Lockdown for me

Fireflies and blossoms dying and grass growing from seed carefully sprinkled on freshly raked topsoil. Every single day things grow. New shoots poke out from between the cracks in stone tiles, and lilies shoot up so high they are a shock to see on sunny, summery mornings.

Hunger sitting in a belly, for hours and hours, gnawing and gurgling until it is satiated with a plate of spaghetti tossed in olive oil, garlic, chilli flakes and lemon rind.

Small brown paws explore fresh compost, putting it into empty buckets and down little shirts, tumbling over soft baby skin and fat cheeks streaked with the remnants of what a baby has had for lunch.

Exploring waits for no man. Exploring does not even wait for a face to be washed.

Diggers and dumper trucks work hard at removing rubble from an ancient building site, the old Victorian signage toppling down under the sheer brute force of heavy metal machinery. Large brown eyes stare in wonder as the dust rises around high-vis  jackets and yellow hats reflecting the glare of a May sun.

Lilacs dying and being replaced by masses of large round yellow roses, their lemony scent overpowering and sailing with the breeze down a deserted road.

Broken images and a clamour of familiar voices from a computer screen, then silence and the thumping of little feet from room to room, carrying objects from one end of the house to the other.

Shrubs miraculously turning into trees, and the incessant watering of lupins lest they shrivel their purple blossoms up and wilt.

Daily bursts of motivation following slumps of deep exhaustion, and days blurring into a sludge of minor events following each other like dominos.

What is lockdown like for you?

Decluttering

Today, when I sat procrastinating doing some Very Important Admin, I was watching some youtube videos of people’s apartments. Most of these apartments were white, pristine, clean, looking as though they were designed expertly for a high end magazine. It looks suspiciously like there was some artful lighting placed invisibly just beyond the camera angles. The plants were brand new, the sofas hadn’t been sat on, there was no clutter at all.

No coffee cups, no newspapers, no books out of place, no pencils and pens, no thoughts lying on open pages, no crumbs evidencing food was consumed, no clothes absently draped over chairs and no thimbles left to roll on a windowsill. Did these Youtubers actually live in these homes? Or did they pay someone to make a set so that they could get some fabulous content?

I know some people like to live as though they were in a magazine, with no clutter at all anywhere. My husband is like this, which is why he hates my books (which I enjoy accumulating because they bring me comfort). He thinks that if I read a book, I ought to give it away as soon as I am done, so as not to make this house more cluttered than it is.

Anyway the point is, it has now become a trend to declutter your home, and live as though you dare not own anything ‘tacky’ or have any personal taste at all.It has to fit an ‘aesthetic’. Currently the trend is large green houseplants, slim lines, a dark green or blue feature wall, plenty of white, and some rustic ruggedness that is also pristine and new. People on social media apologise for their ‘cluttered’ homes, which are just personal spaces filled with things they enjoy having, depicting their personalities and interests.

So if you have clutter, you get judged. Not me, just people who post things and people who comment things.

Now, this is a stale argument in my marriage, but I happen to think that some clutter is a good thing. A little decoration piece that you got 6 years ago on the edge of a river. A post-it note from your classmate who is now traversing distant lands, but which reminds you of times when you couldn’t control your laughter. A tiny gondola made from murano glass with its edge snapped off, but which reminds you of early marriage days and sweet innocent love. It differentiates you from everybody else who has a feature wall and large houseplants.

It also makes you realise who YOU are.

I read a sad thing yesterday, where a lady who runs a youtube channel and an instagram page said, as though everybody else thought the same as her, ‘I regret painting my wall blue to fit an instagram aesthetic. Next time, you should choose a colour and design YOU like, not what instagram likes‘. It seems like a lot of social media orientated people are doing this.

 

Some Parenting Thoughts

Hey guys. I hope you are all doing ok in this current state of chaos.

I am trying to to navigate each day with a pair of thick metaphorical spectacles. You see, my son has suddenly had a growth spurt. He has shot up and his head is now reaching my thighs. I see it bobbing by as he walks past the table.. yes, WALKS. Walks with a purpose. Little mouth set in between two large, soft, round cheeks, and a little tummy that pokes out like a middle-aged beer belly… only cuter.

