The baby massage class…

Saturday 27 February 2021

At work this week, a couple of friends make wobbly returns from lock down maternity leavesI find myself thinking about just how incredibly tough the last year must have been for isolated new mums. I am not sure how I would have coped without my ‘mum friends’ and toddler groups, even if this did all begin with the baby massage class …

It is true to say that I didn’t find new mother hood the easiest of times! I was exhausted, frequently frazzled and struggled to stop my Eldest from crying for, what seemed to be, the entire day! In hindsight, it was probably a desperate appeal for help from my poor daughter. Maybe, if she made enough noise, somebody capable might appear to rescue her from the clutches of the hapless amateur who had brought her into being!

Anyway, feeling pretty useless and fearful of the judgemental gaze of the public, I began to avoid leaving the house at all, until my Dad arrived. Sensing that I had lost confidence, he booked himself onto the direct train from Manchester Piccadilly on a quest to get me to re-join the world. And he wasn’t taking no for an answer! He dug out the programme of post-natal classes and told me I was going. The session that week… baby massage.

Managing to leave the house on time is a true logistical challenge for any new mum and on the morning of this fateful day, it was one that I was veering dangerously close to failing. Just about time to skim read the reassuring guidance for the class; ‘all you need is a towel and your favourite oil’. Simple enough you’d think? But I was now on the last minute? ‘Oil, oil, oil?‘ I muttered furiously, flinging open the kitchen cupboard to survey my options. The olive oil seemed my best bet. ‘A bit more sophisticated than sunflower’ I told myself, as I zipped the flagon into my baby bag and raced out of the door.

Fortune, oh how it smiled on me as I rattled up the hill! My daughter actually fell asleep in the buggy! I arrived at the local community centre in a rare moment of calm and was able to nod and smile at other participants. A tranquillity that was, alas, to be sadly short-lived! The class began and with reluctant dread I woke my sleeping child and transferred her to the towel. She was already beginning to squirm.

Time for the oil ladies,” beamed the session leader

The other mums, reached for their bags and brought out dainty phials of … jasmine or lavender oil and my heart actually stopped for a moment. As the woman next to me rubbed a few drops of beautifully scented lotion in to her hands and then began to expertly massage her child’s tiny feet, I hoped no-one was looking as I fumbled a litre of cooking fat out of my bag, trying to half hide it under my coat. The cursed olive oil gushed from the bottle like a torrent, coating my hands and arms right up to my elbows. In growing panic, I slathered it onto my Eldest and she was quickly gleaming from top to toe, like a basted turkey ready for a roast in the oven! Understandably, she was not impressed. As other infants, cooed and gurgled with contentment, I saw her mouth open and heard her screams beginning to fill the room. I tried to intervene and pick her up but, by now, she was a slippery as an eel and I fumbled about powerless to prevent her building up to a full crescendo. It was a living nightmare. My mind went utterly blank, my throat too dry to speak… until I remembered the towel. I just about held it together long enough to wipe us both free of grease, return my daughter to the buggy, stuff all my belongings underneath and head for the exit. It was then I felt the tears begin to well.

Out in the cool corridor however, my Eldest immediately drifted off to sleep again. And in the sudden peace, I had the chance to gather my thoughts. Pretty silly to go home when I had got this far… and I’d have to face my Dad! Gulping back a sorry sob, I realised that it was time to be brave. I took lots of deep breaths, dried my eyes, gave my cheeks time to calm from a mortified puce back to an acceptable pink and slipped back in. We swerved the rest of massage and just sat quietly at the back of the hall. But we stayed for coffee and cake at the end. And that was the start; the start of mum friends! A supportive circle of also-new parents, for trips to toddler groups, play dates and eventually nights out .

Did any of them even notice my massage mayhem? I am not sure that they did, because, poised or fraught as any of us may have looked to each-other, I realise that we were all just pre-occupied with our own version of new-mother hell on most of those early days! The challenge of navigating parenthood for the first time, united us and the companionship would be a life-support mechanism to see us through both joyful and tough times with laughter, empathy and … plenty of alcohol!

