The Nugget

PLEASE SHIP TO THE UK, my fingers screamed into my keyboard. Then I really thought about it and realised that no, I do not have £400 to spend on a sofa type thing that sounds like a mini chicken goujon. In addition, I do not have the space to house a sofa-type thing that kids can climb on. Maybe that is why they don’t sell the ‘Nugget’ in the UK, because houses here are so small that we cannot make room for children to play daring games on climbey things.

No we just make do with our own personal sofas, you know, the ones we sit on, for our children to make obstacle courses with and throw themselves off head first in their quests to understand what their little bodies can handle as they grow into human beings and parts of the society.

It doesn’t make any sense, you know, that houses here are so small. The weather is only nice for about 3 months out of twelve, and so the rest of the time most kids spend cooped up indoors because it’s either raining or just too darn cold to layer up in one million layers and slip and slide in the mud outside before coming home and doing a massive clean to remove all traces of the outside world from one’s teeny tiny living room.

BECAUSE HOUSES HERE ARE TINY, did I mention that?

So if we have to spend more time indoors, why not make houses bigger?

The thousand hours outside people will tell you that kids should be out in nature no matter the rain or snow or sleet or blizzard, and I would agree that it does wonders for the mood and the brain and for exploration and for living in general. However, I also still think houses here are too small, and that it’s tough work taking small kids outside in the mud and cold every single day. One gets frustrated with all the cleaning one has to do. Mud and wet grass are awfully messy and gunky things to have on one’s carpets and sofas and all up in the many crevices of baby fat folds.

All this to say, I really want a Nugget.

An expensive sofa type climbey thing that kids can use to jump on, climb over, make forts with and generally be creative. I think my kids would love it. They are ruining my nice sofas with their games and climbing and I think this would get them off my sofas in my teeny house and onto their own climbey things. I also want them to be able to climb and jump about without me feeling like I want to pull my teeth out in frustration. I also think they need to release energy indoors when it’s especially cold and I have no energy to let them roll around in icy mud or poke sticks in icy pools of puddles that are really overflowing drains at the local park.

I can’t justify a Nugget because we are now in a ‘cost of living crisis’, but I want one nevertheless.

I won’t get one.

But I want one.

And I am just putting this out into the ether, as the stars twinkle above me, as the wind roars in the trees, as the cold air drafting through the windows whispers of a tough winter to come.

Secret Toast

He always asked for secret toast. His bedside table stacked with books, the curtains always flung wide open and the windows dangling on the edges of falling off. Surges of winter air when the months were cold and gusts of fresh earthy breeze in spring. In the summer hot air pregnant with the scent of the roses outside and the apple trees burdened with their scarlet load. Tangy and sweet.

Secret toast, melted butter, the thinnest layer of strawberry preserves. Preferably with a cup of tea. Cocoa when he was smaller. Becky would bring it upstairs to him. After he was tucked in bed. After the lights were turned off. After he had brushed his teeth. He would hear the familiar creak of the stairs down the hallway. The squeeze of the floorboard just outside his bedroom door. Secret toast and hot cocoa.

‘Now eat up and go straight to sleep,’ Becky would say, leaving him with it.

She wouldn’t sit and talk to him, or play a game of chess. He never stopped pleading. By the light of the moon, he sat alone in his bedroom eating his secret toast and sipping his warm hot cocoa. Sometimes the stars would twinkle through the large windows of his childhood bedroom. Sometimes the stars would twinkle through the dormer window of his adult attic. Studio attic. Stacks of books everywhere, no shelves to put them in. Stacks of books neatly put away in shelves in his childhood, probably by Becky.

Secret toast at 12am, 1am, 2am, three.

Secret toast with butter and the thinnest layer of the cheapest jam he could find at the local corner shop. Cup of tea with a splash of milk and a tablespoon of sugar. Sweet and strong, like arms guiding him through the tough moments of it all.

The loneliness of it.

But the comfort in its familiarity.

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To Froth

I bought myself a milk frother. Actually in today’s language that isn’t quite true. I ordered myself one. It’s a little machine whisk, the handle of which contains a battery. The whisk part is a small circle of wire with a curly wire going all over it, and it vibrates or spins when you press the button on its handle.

You can froth milk, or cream, or in my case, a teaspoon of instant coffee and a teaspoon of sugar in a tablespoon of boiling water. Froth that right up until its thick and foamy and double the size of the liquid. Then add boiling water and a teensy splash of warmed milk and there you have something delicious.