Because he is no longer a baby, he is a BOY. He toddles and has an opinion, and voices it vocally.

Naturally, with his new-found abilities, he has developed new-found interests. Toys are now boring, and he must be entertained and taught and spoken to. He comes toddling up to me several times a day, grunting with the effort of lugging his books from one corner of the house to the next, begging me to read to him. He gets so upset if I don’t immediately put down what I am doing (gloves on, water dripping from half-washed dishes) and read to him. He experiments with everything, and has no understanding of safety whatsoever, no matter how many times he has caught his fingers in the washing machine doors, he will still wriggle out of my arms and make a beeline for danger.

This means my days are no longer structured around a baby, they are structured around a little human boy. 

A real person.

He lay on me the other day, and I rocked him to sleep, and his head was on my chest, and his feet reached all the way down to my knees. And my husband came in and said, ‘Wow. Remember when he was small enough to fit in your stomach?’

I did, folks. I remember when he was breech and his little feet would kick down near my abdomen and his big heavy head would push up against my lungs so it hurt to take a deep breath. I would have to do some yoga and walk around for him to move position. And now his little body is taller than my torso.

He is so small but so BIG!

I do stupid things like cry when he is asleep because I am worried somebody might break his heart one day or bully him or make him feel bad.

I voiced these concerns out loud, and my husband asked, ‘Would you rather him be bullied, or be a bully?’

Straight away I said, ‘I’d rather he be bullied.’

My husband reckons that is an awful choice, but I’m resolute. I’d rather my son have a kind heart and good character than cause anybody else harm. I was bullied some, as a child, I think most people were. You learn how to be considerate of others when you’re hurt yourself. I never want him to be so mean spirited and cruel as to deliberately hurt somebody else. I confess, when I was four, I used to pinch this little girl in my class. She would cry. I don’t know why I did it. And I still feel despicably awful about it, even though we are friends now, and even though I apologised to her many times over the years. I still feel so despicable every time I think about it.

Would you rather have your child be bullied, or be a bully?

Food for Comfort

There is this beautiful book that I have become acquainted with, and it is called Midnight Chicken by Ella Risbridger. It is the perfect recipe book, just filled with the most decadent, good quality foods you can imagine. You can just think of eating these lovingly made dishes in the comforting, cosy glow of lamps, on rustic tables, using aesthetically pleasing cutlery, while the city just carries on outside. A loved one to share food with you is always a bonus.

My favourite ingredients to use lately are lemons, olive oil, coriander and garlic. You can combine these any way you please and you are guaranteed that the outcome will be decadent. Comforting. Quality.

The best food, in my opinion, is rice. It is so versatile. So filling. You can do so many different things to it and have an entirely new outcome every time.

I take my saucepan out, and drizzle in some extra virgin organic oil, turning the heat to low. I hum while I smash my garlic under a large knife, peel the skin off, and chop it up into little pieces that I throw into my pot. The garlic sizzles gently and the warm smell of it cooking gently wafts my way as I deftly squeeze the juice from a lemon, turning my spoon around to pull out the pulp. I don’t mind pulp.

In goes the juice, just when the garlic is sizzling  but not browned, and in goes some freshly grated lemon zest, and in goes a healthy amount of salt. And in goes some pre-soaked rice, and also a nice heaped teaspoon of bright yellow turmeric powder. I stir it and sniff it and pour in some water until it covers the rice so that when my wooden spoon is inserted in the pot it covers the spoon halfway when the tip of the spoon is on the rice.

I then make sure my heat is turned as low as possible, put the lid on my rice and let it cook gently.

I then take some coriander, garlic, olive oil, salt, curry powder and smash all that together in a mortar and pestle. I have a lovely paste, which I smear onto some freshly defrosted cod (or fresh!). Into an oven dish it all goes, shoved in the oven for a good 25 minutes.

While my food simmers and sizzles away, I chop up an avocado, some cherry tomatoes, some rocket, some coriander (yes, again!), some cucumber and squeeze some more lemon over it, salt and pepper, olive oil (YES!!!) and toss it all up. Maybe some sumac? How about a little sprinkling of chilli flakes? Yes, that’ll do.