As for baby massage, well there I had learned my lesson. When, in later years, the class popped up on the schedule for Prom-dress daughter and Small Boy, I made sure we had other plans…

Middle Aged Mum Fashion …

Saturday 13 February 2021

It is a day that all starts innocently enough…

Buoyed by birthday money, Small Boy is updating his wardrobe. My lovely son has his own style and very definite ideas about clothes. Yes, alas, the halcyon days of kitting him out for the season with a trip to Sports Direct, and still having change from a £50 note, are very much a distant memory. Today, I reluctantly concede, as a disappointing generational stereotype, to committing that cardinal parental-sin of looking a little startled by some of his choices. I find myself rightly subjected to a volley of indignation,

“What mum?’

Why are you looking like that mum?

I can only hold up my hands in apology,

“Oh just ignore me. What do I know anyway? Look at the state of my dowdy outfit!”

And it is true. I guess you could blame lockdown but my current style is beyond frumpy and dull; it more or less says ‘given up on life.’ With my own birthday just around the corner, my shopping-mad offspring sense an opportunity,

Mum – why not let us pick some new clothes for your birthday?

I decide to agree. Yes, it could be fun to spruce up my ‘look’. In fact, I actually start to feel quite excited. Until that is I see Small Boy rapidly typing this into his search engine,

Middle aged mum fashion”

ARGHHHHHHH! There it is! Out in the open. Not ‘sassy mum‘ not ‘sophisticated mum.’ Oh no! It’s the double edged sword of style derision for me, mumsy and … middle aged! Now, of course, at a personal level, I am only too aware of my advancing years. But hearing it from someone else, now that is a very different matter. Because it means that, if I did dare to think or hope that I was fooling the rest of you about being quite this old… I was sadly mistaken!

Middle-aged. Gosh what is it about that word? Well firstly, for those of you still in your thirties or forties, I bring glad tidings! The Huffington Post, claims that Middle Age does not actually start until you turn 53. But, as I read their entertaining article ‘40 signs you are Middles Aged’ , I’ll confess that I could have ticked off several indicators from list in my mid-forties! And I think this is the issue. It isn’t a particular age that you reach, it is a gradual realisation that you are no longer young, with life stretching endlessly before you as a blank canvas of opportunity. Some of your mental speed has gone. Some of your fresh-faced bloom has gone. Time, well that has well and truly gone. And, in place of all that youthful hope and energy, comes, for many of us, the judgemental misery of ‘taking stock’. In the grimmer works of Josh Cohen in the Guardian,

The middle-aged person is liable to look in the mirror and see someone who could have done better, who has failed to fulfil their hopes and ideals.”

Cohen’s article, ‘Why is midlife such a lonely time? addresses serious concerns about the impact of a culture of consumerism and competition on our mental health, a climate which has resulted in loneliness affecting 1 in 7 of those in the 45 – 54 age group. And it is certainly true that on my lower days, I can sit in a meeting with younger colleagues, or wander around a trendy dimly-lit clothes stores, feeling a little bit invisible and isolated from the world. As I prepare to wave a second teen off to University this Autumn, I can wonder where, or even if, I fit into society any more. I can find myself asking the question ‘What exactly have you done with your life?’

But, the truth is, I am very definitely not alone in this! Lisa Stein’s article for Scientific American, ‘Midlife Misery: Is there Happiness After the 40s?‘ find that a bit of a ‘blah’ is universal and all completely normal in your 40s and 50s. Even better, it does not last forever.

…by the time you are 70, if you are still physically fit, then on average you are as happy and mentally healthy as a 20-year old,”

Now I do find it all very comforting to learn that some moments of pondering, even gloom, are a common reaction to middle agedness. But seventy… now that is a bit too long to wait. I turn back to Small Boy’s screen. Do you know what – those middle aged mums are rocking the fashions! Time to place a few orders and embrace the mid-life, before that is over too …

Birthday blues

Sunday 7 February 2021

The balloons and banners in the lounge look cheerful enough, as the February calendar counts down to our ‘double-birthday’ week. But, for the first time since Small Boy surfaced in the birthing pool, 15 years ago, only one of the birthday duo is here to celebrate. My eldest marks the start of her final teenage year away from home at Uni.

We send packages. We write cards. We even manage a cake. My daughter face-times around noon, a picture of smiles to show off her gifts and take us on a guided tour of the decorated student kitchen. But as her lovely face fades from the screen, the mood falls a little flat and blue for the rest of us. I think it is the first day, since she headed off to Higher Education in the Autumn, that being three and not four just doesn’t feel right; just doesn’t feel as good; just feels a little sad.

