New beginnings

“They sacrificed instinct to phoney ambition” Kate Tempest , Holy Elixir.

Our lives have become steadily intertwined so that even now, I await his determined footsteps thudding down the staircase at 6.00am. I have even moved the kettle to my bedroom to limit the sounds which might be attractive to a three year old at this time. As I write this, his feet circumnavigate mine and he mumbles, peeks and sighs at my pen to stop dancing; as if wishing to resume the dance of reciprocity we left off from last night. Instead , he stops and tells me, “I know you cannot play but can you get my ‘brooming’ car from the table. Of course I can.

Later, on a walk to the car from our home, I join his narration of our surroundings; the smelly lavender house, the house with the lady who takes photographs for important newspapers, the alternative family house, the house with the rainbows, the other house with the rainbows, the house with the lady I met at baby massage, the seashell house and the house with the fellow, ‘red arrow lookout’ man. This guy we met early in lockdown, when looking (funnily enough,) for the red arrows. I , on this occasion (as if there were many) saw them , he it transpired did not. Finally there is the house with, well another rainbow.

On this particular morning we languished along the uneven pavment lining the increasingly busy road which slopes down towards town. My little fella held my hand and in the other directed his bin lorry; across mountains and through ravines, over volcanoes and past monsters, with the ease of a three year old mind. He stopped as we near the corner of the road to which we are heading and looks down. Stooping to get a closer look at the pavement, in his default mode he shouts , “Ohhhhh look Mummy ooooo Snails”.

“Oh yes”, I marvelled and met his amazement, as indeed there were two snails which appear to be moving very slowly toward the very busy downward slope.

“Where are they going?”, he asks passing me his bin lorry. Grasping his hands together he crouches and says, “oh are they a Mummy and a baby snail?”

I squint and it appears indeed that this pair of travellers to the untrained snail eye, are an adult and a child so, “yes” I confirm, this is a Mum snail and her child.

They slide in linear formation , rather concerningly towards the very busy downward slope. True lemming style I silently muse. “Gosh”, I said, “they are going that way.”I point to the road. Picking up my concern – and the snails, he proceeds to place them on the wall of the man who didn’t see the red arrows, garden.

As if considering how they might feel about such upheaval, he places them together and says, “there- now you are next to each other. They will be safe now Mummy.” He promptly takes my free hand and we smile at each other. “Good job chap”, I say and we continue tot he car.

I am pleasantly glowing at the sense of empathy he is demonstrating through this one small act and it occurs to me that this is something which I have been exposed to increasingly throughout the pandemic, alongside the growing realisation within of certain moralistic values unrealised prior to lockdown. There appears to be a growing sense within people, of the importance of being with and helping others. On our street there has been a definite increase in sociability but more than this there is a jarring sense of empathy within me of not just wanting to help others, but needing to. A need which I am more and more certain particularly thoughout these weeks and months, has driven certain episodes throughout my life, although up until now I have directed it away from home. Now though and on this day in particular, there is a sense that this drive if you like, has been speaking to me for some years and has been in the ascendant since my youngest child’s birth, fighting for survival alongside its phoney enemy: the career.

Later, standing alongside the little chap in a field of wheat ( after many months of walking in said fields), I examine, with my new expertise, the grasses to determine which they are. “I think”, I say with some confidence to the little chap, “we have rye grass and sedge”. Yes Sedge Mummy. We smile at each other. He promptly shouts “chase me” and I do so tiredly but knowing its OK because lifes urgency is not really there right now.

Running after him, I become aware that my feelings of late are leading somewhere and whatever the enemy presents in servitude , the instinctual side of life is winning over, subtley but with a reverence only biology can muster.

The evening swings round and I listen back to a speech by Rabbi Sachs on Radio 4s Today programme. He conveys the need to be with someone and to live with others and draw upon them for support, beliefs which are blended with my own earlier realisations. I think starkly about how often we forgo our children as humans, our own children to achieve stability in our finances and careers for a future that is so far off and indeed, might not be. It reminds me of the words of my new Bumble friend (lockdown discovery) who says – “its never worth it.” Teaching our little ones that people are the most important thing, starts by letting them know that they are the most important thing so they can feel first hand the impact that this has on others. Teaching them that they are important- but as long as we can have a career and things as well is the current status quo and no doubt for many it is just about surviving. I get that. I too am David Cameron’s definition of a JAM citizen. But, for both parents to be absent for long periods is becoming more and more difficult to justify for me, particularly when I have spent the last three years exploring the importance of synchrony and regulation of our emotional state with primary relationships. I have struggled to let go – I cannot forgive myself or forget the pain of separation from him. The biological propensity to be with him is far stronger than my desire to be a successful member of SLT in a school.It has been made even stronger through this lockdown , which has demonstrated how very little we need on a daily basis to actually survive and to be content.

