Love Finds Me

I am here. Here I am. Portland, Oregon, the Pacific Northwest coast of America. Before that it was Corvallis, Oregon, and then again before that Visalia, California, and then a half-breath before that, London, England. Wait… How did I get here again? I feel like half of my stomach is still left in its place at Chiswick, London. The merry-go-round has been whirling so fast my innards have not yet caught up with my outside. That is how I feel, spiritually, emotionally, physically. Like a plant that has been planted, then transplanted, then transplanted again, over and over.

I give my new friends I meet a big disclaimer: I am tired of making new friends. But you seem nice. And I force myself to, to be brave, to keep pressing forwards, to keep an open heart and a gay outlook. In every new place, everything is possible. For the kids’ sake, for Simon’s sake… For my sake.

I have found myself crying for my past houses every time we move. And every time we move, it is like I say goodbye to each of them, all over again. The big white damp house in Chiswick. My very first garden, huge and overgrown. The old but immaculate craftsman-style house in Visalia. The ugly brown house in Corvallis that oddly enough turned out to be my very favourite. Like a bulldog – brown with a snub-nose but comfortable, sturdy and loyal. And our most recent  house here in Portland on Richmond Street that I could never really get on good terms with, with its funny angles and strange proportions.

I loved it though; the kids racing up and down the sidewalks playing carefree; casual yet rich conversations with the neighbors as we mutually tend our growing gardens; the roses along the side of the house wooing away the fact that the garage hung like a backside out into the street. I would stand at the kitchen window, doing dishes, looking out over a patio filled with my flowers, to the sunny grassy patch that was always dotted with children. One rolling down the slope. Two fighting a light-saber duel, disappearing and reappearing from behind the garage. Yet another bending over to examine something in a bush, deep in her imagination. I miss it so, it is still so fresh.

None of these houses were all that special. But we lived in them, and breathed our lives into them, and I feel that they could speak, crammed with our loving and being and hurting and laughing and coming and going. I cannot think of our lives but in terms of where we were when things happened. The house which held the moment becomes for me the frame that holds the memory.

Now we are in our latest house, our very own first house. It still feels strange, as though the previous people haven’t quite left the walls and bathroom mirrors yet. We unpack slowly and everything finds its place. I am overwhelmed with excitement and at the same time a sense of dread. To start over…again.

But, I am confident that love will continue to find me, in this, as in every house we have made pilgrimage through. We are here because we answered a call, following we knew not where… but we knew Who.

Faithful is He who calls you, and He will also bring it to pass – The Bible

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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

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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.

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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.

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

Small Expectations

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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.

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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.

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

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!

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

Flamenco: Beauty and Passion

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We just spent a week in Madrid for a Pastors’ Bootcamp. Although it sounds intimidating, it was actually a phenomenal time of training, learning, prayer, lots of eating and (a personal favourite) lovely Spanish red wine! I think Judah was delighted with the amount of food I consumed, as milk production at the mama-factory was at an all-time high.

The Spanish have quite different rhythms of life, as lunch is only eaten at 2pm, usually consists of four courses and lasts for two hours, and supper is only at about 9pm or later. We heard life outside our hotel windows well past midnight, and everything is dead until at least 10 or so in the morning. And I felt like I was on holiday, because there was no cooking, no cleaning, and no laundry! (although now I am still trying to clear the backlog)

The Spanish people are wonderful – warm, passionate, strong and gritty, yet sensitive. I got the feeling one would not like to get in a fight with a Spanish person, but if one did, it would be quite possible to kiss each other soundly on the cheek afterwards and end up at a Tapas bar somewhere drinking copious amounts of wine and slapping the table together.

Probably the highlight of the trip for me was a visit to see a Flamenco dance on our last night. It was a special treat organised for us by the church in Madrid. After a short walk through bustling streets, we were ushered into a dimly lit, large upper room of a restaurant. It seemed impossibly old with exquisite wood carvings and mosaics all around the walls and ceilings. There was a great sense of history and majesty, rather like walking into an old church, except here there was a busy hum of conversation and a crackle of something electric in the air.

Then there was a hush as a small group filed onto a high stage in the middle of the room. A guitarist, a singer and three dancers. We all fell quiet, sipping our drinks, as the guitarist began to play and the singer leaned into the microphone. He sang, a wonderful husky, haunting sound, the notes tumbling and falling over each other and mingling with the plaintive, sweet melody of the acoustic guitar, racing up and down the scales like water. Then a dancer appeared at the edge of the stage.

Poised like a lioness, she moved slowly and deliberately, her hands fluttering and fluid, and her face contorted with pain and deep emotion. Then with a flash of hands and a violent stamp of her feet the guitar broke into an agitated strumming, and the pace accelerated. The other dancers clapped and stamped their heavy shoes, as she flew and twirled and twisted and stamped. The power in her feet was incredible – their staccato on the floor sounded like thunder, and every time she twirled to crash them down, it felt like the air was vibrating with explosions. Faster and faster she went, the musicians sweating to keep up and the other dancers clapping and shouting their pleasure.

