I wish.

I tell my friend that Chris is going on a work trip, to Budapest, my favourite city.

“Can’t you go with him?” she asks.

“I wish”, I reply.

*

I see the post on Facebook, the red brick, the blue sky, “Are you ready to walk through these gates yet? #Chq2017”.

I tag my friend Lynn.  I type 2 words: “I wish”.

*

My Auntie Po is in Australia.  I see her lovely photos – places I visited, places I lived, the faces of our family.

I like the photos, but also, I wish.

*

It’s fine to be a little wistful, of course.  A little dreamy and nostalgic.

But then there’s envy.  There’s discontent.  There’s sighing over your kitchen sink, sighing over your right-now-life.

*

Marian Vischer writes about learning to receive her own summer life.  I am learning this too.

‘Real life is not lived in highlight reel moments’, she says.  ‘When we receive those moments, they are worthy of celebrating. But the mundane moments matter too. And to begrudge them because everyone else seems to be living their best summer life now, well, it makes a mockery of our beautiful, ordinary lives.’

*

I have had some life-changing, memory-making summers, and I’m grateful.  I’ve been to some beautiful places, packed backpacks, talked under the moonlight.

But we’re memory-making now, I think, with welly boots and library cards and another trip to the same old park.

Here’s this beautiful, ordinary life and if I’m honest – when I sat by lakes, legs dangling off piers, talking all night long – wasn’t I a little wistful for this?  For a future that was still a bit blurry, a bit hard to imagine.

If you had shown me a snapshot, then, of pink rain suits and stick collections and Lego cities, of a house that smells of Apple Crisp and 2 girls that won’t come for dinner because they’re reading… I think I might have said… “I wish”.

 

Blessing

It’s a freezing November morning and I am buckling my girls into their car-seats when the windows around us suddenly clear. I see my neighbour, washing-up bowl in his hands, sloshing warm water over our icy car. It feels like a kind of blessing on the 3 of us. It feels kind of embarrassing.

The windows clear so suddenly exposing us in all our early morning liveliness, squished into the back of my little car. It is not my most graceful pose, this back-seat-car-seat buckling.

His help feels a little undeserved. Our mornings are loud, he lives in the terrace house right next to us. I have no doubt he hears all the joy and rage and opinions that accompany our mornings. Maybe if I was a more patient mother I would deserve his help? But here he is, popping up in the middle of our clumsy antics, washing-up bowl in hand.

His help feels like the kindest thing in the world. I feel noticed and cared for and connected to my neighbour by this small act of kindness.

It can be hard to receive, hard to have our real life noticed, up-close.

I feel grateful and embarrassed all at once.  It’s a familiar feeling, in this season of life,  this letting myself be blessed.

This is the morning

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This is the morning after the night the clocks went back and it stretches long before us. We are up at the same time as usual, the girls and I, but it feels like we’re early risers, the clock says so.

This is the morning my husband rejoices that Sunday is his lie-in day.

This is the morning I find Liv banging around in the dark in her room, Cat in the Hat outfit half on. It’s GB Sunday, but that’s not on her radar. If she could wear her tail and top hat to church she would.

This is the morning Imogen propositions me the same way she does every morning: “Dance with me Mumma?”. This is the morning that there’s time. This is the morning they shake their butts to the radio in the kitchen, the morning I make a mental note (again) that we should stop saying ‘butts’.

This is the morning I strain to hear Sunday Sequence as they discuss the evangelical support (or not) for Donald Trump. This is the penultimate Sunday before the election. Morning after morning I have expected to wake up to the news that he is no longer a candidate, how could he be? By this morning I have stopped expecting to hear that.

This is a morning that tastes like my childhood: Shredded Wheat with hot milk.  It’s a morning I make myself a small coffee ten minutes before church, just like my dad always did.  (Like he still does).

This is a warm morning for the end of October – the sky blue, the trees on fire.

