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.

Fams

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?

My Brother… Cooking

My brother takes the flour out. Bits of flour dust sail behind the paper bag as he brings it the counter.

He shakes the saucepan on the hob. It’s filled with caramelised onions. Sliced peppers. Sliced beef. He throws in some stock. It splashes over the edge and creates a symphony in the pot. Swirling, whirling. Drops of sauce on the sleek and shiny stainless steel cooker. A bit of half cooked meat on the counter, where it has lain there after flying out the pot during some aggressive stirring.

He slaps the dough on the counter. Kneads away. Somehow a glob of dough lands on the edge of the sink behind him. On the cupboard handle. On the edge of his shoe.

Wraps the dough in clingfilm. Pushes it into the fridge. The egg tray falls out, and the only egg in it cracks on the floor.

‘ugh’

Old rag, smearing egg yolk on the floor. Kick the mop over. Pour a glass of water over the egg. Mop it up. Leave the mop leaning against the door.

‘You done with the mop?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Ok…’

I know that’ll stay there for a few days. Until some unwitting person wants to mop and will smell the unholy stench of raw egg rotting.

The dough is ready. He slams it on the counter. Takes the rolling pin out.

Rolls. Expertly.

Sheet of dough. In the greased baking dish. Blind baked, fork holes peeping up at the searing heat of the oven curling the air over it.

Pours the filling into the pie shell. Drapes the other dough sheet over the top. Fork pricks.

Milk wash…. he had broken the last egg, remember?

I sit on the sofa in the next room with a good view into the kitchen. The beef pie is in the oven. It smells incredible. He can’t see me. He sees flour all over his hoodie. So he shakes the edge of it, and a cloud of flour dust flies into the air. He claps his hands on his trousers. Rolls down his sleeves.

‘Food’s nearly ready,’ he tells us, gruffly, as he heads upstairs.

‘Thank you darling,’ my mother tells him. She coos at my baby, who is sitting happily on her lap.

And I think, that boy hasn’t changed a single bit since he was a chubby little boy messing up the kitchen in a well-meaning attempt to scramble eggs.

Is it annoying? Yes, so much so. Does his food taste good? Delicious. Do I clean up after him? Yup. Does he think he has cleaned up after himself? Yes. Does my telling him he hasn’t done it well enough work? Nope. Hasn’t worked for over twenty years. What makes you think it will work now?

Also. I am at my mum’s house. Somebody else is holding my baby and somebody else is cooking dinner. Am I about to regurgitate an old sibling fight about messy cooking?

Hell to the no!

Adobe stock image – as you can tell.

Parallel

I spent a lot of my teenage years being insanely depressed. It was desolate. A desperation. A yearning for something but a lack of confidence to get it. Or trying to obtain it in the worst ways possible.

Dark streets and lamp-lit winter, leaves falling from trees onto shiny wet pavements. The crunch underfoot of all sorts of nature, lying limp on pathways. Outside frames my memories. Not inside the home. It was escape, really. I tried to escape, and I don’t know what from. Away from home? From heavy, pregnant expectations. Aspirations turning to dust. There was a lot of pressure and blame I think. Pressure to do well and be something because a big sacrifice was being made for me… ten years on and the sacrifice is still ongoing. Makes me wonder if it really was for me at all. Or can a judgement just be a bad one?

My sister goes camping and volunteers at a farm. She cleans out henhouses and mucks out stables. She pulls potatoes and onions, relishes in the dirt between her fingernails. Those fingernails that used to scratch me in childhood fights. Her weapon of choice, with her being so small and skinny in those days. Now she towers above me. Three years younger, and I look up at her. Notice I did not say ‘to’ her. When we were children living in the desert we yearned for the fresh green of the UK. The heavy foliage, the thick weeds. We yearned to ride horses and wade through marshes and walk through fields. Every summer when we came back to visit grandparents and family, our parents took us here there and everywhere, sfilling our bottomless cups before we had to go back to the torrid heat of Arabia and my father at work work work and my mother…. sad but trying her best.