When she finished, with one final crash of her shoes to the wooden floor, her immaculate headdress was quivering with exertion, and her face was covered in a glowing sheen. The audience applauded and shouted rapturously. Then the next dancer got up, and the next. I was blown away by the strength and power these men and women showed. Tightly controlled and sensuous, with the hands fluttering and rippling around their bodies like birds trying to break free, it was as though something deep was working its way to the surface and releasing itself in the power of those crashes of the feet to the floor.

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Tanya, a missionary in Madrid, was sitting next to me, and she leaned across to show me some writing on her phone about the Flamenco. Apparently it was a peasant dance originating from the Andalusian mountains, a personal expression of poor people groups and oppressed ethnic minorities. It has a wide range of influences from all over the world.

It struck me, as I watched these impassioned dancers, living and breathing this wild Flamenco, that the deep emotion they were expressing was part of the dance’s beauty. The fact that centuries of history and human experience could be so caught up in a dance was mesmerising.

It spoke to me of how much beauty can be borne out of pain, and how, channelled in the right direction, even the most negative experience can result in great depth and richness of expression. Much like many of the African-American spiritual songs sung by the slaves on cotton farms in America, there was something about the Flamenco that spoke deeply to my soul.

I thought about how the pain of having children (not only literally, as in childbirth, but figuratively, as I sacrifice many of my pleasures daily) has wrought so much character and spiritual formation in me, and also how much joy and pleasure our children bring us day to day. It also reminded me to channel my frustrations, and to find a positive expression for the deep things that lurk beneath the (sometimes) superficiality of my busy life.

I love Spain, the people, its culture and its dance. I hope to go back there someday…. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll have the courage to buy some shoes and learn the Flamenco.

Who Do You Think You Are?

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This week I was asked to write a guest post for a friend’s blog. Here’s a little taster:

[It’s a favourite game around our dinner table. It started with Simon teasing one of the kids that he couldn’t remember who he was. This sort of thing usually results in wild protestations and many mutinous moans and groans, and this occasion was no different.
“I’m Isaac,” proclaims Simon.
Isaac protests, “No! You’re Papa!”
“I’m Evie?”
“No!”
“I’m Judah?”
“No!!” (This was accompanied with a frustrated little fist-pump) “No, Papa! You’re Papa!”
“No, that’s Papa,” (Simon points at me).
“Arrrghhh! Pa-pa!”

Simon cracks up laughing. Suddenly the penny drops, and Isaac’s face breaks into a grin. He says, slowly, trying it out, “No, that’s not papa, that’s Isaac.” (Pointing at me.)
Simon asks, “Then who are you?”
Isaac thinks. “I’m…I’m…Mama!” (This seems a little too overwhelming) “No – no, I’m Evie.”
Evie screams, “Noooooo!!”
We all have a good laugh.

It’s amazing how intrigued the children are by this game of pretence and false identity. It messes with their heads in the most delightfully transparent way. We frequently play this at mealtimes, and now even Evie joins in. It’s a very important question, to a little person, “Who am I?” Or perhaps, just as importantly, “Who am I not?”….]

For the full article go to: Who Do You Think You Are? at the sisterhoodstickynotes.wordpress.com website.

We Shouldn’t But We Do

scha·den·freu·de. noun, often capitalized \ˈshä-dən-ˌfrȯi-də\. : a feeling of enjoyment that comes from seeing or hearing about the troubles of other people.

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I have a friend who is, I think, the perfect mom. She has a lovely house, not too tidy, very spacious and pleasantly arranged. There is always a smell of home cooking, and some creative project half-finished in a corner. Her kids are also lovely, with a range of personalities from shy to outgoing. They aren’t too precocious, neither are they too annoying. They are all pleasant and interesting, and when they have meltdowns they tend to be of the milder variety. (The Bardone/Hobson brand seems particularly tempestuous).

She keeps the most important things the most important. She doesn’t care about them wearing fancy shoes and clothing, for example (even though they are quite well-off) because she would far rather that they be climbing trees and playing in puddles. She also has a great sense of humour, and doesn’t seem to let even the most annoying and tiresome of situations make her tense or stressed. I wish I could be more like her.

Come to think of it, there are lots of moms I could compare myself to. This one is so good at remembering birthdays and being organised in terms of preparing and planning for the day ahead. (I tend to be the one careering round corners with things half-falling out of the buggy as we rush to get somewhere on time.) That one has a spotless house, a knife is cleaned up and tidied away almost as soon as it hits the surface of the kitchen counter (I needn’t tell you about the state of my kitchen). This one home-schools, gets to input into her kids’ lives every moment of every day; that one takes her kids to swimming lessons, ballet lessons and French lessons; this one is always taking them to museums and things; that one has the patience of a saint….There always seems to be someone who is doing something better than I am.

