Even the six-year-olds

Liv clambers into our bed as soon as she wakes, poking us with elbows and knees, wanting to know what they are doing in heaven today, to celebrate Good Friday?

She wants to know every single thing I don’t have an answer to.

It seems, these days, like Liv has taken those verses in Deutoronomy, the ones about teaching our children diligently, and turned them on their head.  My own uncertainty about what to do with God’s words in our home does not stop her.  She talks of them when she sits, when she walks by the way, when she lies down, when she rises.

*

Liv has an unflagging interest this year in Pilate.  (Asking what his name was again, trying to get her tongue around it, giggling a bit, Pontius Pilate).

She sits in her booster seat as we drive to Asda and asks her questions.

She is trying to work out his responsability, what he decided, what he really wanted, if he was good.

“I would have decided that Jesus should die”, she declares, “because it brought so much good, in the end.”

So she clambers into our bed this morning, it’s Friday, and she wants to celebrate, because she is certain this story is Good.

*

“Even the stones would cry out!” she told us, wide-eyed, a few Sundays ago.

Yes, I think, even the stones, and even the six-year-olds.

Morning (small beginnings)

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The mornings are dark now and there is nowhere like a quiet kitchen lit up at this hour, when everyone else is sleeping.

There is nowhere like it yet, more often than not, I would trade my very soul to stay in bed. I whittle away this hour, ten minutes at a time, with every hit of the snooze button.  Always convinced it’s worth the trade off.

When I chose morning as my word for the year, maybe I imagined myself productive.  I thought I might have jobs done, essays written.

What I have, is a morning basket.  It has colouring pencils and colouring books.  It has my Common Book of Prayer.  It has my bullet journal.  Right now it has a Georgia O’Keeffe postcard that my friend Cherith gave me.  It has my heart bowl, which I set on the kitchen table beside the postcard.  Sometimes it has other books, or pictures, or quotes from my bedroom.

I have two problems with the morning.  One: I don’t want to get out of bed.  Two: when I do get out of bed, I want to do Everything.  It is easy (for me) to be lazy.  And it is easy (for me) to try to do too much, and to try to run on empty.  It is harder by far to just be awake and present to my life.

It is hard to just colour in.  It is hard to read liturgies before I read Facebook. It is hard to feed myself properly instead of quickly.  It is hard to Be Still, with my fists unclenched, like I believe in the holy spirit, like it’s the way to start my day, like it will make any difference.

It is hard to begin without feeling like we’re already behind, without panicking that already “it’s not enough”, without listening to ridiculous voices in our heads.

“Do not despise these small beginnings”, Zechariah 4:10 says, “for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin.”.

Those words are too long for a tattoo, but I need to etch them somewhere.

The mornings are dark now, and just being here in my quiet kitchen is a small beginning.  A cause to rejoice.

 

Are you free on Thursday night? Thoughts on Introversion.

There’s a few things the internet doesn’t need any more of.  Open letters, for example. Elsa pictures.

There’s something about saturation that can make us weary, or even angry.  Something that once was cute, or original, or important starts to make us twitch the more we see it.  I have read some brilliant open letters in the past, but these days I fear it’s only a matter of time before I turn on my computer and see “Dear woman with the curly hair driving the scratched Fiesta…”.

And there’s something about enthusiasm, evangelical fervour, popularity even, that can be curiously off-putting.  We feel like giving up faith, say, or breastfeeding, in reaction to the intensity of those who share our practice.

One of my favourite topics of conversation is personality types and tests like Myers-Briggs and the Enneagram, and particularly Introversion.  Understanding myself as an introvert has, and is, one of the most important factors in how I live my life.

But when a friend texted me recently saying: “I think I’ll become an introvert, they’re taking over the world”, I started to wonder, is one more post about introversion the last thing the internet needs?  Have we got Introvert-fatigue?

*

Back in the day, I read about introversion like it was some big secret.  Back when Philip Yancey books were steadying my soul in the garden, one of the reasons I felt this weird commonality with him was in the way he wrote about his personality, his slowness, his thought-process.  He was the only person I ever read who was writing about being an introvert and I thought me too, me too.

My ears picked up any time I heard it being discussed.

Even 4 years ago Susan Cain’s TED talk, and subsequently her book, healed and inspired me so much because it wasn’t being talked about.

*

When my mind is healthy I know that my gifting, my truest parts, my best offerings all come from being an introvert – from slow, well-brewed thoughts and feelings, from paying attention.

But on a daily basis that mind gets frazzled and rushed and the thing it notices is people around me doing life faster and smoother and smarter, and I feel less-than.

When my soul is healthy I know that it needs stillness, time, good books, prayer and rest to stay that way.  Yet when I hear those words “Are you free on Thursday night?” something in me still believes that the only acceptable no is the ‘Busy No’… No because I’m at an Event, No because I’m meeting someone else, No because I’m doing some kind of work.

I need those introvert articles and memes and comic strips to simply remind me that I am a person who recharges by being alone, and that I am not the only one, and that I do not have to go anywhere on Thursday night.

