To London, With Love

I promised I would write again when the leaves started to fall. There are still some on the trees, so I guess I still have time. I didn’t think, however, that when I started writing again, it would be hailing the end of a major chapter in our lives. In some ways, very little has changed, the kids are all 6 months older and so are we, the leaves turn gold and brown just like they did last year…except this year will be the last time we see them in London.

The change is bittersweet, we have much to look forward to, moving our lives and our hearts Westwards…to Simon’s home-ground, California. There will be sun, new adventures, new places to fall in love with. But I am finding it very difficult to say good-bye to London, this dear old city that has come to mean so much. When words fail, I find everything else does too. So I MUST write….

LONDON_3_by_dhii

To London, With Love

Thank you, London. For all you have given us. Your heaving streets and wizened buildings seem impervious to time and change. Imperious Paddington. Bubbling Bayswater, Lighted Leicester Square. Your magic surpasses. How many faces have you seen? How many days have happened that have left little behind but the dirt on the streets?

The Thames churns in your midst, a vein of muddied water threading through. Standing on Embankment Bridge, the river would be just a river, were it not for the beautiful buildings along the sky. St Paul’s Cathedral, London Bridge, the Oxo tower, St James and Old Scotland Yard. The Aquarium and Parliament Buildings best appreciated by night.

London Bridge

But by day the South Bank holds its own. Buskers warbling and bookstalls bustling beneath the bulwarks. Eateries spilling out onto tables in the sun. How many times have I sauntered through the crowd, admiring crazy skateboarders in the graffiti maze beneath BFI and budgie-whistler with his cast of yellow and green?

14278515949_4a8e850ff3_k

 

I had my first encounter with life-long love along this river, Blue-Like-Jazz lights flickering in the trees. Cautious handholding, dreamy first kiss over the Trafalgar fountains. Pieces of my heart forever melded with the scene.

 

Fresh off the plane, in my too-thin jacket freezing, my African heart thrilled at the endless age and mystery of this greatest city-town. Watching the river beneath, the bewildering buses on the street alongside, I dreamed of the years to come. From my first pub plate of chips and beer at the rusty-red Sherlock Holmes in Charing Cross to the quiet Chiswick Coffee shop I find myself at today, I have felt at home in this strange and dirty city.

I love the mould and ancient grime dusted over rock and stone. I imagine some of it is soot from centuries before – how many vehicles have added their layers? The newly washed edifices look oddly naked to me. Even St Paul’s, newly restored, seems blushed and blinking in its cleanness. I know I am heading for a land of sanitised whiteness and space and sun, place for my heart to grow and skin to breathe…. But how I will miss this old city-town with its stoic, load-bearing populace and layers upon layers of old and new.

 

Each memory is a polaroid stored away for nostalgia in days to come. When my kids all have West-Coast accents that sound of sun and sand, if chance may be that I happen across that gruff, guttural “all right, luv?” my heart will still be glad.

How does one say goodbye to a place so rich in so many ways – so diverse and peculiar in range of experience? So many cultures have added to this spice-mix of eccentricity, grandeur and commonplace. I love them all.

I can still remember being on the tube at Piccadilly, sandwiched within a whirr of languages I did not know. Pieces of German, French, Italian, Yoruba?? The patchwork of sound and colour amazed my farm-girl heart. Anything seemed possible in London. From the busy bookstore keeper rattling things off at the till to the lazy museum security guard at South Kensington content to yawn away the day. From the beautiful West-End dancer dazzling in the lights to the sweating pedicab cyclist, cheerfully ignoring the traffic rules. From the remote grandeur of the royals and super-wealthy, tucked away behind glossy railings and tinted windows, to the bored vendors selling doughnuts and tourist brochures nearby in Green Park. There is something for everyone here.

london-metal-exchangeAll I would ask as you move through this dear old place is that you see. See without prejudice, see without fear, see its people and beauty without avarice and superficiality. See as though you are receiving a gift…for who knows how long you will have before you, too, are just one of the millions of faces passing by and long forgotten.

I hope I have given as much, if not more, than I have taken. I hope I have not been critical with a failure to love as well. I hope that when I come back again one day we will not be strangers. Farewell, crazy old city-town, with your thousand gifts and a thousand characters on your streets every day. I was proud to be one of them.

Piccadilly

 

Lessons from a Three-Year-Old

This blog is dedicated to Evie, our sweet, funny, feisty little pumpkin-pie who is now three.

