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.

Cool as a Cucumber

Cool to the touch, calm of voice. Shirts ironed but doesn’t look like he puts much effort. Looks clean as though he woke up that way. Born that way. Effortless and smooth. Gliding along polished floors, handwriting naturally flowing out of a pen.

Doesn’t look like he presses too hard or gets wrist pain ever.

Smile is easy. Simple. Clean brown hair, brushed but not too meticulously. Clean nails, not bitten, cut.

Doesn’t get angry or defensive or argumentative. Turns pages softly, washes apples gently; none of that crazy splashing and spraying. Turns tap quietly. Turns round to smile at me. White straight teeth, biting into that apple. Easygoing dimple. Just there. Looking pretty in that cheek. Bright blue eyes. Flashing easily.

Easy easy easy.

I try to eat my sandwich neatly, but the filling (chicken salad) globs out of the centre even as I neatly pinch the sides, and now it’s all down my lap. I leap. Jump. Swing. Chicken on the floor, on my canvas shoes. Heart thumping.

‘uggghhh’, I bend down to wipe it up with a paper towel. My bright dress doesn’t show the stain, it blends into the busy busy busy – messy – flowers printed all over it. I dab at it anyway, frizzy thick curly hair falling over my face. Messy messy messy. Flyaways everywhere. Glasses slipping down my nose. Sandwich abandoned on the plate.

I throw the paper towel in the bin, and sigh.

When I look up he is still there, and he smiles at me. Not judgemental. Something else. I colour. Fluster. Gather my things, leave my sandwich. I’m out of there. I bump into the side of the countertop, the sharp edge digging into my thigh. Bump into the door on my way out. Apologise to it. Glance through the glass window as the door closes behind me. There he is. Calmly throwing the apple core into the bin. Smooth arc in the air. Neat flop right on top of my messy chickeny paper towel.

I tut, and my books fall. Swear. Push hair back. Bend over. Door opens.

‘Whoops,’ gently.

Hands reach down with mine. Pick up my books. Hands them to me. Hands. Tidy watch. Black leather straps. I take the books. Don’t dare look up at those eyes. Don’t know what it’ll do to me.

‘Thank you,’ I mutter. Turn to walk away. Hugging books. Stupid girl.

‘I love your hair,’

Huh?

‘Thanks,’ head down, rushing off, canvas shoes squeaking on the corridor.

Trees

When she doodled, she always found herself doodling the same thing.

It started off as a trunk. A trunk of a tree. Usually she had two browns, so light brown for the outline, the branches, and then in with dark brown, shading the sides and adding rough texture to the branches. And then the leaves. Hundreds and hundreds of them. But she would not sit there and painstakingly draw every leaf.

It was different each time. Different, but the same.

With pencils it was clouds. With coloured pencils, it was still clouds, but lighter ones sat under darker ones and shadows filled every nook and cranny, and soon you could see the sunlight filtering in between the gaps.

Sometimes she had paint sticks.

If you don’t know what those are, they are fat little sticks that you twist out like lipstick and it’s some sort of crayony paint that dries quickly and is washable. It’s meant for toddlers, and she worked with toddlers.

When she had paint sticks she would swirl her trees. Swirl her trunk and her branches, the roots would swirl into the swirly grass, little circles of never-touching harmony, each colour giving way to the other until there was a kaleidoscope of colour and movement. Perpetual movement. That was a masterpiece, she would think. Better than the meticulous shadows of careful doodles.

Sometimes little effort yeilds great return.

And then chubby little hands would come along and add their special touches.

Dots and spots. Spatters and stains. Smudges and scribbles. But in each one was a proud smile, a toothless grin, a pair of large brown or blue or green or grey eyes in complete contentment.

And she drew so many trees, so very many. And so many hands would, sure as rain, come along, and deck them for conquest.

Trees that if they were to spring to life, would be tall and harmonious with the earth and skies. They would be of all colours and hues. They would drip with life and light and laughter, they would not fit in with the world but they would stand out and all who saw them would be in awe. Purples and blues and yellows and oranges, the sun beamed from the cracks in their rough trunks. The dreams danced between their branches, and the jewels of hope dripped and glittered in all colours from their branches.

And she would always doodle her trees, let them set their roots between her deft fingers, and grow tall and wide, spreading their branches through the world. Business and law and retail and marketing and publishing and writing and artistry and medicine and dentistry and order and dance and motherhood and fatherhood and leadership and travel and thought… it did not matter where they went or what they did.

What mattered was the roots that sprung from between her fingers.

Amy Giacomelli

Thank you and Goodbye, 2020.

Do you have New Year’s resolutions this year?