Such is often the case in the worry-laden and guilt-ridden life of a parent. I want so desperately to be the best mother humankind has ever produced, with children who are happy and healthy and perfect all the time. Sometimes I feel like I’m doing pretty well, like last week when we were walking in the park (see last week’s post). And then we have a rager of a day when Isaac and Evie are at each other’s throats, Judah is teething and can’t stop crying, I drop the compost bin all over the kitchen and completely lose my sense of humour, and I think to myself, “I am so glad school starts tomorrow!!” So much for not being one of those kinds of moms.

My own mother always says, “Children are great levellers.” Which I guess means that just when you think you have got it all sorted, your kids will do something to show you and everyone else that actually, you really haven’t.

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Come to think of it, nobody is as perfect as they seem: the one whose house is spotless always seems to be stressed and harried; that one who home-schools never gets enough time for herself; and the one who has the patience of a saint actually has kids that are pretty obnoxious little terrors who could do with a good barking at every once in a while.  We are all in the same boat, all trying our best to be our best. So we really shouldn’t compare ourselves.

All the same, last week I couldn’t help myself. We were sitting on a park bench having lunch and enjoying the sun; Isaac and Evie eating contentedly and Judah watching everything in his chilled, happy way. Then we heard shrieking and angry shouts from across the street. Heading towards us was a family, obviously on their way to a picnic themselves. The smallest child was screaming and crying. They came closer, and we realised it was a girl from Isaac’s class. She was striding ahead, casting off things in a fury as she went. First the scooter, then the coat, stamping her feet and roaring magnificently.

Behind her marched her sisters and mother (a very beautiful, slim woman who is always terribly organised and looks amazing), who was snatching everything up and shouting, “You’re going straight to your room when we get home!” As they passed us she smiled sheepishly and they hurried on, the shouts getting fainter.

We were silent for a while, then Isaac casually remarked, “She was being very naughty, wasn’t she, Mama?” “Yeah,” Evie chimed in sagely, shaking her head, “Naughty.” We carried on eating; somehow the afternoon seemed even better and sunnier than before. I bit into my sandwich, enjoying a satisfying moment. The Germans have it right, I thought. Besides, tomorrow it will probably be me.

Keeping the Love Tank Full

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“I love you, Mama. You are my best friend.” It’s a sign that all is well with Isaac’s soul. We are walking home after a lovely sunny day out and about, and his hand slips into my pocket (both mine are engaged with pushing the pram.) I agree with his sentiment; life feels good. It’s a crisp autumn day, with not a breath of wind, and the sun feels warm and toasty on our faces. Evie is placated and dozy after being allowed to sit in the pram, and Judah is asleep.

I treasure these moments during the half-term holiday, when I have all three of my children with me and we have the leisure to do as we please. No school runs, no deadlines to meet, no uniforms to clean or book bags to think about.

Too often I bump into people on the street or at the children’s centre, and they roll their eyes saying, “How’s the half-term going?” as if to say, “How’s your root canal?” or “How’s your involuntary week of slave labour?” I always smile and say, “We’re having great fun!” or “I love half-term!” And they respond, “Oh, right…” (awkward pause)… “Good for you!” I guess I’m lucky I don’t have to worry about the pressures of an office job, or how having my kids at home all day for a week will inconvenience my busy schedule.

That phrase, “I love you Mama, you are my best friend,” is one which presents itself at particular times in Isaac’s repertoire of amusing/heart-warming utterances. Usually after I have made him “egg and bread with mustard and ‘mato sauce”, or pesto pasta, garlic bread or hamburgers. Or letting him watch a couple of episodes of his favourite TV show, The Octonauts. Or even just giving him a good back scratch. It doesn’t take much to fill his little love tank.

I do think kids should come with a built-in fuel gauge that you could check – “Hmmm, meltdown occurring, let’s see – ah, yes, love tank light is on, it needs filling.” If the love tank is full, everything is happy, even a trip to the doctor to get routine immunisations.

As we walk across Duke’s Meadows, a lovely open space that allows the wind to blow more wildly and strongly than in our cosy little cul-de-sac, our eyes sting slightly from the breeze and our faces are feeling fresh. Isaac might be feeling sore, but his heart is happy.

I think about all the simple things that we enjoy together, and the moments that bring life and sunshine into my life in the middle of all the busyness and stress. Autumn leaves; trips to the park to feed the ducks; beautiful music (see previous post Rediscovering Tchaikovsky); a phone call from across the seas; a glass of wine cuddled up on the couch watching a movie with Simon; coffee with a friend.

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Isaac’s hand in my pocket is a good reminder to me to keep my own love-tank full.