CIMG5314

We had Evie’s third birthday party last weekend. It was a festival of princesses and pink…. Lots of pink, which hurt the eyes a little but absolutely delighted her. There was cake, there was garlic bread, there were balloons and there was Minnie Mouse; everything Evie’s little heart could desire. Two little friends with their families joined us for the occasion, and we had some honorary adults present (her special Aunty Jillo, of course). It was simple, but it was magnificent. At one point we had all three princesses decked out in their sequins, satin and sparkly netting, mouths generously smudged with chocolate, bouncing up and down on the trampoline and shrieking at the tops of their voices. Isaac watched in awe and trepidation from the side.

Cake and party delirium aside, Evie’s birthday brought with it a bittersweet ache this year. I found myself realising that her adorable and clumsy toddler years have finally slipped away, and a beautiful, self-possessed little girl has emerged, one who seems impossibly grown-up at times, and yet is still full of the sweetness and silliness of toddlerhood. When I think of how just six months ago I felt like that phase would never end with all the conflicts, tantrums and the many, many times we seemed to be at loggerheads with each other, I find myself now wondering how it went so fast.

There are so many things that I have learnt through the last three years as a privileged care-giver to this marvellous (and sometimes impossible) little creature.

CIMG5296

I have learnt the value of telling people you love, often, how you feel about them. At random times in the day Evie will pronounce, “Mommy, I love you.” And then go on about her business. It’s almost as though she is reminding me, or perhaps she senses something in my mood and feels I need to know. Sometimes it will be in a silence in the conversation that Simon and I are having in the car. We’ll all be still for a second, looking out the window, and Evie will pipe up, “Daddy, I love you.” The randomness and frequency of these outbursts has become somewhat of a laughing point in our family. There is no denying we have a very loving and expressive little girl.

She is so generous with her affection, too, always needing lots of hugs and kisses to make up if she gets in trouble, or coming over to plant a “mooch” on your arm or leg at random points in the day. She’ll pronounce, “Daddy I ‘mooch you,” as Simon is doing something in the kitchen, then flounce over and proudly plant a kiss on the back of his leg.

CIMG5143

She loves to cuddle, or “wrestle”, which is really just cuddling disguised as wrestling (I suppose wrestling sounds less wimpy so one can preserve some dignity). Her favourite thing is to “wrestle” Simon, and I’ll often hear shrieks of laughter coming from the lounge. Essentially it is just an excuse to be close, and to experience meaningful physical contact (while punching the ribcage). I read something a few years ago that said how people needed a certain number of “meaningful touches” a day, something like seven. Evie reminds me how valuable it is to make sure that we hug lots and play lots and and get up in each other’s personal space. It’s not something that Londoners do very well. Unless you’re on the Tube at rush hour and you’re shoved up in someone’s armpit, there generally isn’t very much reason to have much physical contact with people.

Evie loves her friends, and talks about them all the time. She asks to pray at mealtimes or at bedtimes, and it will be a soft mumble interspersed with people’s names, like “Oscar” and “Liya-Jean” and “Kate”. Almost every day she will ask, “We going to [insert name of friend]’s house a-day?” She also LOVES to make “presents” for her friends. These usually consist of a complicated piece of artwork made with marker pen, stickers and cellotape, and shoved into a recycled gift bag. I have strict instructions about where to write their name, and am given a long diatribe about how this is Martha’s present or Pippa’s present and must not be lost.

This completely puts me to shame, as I have become more and more useless at staying in touch with my own very special friends in recent times. I may think about them often, but I cannot count how many times I have forgotten a birthday or neglected to call when I said I would. Friends are so important to me, and yet this does not reflect itself in my day-to-day reality at present. “Ah well,” I sigh to myself, “One day….One day I will be out of this craziness of nappies and cooking and cleaning and refereeing and helping and feeding and clothing….” Then I will call friends every week, send them cute cards and happy emails to say I am thinking of them, make them presents and see them for coffee. But for now, I can hardly remember how old my baby is (is he six months or seven months, I was horrified to realise??) or whether I put my keys in my bag, or even managing to keep in touch with people I see every Sunday!

But, I guess, this is another thing I need to learn from Evie – the complete absence of the burden of guilt and “should have’s” and “ought to’s”. She wakes up every day and it is a completely new day. There are no assumptions about what the day will bring, no hurts and worries from the day gone by. She is completely caught up in the present, and can only think of pleasant things that might be forthcoming (Whose house are we going to? Can I have a chocolate biscuit? Do I have swimming today? Will I have a party? Please can we make cupcakes?) It is simple, it is lovely and it is inspiring.