I don’t.

Well, except to survive. And finish my work before the baby pops out. I am increasingly worried I won’t be able to, as taking care of a toddler who now NEEDS to be challenged…. is, well.. CHALLENGING. Lol.

My husband and I watched Death to 2020 on Netflix last night after baby was in bed. We also shared a pizza. That is now called ‘date night’. The show is basically Charlie Brooker’s Yearly Wipe, but not on the BBC anymore, so the budget is much bigger. It’s a great thing to watch, and makes what has been a taxing year on many seem a little more light hearted. It got a few laughs out of us, and some sighs.

I have come to understand now why Britons spend much of winter in a state of ‘waiting’. See folks, I was born in this country, but brought up in another. A hot country. Where the sun beamed all year around and when a cloud was spotted, even a far away teeny tiny wisp of a thing, one prayed for rain. Where the ground was parched and the dust settled the moment you wiped it off a surface. Rain was a joyous celebration. All I knew of British weather was the summertime. Luscious, plentiful greenery and heady long days, the best of British weather.

Ten years ago my parents returned to their country, and brought me back with them. So it took me ten years to develop a sort of cold disdain towards winter. I used to love winter. Squelchy leaves underfoot, beautiful frosty mornings, warmth of an evening around a kitchen table with a hot drink, snow and ice and perpetual grey. Now I detest it. I think it might have something to do with me having moved to a tiny little ghost town called Crewe, which according to some, does not even exist and this is all a dream.

Some people are very proud of Crewe. It has a nice history of being a railway town, the biggest one up North, where they made the trains.

Now it is bedraggled and in need of some love, but all it gets is… well economic disappointment. Year in year out. And four years living here has really taken its toll on my soul. I wanna get out, folks. I WANNA GET OUT. I hope I do! Some say one never escapes Crewe. If that is true… shiver me timbers.

Anyway, as I said, a lot of Britons spend winter waiting for summer, and that is what I am doing this year. I want summer. I want heat. I want warmth in my heart and soul. I want family. I want the heat of the sun on my cheeks and burning in my hair. I want lots of things.

But I also want to learn how to be grateful for what I have.

That’s a huge lesson that I learnt this year, but one that still needs a lot of practise by me.

Be grateful.

Have a roof over your head? Heating? Food in the fridge? DESSERT? A job!? A family? A little boy who loves life? Lots of family? People who care?

BE GRATEFUL.

So that is my resolution for this year, then. To remember to be grateful and thankful and contented. To stop wanting things that are not meant for me just yet. To remember all the good things I do have, and hold them dear.

Now then. That was a good exercise in thinking about things. It’s also snowing here in Crewe for the first time since November last year. That’s quite nice. I shall enjoy that a bit.

Thank you and goodbye, 2020.

Halloween Grinch

Folks it was Halloween yesterday and some people celebrated more than others. Here in the UK it is a pretty low-key event and you are even allowed the luxury of complaining about trick or treaters.

Maybe in some areas houses are insanely done up and it’s a party outside but I have never seen it. Only seen footage of that street party horror vibe in places like America and Canada where it actually is a big event.

My husband and I never did Halloween and to be honest I didn’t even do it as a child. I lived in the middle east and my British-grown parents who grew up in the 70s and 80s did not know anything of the holiday, because it is not a very British holiday.

So usually, on Halloween, we turn off our lights and put a polite sign on the door saying ‘Sorry, we aren’t trick or treating this year :)’ (with a smiley face to appear less obnoxious!). We spend the evening upstairs with a movie and a pizza or something similar, like a cup of tea and a packet of digestives and pleasantly ignore all the persistent knocks downstairs.

I know.

Mean and cruel.

We had a child last year and in October the child was 7 months and didn’t know any better. He was also quite poorly so we spent Halloween upstairs, in the bedroom, with the news on, a cup of tea and lots of toys to entertain a grizzly baby. We looked like zombies so I expect if someone had seen us they would have supposed we were in costume. Wouldn’t have blamed them at all.

This year nobody knocked on our door.

Well I lie.

Someone did. At 12:14pm. My husband peeped through the peephole and said, ‘Oh no, the trick or treaters have started already! There is a boy in a crocodile costume outside holding a bag!’

‘Don’t open it!’ I said frantically, scanning my cupboards, ‘we have nothing to give him! What about an apple?!’

Too late, my husband opened the door. The little boy came tentatively forward and handed us a paper bag before leaping back. On it was written: ‘Happy Halloween, love from O, S and L’.

“It’s for your baby!” he said, eyes bright, little dimples dancing.

Oh my goodness my mellowed mother heart.