And then the yellow lemon rice is done, on a plate with a piece of soft salmon, the salad on the side, a drink poured into a glass, set on my rickety green table that is actually an old garden table but we don’t complain.. and that is my favourite meal ever.

(for now).

What is your favourite meal ever? What are your go-to ingredients? If you could only ever eat one food for the rest of your life what would it be?

(mine would be rice!)

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I LOVE lemons! Image credit: Still Life with Lemons and Oranges. Luis Melendez 1760s. (National Gallery, London)

Tweezers

How are you doing, folks?

Have you heard a lot of that lately? How are you doing? No, how are you doing?

It is nice to see people checking in with each other more. There are still a lot of terrible things happening, but so much positivity too. It’s totally up to you, what you want to pick up when you sift through the piles of panic and mess.

My husband has started using my tweezers lately. I only have one pair. My husband likes to think he is the tidy one in this relationship but that is so not true. He never puts things away! I always grumble about this, and put the things he has left out away. He is a lovely guy though, and cleans our house beautifully, and makes sure I come down to pristine tidiness every morning because mornings can be chaotic with a baby. He is caring and sweet (he doesn’t like to be known as ‘sweet’, it is not ‘manly’), and although he is a ball of stress, he is the only one who truly knows how to calm my stormy nature.

Except he keeps taking my tweezers from their designated space and never puts them back! So now, for three weeks, they have been missing. We have both hunted high and low for them but with no luck. I feel so annoyed with him. My eyebrows are growing out and they are itching to be tweezed!

I know that is something petty to say considering the state of the world right now. I know I have the luxury to focus on petty things right now as we are staying indoors for the foreseeable future. My son is asthmatic so I worry about him. And of course, I worry about those who are so much more vulnerable and who are at dire risk if we unintentionally pass anything on to them. So we are staying indoors.

And I am focusing on petty things! Like my missing tweezers! If you have seen them, can you please tell them not to be so dramatic and send them my way?

A Secret Thought

Folks, I was exceptionally greedy today, and had two helpings of chocolate cake with custard after dinner. Dessert is not a normal occurrence in our household, mainly because I don’t make any, and my husband cannot cook. Scratch that, he has NO INTEREST in cooking and therefore cannot make anything remotely edible. Much like me when I am forced to watch old Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson boxing matches. Yawn.

The custard came out of a tin costing 75p, and started its life in powdered form. The old me would have lovingly made it from scratch out of egg yolks, which would have resulted in a ridiculously creamy, warm, homey concoction. The new me does things by halves, and so I ate chemical-tasting custard and I damn well enjoyed it because custard is not a regular occurrence in my household. My son is allergic to eggs.

This time last year my son was 2 days old, and I was cloudy with hormones and recovering from a c-section. I thought he was the most beautiful thing on earth (I still do think that), and my feet were swollen like balloons. I don’t like to think about the immediate aftermath of the birth, to be honest. My mother stayed with me for a week and in my horrible, swollen, post-surgery, post-labour hormonal self, I was a total bitch to her. I did not trust anybody with my baby and could not sleep a wink for over a week; every time my eyes closed my dreams would rise up, cluttered and clustered and mountainous, full of events and sweat, and when I awoke I felt as though I had run a marathon. I was crying, uneasy, anxious and altogether rather horrid. This lasted, gradually fading, for a year. I am still suffering the repercussions of it and while I adore and cherish my son more than anything, I can’t help but have clouded thoughts.

I know this ought to be about him, because it is HIS birthday, and why am I so bloody negative when millions of women have births and c-sections and still manage to make the day about their kids. Don’t get me wrong, I never breathed a word about these feelings to anybody. I genuinely showed everybody sincere happiness, and I danced with my boy and told him how he was one that day, and how special he was to me and his dad, and he relished it all with big smiles and mild chatter. I was all laughs and smiles, folks. But as I walked home from the park, the winter sun shining, spring so clearly on its way, my boy nodding off in his pram, I couldn’t help thinking of the events of last year, and my personality change, and how horrible I was and how awful I felt.