This will be my last blog for a while, as we are about to embark on a family holiday to the States for three weeks. And I have also realised, what with all the beautiful spring weather we have been having, and longer, sunnier days, more time should be spent doing outdoorsy things like gardening or walking or soaking up the sun. So I think blog-writing will be something to save for when the leaves start to turn and life gets colder and indoorsy again (which will happen soon enough). For now, I am going to take a leaf out of Evie’s book and fully immerse myself in what is happening now – and not miss a moment of the glories of an English summer.

Enjoy something simple today, and go find someone you love to wrestle.

CIMG5316

 

 

Ah, Friday

Ah, Fridays. They’re always good, especially when the sun is shining. It seems we have a bit of a respite from the deluge we’ve had over the last couple of weeks. The daffodils are in bloom and all sorts of spring-like signs are shooting up.

Fridays are good for many reasons, mostly because they are supposed to be our “day off”. The one day of the week that Simon takes off completely from work and we try to rest. Although, of course, with little kids it is pretty hard to get any kind of rest, even on “days off”. The work of looking after them, teaching them, training them, cleaning up after them, preparing food for them and keeping them alive is pretty much the same as any other day. It can be hard to feel like there is any sense of a break, even though with Simon home that work is halved.

In some respects I find Fridays a little bit of a let-down. Throughout the week, in the mad scramble to get to the end of the day, and the tiredness and mental strain of getting so many things done and figured out, Friday is the light at the end of the tunnel. Somehow just having the knowledge that there is a day of “nothingness”, where nothing is planned and there are no expectations and nothing to “get done”, is like a glimpse of heaven that keeps me going.

Unfortunately, though, sometimes I can have such a glowing expectation for how awesome and wonderful Friday is going to be, that when it finally comes it can be a bit of a damp squid. I am too tired to attempt any of the creative projects that I have been looking forward to all week. I try not to do any unnecessary work, other than the bare minimum of food preparation and cleaning up after ourselves. So I sit on the couch and try to read, or to relax….But just being still and looking around our lounge for five minutes without distraction makes all the things that I need to do but haven’t gotten around to during the week jump out at me. Arrrgh! The admin pile. Arrgghh! That letter I forgot to post. Arrgghh! The carpet is changing colour from olive green to grey. One needs blinkers to be able to rest in your own house.

Still, it is a discipline that is most necessary. I HAVE to stop at some point. Even though the stress and mental noise from the week is very difficult to turn off, and it usually takes me until lunchtime before I feel like I can let my thoughts wander in a productive way. If I can’t stop at some point in the week and press the reset button, it’s only a matter of time before things derail.

Every Friday Isaac and Simon sit down together and spend a couple of hours playing games on Simon’s laptop. It is a special treat that is looked forward to all week (by both boys!). Every other day Isaac asks Simon if it’s Friday. Usually this is communicated as, “Papa, let me tell you a secret…” Then he comes in close, and in a hot, breathy whisper says in his ear, “Papa, it’s Friday?…’Pluter games?”

Having a rhythm of rest every week is certainly not a new idea. Back in the old days it was highly frowned upon to break the “Sabbath” and some families even ate cold food prepared the day before so that absolutely no work was done on Sunday. (hmm….there might be something to that, actually!) For our family, Sunday is the busiest and most draining day of the week, so there’s no point in being pedantic about that sort of thing. But, we think a day of rest is a good idea, so we rest on a Friday. We do ‘pluter games and read and write and do lots of “nothing”. Sometimes it’s boring, sometimes it’s bliss, but it’s always essential. Speaking of which, I still have a whole lot of nothing left to do, so I’d best be off to go and do it.

reading on friday (2)

Something’s Gotta Give

The rain is raining all around,
It falls on field and tree,
It rains on the umbrellas here,
And on the ships at sea.
– Robert Louis Stevenson

flood warnings

If January is blue, then February is probably dark-grey. Maybe even charcoal. And wet.

Tis the season of coughs, colds and sniffles. Braving the elements on the way to and from school has become the biggest part of our day. The kids absolutely love it – armed to the hilt with waterproofs, rubber-soled wellies and oversized umbrellas, they lean into the wind with glee. While my anxiety levels are never as low as they should be even on calm, sunny days, given the current weather conditions they are now entering the red.