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I’ll be honest, because I’m an introvert, the text my friend sent “recently” was actually about a year ago.  This post has sat, unfinished, for a long time.  I would read it, now and again, and wonder what my point was.  Since then I have been doing the work with Brené Brown, I have started seeing a Spiritual Director and I have become a bit of an Enneagram-geek (that is a whole other post!).  These things are adding depth and dimension (and even discomfort) to my understanding of shame, true self and the things that get in the way.

I have also come to understand that it is not just introverts who feel the pressure of the “acceptable no”, or whose lives are damaged by too much hustle.  Gemma’s  lovely Ode to Margin resonates with most of us, I imagine.

So I do not celebrate my introversion over your extroversion.  Thursday nights are for solitude and conversation, pottering and dancing, saying yes and saying no.  I do not click on all the introvert articles anymore (I probably get sent a few too many ‘saw this and thought of you’ ones, these days).  But, regularly, I just need a reminder, you know?

 

 


Some of my Introvert Favourites

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking
by Susan Cain

Susan Cain TED talk

Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture
by Adam S. McHugh

Can Introverts Be Part of the Revolution? by Addie Zierman

Why Slowing Down Your Kid’s Schedule Can Be A Good Thing by Brian Gresko

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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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!”

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The Song of the Blackbird

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Liv and I dander home from the park, and the ice-cream shop, and on days like this it seems to me like nothing’s changed.

There is something about their childhood that makes me feel like I am going through mine again. But this time, I know to pay attention.

It’s a little bit like that film, About Time, where Tim lives his day over again. “The first time with all the tensions and worries that stop us noticing how sweet the world can be, but the second time noticing.”

*

There is something about the dandering. Something about the dandelion and daisy collecting, the hopping up and down curbs, the having to walk along any wall (or cobbled edge that passes for a wall) that makes me feel like nothing’s changed.

*

I go for a walk with my mum along the towpath and the teenagers who emerge as we enter are a flash back to my youth – faded black jeans and checked shirts and nirvana t-shirts, boys with scruffy fringes poking out under black beanies.

Along the towpath it could be 10, 20 years ago. I know we have iPads and Amazon Prime in our homes, but you can’t see them here. I know we are filled with dispirited nostalgia sometimes, convinced that everything’s changed. I know our landscapes often seem unrecognisable, but not today.

“Hear that sound?”, mum asks. Blackbirds singing.  “It reminds me of when I was a girl, walking in Barnett’s Park on summer Sunday evenings after church.”

Along the towpath it could be 10, 30, 50 years ago.

*

“Tig, you’re it!” they shout as they emerge from the door of nursery, dancing around each other’s feet, bonding through those ancient words we once shouted too. After Liv has chased her chums to their cars we go for a walk among the allotments. A dander. Interspersed with bursts of Tig. The girls are sweaty and grubby and beautiful. There is a blog post forming in my head, I should get a picture of them here in the long grass and the buttercups.

I think of these places, these little pockets of grass and wild yellow flowers, where it feels like nothing’s changed. I think of these places where I feel the gift of childhood all over again, and I realise I don’t need a photograph.

These sights and smells and sounds and songs get captured anyway. I let them run, like my mum let me run, no camera in sight. I let them be wildly beautiful, just for me.

I let them be.

*

We are filled with dispirited nostalgia sometimes, convinced that everything’s changed, maybe ruined. But do you hear that? The song of the blackbird. Let it remind you of those summer Sunday evenings, but also, listen to it now. We can’t travel back but we still get to live, to dander, on these extraordinary, ordinary days.

“And in the end I think I’ve learned the final lesson from my travels in time; and I’ve even gone one step further than my father did: The truth is I now don’t travel back at all, not even for the day, I just try to live every day as if I’ve deliberately come back to this one day, to enjoy it, as if it was the full final day of my extraordinary, ordinary life.”

[Tim, About Time]

Gentle Men – some collaborative praise

A repost from 2014…

I stood this year, like every year, at a bit of a loss in the Father’s Day card aisle: golf, remote controls, beer, sailing. It would just be weird to get my dad a card with any of those things. Some years I settle for tools, or gardening.

Alternatively: cards with poems and jokes about dads being lazy, stupid, fat. Is it too mushy to say those things have just never applied to my dad?

Some years I have settled for poems about dads who are mental, or flippin’ bonkers.

It’s hard to find cards or presents or words sometimes to honour our men. But I have been asking, the past few days, for people to tell me about their dads, their ‘father figures’ or the dad they share parenting with. And it turns out that lazy and stupid aren’t the right labels for lots of men. And it turns out that being a good dad means even more than fixing things, or football.

I mean, Russ is a dad who is passionate about football, he plays it for hours with his boys and is involved in coaching their teams. But he is also a dad who is passing on his childhood love of the Famous Five at bedtime, who tells stories for the hundredth time about his old dog Rover, and who takes them to the river to catch tadpoles. Fiona watches him teach their boys how to treat others fairly, to consider other people’s point of view and to do the right thing even when it’s hard.