Birthdays! Family landmarks indeed, with long shared and much loved traditions. Maybe that’s why they stir the emotions like no other day in the 365. I do remember, in the first year after I lost my father, it was actually not his birthday when I wobbled, but mine. The arrival of my special day with no card from my dad, no flamboyant ink-penned message, no familiar voice on the phone, it was a moment to feel his loss more deeply than at other times.

A year ago, my home was being invaded by 18 years olds, with bottles and music, shrieks and laughter. 10 years ago it was: birthday sleep-overs, soft-play centres, roller-rinks, pass the parcel and pinatas. 45 years ago, ‘murder in the dark’, cake, jelly and my elder brother bring hauled out for burying his face in the crisp bowl! Yes we did it all and thank goodness we did! Because the years do go quickly and there is no turning the clock back. I’ll pull myself together in a moment, but for the next half hour I think it’s okay to think back and miss all of it … quite a lot …

….

Good week: happy mum!

Friday 29 January 2020

Well cheers to us this evening! I am feeling super proud of my trio of teens. This has been a good week…

In a corner of the North East, my Eldest makes it through her first set of University exams. She doesn’t get the results for a few weeks but, frankly, I couldn’t care less about any scores. I find it blooming incredible that, despite being left to study Medicine from a laptop in her Uni room and having no face to face teaching or learning for 11 months, she gets her nose to the grindstone, grapples with huge quantities of complicated new knowledge and revises and prepares like an absolute trooper. Simply astounding!

Back home, Prom-dress daughter faces her EPQ presentation. The stresses of Lockdown aside, my middle child has flourished academically at sixth-form. These days, I’ll be frank, we all struggle to keep up with her! I marvel at the reams of research, as I agree to read her final epic of an essay. Tentatively, I suggest the occasional comma but, if truth be told, the sophistication of the arguments and the complexity of the ideas are beyond me and I mostly just content myself with being happily in awe! She has loved writing this piece of work but standing up to present it and face questions from a panel of students and tutors? Alas, for my shy, quiet girl, that is a terrifying thought. Her only option, to control those nerves, is preparation. She gets tips from college, from her dad and from one of my fabulous friends and grafts away, using the advice to get ready. And come Thursday morning, just as I am starting a live lesson from the lounge, I hear her bravest ‘game face’ voice from upstairs launching into her presentation. Yes, I’ll confess to a little tear and know I couldn’t feel any prouder.

And so to Small Boy. It’s a first GCSE music performance for my son, also over the electronic ether. It’s a piece of film music that he has found and taught himself. And it is beautiful. I do love film music and having the romantic and evocative melodies filling the house over the last few weeks has been wonderful – at times, as my talented boy adds rich chords and plays around with the tempo, it has felt like having little bit of my dad back. But, above all, the reason I feel most pleased with my youngest child is that, like his sisters, he puts the work in. Yes, he practises that lovely piece to perfection. And, as he tunes in looking a little green but emerges all smiles from the recording, let’s hope he realises; that’s what gets results!

And thus, the week ends. There’s a bottle of Malbec for me, a gift from my boss for helping him out with a piece of work. I fill a glass and sink onto the sofa feeling tired but calm and happy. Kids! They can be such a worry, but at least in this rare moment I feel confident that mine are going to be okay; inwardly strong, resilient and ready …. for life? Hey, I am sure it will be a different story next week but, for now, I raise my glass,

To you teens – top efforts this week!”

Milestones

Tuesday 26 January 2021

Twenty six days into my 2021 resolutions, I have 26 runs and 82 km on my Strava . Gracious me, that’s over 50 miles!

Throughout January, inspired by Ron Hill and his 52 years and 39 days record of running every day, three and a half weeks of tootling around the block every day, and a little bit further at weekends has brought me to this landmark. Incredible! Who knew that a 10 minute jog on a daily basis could add up so quickly!

I am ready to stop though. Yes, come the 1 Feb, I will be giving my running shoes a well earned rest. I have really enjoyed the daily dash. I go a little bit further each week. I go a little bit faster too. I feel energetic, oxygen fuelled, clear skinned and bright eyed. More importantly I feel calm, refreshed … and self-indulged. And this is why I love a New Year Resolution. Whilst psychologists may decry resolutions as needless self -pressure to impose upon an already demanding world, and even the health and well-being experts queued up to espouse this view as we finally consigned 2020 to the history books, I think the complete opposite. I find that our new year tradition is one of the only times in the calendar when I do focus on myself. It may only be 10 short minutes each day, but it is , nonetheless, time when I just think about me. Not my teens. Not my job. Not my mortage. Not the sometimes bleak future….just me… and my crazy January goals! And as 2021 dawned, after a year when the demands, stress and, above all worry, about everyone and everything had threatened to crush me , I needed this more than ever.

