally wake up in the morning and feel the weight of it. Before I even put my feet on the floor. On the outside, I look no different. But inside, in my innermost being, there is a battle taking place, where the darkness is trying to wipe out the light

I’ve heard the question enough times now to recognise it, I know it’s out to steal my joy, stop me from flourishing and destroy me.

And it seems like there’s a choice. A choice to agree with the darkness or to choose to walk in the Spirit. It’s a Spirit of love and power and freedom. When I walk that way, there is such light and God reigns supreme and even at my very worst, when the failure and flaws are so very blatant and ugly – God says I still belong, God says I am held and loved and this, my friends, can outshine any darkness. The words of God can speak louder than any of the lies I encounter.

The words of life and freedom are spoken over me everyday.

But often I have to make a choice to lean in and listen. I have take steps to cultivate a rhythm that enables my heart to be receptive. And this is the tricky part, there is no doubt. Some days it’s like a fog descends and it’s lonely, stumbling around and straining for the truth. But even then, I’m not on my own- the Spirit always comes, always whispers, is always for me. And this is the heart of a Father who loves his daughter, in all of her mess– relentlessly whispering the truth, repeatedly extending His hand of grace and lovingly inviting her to walk with Him.

What good is this truth if I don’t choose to embrace it? In James 2 he talks about learning all the right words but never doing anything, ‘just merely talking’. I read somewhere that most good things have been said already- you just need to live them.

I don’t want a faith that knows the light, has experienced the light and yet allows the darkness to get a foothold. I don’t want a faith that reads the books, writes the articles, listens to the podcasts and just absent-mindedly nods along.

I want a faith that when faced with a battle it declares the truth.

I want faith that walks into a room and the atmosphere changes.

I want a faith that lives what it sings.

I want a faith that outshines any darkness.

toryTory Stirling is an ordinary mama finding extraordinary freedom in being honest.  Motherhood has taught her to recognise the value in small things and celebrate the small victories- that maybe a life of faith that finds significance in the small, is no small thing at all. She blogs at shelivesloved.wordpress.com


(Read the series so far here)

little Mary full of grace

I would love to think that Mary was as happy as Olivia, dressed in her blue e-bay outfit, belting out the songs.

nativity

We grinned like proverbial Cheshire cats at our daughter… a little surprised, to be honest, at her volume, at her sheer joy, at how comfortable she was with performing.

We grinned because her friend Samuel was her equally loud and joyful partner, Joseph.

We grinned long after it was over and watched the video back a few too many times.

I would love to think it was all this kind of joyful 2014 years ago, that Mary sat and stood and danced beside her baby, comfortable in her own skin, head held high.

***

2 years ago when I was heavily pregnant at Christmas I used to rest my hands on my bump and say, a little cheekily, “I feel like Mary”. Which I did, in some ways. But in other ways, obviously, didn’t.

Mary didn’t have a pink Mamas and Papas party dress (or a blue e-bay costume), she didn’t have the nursery ready or a hospital bag to pack. She didn’t have disposable knickers or nursing pads or tea-tree oil for the bath.  There had been no Family Planning. “And the stable was not clean/And the cobblestones were cold/And little Mary full of grace/With the tears upon her face/Had no mother’s hand to hold.” [Andrew Peterson]

***

There is something great and celebratory about pre-schoolers singing these stories that have been passed down for generations. There’s a lot of room for that in my heart. But there is also room for the knowledge I have as a mother,  that adds to the script being narrated from the front. I listen, too, to that part of me which knows that while there was joy, Mary was also uncomfortable and bleeding, tired and scared about the future.

I know what it’s like to feel all those things, even as my imagination struggles to appreciate their depth in Mary’s situation… even as my imagination also struggles to appreciate their depth for women today facing pregnancy, birth and child-rearing in difficult situations.

I’m glad that God shares our humanity through Jesus. I’m glad for Mary, too. I’m glad my daughter can dress up as her and sing parts of her story. I’m glad Olivia calls her Mary Christmas. I’m glad Mary has trumped Elsa for a few weeks.

And I am glad I can relate to her and wonder and marvel at the hard, messy parts of her story. That the narrative of joy and of hope took place in this fragile context… with a woman perhaps struggling to receive her visitors.

***

I have always loved the verse “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” It appeals to the  introvert in me. It reminds me, too, of all the unspoken parts of the narrative we read aloud in our Churches at Christmas.  It reminds me that this is a story we need to treasure up and ponder ourselves. It is a story that requires our imagination. I think Luke did well with that verse… a confession, perhaps, that he could recount towns and animals and messages from angels, but he could not begin to recount the things Mary thought and felt.

So let our children sing and let our hearts ponder and let the poets and musicians help our imagination along this Christmas:

 

Body: Listen

This guest post is from one of my favourite people on the planet. Rachel and I used to cut class a lot together. And rant. And write poetry. And talk about All of The Things. It always does me good to hear her thoughts and I am delighted to be able to share these particular ones . Rach is funny, honest, relatable and resilient as she shares how she learnt to pay attention and listen to her body.

Body 365

I didn’t want to write a post about bodies. I really didn’t. No, thank you, not for me to discuss private stuff on the internet, I already feel like the wind blew up my skirt and showed off my pants when I even comment on a blog. But then, I woke up at 5am. A few times. A lot of thoughts racing through my head. And I thought, yes, I owe it to her, my body, to explain how it was for us.