What it takes to get out of the door! Judah is bundled into a cozy cocoon at the bottom half of the buggy. He usually protests strongly, a dummy is perfunctorily shoved in his mouth. Rain cover half over the buggy. Isaac and Evie do the coats, hats, scarves and gloves drill. (“Coats, hats, scarves and gloves! …Did you hear me? Coats, hats, scarves…yes, hats…and gloves, don’t forget the gloves! ….Come ON, Isaac! ….Coats, hats, scarves, gloves! ….Coat, Evie!” It’s a bit similar to Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes except with less enthusiasm)

Finally, everyone is ready. Then I realise I don’t have my shoes on. Or my coat. I turn my back for a second. I come back to the buggy and find that Isaac has thrown his gloves across the room and Evie is pulling Judah’s hat off. “What are you doing?! Open the door! Let’s go!” We are about to cross the threshold. “Mommy mommy, I need a wee!” Sigh….

There are some good things about this weather – like now, when Isaac is home after a long week of school and busyness, and we are all snuggled up inside. I can hear some wrestling going on in the lounge, as well as Judah-smooching and the gentle pops and whizzes of computer games. Our house is cosy, warm and dry, while it looks positively awful outside. The contrast of grey, wet misery with the warm, bright, happiness indoors is very pleasing.

The whole of the UK is glued to the weather channel, as we watch evidence of severe flooding and flood warnings creeping closer and closer to London. The news teams are using phrases like “weather attack” and “military deployed to help” which makes it seem like we are battling a deadly foe. Which I suppose in some cases we are. There are countless pictures of cars and homes awash, and others with sandbags piled high. Here, even though we are very close to the Thames, things seem relatively unchanged, and the worst disruption to our day is the gale-force winds that seem perfectly timed to meet the school run.

While this time of year can be quite a challenge, as extra levels of mud and wet make extra laundry loads, and the constant coughs and colds drain energy and I feel like I am constantly trying to catch up with myself, seeing the scenes of disaster on the TV and in the newspapers make me very grateful that we are all safe and we are all together. I realise that Judah is already 6 and a half months (!) and I need to try and spend less time doing things FOR him, and AROUND him, and more time simply enjoying him.

CIMG5223

So, this last paragraph is dedicated to Judah:

Dear Judah, with your adorable bendy ears, your chubby cheeks, chubby legs and your funny little friar-monk hairdo…. You are so sweet, so precious and so cuddly. I love your shrieks that you make for no reason at all but to hear the sound of your own voice. I love the mmmmmm sounds that you make while you eat. I love the little foot stamp that happens when you are hungry, and the little bottom-bounce you do when you are angry. I love the way you laugh at Evie, and the way you giggle when Papa smooches your tummy. All of this will only be a blurry memory in just a few months, when you are onto the next exciting stage. I will probably get busy again tomorrow with laundry and chores and lists and pureeing food and washing dishes for you….but if something’s got to give I hope it’s not this – time to simply enjoy you.

CIMG5214

“In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.”                                                                                                 – William Blake

Small Expectations

january-blues

It is the end of January, and I can’t help but take a sigh of relief. There is something about the weeks after Christmas and New Year, when winter really starts to set in and the days are short, wet and cold, that get me all in a muddle. And I think this year, I was hit with a double-whammy… The January Blues happened to coincide with my baby blues.

For some reason, every time I hit around the 4-5 month stage, I find myself feeling a little blue. Quite tired, stressed, a bit down and overwhelmed by it all. And I think, now that I seem to have come through the other side (some things you only see with the benefit of hindsight), I have finally realised why.

You see, the first 3 months of your baby are full of the newness, excitement, awe and wonder of it all…call it the honeymoon phase. Every day you marvel at this perfect little being that has come into your life, and the euphoria spills over into all other areas of life. Tantrums by older siblings fail to frustrate, because the idea that you get to be the one to shape and mould these little lives explodes your brain all over again. Cleaning, cooking and chores are re-infused with meaning, because you are providing clothing and shelter for these divine creatures.

20130803_100130

But, even more importantly, your expectations are SMALL. “Yay, we got out of the house, all clothed and fed (for the most part).” “Yay, we made it to the shops and back without anyone getting lost or fatally hurt.” “Yay, I managed to make lunch, breastfeed and get a load of laundry in.” “Yay, for five minutes everyone has been QUIET.”

Then, as you slowly get the hang of things, adjusting to the new family size, different routines and figuring out what time you need to get up in the mornings to have five minutes in the shower, you get braver and bolder, and your expectations increase. No longer is it enough to just get everyone fed and clothed and then to bask in the joy of your little brood. NO, now you need to get the floor swept as well, and all the breakfast dishes in the sink BEFORE leaving the house.

