6 months down…

Sunday 28 June 2020

Half the year has gone…

6 months down

January, February, March. It began so well. It began so eventfully. We got Boris the Gecko. We got University offers. My eldest turned 18. Small boy chose GCSEs, cemented his place on the Basketball team and got his first girlfriend. Prom dress daughter rehearsed for the college production, completed Duke of Edinburgh walks and dashed of brilliant essays on Kant, Hegel and Descartes. I played Beethoven and Bartok. I ran. I wrote…posts for this blog, posts for an American blog.

Then came Covid 19. And it all stopped. March became April became May became June. Suddenly, half the year was gone. Stalled. Vanished. Wiped out. That’s how it feels some mornings. On better days, I’d soften to ‘Different‘ – a chance to slow down and reconsider values and priorities.

Thinking back, I can still picture the final Friday I drove home from full-time, face-to-face work. I can recall how I felt, what was on the radio, who was in the house, what we ate … I can remember every detail. The next 14 weeks? That all becomes far hazier.

No, that’s not entirely fair. Whilst much of it is an indistinguishable blur, my very own version of Ground Hog Day made duller without Bill Murray, some events do stand out, and there is a common theme. The high points have been about people. Faces on the screen Zooming or WhatsApping or Skypeing in for a call. Faces on photos bringing memories from the past. Cheeky bank holiday wine with the neighbours and wonderful socially distanced beers in the park. Lockdown forced us to stop racing around to achieve our usual “important stuff “and, in the space, magical moments came from the time to listen properly to friends and family. Maybe I know them and appreciate them even better than before?

So have we been cheated out of life over the past quarter? I’ll confess, I still worry that we have. Because our “important stuff” still is incredibly important. I worry that the gaps; in learning, in opportunity, in personal growth, will be impossible to bridge and may have consequences for years to come for my lovely trio of teens. But maybe I am unduly pessimistic. The psychologist Maslow, would doubtless say so.

Maslow’s hierarchy of need

Near the base of Maslow’s pyramid is safety, the level Corona virus forced upon us as a nation. As we paused, did we find more time to value friends, family and relationships? Missing people. Missing company. Missing being together. It was undoubtedly the theme of countless radios debates and social media posts. If Maslow’s motivational theory is correct, it suggests that the personal accomplishments, that characterised the beginning of 2020, can drive us again but will only benefit from first tending to more fundamental foundations; recognising the human need to love and be loved.

It is an attractive notion. There will, in time be evidence too. Several studies have been commissioned to examine the effects of the UK Lockdown, including one, at Strathclyde University, focused on the positive aspects of staying at home. In the meantime, for my kids and for me, here’s hoping the optimists are right!

Did it…

Friday 31 January 2020

Another January draws to a close, but this is no ordinary opening slog of dark and dreary endurance. It is one where, just as I pause to proudly cheer “I did it!”, I find myself bowled with joy because my eldest really and truly ‘did it’! She went and got herself that University offer…

I did Dry January! Today I reach the end of a 31 day alcohol-holiday for my body. Tough times at first – bottles of white wine gleaming like exotic jewels of temptation on the supermarket shelves. Turning the key in the lock after a late night rehearsal but not relaxing with a glass of whisky. It all felt very dull. Was it worth the perseverance? Absolutely! From the middle of the month, I rediscovered a natural tiredness and slept like a baby most nights. And today, as I prepare to wave goodbye to total abstinence, my skin is clear, my stomach settled and water, how I crave H20, seems far more refreshing than … anything. Above all however, I have fallen a little bit in love with my clearer, fresher mind. This old brain won’t ever revive the glorious romps of my 20s, I know that, but without doubt, it is sharper and speedier this month than in the previous 5 years. Alcohol, yes it was difficult to give up, but for me, giving up fog-free thinking, now that will be impossible. I think my drinking habits are reformed for ever. “Eek!

Today also marks ‘done it’ for my course of antibiotics. My finger still looks pretty awful but it is usable again. I can write once more. I can turn on light switches. I can rummage for keys on my bag. And I can at long last, return to playing my oboe – hip hip hooray! But it doesn’t quite end there. This is Friday, which means that I ‘do’ a run! It’s a gruelling and windswept ordeal tonight, but my run buddy drags me around the muddy course. By the end, my mood is high; and it is about to go stratospheric.

I am just collapsing into my car when the mobile rings, it’s my eldest,

“Mum, Nottingham have given me an offer!!!”

Joy, pride, relief, incredulity, all these emotions and more flood the system. So much hard work, so much stress, so much waiting, but suddenly it all seems worth it. My girl, against all the odds, has ‘done it’, and she edges ever closer to her medicine dreams. I am completely over the moon. Forget your fizz and cocktails; this feels like a high that will never end.

So I bid you a fond farewell January 2020 … possibly the best January ever!!

Family meetings…

Sunday 12 January 2020

Small Boy slides into the kitchen, his face alight with excitement…and hope?

“Mum, can I have a corn snake for my birthday?

Well that’s a conversation stopper… at least for a moment! But we are all there. It is Sunday after all, the one day of the week when my culinary skills extend to breakfast. Prom-dress daughter breaks the silence with a simple ‘Whaaaat?’ My eldest starts Google-ing facts about corn snakes and their living habits. Small Boy waves pictures of ‘cute‘ snakes at us. I take a swig of my tea (wondering, not for the first time, why I thought Dry January was such a good idea) and soon something resembling a ‘family meeting’ is in full flow. But I think there may be a family out there that needs a meeting even more than we do today…

Although only one full week in, world events have seen 2020 explode into the annals. Australia continues to battle bush fires that have devastated the ecosystem on a terrifying scale. Tension between the USA and Iran, following the death of General Qasem Soleimani, has been intense and, at its height, the press did debate the likelihood of a third world war. In the UK however, the story that has dominated the news reels has been the decision of Harry and Meghan to ‘step back’ from their roles a senior members of the British royal family.