But I realise tonight, as I burst back into the house, trainers muddy, leggings soggy and face glowing with the cold, that I am better. And that means, that 5 days from now, it is time to stop. Because I am ready to get back, back to the grind and the gruelling but above all the glorious roller coaster of life a mum, an educator and someone who thinks life is about probably about something more important than kilometres and run schedules! Of course I’ll still do my weekly 10k, I might even do occasional circuits of ‘the block’ but its adios to charting my progress, checking Strava every evening and thinking that a day without a run is a failed one!

On the news today there is a far grimmer milestone . Covid deaths in the UK top one hundred thousand for the first time. It certainly puts life into perspective. I need to start focusing on the small contribution I can make to this current situation. Because if miles are covered one step at a time, who knows what we can achieve with many individual efforts to see this through and play our part. Rejuvenated by my month of running , I now have the energy and strength to try again…

“To get through the hardest journey, we only need to take one step at a time, but we must keep on stepping…”

Chinese proverb

Cheese pie, sprouts and beer!

Friday 8 January 2020

Home-made cheese and onion, with chutney and a few brussels all washed down with a dark fruity stout- could there be a better way to end a very long week…

With a third national Lockdown, schools closing and exams cancelled, it’s certainly been a challenging 5 days, but I do feel okay. And okay for me at the moment is a lot better than usual.

Yes, on a more serious note, my mental health has been on a downward turn in recent months and threatened to spiral out of control over the holidays. For the first time ever, I went to bed on Christmas Eve dreading that Christmas Day would be a ‘1 out of 10 day’, terrified that I would not be able to paint on a cheery festive face and make sure that everyone had a lovely time.  I live at a comfortable ‘5 out of 10’ most of the time. Not great, I concede, but sufficient to function and ‘fool the crowd’.

Above all, I hope that I can be as happy as you always seem to be!”,  a pupil wrote on a thank-you card to me a couple of years ago. And I recall feeling shocked and an utter fraud. I almost ran after them shouting,

Please please please, let me be a role model for anything but this…because this is a lie and a sham. I  actually can’t remember what ‘happy’ feels like!”

But I didn’t. I just smiled, pinned the card onto my board with all the others and faked on with the day!

But something about corona virus has knocked even this stoic ‘get on with it’ spirit out of me and, to my horror, as the sun rises on 25 December, I feel the dark cloud of despair descend and although I do drag myself out of bed, I am gripped with a panic about ruining the day for everyone.

Until this happens… people arrive. It’s mum and an old friend, and just these relatively new faces really cheer me up. Thereafter I have the meal to prepare and the busyness and sense of purpose, not to say challenge for this self-confessed cooking calamity, drive the darkness away and I am able to ‘keep calm and carry on’.

And Christmas continues in this way. Friends call on Zoom. The teens’ Dad visits. And all of it is a wonderful change and distraction from the news and the gloom and the horrible uncertainty of our covid-world. It also gives me a wake up call.  I need to be occupied and I need goals and diversions. Parenting is tough; single parenting even more so. My hobbies are a life line because, they give me space to be me again. Not only a Mum marking the march through life with the lines on her face. No the me who still feels 25 on the inside and loves that when she runs, she feels the strength in her body and the oxygen in her lungs. Loves that when she plays music she is part of the noise and feels her emotions soar.  Loves that when she tackles some tricky maths, or reads a great novel (or even writes a blog post) the numbers, concepts and words dance around in her mind forming and re-forming and making new thoughts and ideas.  But at more basic level, my hobbies keep me busy. If covid has taken some of this away; I need to put something back

So my resolutions for 2021 are formed. Forget ‘Dry January’, writing a novel or training for a half marathon! These are simply about well being and routine. I commit to: drinking at least 2 litres of water a day, running at least a mile a day (The Ron Hill idea), and doing 2 yoga workouts per week. 