No longer is it enough to enjoy the fact that everyone is busying themselves quietly with books or puzzles or toys for five minutes. NO, now you need to make sure that you get an interesting art project in at least once a week, and good heavens but Evie needs more tights and Isaac really could do with a haircut.

Stress mounts imperceptibly, and before I know it my to-do lists are running off the page. Also, with the better sleep and longer evenings comes the feeling that I really ought to be taking on more responsibilities outside of my little home. I itch for something different, something bigger…something more ‘impactful’, I feel.

So I take on more mentoring roles at church, I become more involved in the school PTA, I volunteer to bake, I volunteer to help decorate Santa’s Grotto (side rant – is there anything more lame than Santa’s Grottos?? Even the one at Westfield failed to impress). I go crazy with the calendar, inviting all sorts of people round for tea, for dinner, for lunch. I cut myself less slack around the house; one healthy meal a day is no longer enough, dust on the coffee table seems to indicate personal weakness of character and organisation.

Before I know it, I am too busy, tired and stressed. I end up feeling incredibly frustrated with Judah for needing to be fed right at the moment I am trying to make a call. I end up barking at Isaac and Evie to hurry up and get their coats on because we’re running late because I felt I absolutely must make the beds before we leave. The penny drops, and I realise I have it all backwards.

It reminds me of Dickens’ devastating book Great Expectations, where a young boy called Pip is ruined of enjoying his life as a humble forge apprentice by the promise of a great increase in his fortunes, and the tantalising lure of a life and a love far above his current expectations. He is set up for a crushing disappointment by the cruel and haunted (and slightly insane) Miss Havisham, who intends him to feel the pain of her own heartbreak and disillusionment by not delivering all she has promised, and marrying off her beautiful daughter to another man. All is resolved in the end, but the lesson is clear: be happy and grateful for what you have – you can never have it back once it’s gone.

So now, having taken a few steps back, (and realising that I still have a very little baby for crying out loud – 6 months today, actually!) I am committed to smaller expectations. Smaller expectations that make sure the important things of life are what really matter. Time to exclaim at pretty reflections in the puddles on the way to school. Time for smooches and wrestle-cuddles, no matter how busy and hectic the day is. Time for impromptu tea-parties. Yes, it is lovely to be able to invite more friends over for dinner, and yes, I do like having all the washing done at the end of the day. But not at the expense of enjoying my little brood.

2013-10-24 16.08.21

The things that are seen are temporary;
The things that are unseen are eternal.

Circle of Trust

 

“Jesus is a stinky-bottom.” Isaac giggles, a cheeky grin on his face. We stare at him, open-mouthed, across the dinner table. Only for a second, though, as soon we are laughing too. It would seem that Jesus has finally received the ultimate seal of approval. He is thoroughly part of the Bardone clan now, part of our inner-circle.

Circle of trust

We have all been christened with this privileged title at some point in time, along with various prefixes and suffixes along the lines of “Papa-poop” or “poopy, stinky-bottom-mama” (a particularly expressive spurt of affection). I don’t know what it is that is so amusing about bodily functions, but it seems to feature heavily in life under the age of 5.

The fact that Jesus has been called a “stinky-bottom” might seem irreverent or inappropriate to some people, but to someone who understands Isaac’s world, it is a sign of deep admiration. Only a precious few have been given this title. While he is incredibly funny, goofy and rambunctious at home, outside of it and our family he can be quite shy and reserved. People who know him from school or church or out and about are always amazed at how talkative and welcoming he is when they come through our front door. He’s a bit like the King of the Castle welcoming humble peasants.

I remember how pleased my Mom was when she came to visit us at Judah’s birth, and after about day two or three she was greeted at the bottom of the stairs by a, “Stinky-bottom-granny!” before scuttling off to the kitchen. While I gasped in horror, she said, not to worry, she knew now she was accepted.

To us, it is a wonderful thing to watch our children grow more and more aware of God as a reality, an unseen, vibrant, personal force right at the centre of our family. A person’s journey to knowing God is such a personal, inexplicable thing that we could never force our children to be religious. However, we do feel that it is the most wonderful, beautiful thing in the world to know God and to know His love, and because we love our kids so much, we hope and pray fervently that they will eventually get to that place.