Something like a cappuccino, but lighter, frothier, tastier and way cheaper. You can have it as many times a day as your jitters will allow.

Early in the morning before your kids wake up and drag you backwards through a hedge.

Late at night when they are asleep and you’re desperately typing away at your laptop keyboard trying to get this big project done.

In the afternoon, at 3pm precisely, when a wave of deep exhaustion slaps you on both cheeks and then parks its bottom on your eyelids. Heavy heavy, limbs like lead, but you sip from that sweet foam and you’re mildly awake again, setting about to finish off the rest of your day.

I don’t know what it is about life that feels so alien.

I want to write stories and describe things and delve into humanity’s mind, I want to talk to people and explore their minds and learn things and thoughts and opinions. But I find myself on the daily repeating a tedium that is almost set in stone. Written into my soul by the generations before me.

Duty? Law?

My grandmother and her paper thin skin and brown, wrinkly hands pop into my mind often.

I was having a conversation with my husband and mother in law about something to do with children growing up and leaving and I mentioned my grandmother and my husband said, out of the blue,

‘She was very lonely, your grandmother, wasn’t she?’

It felt like a punch in the gut. I thought about her, raising three children alone in London in the 70s, divorced and heartbroken, hardworking and efficient. She packed them all off to uni and waved goodbye as they got married and travelled across the globe and country, and there she resided in her big old Victorian house on a side street in South London.

And yes.

She was incredibly lonely.

My sweet, kind, warm, loving grandmother.

And she is no longer with us. In fact, on the 22nd of July it will have been 11 years since she passed away.

And when he said that a deep sadness rose up so suddenly that I could not control myself, so I got up to go to the kitchen under the pretext of clearing the dishes away.

‘Are you doing to cry?’ he asked me.

‘No,’ I said, as the tears gathered thick and fast in my eyes and threatened to spill out onto my cheeks. I shut the kitchen door behind me and began to wash the dishes to compose myself.

My son ran in a few moments later and his eyes were huge, ‘Mama are you sad?’ he said. He had interrupted his play to check on me.

I turned and smiled at him.

‘No sweetheart, I am not sad.’

He searched my face with his eyes for a few moments and then went back to his game, evidently appeased.

And I remembered searching my own mother’s face like he did. In fact, I still do. I search her voice and her eyes and the way her chin moves.

And I thought about how she too, would do the same to her mother. My grandmother.

I don’t know what all this means or how it relates to a milk frother and being overwhelmed.

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In Retrospect

Sometimes after a big massive fight I go away to Retrospect.

And in Retrospect, my glasses become clean. Images are sharper, crisper. The air is tantalising and if I stick my tongue out, I can taste everything. The breeze, the way the birds fly, the blossom petal on a wind current. Everything.

My regret because I pushed it.

My sadness because I pulled at it. Nitpicked it. Wanted to fight at the beach. Get it off my chest. But in doing so, it was hammering his chest.

Don’t go to bed cross, they say. I never do. Maybe I need to visit Retrospect before I try to get things off my chest in the moment.

Retrospect has a fantastic way of making you make mature decisions with your tongue.

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Human Graffiti

I have twenty eight years on this God-given earth.

I think every single human being is made to put their mark on earth, in any which way. Little dots graffitiing out way through the blip that is our lifetime, before others replace us.

And others come across our art, for it is art, really, and what do they see? What do they learn? Do they continue our mark, adding paint and fine-tuning our brush strokes? Do they add details that we never saw, burgeoning our art into something else?

A beast, maybe. Clawing its way through solid walls and leaving a trail of rubble and wreckage in its wake. Sharp, sabre toothed, bad temper, a reek you can smell through seventeen mattresses.

Or a home, silent and still. Lampshades dangling cobwebs and dust. Do they come in and brush the dust gently away, painting warm glowing light in the corners, adding colour to the drab sepia, laughter of children drifting down hallways, carpets laid fresh like green grass. Strong, strong roots. Calm, loving, old arthritic hands knitting cardigans for everybody’s babies. And then years later, when you walk down a hospital corridor with your own babies and pass a rack full of hand-knitted cardigans a warmth floods your being. You wish she was there to knit cardigans for your own babies. My Nani. My Len. My first baby, she said, always, even though I was the first daughter of her first baby.