And after a week of my new regime, I am feeling okay; focused and stable. I enjoy ‘Yoga with Adriene‘, a rare space of 40 minutes that seems, luxuriously, about self-care. The water; well probably my favourite thing of all, as it gets rid of the scourge of daily headaches. For the first time in years, I walk past the the anadin-extra shelf  in the supermarket, without adding a weekly box to my trolley. As for the running – well what a week to start! Weather- wise, it is more than ‘grim up North’  as January 2021 gets into gear, it is the bleak bloomin’ mid-winter. How much do I feel like running as I arrive home in the cold, ice and fog? I struggle to think of anything that seems less appealing. But I make myself do it – it’s only 10 minutes after all.  And, once out, I love it. Crisp, energising and peaceful. Just very very chilly.  I could probably do with some gloves! Maybe, if I keep on saving on the anadin -extra, I’ll treat myself to a pair! In the meantime, I’m off to enjoy my cheese and onion pie…

Christmas…with my Ex!

Wednesday 30 December 2020

With the afternoon news a distressing chaos of tiers and school disruption, I decide to turn off the radio, enjoy a last Mince pie and relish the closing moments of Christmas 2020. Even with restrictions, even spending much of it with my Ex, it has been a welcome break from covid …

The great day itself, the 25th, is the usual flurry of wrapping paper and presents and the house is soon rocking along to the tune of Small Boy’s new electric guitar! One major change however is that ‘Christmas Dinner’ is, alarmingly, entrusted to my questionable culinary skills, for the first time in many a year. Indeed, I struggle to recall ever before being left in sole charge.

‘Thank the Lord for Corona!’,

I am almost heard to cry as spuds and sprouts need to be peeled, parsnips roasted and oven space juggled for only 6, instead of our usual family gathering of 11 or more! Does it go well? I think so! As Boxing Day dawns, my head still buzzing with guitar strumming, I knock back a couple of Anadin-extra, tip a crate of bottles into the blue bin on Boxing Day, and resolve that we were probably all too sozzled to care in any case.

Ex-Hub is the next to arrive and stay for a few nights; another unusual festive twist. Winding the clock back a decade, to the time of our separation, we did initially continue to spend Christmas together. All my idea and not, alas, for the noblest of reasons. Yuletide; it is my special time, my season of magic and sparkle and cherished family traditions. So, when it came to negotiating Xmas -access, hating the idea of entering the world of ‘alternate years’ that other single parents described, feeling physically sick at the prospect of waking up on a Christmas morning without my children, I took control of the Holiday calendar. I established a tradition of New Year and Easter with Dad, and Christmas with me for our trio. Inviting Ex-hub to celebrate the December 25th festivities with us if he wished, was probably, if I am honest, my idea of a final deal-clincher.

So I confess, not my most selfless act, but I was met with little opposition; it seemed to suit everyone. I’d say that it enabled both new households to establish their traditions and ways of marking, with certainty, great celebrations on the British calendar. Whatever the theories, this division of holidays works for us and as such I recommend it, not as a blue print for any other family as we are all unique, I recommend it as an example of ignoring convention and expectation around how you parent, co-parent or share-parent and in finding your own way!

But back to teaming up for Christmas. which we managed for 3 or 4 years. Whilst some may find it odd and I fully respect that for some it is unthinkable, we are not the only family to try it. Red columnist Olivia Blair’s article highlights the case of a woman who now enjoys Christmas with her ex, despite citing the festive holiday when still together, as a key catalyst in their break-up! More in tune with my experience, Kelly Baker, describes how the great healer of time heals the hurt and pain and allows you and your Ex to operate as people who do actually share common interests and can enjoy each other’s company again … if only for a few days.

Eventually, as Ex -Hub and I both moved onto new relationships, sharing Christmas came to a natural end. Until, of course, this year!

Oh Corona virus – it has destroyed the teens’ face to face contact with their father and ‘down south‘ family. How to visit? Where to stay? What to do? Balancing health risks for vulnerable family members … it has thrown up more problems that we have been able to solve and, in consequence, contact has dwindled to Zoom calls and x-box games. So as Christmas is the season of good will, a few weeks ago, I took a deep breath, stocked up on alcohol and invited Ex-hub to stay for a few days in December.

And the visit goes well. Walks, games, films and family meals – all washed down and smoothed over with plenty of wine. Yes, pickling the liver, is clearly a shared strategy for both parents on this occasion! In occasional awkward moments, I sternly remind myself that, for the teens, it is a wonderful opportunity to check in with their dad in person – an even better present than the electric guitar! For me too, possibly because I am a little out of my comfort zone, Christmas day guests and even Ex-hub are both a great distractions from everyday worries. The stresses and strains of our ever changing covid-life do indeed recede for a few days.