So, it has been so lovely watching them absorb and process faith in God – from bedtime prayers (“Please bless Bumba, Bumba, Bumba and Bumba Fred” – the Grandparents) to watching a silent film at the back of our small 6pm service on a Sunday while Simon speaks, or even down to asking God to help us find the Lego lightsaber!

Lately they have started requesting to be the ones to say the prayer at dinner. Isaac’s went something like this: “Dear God, please help us to be strong, to wrestle, to be strong and to play. Amen.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.

While I do hope that the terms of endearment in our house become a little more polite and sophisticated in the years to come, of our small number of special friends and family that are in Isaac’s circle of trust, I am pleased to say that Jesus is one.

 

Purple, Rabid Minions

2012-05-21 09.08.26

I don’t know what it is about bath-time. Every night, no matter what time it is or how tired Isaac and Evie are, this miraculous transformation occurs as soon as their dripping feet hit the bathmat. In the short space of time it takes for me to throw the towel around their shoulders, they become these naked whirling dervishes who shimmy around shrieking at the tops of their voices.

Usually this ends with them disappearing underneath one of the duvets, naked rear-ends whisked out of sight. Oblivious to my orders to get out and get dressed, a quivering, giggling mass under the bedclothes, I realise I have to join their little game or be thoroughly beaten. So I sigh, assume a ferocious growl and pounce….

2013-03-27 19.10.11

Eventually they are all sitting sweetly, pyjamas on, while Papa reads them bedtime stories, with no trace of the energetic performances only a few minutes previously. It never fails to amaze me how quickly they can transition from one state of being to the next. Although their antics are very funny and entertaining at times, on the whole it is thoroughly exhausting!

They remind me a little of the minions in one of our favourite animated movies, Despicable Me. Those cute little yellow guys who speak in gibberish and laugh at silly things like gurgling water fountains and photocopied bottoms. They encapsulate the innocence and capriciousness of childhood to a ‘T’. The second film, however, which came out just recently, showcases a type of super-minion who has been transformed by an evil superhero into a rabid, purple, and indestructible monster who quivers uncontrollably and says, “Bah!” I fear my offspring are more reflective of this latter stage of minion evolution than the former.

This week I felt like I, too, have assumed some of the “purple-rabid-minion”-esque qualities. Although mine has not been induced by some powerful concoction being injected to me, but rather from the simple fact that I have not allowed myself to drink tea or coffee. Our church has gone on a fast this week, in order to “consecrate” ourselves to God for 2014. I thought I was being clever by fasting tea and coffee, instead of food. It has not been pretty.

Evil-Minion

I don’t often do well on fasts. Generally it seems that the inner beast is revealed, as I am either extremely grumpy from being hungry or craving something, or having a huge headache from my body detoxing. Like this week, by the end of day one I was so desperate for a cup of tea that I was shoving chocolate down my throat and lying down under a blanket in an attempt to placate my deprived body. Woe-betide the poor person who wanted to wake me for something and got hissed at. There is something wrong with this picture, I thought to myself, surely the point of a fast is not to deprive yourself of one thing so that you can comfort yourself with another thing? Surely it is to remind oneself that “man cannot live by bread [or tea] alone”?

Well. Point proven. I am utterly useless without tea, and, for that matter, without God. Thankfully I have taken most of today to redeem my horrid behaviour this week, and it has been much better. Hopefully all purple minions have been banished from the house…. At least until after bath tonight.

2013-07-22 18.57.05

Thank you, Mr Postman

As my late Grandpa Boo used to say, “Too much of a good thing is….Wonderful!” That’s sort of what post-Christmas excess feels like. We have eaten too much, watched too much TV, slept too much (although as a parent of young kids that is almost impossible) and definitely got too many toys!

CIMG5159

What excitement there has been each time there is a sound at the front door! Evie drops whatever she is doing, screams, “Post!” and runs to see if there is anything shoved through the letterbox or lying on the floor. Most days it’s just bills or leaflets, but this month all sorts of interesting parcels, cards and packages have been arriving. I have had a hard time convincing them that there is “probably nothing interesting inside” and that “we should wait until Christmas” before opening them.

What amazing spoiling went on this Christmas – Lego and treehouses and puzzles and all sorts of games and books. What the Grandparents missed out on in face-time this year they definitely made up for in toys. I’m sure the Amazon.co.uk employees were cursing inwardly, frantically scrambling through their gigantic warehouses to find items as Isaac and Evie’s grandparents happily clicked away on the other side of the world.