This is the morning after the night I read ‘Out of Sorts’ for longer than I meant to (read it like a novel) and it’s still swirling round in my head.  This is the morning I sit on a wooden pew with Sarah Bessey’s words : “I don’t want to choose between the people who first showed me Jesus and the people who made sure I got to hold on to Jesus and the ones that keep me even now.”  I wonder why those words, what have they got to do with anything?  They seem to have something to do with all the mornings, all the Sundays… something to do with legacy and heritage and faith and doubt and wilderness and home.

This is the morning I feel like maybe it all holds together, that I can be thankful for it all.

 

2016: That Morning Cuppa

‘The hour before the world gets to you is precious and sacred time.’

[Anne Lamott]

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It’s February and the waves are crashing right outside my window, right outside my three windows.  The house is quiet and the sea is loud.  Now and again a train passes over the narrow track.  The rugged beach is dotted with dog walkers in anoraks, an occasional horse.

I had my breakfast in the huge bay window downstairs – porridge with berries, chocolate brioche, Brené Brown, tea.  I had my breakfast while the rest of the house slept.  The sea was loud but it let me be.

*

On my first night at the writers’ retreat I had my supper, filled my hot water bottle and went to bed.  I thought about sitting up, by the cosy fire, with this interesting group of people, all here by the sea to write.  Where else would I meet them?

Fear of missing out thrummed its familiar beat.  A glass of wine and fireside conversation with interesting strangers sounds like a life I used to have.  Sounds like something motherhood should be making me crave.  Don’t I?

I do want those things.  But I want my morning more

*

I am here for 3 nights as a Christmas present.  My husband knows that in this season of life the greatest gift he can give me is Time (especially time with wild sea and a desk to write at).

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I feel like Time & I have been locked in battle ever since I became a mum.  I write lists and confab with my husband, trying to figure out how to fit it all in.  I scratch things off the list or designate them a particular slot, I swap things around.  We try to prioritise.  Which things are obligatory?  Which things are necessary?  Which things are not?  We try to name the things we love, the things we want to make time for.  I write more lists and scratch more things off.  We try to work out how to give each other ‘time’.

Last year I chose Rhythm as my word for the year and  I noticed that I am addicted to the elusive ideal of ‘getting everything done first’, and it is filling my days with stress.  I keep chasing this daily rhythm where the rest comes at the end.  In some seasons, and contexts, this can be a healthy pattern, but not in motherhood.  I seem to have developed an “inner bookie” where I am constantly calculating the odds of a restful evening as I go through the day.  I  do more to try to boost the odds.  I count desperately on something rather uncertain – my girls having a smooth, on-time bedtime.  I put too much pressure on things I can’t control.   It’s exhausting and it doesn’t work, the payoff never comes.  The tattoo on my foot says “Be Still” but I seem to have scheduled even stillness – only when the house is still, only when the dishes are done.  So what I get, if I get it, is the left overs.  Whatever time is left, whatever energy is left.

There is a phrase that has been rattling round my head since I read it recently in ‘Simplicity Parenting’, it is about establishing islands of “being” in the torrent of constant doing.  The book says that to have moments of calm – creative or restful – is a form of deep sustenance for human beings of all ages.  I am trying to establish this for my girls, but I am trying to establish it for myself, too.  “Islands of being”, I mutter to myself like a crazy person, “islands of being!”.

Virginia Woolf said every woman needs a room of her own. I don’t have that… but I do have an hour of my own and it’s glorious.

[Glennon Doyle Melton]

As I continue to seek rhythm in 2016, my word for this year is ‘Morning.’  I want to choose this island of being, this hour of my own, at the start of the day, instead of frantically chasing it all day.  I know I’m a morning person, I don’t know why I stubbornly put so much stock in the evening.  I am also a person that needs a little solitude and I have realised that if I don’t choose it first thing, then I spend all day resenting how impossible it is to get.

So here’s to moments of calm.

Here’s to choosing the sustenance we need.

Here’s to precious, sacred time…

…and here’s to that morning cuppa.

 

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What about you? Any words for the year? Are mornings or evenings your sacred time?

This is the girl, all cold and cross

‘And though she be but little, she is fierce.’