And so I resign. I resign so for the next year so I can be with him, I can nurture him watch him grow and ensure he is ready for school. I am a single parent to three children. I have very little income and I do not have any assets. I have built up a career and some might say that I should pursue this, that this decision is irresponsible but knowing what I know now and thinking about the future, my childrens future, I think to myself is it such a great sacrifice to live in relative poverty financially for a year in order to give emotional security for a life time to children? I think the answer is unequivocally no.

I feel to do otherwise is essentially being somewhat like the mother snail we witnessed this morning. Leading your child with the absolute best of intention into the business of the world with the goal that you should both get to the other side in one piece. Perhaps with a bit of space to think things through, that journey can be made with a little less risk to well being; by having a bit more time together and waiting for the choice to be taken away from me rather than making a choice which I will never be at one with.

So like those snails my boy and I sit on a wall and observe. As life begins to pick up after lockdown we, are staying at the same pace. We look forward, with the knowledge that we have what we need within us to make it through this year and after that he will have the resilience to cope with what ever he finds on the other side of that busy road.

Eins

When the past is still present, then the present passes us by.

If I could have felt my pregnancy how I feel it now. It was as if my mind could not meet with my body. The pregnancy accelerated as I struggled to be part of it. The eyes did not focus and what I saw was milky white as if I was frozen inside; my mind paralysed to the reality of my situation. I felt it odd , considering it was my third pregnancy, but it may as well have been my first. I treated it as if it were a given; I think I was treated as if my experience would be easy. I wasn’t just a Mum but a Mum of two older children and so I had accumulated experience mapping half my life time.Then came labour.

The tightening of the insides and the analgesia of the pause made the pregnancy hang on. Teetering on the precipice, as precious life made renewed efforts to grasp his mother.

The false self lost its hold and I cried; I mourned our failed relationship, howled at the rejection and humiliation experienced and was still receiving in the midst of the chaos.

So now single working and struggling with life I find comfort in hope and realise that it has been hope that has been the real sustenance of my life.

Only now can i relax and really think about what I am. I am a Mum I am a Mother.  


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Tell me

Last night sitting in the living Room my daughter was reading through some film studies notes with me. We had a thoughtful discussion about John Trubys’ framework for character which was discussed in relation to the brilliant Shaun of the Dead. Anyway my daughter explained how Truby outlines the 3 basic elements of character as weakness, need and desire. I really love it when she’s shares her learning and this in particular was interesting stuff. It did , of course, prompt me to consider this in relation to myself – what is my weakness, my need and my desire? And in turn what would you guys consider your own to be? I wonder if perhaps others that knew us would concur or perhaps they would perceive differently?

Weakness- this is tricky not because I can’t think of it but because of connotations linked to what I will say. I am addict. I have been clean for 18 years but I started to use drugs when I was 13 and so by my mid twenties the addiction was well established. I tend to do things to excess so I have to be careful about having a drink or smoking cigarettes.

Need – to be here with and for the kids. It has proved to be so beneficial taking this year out so far.

Desire – to fulfil my writing ambitions and finish the book I recently started writing. To perhaps be in another relationship one day.

Approaching the enemy line

Last night I thought about the last time I went to a gig. It was with my daughter for her 15th birthday last year. We both enjoyed it however for her it was particularly special as it was the first time she saw Dodie live. Dodie is her first music love. Memories of the night have not faded, unfortunately not just because of Dodies’ performance. On the way home someone took their life, by jumping onto the track that our train was travelling along at a high speed.

We were in the train all night talking to passengers and the driver of the train. The driver , it turned out was an ex-serviceman and this was not his first suicide experience. He explained the process that would hold us here for a few hours and him for a month at home. His tone was somber but it cracked when someone asked him how he coped. “Music”, he said “I am a musician”.

I sat holding my daughters hand and watching the other passengers, occasionally chipping at their conversation which was slow and stunted. Everyone revealed something of their nature that night, myself included, some of it good , some of it sad.

When we got home we lit a candle for the person who died. We didn’t know anything about them but we both felt the despair of someone so unhappy and scared that their actions that night were the only option for them.

This is the poem I wrote shortly afterwards.

Back Track

This was the day that run on time.

On this present tour you are in between five enemies,

acting now in the service of the train operator,

Here you can only muster the occasional control,

As when push comes to shove,

and in the absence of either,

you are ordered to stare into the face of death,

and wait for its hold to slow us down.

How many times have people sought the tranquility of the track gauge?

Like a stinger thrown down,

a persistent thought, a heavy sadness straddles the track.

In tonight’s delay, our shared experience,

Cast us into a cell, where we share our crimes

Him for his infidelity,

Her for getting drunk with her teenage daughter

Him for being so drunk he cannot remember

And her , for her lack of support,

myself, standing on the outside of who i am.