What do you see when you stand on the old old spot where millenniums stood before you? New homes on old grounds. New parks where old schools used to be. Do you think of the ghosts of yore, or do you dream of your own future ghosts to be?

Are you caught up in this race that everybody seems to be on?

Are you clouded by other people’s emotions and expectations?

Sadness and joy.

Have to fix all pains.

Not realising that sometimes, pain has to run its course.

What is your art?

New art? Continuation of somebody else’s art?

What pictures do you draw, my friend.

6am thoughts

I look at a mountain and I ask, ‘Am I a people pleaser?’

Only the mountain is not in real life but in my memory. I would never look at a mountain in real life and have such a thought. Can you even control your thoughts? I saw some real life mountains this week and my heart was sucked out of my chest. I could breathe fine, but something strange clouded my mind.

Reading Jane Eyre reminds me of warm sweet tea and hot buttery toast. It reminds me of a square pattern pink carpet, faded by the blistering heat of the desert. It reminds me of hot days, curtains billowing in dusty wind, burning air on my cheeks as a rattly van full of sweaty children speeds along shiny wide roads. Breaking necks, lives hanging on edge.

I saw some mountains this week, and waterfalls cascading down them. Not as impressive as Niagara Falls – small trickles falling over rocks and mossy branches into lakes. Fresh air, cold noses, babies with red cheeks.

I took my babies to the Lake District – well actually my husband took us. He booked everything when I was away with the kids staying with my mother, and when I saw him again he said he’d missed us and he wanted to take us somewhere. My son loved his first ever holiday. He kept telling me he was having so much fun. He slept so well, as did his baby sister. Better than they do at home.

Am I a people pleaser? I ask the mountain in my memory.

What a beautiful mountain it was. Snow-capped, green and brown, sitting in the biting storms for centuries. People coming and going. Fashions changing – what does it care for fashion? – ages and wars and the slow, sweeping turn of the millennial tide.

And it sits there, holding the earth together.

I asked my aunt if I could come visit her and her ‘text tone’ scared me so I called her sister – my mother – and said I was nervous about her answer and my mother rolled her eyes at me.

Well, I didn’t see her do it but I know she did.

‘Why are you nervous?’

‘She sounds so cross, I don’t know what will please her, I asked her if she could do Friday as Saturday would be too hard for me and she strongly hinted that although she was free both days, she’d rather I come on Saturday.’

‘Ok then stay with her Friday night!’

‘I can’t ask her that!!!’

‘Why not!? She is your aunt!’

‘I know but…’

‘If L (my daughter) called you about staying with E (my sister), what would you say?’

‘I’d say you’re crazy, E loves you to pieces, of course she would want you to stay with her!’

‘Your aunt has such a soft spot for you’

‘But she sounded so angry!’

‘Yes CALL her then, nobody sounds how they mean to via text’

‘Ok ok ok’

‘Silly girl’

Sometimes you just need to call people.

8 Years

Today, after the kids were in bed, I asked my husband to make me a mug of green tea.

He did, and as he brought it to me, I glanced at my watch. 18th of January.

‘Hey,’ I said, taking the tea from him, ‘We’ve been married 8 years today.’

‘No way! Really? That’s today?’

‘Yup,’ I said, taking a sip.

‘Wow.’

‘I know right, feels like we are newly married.’

He snorted as he sat down with his own tea, ‘Yeah, sure.’

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that evasive slumber

Do you ever overeat when you’re tired? I do. Both my children were up all night last night and as a consequence I have eaten my bodyweight’s worth in snacks today without even realising.

When I finally collapsed in bed at 2am last ‘night’, I shut my eyes and succumbed to slumber. It was the most glorious feeling. Then that familiar cry. Only at night it’s twenty thousand times more irritating and has that unique power to make you feel furious.

But you fight it. For that precious sweet face. You scoop the chubby bundle of baby up and bring them into your own bed.

Then the pattering feet, and the croaky child voice, ‘Mama, mama, I’m scared.’

So you haul the other one into your bed too.

And try to succumb again to that glorious sleep. It’s there alright. Tantalising. Close. You feel it.

But your kids have other ideas. One of them is attempting to crawl in the bed because it is her newly found skill and she loves to do it. She is laughing as she tries to get her chubby legs up, chaos in the covers, pitch black room. And then the almost-3-year old is awake. Banging his feet on the headboard. Asking me to open my eyes. Telling me stories. Chatting to his baby sister, who chats right back.