[Shakespeare]

My friend Patrick recently sent me a link to the met office’s list of future storm names. For I: Storm Imogen.  Yes, I thought, what a perfect name for a storm. But, also, hasn’t Storm Imogen already hit, many times?

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You turned 3 this month and you have been celebrating yourself like it’s your job. Your capacity for celebration matches your capacity for angst. You are ALL the Emotions. You are both/and.

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It’s true, you can tantrum. You can huff. You can bear a grudge. You can give the most withering looks. When Storm Imogen hits it is loud, and a little violent. You stamp that right foot with indignation and your voices ratchets up like a crazy housewife (like your mama, I fear, when I’m not my best self). You are, we often say, a very eloquent cross person, very specific in your grievances. When you do not want to wear your coat on the Gruffalo trail and I tell you you can take it off in the car you stamp that foot and yell into the Colin Glenn: “I do not want to wear it in the Deep DARK WOOD!” You add syllables when you’re cross, as well as volume, your piercing, rising tone vibrating off the trees. When you do not want to wear a hair bobble at breakfast (you never want to wear a hair bobble) you yell in mounting disgust :”That. Hair. Bobble. Is TOO SPARKLY for me!”  (This morning, you simply insisted train drivers don’t wear hair bobbles, and that was that.)

You like to be charmed.  You like a little effort to be made.  You are open to bribes, deals and offers.  You’re anyone’s for a chocolate button.

You like to mimic the faces of the characters in any books we read.  Your favourite, of course, ‘This is the bear all cold and cross’, a posture you adopt away from the books, whenever it matches your mood.
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Your mood: both/and.

Both the stormiest, and the sunniest girl around.

It’s true, you can tantrum.  You’re that kind of girl.  But you’re also a yes please and thank you and sorry kind of girl.  A kiss, hug kind of girl.  A dancing in the supermarket kind of girl.  A laugh-until-you-choke kind of girl.  A merrymaker. A reveller.  A celebrator of life, and of yourself.

You have a fondness for men, particularly  butchers.  You bond with people, often, by roaring like a dinosaur.

It was BLUE day yesterday at your sister’s school.  As we got into the car Olivia said “We are supposed to Be Loving and Understanding to Everyone, but Imogen’s not doing it.” Ha.  “Well,” I replied, “Imogen is often loving and understanding, but she’s still learning, just like all of us.”

Said sister (victim to the violence) is mostly your partner in crime, your crazy playmate.  Although you have a very particular, practical kind of Arnold nature, it is curiously complemented with this wild imagination.  I wonder if your whimsical big sister has nurtured that in you?  You are often lost in other worlds, bestowing names and powers on each other, solving problems and mysteries and saving the world, all before breakfast.

That Arnold nature, though, has you doing 50 piece jigsaws, has you tidying up, has you noticing details I never would and figuring out how things work… it makes you physically capable in ways that are surprising for a 3-year-old.  I may recognise myself in your Mullan-face and your wild hair but your daddy sees you straightening everything up and thinks “That’s my girl!”.

That hair, of course, is commented on by everyone you meet.  You hate to have it touched or tamed.  That may change but for now it’s nice to have your company, wee frizz.

So happy birthday to our little boss lady, may you always find yourself worth celebrating.

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The Beach, The Newsagents & The Mountainside

‘I had been so lucky to be raised, to be loved, by a calm, uncomplicated mother.’

[American Wife, Curtis Sittenfeld]

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I dream I am at the beach. Portballintrae, I think. I suddenly realise my girls are napping at home. How long have I been away? 4 hours? 6? Much longer than a nap, certainly, and it will take me over an hour to get home. How did this happen? How are they there, but I’m here? Worst-case scenarios fill my mind but I can’t get home any faster.

I dream I am in a small newsagents. WHSmith, maybe, in a train station. I meet an old work colleague who engages me in conversation but I am trying to keep track of my daughter. I try to listen and follow her at the same time. For some reason I cannot leave the conversation, I am expected to stay, but floors keep opening up below us – one after the other after the other. Imogen disappears down spiral escalators, blonde curls getting further and further out of sight. I can’t keep up.