I do feel sorry for those luckless Christmas elves working at online retailers, or Royal Mail employees for that matter. They have their work cut out for them to wrap, post, carry and deliver countless parcels and Christmas cards while we sit at home on our computers and sigh, “Ah, Christmas shopping is so much easier this way,” and reach for another chocolate, feeling rather clever.

Amazon package

But I guess Christmas is about sitting back and letting somebody else do the work, (as I am all too painfully aware of as a parent of young kids who are reaching the age of “Christmas awareness”). I had no idea of the amount of cooking, planning, wrapping and preparation involved to make a happy and exciting Christmas for everyone! As I look back on countless Christmases and holidays through my childhood I marvel at the supreme sense of entitlement I had – Of Course there would be lots of food, Of Course there would be lots of presents, of course there would be lots of swimming in the pool and playing with cousins outside (I grew up in the Southern Hemisphere), and of course all of this would just “magically” happen.

That is one of the glories of childhood; a blissful unawareness of responsibility, and I’m not suggesting that that should change. But I do find myself so grateful for the hard work that my own mother must have put in in the past, and even indeed for the people who do some of my unpleasant work in the present. I noticed this morning, as we were having Simon’s fabulous scrambled eggs and bacon, that the rubbish men were out, collecting all the bin bags and recycling. For a moment I wanted to rush out and offer them hot chocolate and mince pies, saying thank you for their tireless service while we laze about in pyjamas. But, the moment passed, and my senses returned (Thankfully, I thought, as I poured myself another cup of tea).

But the sentiment has remained, and I am so grateful for the many people who work hard to make our lives and special holidays what they are – the patient shop assistants, deliverymen, online retailers, street sweepers, rubbish collectors, postmen, and yes, mothers. I do hope that they know how valuable they are, and what a gift they give us, even if we don’t always show our appreciation. Maybe in the New Year I’ll have some hot chocolate and mince pies ready for the next postman who knocks on our door…. Maybe.

Postman Pat

Deck The Halls

stylish-christmas-decorations-for-the-house-master

It’s that time of year…. Lights everywhere, laughing children, a myriad of Christmas decorations (some tasteful, some less so), a sense of magic and mystery in the air. Everyone seems happy to see you – I get a chocolate with my latte at the local coffee shop, the ill-fated customer services assistants at the till wearing Santa-hats are all smiles (they are obviously delighted with the rise in sales) and even the grumpy Laundromat owner whose good cheer usually could curdle milk wishes me a “happy Christmas”. Everyone is full of “peace and goodwill to all mankind”.

Everyone that is, except the mothers. You look at these haggard, frantic poor souls desperately trying to tick off the to-do lists, buggy’s creaking under the weight of presents and bags and last-minute errands and decorations and Christmas cards, trying to remember what day the school Christmas lunch is, which old uncle and aunt has been forgotten off the Christmas card list and whether they have got enough spices for the mulled wine. They smile when they see you, but their eyes look slightly mad and there is a nervous tick in their necks. What they’re really saying is, “Somebody, please! Kill Santa and rescue me from this madness!” Or perhaps it’s just me.

I am so so utterly tired from the last two weeks. I was frantically sewing on buttons for Isaac’s Christmas school play, helping him sign 30 Christmas cards for all his classmates, making and decorating Christmas cards for our friends and family, baking, shopping, planning, etcetera etcetera ad infinitum. I thought I was doing better than last year, when I really was such a Grinch I didn’t even feel like having a Christmas tree. But I seem to have swung totally the other way, and now I feel like the best part of Christmas is going to be the day after. They should have a national day called “National Mother’s Day Specifically For Mums Recovering From Christmas”, when all the mums strung out on wrapping paper, endless ribbon and turkey stuffing can go to a quiet place and rock to and fro.

All was redeemed this morning, however. There was a beautiful moment, when we were all sitting in the school hall watching the kids sing Christmas carols. They started on Away in A Manger, and immediately the tears welled up. Not because I was remembering the scratchy Mary-costume made out of old curtains that my mom made for me when I was little, but because finally, I felt that the true meaning of Christmas was being communicated. It isn’t about the lights, or the chocolates, or the cards, or even the presents…it’s about a King being born into the world. And he was born in a simple stable, with straw and cows and sheep…. not with a whole lot of grandeur and pomp, or even much planning on Mary’s part.

So, I am hanging up my Santa hat and leaving all the planning be (for now). I want to enjoy Christmas for what it’s really about – celebrating something wonderful and special with the people who I love. And yes, there will be lights, and yes there will be chocolate. But, hopefully, there will not be stress. Thank God for Christmas. What a special, magical, time of year it is indeed.