I am not a major ‘royalist’ but I do have a theory on the national fascination with The Windsors. To my mind, it stems from them being family. They do things that our familes do: they marry, they have babies, they get their first jobs, they celebrate landmark birthdays. The difference is that they do much of it publicly, with the ceremonial glamour and style that wealth and privilege afford. And in this light they become a family we all watch, discuss and debate (and because we all understand families, we all have something to say.) Is it a step to far to suggest that, for centuries, we have had our very own brand of the Kardashians in residence at Buckingham Palace?

More seriously, if we look back to the abdication of Edward 7th, less than 100 years ago, we see how rapidly the royal family have since adapted, reflecting the changing views of society on the family and other issues. Their role, in signalling acceptance of today’s more varied family unit is a really important one for me. The Queen, who has (nominally) ruled our land for 67 years, should also be admired for allowing the younger royals freedom to branch out and work on issue close to their own hearts. Princess Dianna shaking hands with an AIDS patient in the 1980s, Prince Harry more recently speaking out on mental health, both illustrate the power of the younger generation to challenge prejudice, to remove stigma and to make progress. Elizabeth 2nd is a true matriarch and I am sure she will be able to steer the family through their current dilemma, (which appears to be, an admittedly complex twist, on the age old problem of one son deciding that he doesn’t want to ‘join the family business’). In her long reign, the Queen must have dealt with far greater quandaries.

Could she spare some advice for me on the issue of the corn snake I wonder? My eldest announces that they ‘eat mice’. Prom-dress Daughter says ‘no way!’ I venture to ask if ‘any reptiles are vegetarians?’ Small Boy agrees to look into it and we head off to make some enquiries about non-mice-eating pets at the local pet store….

Christmas carols, Christmas chaos….

Monday 16 December 2019

The last few days have been a hectic mix of the familiar; traditional Christmas carols concerts, parties and drinks, with the unfamiliar and definitely less festive challenge of University interviews for my eldest.

Friday takes us to Yorkshire. The University grilling takes almost 3 hours. The drive home, along a flood hit M62 even longer. The alpha-mothers in the parent room, whose knowledge of UKCAT scores and entry criteria for every Medical school in the land is encyclopedic, have left me feeling like a total failure as a mum. I am agitated by the motorway queues and lane-closure confusion. And my lovely girl is clearly deflated by her interview. Nonetheless upon our return, she summons up the energy to don her party dress and step out for the evening, and I rally enough reserves to drive Prom-dress daughter to another social gathering and feed Small Boy, before heading gratefully to bed.

My eldest gets to sleep somewhat later than this. She is home not long after midnight. And I am sure of the time because she stumbles into my room upon her return, a little the worse for wear, switches on the light and slurrily gushes ,

I really, really love you mum!”

I reciprocate the sentiments, persuade her that now not the best time to go and visit her brother, and steer her off to bed.

To her credit, by 10am on Saturday morning, both she and Small-boy are at Victoria Station in Manchester to play 2 hours of Christmas carols and songs with their local band. Quite a few of my family gather to listen, over cheery cups of Costa coffee and a catch -up on the latest news. It’s a lovely event that stirs the heart and replenishes the seasonal community cheer. I stay in town for a number of afternoon/evening drinks with friends and, as Sunday dawns and my eldest and I now pack our bags for a trip to University interview number 3, I have only a mildly banging head to contend with. We hit the motorway again and are checking into our hotel by 5pm.

Our Monday interview starts at an astonishingly early 8am but again it is 3 hours before my eldest emerges. This one is ‘the worst yet’ and feeling pretty sad and despondent we slink back to the car and set the satnav for home. I feel that sickening terror that every parents knows of wondering how we will cope with the disappointment if all the hard work, and I’d make that 3 years of hard work, ends with rejection and the end of my daughter’s dreams. But today it takes me less time than usual to shift this paralyzing dread. Because… she is such an amazing, driven and talented girl. And that means lots of alternatives, lots of choices and lots of ways to have a bright and happy future. Hey, at least when she’s tipsy, my girl ‘really,really loves her mum‘, I’ll make sure of it !

Even if I hadn’t cheered myself up, back home the usual chaos is enough to distract anyone. Prom-dress daughter and Small Boy both have a Christmas concert to play in … at 6:30pm. In a last minute change of plan however, Small Boy has also been selected to make his debut on the school basketball team, in another venue…ending at 5:30pm. Fortunately it’s Monday. My mum arrives for piano lessons. We shelve these and she agrees instead to feed the girls and drop Prom-dress daughter at the concert hall. Without stopping for food, I head out to the basketball tournament to cheer on my tall, gangly bean of a boy. It just so happens that the venue for this sporting spectacle is about 3 minutes from my mum’s house…and I have a key. At the final claxon tolls, at 5:45 pm, I whisk him, off to mum’s. She is not there, because … you’ve got it … she is at my house! Small Boy changes with the speed of Clark Kent himself, I thrust 2 packets of crisps and a bottle of Lucozade at him and we speed off to the concert.

We arrive with moment to spare. Small Boy’s grinning face races off to take his place in the orchestra. Prom-dress daughter, already in situ, gives us a smirk and a wave. I sink gratefully into my seat and the carols begin. ‘Silent Night‘ … how lovely … and if only….