But, as Ex-Hub’s expensive electric car, glides off the drive at the end of his visit, the realities of covid -life close in once more. My stomach knots, my heart says a sad farewell to Christmas and my head turns with apprehension and dread towards a grim New Year…

Home for the hols…

Tuesday  22 December 2020

One of the most shocking stories, in a weekend of dramatic news, is the closure of the Dover-Calais crossing which leave thousands of lorries and passengers stranded, for days, on British motorways. Closer to home, with Christmas only days away, it also fuels fears of food shortages on our supermarket shelves. Amidst reports of ‘panic-buying,  I contemplate the best time to brave the aisles for the annual yuletide shop. Someone else has other worries on their mind,

“Gosh – could it lead to an avocado shortage? That would be terrible!”  exclaims my Eldest.

I reel around. Prom-dress daughter splutters on her coffee. Small Boy is frozen, his cereal spoon midway to his mouth, then turns to stare too. My lovely daughter, just smiles at us all,

What? I’ve just got a great new recipe for smashed avocado and chilli…”

Yes, my first-born is back from University for the holidays!

I honestly didn’t know what to expect from this first home-return. Several decades ago, I recall being an utter pain and, more currently, several witty articles warn parents to ‘brace’. But my girl has been an absolute delight. The old adage says that ‘education broadens the mind‘. Whilst some may challenge this, the recent interesting study by Jessika Golle of the University of Tübingen, in Germany, finding that it was not that University broadens minds, rather that work ‘narrows them‘, my daughter is noticeably more open minded…and not only in terms of her culinary choices! Her views on environmental issues, mental health and well-being, the value of money and so many more issues have all developed and deepened since she left our homestead 3 months ago. 

She also brings a refreshing independence into the house, which supports, rather than challenges my weariness and working hours. I arrive home to meals on the table. She does all her own washing.  She encourages the other two to be a little more self-sufficient. And all requests, to do any activity or meet anyone, are delivered with a courtesy and respect I find astonishing. Don’t get me wrong, we have always been close, but towards the end of Summer, she was clearly ready to strike out and make her own way in the world. And occasionally this lead to friction and resentment at having to follow someone else’s rules. Teenage brains are, after all, programmed to rebel in the important quest for independence (Blakemore et al)

So, whilst I steeled myself for a bumpy ride with student vacation number one, it has been a joy. My daughter seems completely at ease with herself and all of us. Is it meeting new people? Is it having a clear sense of purpose once more after the long months of Lockdown? Is it a reflection of her happiness with life? I am not sure. What I do know is that she lights up the day and that her visit is a huge boost for everyone in the house. The odd crazy food request… a quirk we can all accommodate!

With a smile, I add ‘avocados’ to my lengthy shopping list, accept my Eldest’s cheery offer to come with me and we head out together to re-stock the cupboards

Let’s hope those horrendously caught up in the chaos and gridlock at Dover make it home for Christmas too…

From hot tub to …

Saturday 19 December 2020

… to hollering, to humdrum, to … hissy fit? I am still not sure which of my alliterative choices to plump for! What it is, sadly, safe to say however is that ‘hot tub heaven’ did not quite go according to plan!

The tub is delivered and installed without a hitch on Thursday evening. By Friday morning, it is brimming with hot bubbles and up to temperature. I pop 2 bottles of prosecco in the fridge and head to work, for the final time this tumultuous term, in high spirits. Upon arriving home, alas, we peel back the covering to find the tub has lost around 50% of the water. It takes a good hour to refill and another 3 for the company ‘engineer’ to come out and give us the ‘all clear‘ to hop in. This they do, assessing that ‘the plug‘ has most probably, ‘become dislodged.’ Nonetheless by 7pm it’s cozzies, flip-flops and hot tub here we go!

And it is simply glorious. The tub and awning take up half the back garden, spectacularly transforming the outside of the house into our own personal spa. As all four of us sink into the warm froth, the sounds of laughter and happiness fill the air. We are no longer in a grey, drizzly corner of a Northern Tier 3 town; we are on holiday, in a luxurious alpine retreat, pampered, relaxed and without a care in the world.

We should just buy one mum!” enthuses my Eldest as the fizz flows in our glasses.