Why I’ll Never Be A Ballet Dancer

snowflakes

Evie and I are watching Tchaikovsky’s ballet “The Nutcracker”, admiring the pretty dancing and soaking in the glorious music. The costumes are gorgeous, the dancers beautiful (even the men – why, Oh Why do they make those tights so tight?!!) and the scenery is just magical. My favourite part is always when the Christmas tree grows big up out of the floor. I can tell Evie likes it too.

Two DVD’s arrived in the post a few weeks ago, courtesy of Granny Fee in South Africa, one of which was “The Nutcracker” and other was “You Can Be a Ballet Dancer”. As a result, all Evie has wanted to watch in the past two weeks has been little girls in poofy tutus and very tight hairbuns tripping daintily across the dance floor. It is very cute. I always thought that I would love for my children to learn how to be little ballerinas.

Back in Sub A (Year One in the UK), I took ballet classes in an old church hall along with most of my school mates. We learned how to point our toes, put our feet in the different positions, and hold onto the bar. We learned how to be fairies and how to hold up our arms nicely. Once I tried to be a monkey instead of an angel during improvisation and got told off (personally I think it was very creative to try and hang off the bar by my feet!) I was the only one in the class to get a “C” instead of an “A”, and all I can remember about the exam is my teacher frowning at my feet, and the fact that my pudding-bowl-shaped haircut wouldn’t fit nicely into a bun (thanks, Mom!)

Ballet is beautiful, pretty and ethereal, but it is also rather stifling, and, I have finally realised (with some level of relief), that it is not my favourite kind of dancing, nor one that I necessarily want to enforce upon my children. I can remember my drama teacher at University (a very regal personality of epic fleshly proportions) showing us two clips of different cultures’ standards of beauty in dance.

The first was a line of dainty, graceful, pale-skinned ballet dancers floating across the stage (looking rather anaemic), and the second was of a crowd of large, sweating Zulu women, ululating and taking it in turns to throw their legs high into the air and stamp them down on the ground, massive thighs and breasts quivering, and shrieking with laughter if one of them lost their balance and fell. The difference between the two was quite breath-taking.

Royal Zulu Reed Dance

Thinking about these two extremes takes me back to one of the most life-changing and dramatic times in my life.

I am standing in front of the mirror in the hospital toilet, looking at myself for the first time since having given birth to Isaac. Weak and shaky, my head is still swimming with the enormity of what I have just been through. My body is sore, swollen, broken and a bit messy, not anything you would ever see in a magazine or on a billboard. But I am in awe. It hits me forcibly, what an awe-inspiring, breath-taking, divine work of art I am beholding. This body, this beautiful, beautiful, body, has done something so spectacular and so mind-blowing I can hardly believe it. It has produced life – the most beautiful, perfect little life I have ever seen.

pregnantbelly

I thought of all the years of self-loathing and dieting, all the years of moaning and complaining and the mental beatings I would give myself for not being thin enough, smooth enough, small enough, fit enough. I am so sorry, I mouth, you are so beautiful, so strong and so miraculous. It felt something like that beautiful Christmas morning must have been, when the angels sang Noel and the shepherds marvelled. I realised that I would never see my body the same way again.

Now, a few years and two more children later, a level of respect and deep appreciation for my body has remained with me. I no longer lament that I am not a graceful, lithe ballet-dancer-type. I rejoice that I am strong, and fertile, and that my babies grow big and fat and healthy. Surely there is no greater thing. I remember coming back to the ballet class one year after a fateful, chocolate-laden Christmas with my overly-generous Grandparents. My teacher arched her eyebrows, “My, but you got fat!

While I have no desire to be massively overweight or unhealthy, my perspective on what is beautiful will never be the same. And while I can admire and respect those dedicated, talented dancers at the Royal Ballet, you can be sure that I will encourage my children to choose a dance that is perhaps more true to life – something that is exuberant and joyous and full of strength and passion (perhaps the Flamenco would be a good place to start). Or at least something a little more free and frivolous – like tap-dancing or hip-hop for instance. Failing that, we will resort to the tunes on Simon’s phone, while Isaac jives and shimmies around the lounge shouting, “Look Mama, my body is full of silly games!”

Our bodies are so beautiful, gifts from God, the creator of life. I wish we always gave them the respect, love and admiration they deserve, whether slim, graceful, large or vibrant. They nourish life and are full of miracles every day.