When I got into the house, I put the pram away and rocked my son to sleep, tidied up and washed the dishes and out on a load of washing. I went outside and swept the garden of all the weeds I’d pulled up, I cleaned the tiny hand prints off the window, the table, the fireplace edges, I mopped the floors, I peeled and chopped some onions and put some pasta on to boil… and I just thought about it all and my heart sank.

That is how I can explain it. Mind you, this is all deep within the most secret crevices of my heart. I will never let my son know how I feel.. maybe when he is much much older and time has erased the rawness of it all. Or I will never tell him because there is no way his birth is the reason for this. I can’t have him thinking it is his fault because it most certainly is not. I can’t even describe it. It’s like a lump on my chest, that I can smother with life, but it does rear its head, and it is always there. I am always aware of it. It’s a fact of life, folks, that sometimes, a woman’s mind and body just are never the same after they have had a child.

You can say, well Lenora, get on with it. Well. I do get on with it. I do. I am happy, as everybody around me will attest to. I am full of cheer and joy. Just here, in this nook of the internet, I sometimes release these little feelings like gentle moths.

 

5th of February 2020

Folks, in this post I am going to talk about something very very personal, but also a topic which a lot of people cannot handle. So if you are squeamish, or if the topic of miscarriage hurts you, please do not read any further.

On November the 18th, about three months ago (almost), I took a pregnancy test which came out positive. I was shocked, of course. My baby was almost 9 months and while we had wanted two babies close in age, we did not expect to get pregnant so fast.

I was over the moon, of course. Another little baby to keep my little almost-one-year-old company. Two cute little voices and two simultaneous childish peals of laughter in my home. My husband was over the moon too but we were both scared, because it was hard enough with one baby, let alone two! Two sets of night wakings, two sets of nappy changing, double the exhaustion!

I had my three-month ultrasound scan scheduled for Tuesday the 4th of February. We were so excited. I put makeup on for the first time in a year (literally). I did it because for my current baby’s first ultrasound scan I put makeup on too, and my husband said ‘why are you wearing makeup for this?’ and I said, at the time, ‘because I am meeting my little baby for the first time.’ So I did it this time too, because I can’t show favouritism between my two babies, can I?

Anyway. We took our little boy (let us call him ‘E’) with us to the scan so he could meet baby too.

The technician was lovely when she welcomed us, and then she told me to lie on the bed. She put the gel on my stomach which was already starting to protrude. And then she put her device on my stomach and pressed in. I gasped, because a sharp pain ran through my abdomen when she pressed down. She asked if I was alright, and I nodded, feeling uneasy.

On the screen I could see my uterus, and a little tiny baby lying in the corner of it. I held my breath in anticipation. Oh my goodness. My baby.

The technician was quiet and she began doing some measurements. She checked in with me how far along I was, and her face seemed a little serious.

The little baby on the screen wasn’t moving, and I began to feel anxious. I told her 13 weeks. She checked again, and then turned to me.

‘I am really sorry, Lenora, I can’t find a heartbeat.’

My own heart felt like it stopped.

‘I need to call another technician to make sure, I am really sorry sweetheart.’

I kind of lost it, folks. A huge sob that I didn’t even know was sitting in my chest pushed its way forcefully up and exploded from me, I had to put my arm over my face, my body was shaking in shock. My husband, carrying E, rushed over to my side and I put my face in his jacket to compose myself while the other technician was called in. They did more checks, and she too confirmed that there was no heartbeat, and there hadn’t been one for two weeks, according to the baby’s size.

It was a very hard day that day. I zoned out when the midwife was telling me about my options, and if my body did not expel the …. (she literally said ‘the ..’ and then paused), the hospital would require me to come in so they could medically intervene to stop me getting infected.

But I guess the hardest day was the next day. The fifth of February. My husband had to go to London urgently for work. He did not want to but at the time I was feeling physically fine so I made him go. London is about 4 hours from where I live up ‘north’, so it would have been very hard for him to come back in an emergency.