It is hard to imagine why you, so delicate and wise are here,

Your presence is an anchor,

You allow a vestige of times normal velocity

running life towards a station on the main line

in waves of emotion heralded as the Driver and

His guitar walk off the platform to only he knows where,

After the train took life from the track.

It’s very easy to be angry at people for what they didn’t do for you but can you look past that and see what they did do?

I feel very basic right now. Stripped to the most primitive of emotions. Some days even raw. On these days I seek to protect myself. Not hide, just preserve the very building blocks of what I am. Taking a career break and renouncing all of my study for a year has given me a lot of space to ‘be’ in.
I had an emotional childhood which led me into a very distressing adolescence. While I am at home this year, enjoying time with my youngest before he heads to school next September, I have decided to try to put together these years into a novel. Not a memoir, as I didn’t want to bring myself too close to what was. A novel i felt would help preserve some of the distance I have created.
As a means of filling in some of the gaps I hauled out a box
today full of poems, diary entries, stories and pictures which I created during these years. There is a lot of material and I sat down late this afternoon with the intention of going through it all. I lasted 45 minutes and only scratched the surface of the contents. I realised then that it was too difficult and took me away from where I am now and to a place , which from my reading today , seemed I had forgotten an awful lot about.
What I did find though ,that I could read was a ream of poems some of which I read and re- read this evening.
They have sat there unseen by anyone since I packed them up when my eldest was a small child. So around 15 years.

The girl who I was then wasn’t really heard, so I thought I would give her a voice here and post what she felt 25 years ago.

This poem is called , The last laugh is on me.

The last laugh……………..

Expectations,
Running high- in my eyes,
But in yours I see doubt.
You believe, you say
But do you see
there is a seed; planted
Way back
Waiting to germinate-
Ready to explode
Nurtured by achievements,
Each one better than the last,
Each one smothers doubts breath.

I know it will remain unsown,
For now
Silent, hopeless,
Till that day
When you, no doubt
(But you will)
Your own integrity.
For what you have done
Is judge
And that my friend
Was a mistake. .................is on me.

My response to this now?

Well, I think that is in the title of this blog post.

Another day

The UK sits in the centre of where 6 different air masses meet which accounts for the breadth of weather conditions. Where we live in the south easterly corner, 50 miles from London, we experience probably the best of the conditions thrown our way and certainly the warmest.
Not only is the weather in our favour here in Essex but so too is our proximity to the coastline. For me anyway, this is of paramount importance; I am a beach lover and I have raised my children to appreciate all things with a coastal
link . Interestingly , I have noticed recently that it instils in my youngest, a state of calm which we chased today.

I pondered where to head. 

We are 2 hours from Cromer on the North Norfolk Coast. Here you experience chilly winds but good surf conditions and the greatest fish and chip shop on the planet. No. 1 Cromer. Heading south , we are also 2 hours from Brighton a city of acceptance where you can be yourself as you trail the quirkiest shops and a host of traditional pubs. I needed somewhere nearer , wasn’t really up for Clacton-on-Sea or Walton and high tide meant we weren’t getting on to Mersea for another hour. There was a certain urgency to us getting out on this day. Lots of emotions flying around and as a Mum you feel when you need to disperse these quickly for your children,in the absence of them being able to do it for themselves. So this week people we chose – Harwich.

Harwich is the UKs second busiest sea ferry port and lies south of Felixstowe port, visible from where we went today. It is suggested that this is where the Mayflower was built before she travelled to Plymouth. From here the Pilgrim Fathers made their voyage to Massachusetts in the U.S.
Although there is no confirmed record of this , keen to redress the perception of Plymouth as the origin of the Mayflower , local historians have identified the Mayflower as being designated in the Port Books of 1609-11 as being of Harwich Essex. It doesn’t seem an unfair conclusion given that her master, Christopher Jones was also born and married in Harwich.

Signpost to the US

Anyway, Harwich is steeped in this history and we made our way past the commemorative quay today looking at the signs and boats in dock. 

We ended our walk at the beach – of course- to have a snack and play.

As we sat there the little chap wandered off to explore, i marvelled at another day of well, good weather, outdoor play and just felt incredibly blessed to have this space around me where I can take the children and blow away any cobwebs.

And relax…..

We drove back, the line of the horizon so clean it shone. The sky immaculate, our heads clear.
The light from where we headed dazzled and smallest said “That is beautiful mummy”. And it was. More so because when a four year old says so it, touches something that you can’t quite put your finger on but you know it to be the purest truth.

Looking over to Felixstowe Port from Harwich

So with our mission accomplished, we arrived home taking inside what we had achieved and shared it with the others.