My sister adores the farm. She says she is the happiest she has ever been in her life. She doesn’t want to leave. In the evenings she has a chat with a few straggling volunteers. Sometimes they make homemade pizza. At night she retires to a caravan by herself. The hob doesn’t work so she can’t cook anything and the bathroom is not in use, so she has to walk in the pitch black to the compostable toilets several feet away. I asked if she felt lonely or scared, and she said no way. Such vehemence in her voice. When I saw videos of where she sleeps, I could see the old familiar things that make my sister. The way her duvet is thrown back. The little things she uses everyday, and has always used. She sends me clips of her long fingers practising using a piano for the first time ever. We have an argument over Snapchat, but on WhatsApp our conversation flows freely and cheerfully. Parallel conversations, very different tones.

When I think of my sister on her farm, and me here with my two kids, I can’t help but think of me back then. I was happier away from home too. I was desperate for friends, good friends, any friends. Moving across the globe at that age made it hard to find people ‘like’ me. I was socially awkward and painfully shy. So when predators made their moves on me, I gave them the time of day. I fancied myself ‘in love’ and let them trample all over me. Heightening my depression, pushing me further into loneliness and isolation. When I did make friends… I put a predator before them. I yearned to live on a farm, to travel places, to explore and learn and have adventures.. like my sister is now. But in searching for that I fell into the wrong crowd. They laughed like hammers on a rotten fence and their teeth were brown from smoking. The put me on a drug high and laughed at my terror and confusion. They told me they loved me but used me to within an inch of my life. They hurt me and forced me to do things I still shudder about.

My parents are ‘disappointed’ in my sister, but were ‘happy’ with me. My sister who is being so wholesome and finding her joy and fulfilling her childhood dreams in the right way. They didn’t know what I was doing, they didn’t know my authentic self. My sister is vocal and stubborn. She doesn’t always respond in a way that pleases them. She has her own opinions and isn’t afraid to voice them, even if they are wrong in my parents’ eyes. Wrong in my eyes sometimes too, but then I step back and I think.. she is an adult and she is making choices, who is anybody to stop her or dictate to her or make her feel bad for it. We can make choices the other doesn’t agree with and still be a harmonious family. It doesn’t quite work that way in my family though. There is often a ‘villain’.

We are so loved, but there has to be a villain.

You’re Horrible

‘You’re horrible,’ he said to me, leaning back on the sofa. I sat hunched on the table, angrily tapping on my laptop keys, fury racing towards him like daggers from my side eyeing.

‘No, you are.’

‘I haven’t seen you all day and all you do is be mean to me.’

‘Well I have been taking care of two babies all day and was so looking forward to going to the gym for an hour, MY TIME, but you choose to come home half an hour before it closes!’

‘So?’

‘SO, I am left rushing there, banging out a poor workout, and rushing back.’

‘Ok, at least you worked out?’

‘NO.’

‘Mean.’

‘Not mean. I wanted to take my time, walk there all psyched to go. I wanted to lift my weights slowly and with focus. I wanted to do some stair stepping and sweat to some tunes. But all I got to do was race there, dash in, quickly rush through my weight lifting routine, and rush out.’

‘Hmmph.’

‘And the music had stopped, the gym guy was waiting by the door, tapping on his phone, keys jangling.’

‘…’

‘And I rushed out, raced across the car park in the pitch black, jumped in, locked the doors sharpish and looked into my backseat.’

‘Why the backseat?’

‘Well you know in one of the X-Files episodes where that creepy guy with honey eyes – the one who eats people’s livers every thirty years – anyway, that guy was in the backseat when Mulder gets in his car.’

‘O…. kay?’

‘And I watched that as a child and it so terrified me that every time I get into a car, I have to look into the backseat to make sure nobody is waiting there to pounce on me.’

‘Alright, weirdo.’

‘Anyway and then I rush home. And there is mess everywhere. I was with the kids all day, bathed them alone, put them to bed alone, and I was hoping you would at least clear up the dinner things and tidy up, but it’s a pigsty. Literally. There’s dried baby food on the table.’

‘I’ve been at work all day.’

‘So have I?’

‘What, you were at home!’

And folks, I took my laptop upstairs, and here I sit, steam shooting out my ears.

Is this for real?