“Awwwwwwwww” was the only thing I could say, “Thank you darling, that’s so sweet!”

He was the neighbour’s little boy, and he was dancing with glee. And my ‘baby’ was peeping around the door at him in curiosity.

‘Look, E, look what the little boy got you!’ and I took the bag and I kid you not there were tears in my eyes. How weird. The bag was filled with handmade Halloween crafts and little bags of sweets.

We waved as the little boy pranced back up the path and along the road to his own house.

And I felt so despicably awful for some reason, like I was such a grinch in the face of such innocent and sweet kindness.

It made me realise that these celebrations and events are for children, to make them happy and connect each other in a genuine way. It’s completely changed my outlook on why people celebrate Halloween like that and lie to their kids about Santa. It’s about creating magic and joy for kids which I think is so important. Seeing my baby boy’s eyes light up at this goody bag JUST FOR HIM made my heart melt.

And that is my Halloween story for this year.

What was your Halloween like? Do you celebrate it in true fashion or do you lock yourself away and grumble at the frivolity?

Image Credit

This post is not what it seems.

Is anybody else feeling ‘Covid fatigue’?

Is anybody else sick and tired of staying indoors all the time and panting through a mask whenever they’re out around people?

Is anybody else craving a social life, when previously they were proud introverts?

Does anybody else not want to see their inlaws only all the time, because they’re low-level bullies, and it’s exhausting to brush off being undermined all the time?

Does anybody else want to see a real friend face to face, without lying to one’s inlaws about it, because apparently we cannot see anybody except for them, even if it is socially distanced?

Is anybody else emotionally controlled by somebody?

Don’t you just hate it?

Is anybody else sick to death of living life and making every single decision with the background thought of someone’s mother in law’s feelings and emotions about it?

Does anybody else’s husband act like they don’t love their wife, and tease her mercilessly when his mother is around, because he knows his mother would be jealous and hurt if he dared to show his wife affection?

When my maternal grandmother passed away in 2011, I remember my mum saying something very poignant to someone who came to see her at the funeral.

She said, “Losing your mother is losing your entire world, the one person who truly cares for you, asking nothing in return.”

I was sixteen, I did not understand it at the time, truth be told.

But recently, my mother and my mother in law were in the same room, and my husband and I were facetiming with them. They live five minute’s walk from each other.

My mother in law made one of her usual digs at me, and I laughed and brushed it off with a joke, which made everybody in the room laugh. My mother called me the next day, and asked if I was alone.

“Yes,” I said.

She told me she felt angry and upset at the low-level bullying I was experiencing, and she felt sick and tired of not being able to speak up to defend me, as I always tell her not to say anything ever.

I pacified her, and tried to explain that was the relationship, and not to worry as I don’t let anybody control me. It was kind of a lie, but I can’t tell my mother the truth, she would be furious. My mother is a strong fighter of a woman and I am ashamed to say such things to her, she would never accept it. I don’t know why I do.

At the end of the phone call, I broke down in tears.

Because my husband, who I think loves and supports me in everything, but is sadly also controlled by his mother and doesn’t realise it, would never defend me against any comments made by his mother at me. He would not dare. Hell would rip apart if he did.

Nobody would defend me, I realised. Nobody would even notice. I would fight it off myself, and deal with it, but nobody would care for my mental health and well-being, except for my mother.

She would notice and she would hurt on my behalf but she would respect my wishes and not say anything, but she would seethe inside and she would always be on the lookout for me. No matter how busy she is, no matter how many of her own troubles she has.

And that is what she meant, when she said what she said after her own mother passed away. I understand it now. So so much.

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?

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?

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.

the_storyteller_810_500_75_s_c1

On Less Cheer

I decided to put a post up last minute today because I just realised that while I don’t really care that it is the last day of the year or decade, it might be a nice subtle nod to time to do one last post, and make it 43 posts in total in 2019.

In 2019 I went through some very tough things that most people go through, but obviously since I am experiencing them for the first time, they still meant something to me and still shaped my personality.

I didn’t very much enjoy this year, and that is sad, because I ought to have. I had a baby and he really is the love of my life, and by rights this ought to have been the best year of my life. But it wasn’t. I struggled a lot with my mental state, and felt depressed very often. I had to relearn so many things, and reach for strength in places deep within me that I didn’t know existed.

I experienced severe frustration, betrayal, selfishness, both on my part and on the part of others, and learnt so so much. I fell in love so hard, with the chubbiest cherub ever, but still, it was one of the hardest years of my life and I am glad this year is an odd number and am glad to leave it.

There.

I hope 2019 was good for all of you, and I hope 2020 is even better.