I was cramping a little but I had had a miscarriage back in 2015, so I knew what to expect, or I thought I did. I really thought I did. But back then I was only about 5-6 weeks along, this time I was 10-11 weeks along. Nothing could have prepared me for what was to come next.

Please do not read further if you are squeamish.

I’ll summarise it for you but it was a blood bath. Nothing like my first miscarriage. I couldn’t go anywhere in the house. I had to take care of a roaming 11 month old who needed feeding, nap times, changing, playing with, and I was all alone and in agony. I was having contractions, and I know this because I have experienced them before. Waves of pain that made me sweat, and just blood everywhere. And I won’t even describe or explain the most gruesome and panic-inducing details of the rest of my miscarriage. I caught my barely formed baby in my hands and in my panic that I would lose it, I had to fish for other things, clumps of what would have once protected and fed my unborn child, the size of my hand.. goodness.

When it was all over, 7 hours later, I was shaking and exhausted.

I still feel shaky and exhausted and I still cry to think about it, five days later. I was expected to drive for two hours to visit my in laws yesterday but my mother called me and told me sternly that I was not to go anywhere, and she drove up herself with dinner cooked and took care of my baby while I rested.

I don’t know, folks. I write this all down here as here is a place to write and record and keep things for me. I feel very sad, but I know this is part of life. This was not meant to be at this time. I am very lucky to have a little baby that lived and made it through. I hold him and hug him tighter these days, and I think of all the women who go through what I went through and worse, later miscarriages and no babies for years and years and I grieve for them too.

Sometimes I feel like I don’t deserve to feel sad because others have it so much worse. Women have felt their babies move, and then stopped. Women who have had to give birth through labour to babies they know will never breath, will never look at them with open eyes. Women who can never even have their own children. So why am I so upset when I have a baby already. Is it selfish?

A life was still lost, in my eyes. I held it in my hands. I felt my stomach expanding to accommodate it.

I know I will heal and move on. I know life goes on. I know time will erase much of the panic and anxiety and sorrow. But I still need to give myself the space to feel it as much as I need to, because I will never ever forget.

A Thursday Observation

Crewe is a horrible town. That is an opinion, not a fact. However, the lady at town hall agreed with me. She was in her 50s and she shook her head sadly and said she didn’t know what had become of this town that she was born and bred in. She now lives in Sandbach, which is a pretty little affluent town about 15 minutes away in the car.

Anyway. I mention that Crewe is awful because I want to set the scene. I usually go for a long walk everyday with my boy in his pram to get some fresh air and to get out of the house. Also to add some routine to my day. A structure, if you will.

I more often than not walk half an hour to Queen’s Park, which is really quite beautiful and makes you forget you’re in Crewe at all. There are swans a-plenty and a flock of geese who live on the lake, along with all the manner of pigeons, seagulls, mallards and coots. There are many pathways and glorious scenes set behind some lovely old Victorian pavilions. The park house is an old Victorian house, for of course, Queen’s Park was opened during the Victorian era, and was a gift from the London and North railway to the townspeople, for if Crewe is anything, it is a famous railway town.

Anyway. Yesterday I decided to go for a shorter walk across some green patches that are usually used for fly-tipping (charming Crewe!), and as I walked along in the freezing cold, I stopped short. For, right before my very eyes, was a pony! A lovely little pony with its fringe in its eyes, just meandering about the green. Such a curious sight!

My boy and I had a one-sided conversation about it all. I say one sided, but as I made some comments and exclamations, and wondered aloud what on earth it could be doing there, he did chime in with some ‘dadada’s and some ‘darrrrd’s (bird) and some ‘das’s (cat). He did a bit of pointing to illustrate his thoughts, and looked at me directly in the eyes to show he concurred. What he concurred with, neither of us shall ever know, of course.

I went on my way, then. No use dithering about in the cold. As I passed another residential area, I stopped short again… for, and I couldn’t believe my eyes, on another, smaller stretch of green.. was another pony! How curious. People seemed to be walking by it as though it were of no consequence. I just don’t understand it! We are in the thick of the residential area, there are no farms within walking distance, it is just so baffling. It reminded me of this area in Casablanca which was newly built, but people who owned donkey-pulled carts would leave their donkeys out on the empty stretches of land for the night. They don’t do things like that here in the UK, but it sure looked like someone was keeping a pony or two on Crewe’s green stretches. 