*

It was about three months after we married, a discount spa weekend at a hotel in Austria. Wow. I’d never been to a spa before, it was very exciting. I marched myself off to the nearest department store and spent a fortune on a sleek new all-in-one-black-swimsuit complete with the odd sparkle. We booked in and got ready for our spa adventure on the top floor. The fluffy white gowns were a total novelty for me. In we went to the roof top spa area complete with saunas, sun room, steam rooms … and then, shock, horror. They were all buck naked. Just walking around buck naked as if it’s normal. My face crumpled. I scrambled on to the nearest sun lounger – eyes and gown tightly shut until I could retreat to my room, shocked and sobbing.

I looked around at the faces at dinner that night. Normal people, they didn’t  look embarrassed. Not ashamed of themselves in the least.

*

They said our bodies were a gift, a present for our future husbands. Not to be unwrapped. That wouldn’t be fair, to give an already opened present to our dear future husbands. No no. Just wait. Protect it. Be ready to hand that body over to its rightful owner on the blessed wedding night.

Maybe that’s not quite what they said. But it’s what this young girl understood, believed, swallowed up… took as seriously as if it were God’s own truth, written in stone, just for her.

My body was a gift for someone else.

*

Sitting on a red sofa, in a small room. A (slightly crazed looking) therapist gazing at me, waiting patiently.

“What do you think your body would like to say to you now?”

Bodies don’t talk, do they? They don’t have an opinion, do they?

And then I listened. And she spoke. That girl in my belly. The one I’d stopped listening to so many years before, I forgot she even existed.

No wonder she was mad, no wonder she’d started doing crazy stuff, making me have panic attacks on buses. She was sick of being ignored, pushed down, shut up. She had something to say too. Even if she wasn’t right all the time, or couldn’t always have things exactly her way. She had something to say, and she deserved to be listened to.

*

I can’t pinpoint the time when I retreated into my head. When I drew the invisible line somewhere under my chin, and decided the rest of me wasn’t really relevant.  But I did that, and I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I didn’t listen to my body, that I shut her off as if she wasn’t anything to do with me. I’m sorry that I kept my soul shut up in my head and didn’t let her fill up every inch of me.  I’m sorry that I didn’t realise that long before this body is a gift to share with someone else, she is mine. Just mine. Every bit of her holy and important and worth paying attention to.

*

So now we’re trying to work together, my body and I. We talk, and listen, try to accommodate each other as best we can. When she gets anxious and starts feeling the need to shout I treat her to some big deep breaths. That helps her calm down again. Now she’s swollen with a third baby, she’s feeling tired and nauseous. I’m being kind to her, giving her rests and cups of tea, though not as much coke as she’d like.

 

(Read the rest of the Body series here)

 

 

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Rachel is a 34 year old Northern Irish girl living up a hill in Switzerland with her husband Jürg and their young family. She had a brief fling with the world of teaching but now happily spends her days with her tinies at home playing lego, reading stories and cleaning stuff up, again.

The Girl on the Picnic Table

We are at my niece’s birthday party and a girl says: “Look! We have the same shoes!”. I look around and realise I dress more like the P4 girls than the other mums.

table

Remember how we sat on the picnic table in the back garden, flicking through the Argos catalogue, picking our engagement rings? Remember how our futures tripped off our tongues like facts: “I’m going to get married at 23”, “I’m going to live by the sea”, “I’m going to be a journalist”, “I’m going to have 3 kids”.

Remember how we picked our children’s names? And changed our minds, and picked again?

Remember how we were going to be grown-up? By 23?

Remember, then, how we weren’t going to have children? How we were going to Change the World? Remember how we weren’t going to get married? Unless it was to the boy who wore peach jeans, the baker from Eastern Europe, where we would run an orphanage all our days.  Starting just after we turned 23.

Remember how we were sure our hair would be straighter and our minds would be surer and our hearts would feel braver?  We would run homes (or orphanages) and drive cars (or mini vans) and never struggle with any of it.

***

I sit down one day to try to write for a hip online collective for 20-somethings. I thought I could because I still feel 23, in the 20s.

I sit down, and remember, I am so firmly in what Madeleine L’Engle called the tired thirties.

Maybe I have some wisdom to impart?

But the “How-to”s and the “5 Reasons” and the smart questions ellude my cluttered mind.

I sit down in my even more cluttered kitchen and think how far I feel already from my 20s, but how much further still I feel from the ‘grown-up’ I thought I would be.

The girl on the picnic table would be disappointed.

***

I flick through a decade-old journal in which I have written (or rather, scrawled, in glittery green pen) a quote from Kent Ira Groff that includes these words: “Like someone climbing a spiral staircase, we may come around to the same issues again and again, but always at a new level.” I flick through the decade-old journal and the rest of it turns out to be a perfect illustration of the quote. The girl in the journal is so very recognisable. She is thankful and curious. She is anxious and muddled.

***

Being a nervous driver is one of the many things that makes me feel like I’m not really a grown-up. I worry, sometimes, that when she’s older my daughter will think I’m a loser, what with my steely grip of the steering wheel and my parking issues, with the inevitability that I will need Sat Nav to drop her to friends’ houses.

But my driving issues (like all my issues that have followed me through my 20s and are creeping along faithfully beside me in my 30s) remind me that we are all struggling with something.

Why do I think confident driving is the thing I have to model for my daughter? She doesn’t need me to be smooth or flawless or fast.

She needs me on that spiral staircase, sharing what I learn at each new level. She needs me funny and vulnerable and showing up. She needs to know I do things that are hard for me.

***

The girl on the picnic table would be disappointed, but the woman in her 30s has learnt grace.