I dream I am at my friend’s kitchen table in what appears to be a dingy student flat. What has happened to her spacious white house? I ask tentatively if she has left her husband. “No, he’s here,” she says and he appears in a seat. “We thought this would be good for us.” Two more people appear around the table.  Flatmates, I presume. My friend is standing by the wall pointing to a large reward chart she has drawn. She is talking through their targets for self-improvement.

I am lying in a kinesiologist’s office.  This is not a dream, although I’m tempted to say that it is.  She is talking about my small intestine and asks if I ever get a pain where she touches, on the right.  I do, it’s one of the reasons I am there.  She tells me the small intestine is connected to the part of the brain that analyses things, tries to get organised, tries to figure things out.  “Maybe that’s your personality?” she asks.  Yes, that’s my personality.  And also, it’s my season of life.

My writer friend, Tory, organises a writers’ morning in a prayer house.  I go eager to spend time with some creative chums, eager to snatch some time with my coloured pens and my yellow paper.  I don’t expect anything more than that.  But the house operates as a ‘retreat’.  We are looked after with tea and pastries, with thoughtful cards written to each of us.  There are beautiful, quiet rooms for us to work in, and women who pray for us downstairs.  They tell us that the vision for this house is for it to be a mountainside – like where Jesus went to pray, where he went to get away.  I realise I don’t expect mountainsides in my life right now.  I expect frantic dreams and busy days and stress that shows up in my body.

When I was pregnant with my first child several friends asked me what kind of mum I thought I would be.  I didn’t know.  You’ll be laid-back, they said.  You’ll be cool, you’ll be calm.

My girls are 5 and almost 3 now and although most people still believe I am calm, my mind chases them down escalators in my sleep.  I haven’t been able to find the “off” button for the high-alert switch that got triggered when they were born.  Stress shows up in my body.  Stress shows up in my dreams.

It is ridiculous how much I want to be that laid-back mum my friends envisaged.   How different I sometimes want to be for my kids, for my husband.  Then again, I also believe what Glennon Doyle Melton says that: “They don’t need you bigger, smaller, smarter, richer, calmer, feistier, craftier, anything-er at all. They just need YOU.”

They just need me me, I’m committed to that.  But I’m also committed to being the healthiest me possible, one whose mind hasn’t been over-taken with rewards charts and responsibility.

‘The mountainside’ keeps me healthy. ‘The mountainside’ for me is the same old things – time to read and solitude.  I honour the first, but feel guilty about the second.  Once a month I take a full day, and night, away from my house and my family.  I want to keep it a secret.  I want to be so laid-back I don’t need it.  I want to be the kind of woman that does an activity instead, because that sounds more acceptable somehow.  Sharon’s running, she’s shopping, she’s out drinking cocktails.

In the first of her podcasts Elizabeth Gilbert says that if we model martyrdom to our children they will grow up to be martyrs, but if we model creativity, they will grow up to be creators.  She also says: “Mothers are the members of society who need to be given the most permission to be able to do the things that ignite their own souls.”  I remind myself of that when my sub-conscious translates being alone on a beach into neglecting my children.

Like Alice Blackwell, in American Wife, I am lucky to have been raised and loved by a calm, uncomplicated mother.  I want to be that for my girls, but I can’t fake it, so I find my little patches of mountainside where I can and give myself permission to be there.

What about you?  Anyone else more highly-strung than they like to admit?  What practices are ‘mountainsides’ for you?

Today you are you

‘Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than you.’

[Dr Seuss]

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“Are there elephants in Australia mummy?”, “What about rhinos?”, “Giraffes?”. You turn your porridge bowl around and ask me in turn if each animal on its rim can be found in Australia.

Then you make up your mind: “Yes, I would like to go to Australia on an aeroplane. Please.”

You’re answering a question Uncle Kerr asked you. Yesterday.