Whatever it meant, it was certainly better than seeing household rubbish and waste piled up amongst weeds and uncut grass.

 

Stories

One thing my husband likes to say to me about my family is that ‘they always like repeating stories! I’ve heard the same story fifty thousand times and yet they still repeat it! They LOVE repeating stories!’

He says it like it’s a negative thing, and I used to see his point of view and started to think it was negative too. But then I stopped short.

HOLD UP.

I remember I ENJOYED those repetitive stories.

Mum, tell us about that time Uncle Nigel flooded a hotel party!’, or ‘Mum, tell us again that story about you and Kitty riding your tricycles to the police station when you were three’, or ‘Let’s hear that tale of when Dad broke his back when I was born.’

My mum would tell us all the family stories instead of bedtime stories before we fell asleep. She would tell us of the scrapes she and her cousins got up to when they were younger and turn them into episodes and we would listen avidly, despite knowing what came next. It was her voice and inflections and the way she built the suspense. Her voice rose and fell and lulled us to a space of serene security. If I close my eyes I can still hear how she would tell her stories.

Now we are too old for bedtime stories, she tells us of things her mother used to do and say, and what she saw and did when she was younger. She tells us things she experiences now, turning them into little stories and ‘morals’ and ‘lessons’.  And yes, I may have heard those stories hundreds of times, but before somebody who doesn’t appreciate them pointed out that the repetition is annoying, I never noticed or cared that she was repeating herself.

And I love them! My husband’s family don’t like to tell and re-tell stories like that. They just allude to things but don’t elaborate on them and make them events in and of themselves like my family do. They are more reserved, you see, whereas my family is a little more ‘out there’, letting emotions out as and when they arrive.

Our families are different and that is ok. But I have realised a very important fact. And that is that stories are very important to me. I myself repeat stories often, I catch myself doing it, and my husband rolling his eyes at me, but I can’t help it. I like doing it. I think I am doing it more for myself than for those listening to me. Also there are those who like my stories too!

I elaborate on them and add flourishes and, like my parents, I do the voices and gestures and act it out.

Maybe my son will appreciate my stories and will be a storyteller too, but he may also find the stories annoying and resort to retelling experiences with a wry smile and not do the accents. Either way. It is ok. We are who we are and we are born of the stories that shaped us.

Also, whether you tell stories with a flourish or not, you will still tell stories. Stories are just the narratives of our lives, and we choose how to tell them, be it with flamboyancy or reserved calm.

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A drag and a haul

Folks, sometimes you gotta drag yourself up and haul yourself to each of your jobs, one by one.

That is what I have to do this evening. Drag myself up and put some rice on, haul myself over to the bathroom to run a warm bath for a wriggly little baby, while scooping him off the bathroom floor numerous times and setting him firmly outside on the carpet. Oh no here he comes again, little hands smacking the floor in his excited haste to crawl into the bathroom. That boy loves bathrooms. He loves baths too.

Heave myself off this couch and glance at the stack of dishes in the sink. No way they are getting washed tonight. I am just about done. That bath will knock me out, then it will be getting boy into his pyjamas… mission impossible. He wriggles away and crawls off with a bare bottom, so fast, laughing at my futile attempts to drag him back to be changed. Then it will be reading so many books before bed, boy turning the pages faster than I can read them, because that’s the fun thing to do now.

Then it will be milk time, and then hopefully.. HOPEFULLY… he will turn on to his stomach and splay his arms about, wriggle a bit to get comfy, and slowly fall into slumber.

I say hopefully because last night slumber did not arrive for the fella. It choo chooed into the station, for sure. But boy did not get on that slumber train. He tossed and turned and eventually, frustrated and tuckered out, he cried. For hours and hours. Until 1:45am. YES I counted.

So hopefully tonight my dragging and hauling will yield me some dead time on the sofa before I crawl into bed.

Hopefully.