“I am staying in for ever!” grins Prom-dress daughter

I have drifted off into a more immediate dream of my own. This weekend! This weekend, there will be no; housework, no supermarket trips, no cooking, no thinking about work and mass testing and …. stop! None of that! Nothing but ‘the tub.’ Run then relax in the tub. Read a new book in the tub. Watch the teens having fun in the tub. Wine and beer in the tub. Utter bliss! After a year dominated by stress, worry and sadness I realise that it is just what I need! A wonderful evening ends and we head to bed.

I actually set my Saturday alarm for the first time in weeks and at 7:30am, pull on my run gear with thrice my usual enthusiasm. As I open the kitchen door however, I hear beeping and it is coming from …’the tub’. Outside, I find that, once again, the water level has dropped; this time dramatically to a level that might just about cover your toes. The machine flashing in panic, I despondently re-tap the engineer’s number on my phone. I am directed about, for a mad half-hour, trying out various ‘ home remedies’ before they announce that I am booked in for an afternoon visit. At this point I take stock of the situation and suggest that instead, as I face yet another 12 hours unable to make use of the 4 day-hire and there is no guarantee that the problem is fixable, we call it a day. And so it is that the hot tub is taken away.

The company could not be nicer. They insist on a full refund and also offer a free booking in January. Nonetheless, as the van pulls away from my drive, I sit down and burst into tears. Yes, I am ashamed to confess, I blub like a baby. With the back garden back ‘to normal’, the mirage of ‘weekend-away’ evaporates and my usual Saturday of drudge and dreariness descends like a heavy cloud. It’s covid life: grimy bathrooms, dusting and cleaning, battling around Tesco, no meeting friends, no playing music, no nights out and just never-ending worry – worry about everyone and everything. It has taken its toll on many. It has taken its toll on me. The teens fuss around with cups of tea and kind words and, lovely as they are, to escape the guilt of feeling like a ridiculous child instead of the parent I am supposed to be, I wave them away, dry my eyes and head out for a run.

Now, as ever, that does stop the tears, if not the sadness in my heart, and as I turn the key in the door, I have ‘gotten a grip‘ and am ready to carry on. Which is just as well as my 80 year old mum has called. One of her ceilings has fallen in. By calamitous co-incidence, she is also Prom-dress daughter’s accompanist for today’s re-scheduled Grade 8 violin recording. This could take a bit of sorting out. I could almost be thankful not to have the distraction of a heavenly hot tub in the garden… almost …

Give a little love …

Sunday 13 December 2020

You give a little love and it all comes back to you
La la la la la la la
…”

Bugsy Malone: Paul H. Williams

Looking back, I would probably highlight motherhood as, if not the first, then most definitely a significant induction into the the world of human kindness. As word spread of the arrival of my daughter, the gifts and small parcels flooded in, from all corners of the land. Friends and family, neighbours, the cleaner at work, the window cleaner, distant acquaintances of my parents and my in-laws parents … it just went on and on. I was utterly overwhelmed that so many should take the time and trouble to think of us. And into that same moment of dawning realisation, about how lovely most people actually are, came the sudden guilt about all the births I’d failed to mark with the thoughtfulness of a posted baby-grow or little pack of bibs. And I’ve tried my utmost to make amends every since. For that it the beauty of small acts of kindness; they spread!

Yes, the domino effect of thoughtfulness and goodwill is one of the unexpected joys of living, and in a miserable 2020, has seemed more important than ever. A couple of months ago, some of our neighbours were caught by ‘the virus’. I sent a text offering to do their shopping, whilst they endured isolation, and this week, upon hearing our news, they dropped in with bags of groceries and a tray of donuts. As we finally emerged back into the world this weekend, I wiped the sugar coated crumbs from my lips and made sure I offered to nip to ‘Big Tesco‘ for a workmate, who went down with corona a few days ago. And so the baton passes on.

Sometimes, I am humbled to say, these gestures have been far from ‘small’. In the bleakest moments of life; the death of my father, the breakdown of my marriage, the (thankfully small number of) serious crises for my children, the love and support of those around me has been so incredible, that I’ve often wondered that I’ll ever be able to repay them. Whilst I may always feel deeply indebted to some of my dearest friends, what I have been able to do, in honour of them, is this. When meeting others facing challenges or sorrows, I have now found the time and words to offer them the care and understanding I’ve been shown. And perhaps ‘passing on the baton’ is the best way to ‘repay’ my friends and family. Perhaps that’s why no act of kindness, be it small or large, is ever wasted…