*

You arrived into the world with a large bump on your head where you repeatedly banged it for a day and a half trying to get out, a little left of centre.

Left of centre, your preferred position, still.

*

You hate baked beans and the dark and tidying up.  You love ‘psgetti’ and cocoa and strawberries and ramen noodles.  You love baking with your daddy and you love finger-painting more than any mummy-driven-craft-project I come up with.  You love the ‘No-livia and Papa Rexus’ made-up stories that you beg your Papa for (as long as he gets all previous details correct).  You love just one more book from Nana, just one more minute in her house.  “I DO like you mummy”, you told me to my amusement last night, “I just like Nana Beethie MORE”.

You love curling up in Papa Ernest’s chair and you love eating all Nana Berta’s treats.  You love running round and around the outside of their house and you love playing with you daddy’s old Fisherprice toys on their floor.

You love Jane from across the road and don’t leave her side when we go on outings together.  Jane knows what all the trees and plants are and the pair of you stop to look at all the insects and talk to all the dogs and to go a bit closer to the river than mummy lets you.  (In fairness, you and Auntie Jane are usually IN the river).

Your feet seek out every ledge or edge or wall or line on the road.  Your fingers touch every button, wall and surface.  You are always climbing and exploring, hanging off things that aren’t supposed to be hung off.

You make your raisins talk to each other while your porridge bowl cools, forgotten, beside them.

You notice the things in the distance and are often oblivious to what’s in front of you.

You take the scenic route, endless detours, even if it’s just across the living room floor.

You have an inability to hold your head still so we embrace the ‘messy’ style of plaiting, incorporating every twist and turn of your wandering attention.  You have the kind of hair I’ve always wanted, though, thick and smooth and taken for granted.

You have your daddy’s face, all your Arnold genes gathered in one place, while the thoughts and temperament behind it serve to thwart the Arnold modus operandi at every turn.

You love your little sister, your partner in crime.  You shared a room for 2 months in the summer until we acknowledged you have too ‘spirited’ a relationship to be roomies.  You fight, of course, but it is the shrieks of laughter that usually need investigated.  When you’re not causing destruction together you’re usually cackling and howling as monsters and witches, or calling out to each other dramatically: “Mama?”, DAR-ling!”.

You offer theories about everything you come across (why that car crashed, where that litter came from, why that thing isn’t working, who that person might be).

You unravel with too much choice, or expectation. “I’m not sure and “That sounds a bit tricky” are your go-to-answers when under pressure.

You thrive with a basic routine and wide margins in your day for wandering and wondering.  You love open space, and you love to be curled up at home.  It is the end of the world if you’re tired, and it always has been.

You are cautious, sometimes. You listen to your inner voice.  You are not a child that can be persuaded, or coaxed, or bribed.  You do things when you want to and when you’re ready and I guess I hope you always will.

*

Today you are 5 and last week I found myself googling in search of an old Huffington Post article – The Day I Stopped Saying Hurry Up.  I don’t think I’m ever going to stop saying it, daughter.  We’d never get to school.  But I’m trying to say it less and it reminds me, completely, to cherish you my stop-and-smell-the-roses kind of child.

It reminds me that I LOVE the way you are.

I love that you take your time. I love that you colour outside the lines. I love that you deviate from The Plan and twist the instructions and sneak your own rules in. I love your abstract questions and your zany sense of humour and your wicked little laugh when you’re really amused.  I love that, more often than not, I find you standing on your head.  I love the endless thoughts that fuel your chatter, and I love your Quiet.

I love that you are FIVE in so many common, shared, universal ways. And I love that you are YOU in as many quirky, not-in-the-text-book, still-trying-to-figure-you-out ones.

So Happy Birthday Livi-kins and in the words of our wise old chum:

we’ll go to the top of the toppest blue space,

The Official Katroo Birthday Sounding-Off Place!

Come on! Open your mouth and sound off at the sky!

Shout loud at the top of your voice, “I AM I!

ME!

I am I!

And I may not know why

But I know that I like it.

Three cheers!  I AM I!”

dr seuss

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