All through the night.

All through till morning.

And they do not tire. No siree. They hanker for breakfast and are little spitfires ready and gearing for their day of action. Playing, fighting, giggling, pulling things out of cupboards, sticking play dough in corners and smushing it into rugs, snotty noses from leftover colds.

I wish today I could say ‘Ahhhh it’s all so precious and worth it.’

Y’all.

I KNOW it is.

But I don’t feel it today.

I feel angry. Tired. Frustrated. Guilty. Bloated from all the sweet chilli thai rice crackers I have been eating to keep my bleary eyes awake. And the countless mugs of coffee I have downed today. That massive hot chocolate I had for lunch. My oh my. I fell asleep trying to put them to bed at 7:30pm BECAUSE HELLO, SHOULDN’T THEY BE TIRED AFTER THEIR NIGHT OF PARTYING?

No.

No they are not.

8:30pm came and went and it crept to 9… still wide and happily awake.

Bloody hell.

Some days parenting is a ride.

Today is that day.

Today I am bedraggled, a mess, and totally lost. I sit here writing this when I am supposed to be working but I am so tired from my sleepless night and my full-on day that I want to go to bed. But I am also terrified to go to bed because I know as soon as I give in to the glorious sleep that is beckoning to me.. I will be rudely yanked away again.

I know it.

News From Sebastapol. Charles West Cope (1811-1896). Oil On Canvas, 1875.

P.S. Look, I only write this to document. Not to complain. I love my babies with every fibre of my being. I would wrestle sleep to the ground if I thought their lives and health were in danger. I know one day I will sleep and sleep and sleep because they will be grown and off living their own lives and I will be sad and miss them. I KNOW this. However, I also know that in the moment, sometimes, it all gets a bit too much. You can feel frustrated and angry. You will also feel guilty for feeling frustrated and angry. Being a mother is so insane. It’s so mad. It’s so crazy. It’s so surreal and unbelievable and unfair and beautiful. You can’t hold it in your hands. You can’t catch the fleeting time, and yet you wish it all away. You can’t get enough, and you have way too much.

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A strange thing happens to me when I come to visit family.

I seem to lose all the will to live.

I start to just exist between moments.

It gets so dark and gloomy that I eventually break down, and I don’t know why that is happening.

It mostly happens when I visit my family through marriage.

They are very nice people. But I think I suffered some trauma at their hands. So whenever I come back here, a deep desolation befalls me.

Combine that with ill children and a nasty sore throat… my goodness the floodgates open.

Well. I will be seeing my own family tomorrow, so we will see what delights that will hold.

Love Letters #48

I truly think success is contentment, in whichever shape or form that takes.

For me contentment is dancing around my living room like a maniac making my ten month old bay girl laugh. She is a very smiley child. She has the most beautiful little dimples and she is forever making friends with anybody who so much as looks at her.

Contentment is wearing a tight red dress and red lipstick that I haven’t worn in nearly 3 years for a ‘date night’… in my living room. We ended up watching 15 minutes of a movie and then I was upstairs soothing a baby to sleep and he was upstairs cuddling a toddler who was afraid of ‘the bats’.

Contentment is taking my babies to the library on a Monday afternoon and choosing 8 books to take home. It’s stopping in a cafe amid the drizzly walk home and drinking a hot drink with my two year old boy. He is a wonder to behold. He is so human, with all his flaws and beautiful ways. A piece of art, I think, as he sips his warm milk and leaves a milk moustache on his upper lip, which he then proceeds to wipe away on his clean sleeve. My baby girl babbles away in the highchair, waving a croissant around and laughing at herself.

Contentment is making sliced pickled red onions and having them on a cracker with some cream cheese.

It’s tidying up the house.

It’s somebody popping round for a cup of tea.

It’s baby breath, and the warm sweet smell of a baby who has just woken up from their nap.

It’s a mother’s love, that trickles down the generations, and is felt decades and decades later, in hand-knitted cardigans and the echo of a voice telling me a smile makes the most plain face beautiful.

It’s feeling grateful for warmth at night.

It’s the catharsis of crying.

The ability to have hope that tomorrow will be better.

The gentle sigh, the pages of a book, the taste of tea, the sound of someone typing, the growl of hunger after a long day of physical and mental labour, the ache of loneliness, the prayer, the bright and numerous stars in an icy, black night sky.

What is contentment for you?