Tory’s husband is a Fireman. I’ve bumped into him in the leisure centre on his day off, taking the kids swimming so she can have some time to herself. He encourages her to do this whenever there’s a chance. He encourages her to pursue her passions. She is soon going to have 3 kids under 5, but she says I never think of it as a one woman show. As a dad he is patient and fun and energetic and she sees this encouraging their children to be fearless and free, and steadying her.

Jerome is Chief nappy-changer and bather. Judes notices how he takes such joy in these menial tasks. His humour and laughter and ridiculous voices have made her laugh in the tired, newborn days. He supports Judes breastfeeding by tending to their baby’s other needs. She has been surprised by his amazing patience. She so appreciates his sensitivity to know when to take over without discussion. It is a team effort.

Judith D has never once cut her boys’ nails. It’s daddy’s job. She also credits Tom that the house is clean as he does housework around her long evening breastfeeds. Her 3 year old teaches her about radar towers & wind socks & taxi ways… passing on the knowledge that Tom passed on to him. Some days as soon as he gets in from work he takes Samuel off to see something he notices on the way home – lambs maybe, or a forage harvester. He involves him in gardening, recycling, washing the car.

Erin says that words to describe my brother Paul as a dad are patient, gentle, kind and sensitive to their family’s needs. She says patience is a HUGE one.

Chris does the ironing, the groceries and the nursery run. He can achieve something that eludes me: symmetrical pigtails. The worst night of breastfeeding I ever had he simply sat on the floor beside me. He whispered to the girls that I’d gone to the dark side today, and it brought me back. He is joker of the pack and a well-used climbing frame.

Rach talks about one night when Ruben was barely 2 and a half, just starting to string sentences together, when they were outside a caravan, eating pizza by the sea. She went in to do dishes and he talked to his dad for 40 minutes in an epic monologue about everything on his wee heart. Jürg listens. Rach says it’s one of the greatest gifts he gives their kids, and she notices it all the time these days. She says: “He gives them all the time in the world to talk. No expectations, no pressure, the conversation can flow wherever they lead it. And he listens, and they can feel it, and so they talk……..and it is beautiful.”

Lorraine says there is no part of Eoin’s life that Andy is not involved in. Nappies, feeding, getting up in the night, minding him regularly. He loves it when his son watches him doing DIY, but he also models cooking, cleaning and helping. He models loving women. He works part time so that he won’t miss his son growing up, even though this means sacrifices in other areas. He prays that Eoin would be a person that is kind. Over and over. He is super proud to walk around with his son in a backpack.

Kate says she couldn’t ask for a better dad for her son. They live close to each other and share care in a way that works. Their son has routine, stability, love and a lot of time with both parents.

My dad remembers fondly his own dad  playing gentle “fighting” with him as a young boy. He would try to hit his dad who would gently hit back without hurting him. He loved these “fights”. He says his dad really cared for his family and included them as much as he could. He always made you feel that he had time for you. That you mattered to him.”  He says he thinks he understood the Fatherhood of God quite well and emulated that (I would say the same about him).

And the first thing my mum said about her dad? He was a carer, all his life. He looked after his siblings, his children and his wife. He was an avid reader and taught himself DIY skills, gardening, cookery and theology. He was a hard worker and a strict disciplinarian but also full of fun and practical jokes.

My friend Jenny says that her dad and granda have ruined her for life as she expects all men to be respectful, kind, loving and caring.

Rosie could write a book about her dad, and I think she should. She sat by his bedside today watching him sleep thinking of the lifetime of friendship and closeness they have shared. They have always been best buddies.  She loves his wisdom and his ability to see things from every angle and his great sense of fun. She loves his interest in other people and their well-being. All these traits are still obvious though he’s now so weak and confined.

It’s been an emotional few days receiving these stories, hearing women praise their men. They wrote more and said more and confessed there was still more. Hallmark can’t really design cards for these men, can they? So today we will praise them. I mean, honestly, we all still roll our eyes and bicker and tell tales on them, I’ll still be doing that tomorrow, no doubt. But today let’s just say it, there are many men who aren’t stupid or lazy or useless… and neither are they THE WORLD’S BEST DADS in some perfect, macho, aggressive, cartoon super-hero kind of way. They are Gentle Men – patient and kind, hardworking and fun, serious and silly. They are sharing their passions. They are listening to their children. They are saving our lives a time or 2 with their humour. Thank You.

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(As I wrote this I kept starting and deleting disclaimers. Some fathers seem to confirm the stereotypes, some are abusive and some are difficult and brilliant, both. Some fathers are absent and some deeply missed. I cannot write about these things with any wisdom, but I read those who do, and hope they will continue to write.  Father’s Day could prompt all kinds of stories. I’m just holding space, today, for some of the good ones… for the fathers who are carrying on generations of good men, and for the ones determined to be the father they wish they had, wee frizz salutes you)

Feel free to praise a man in your life in the comments section …