Mersea Island

Mersea is the most easterly inhabited island in England and is around 10 miles from my home town of Colchester.

It’s a small island, home to approximately 7000 residents. At low tide it joins the mainland but at high tide ,water separates the Mersea Islanders from us all.

Everyone I know has forgotten the tide at one point and ended up stranded for an hour or so before the tide has drifted out. Me included. I managed not only to hold myself back but the 12 students I had on board the minibus, hired to take them on an outdoor adventure. Getting stuck wasn’t part of the itinerary granted but hey, I felt it added a certain je be sais quoi to the day. I aim to please……

Anyway, as I mentioned in my previous post, with the whole lockdown 2 swinging by, I have been planning various field trips (literally) and other excursions, as part of our daily exercise allowance. Fortunately this time round there isn’t a specified mileage (probably not wise to travel to Durham though Mr. Cummings) so Mersea was top of my list. This is not least because Mersea is always my go to spot and has been since I was small. Now I have some small people of my own – well ok technically one as the others have passed my eye line- I have carried the tradition forward and on Sunday smallest and I drove out at low tide.

It was beautiful. Gulls flickered in the morning sunshine, the beach hummed with conversation (clearly i am not the only one with a big brain 😂) and the open beach offered plenty to occupy us. We got stuck in mud, buried our feet in the sand, collected shells and got stuck in more mud. It definitely set us up for the week.

And it’s left me thinking ; if that was the only decent weather day we get this time round, then it was a morning we will always remember.

And so it begins…..

No I am not referring to the new era for Americans who I am very happy for ( had a celebratory Fish ‘n’ Chip supper here at our house for all of you). Neither am I referring to the less than 2 months that Boris and Co. have left to somehow, establish a deal with the EU. No I am, of course referring to the start of the daily walk as part of our exercise allowance throughout #Lockdown 2. I am very excited (ahem) to be planning a return to the wheat and barley fields in Halstead (exciting stuff!), minus the wheat and barley. So probably better referred to as the mud fields. May even throw in a few beach walks. How I have missed it……..!!!!

I should add though that I am very grateful to be living so near to places that can offer a bit of respite from the gruelling task of staying indoors. No doubt there will be tears and tantrums but you can bet your bottom dollar they won’t occur when we put on our coats and wellies and head out for a walk.

The wheat field #Lockdown 1

Mid- conversation

This lockdown has honed in on many nuances of the day which haven’t registered previously. Like how frequently my kids interject mid sentence/conversation , providing a more , well interesting finish than was required.

Steve: Helen could do with someone to do the weeding. She would pay – I was thinking of asking – £10?

(Excited shouting from the living room tumbles into kitchen)

Sarah: Me, me I can do that, I am very good at it , I can create character; I am good with accents and actions.

Me: Weeding, Sarah. Not Reading.

Sarah : Oh. I can do that too.

Coping in Space

I arrive back home from dropping off my youngest this morning and was met by my daughter who was in tears. She told me that she did not want to be in that silence. It is ,”too quiet in there Mum” she said and sobbed on my shoulder. She was referring to her class at college which she has told me, after each of the three sessions that she has so far had, is unspeakably quiet. Literally. It is so quiet that you dont want to speak. Not that his has put her off trying- she has come back from class with mounting stories of her attempts to speak in the space which she refers to as the ‘unspeakable place’.Today though this is a silence she does not want to be in. The thought brings tears and we sit and hug and she cries and we chat.She is overwhelmed with the remberance of her brother having had a seizure the day before last. She was alone in the house and so she was first on the scene , a scene which she responded to exactly as I had told her too previously and from which she was able to get him the right care and keep him safe until the paradmics arrived. What she has been left with though was a memory of the sounds of the tonic clonic moan which, for those that have heard it can be quite alarnming. For the rest of the day and all of yesterday she spent the day talking to her friend – all day; doing work and playing games all while on face time and only when she had to go to bed did she finally hit the power off switch on her TV and end the call. She didn’t want to hear the silence because of what might come out of it but this morning faced with the prosect of the Silent Film Class, a door opened in her mind and let in what she did not want to think about.
It made me think that it is remarkable, the power of the mind and what we will do to fill in a gap that might let in a thought unknown , or perhaps a thought known but not wanted. Either way the mind has a propensity, a duty even to protect and provide an escape from something tht might be a bit unbearable.
15 years ago now, I received a phonecall from my brother in law- well it may have been my Dad but someone to tell me that my sister was going back to hospital three days after giving birth. She had a headache and was confused and the doctor was concerned. I remember thinking “ah maybe that is why she was not that bothered by the picture that my eldest son had drawn of her and her growing family”. What I did not think was that the last goodbye had been the last. A week later she passed away. She was diagnosed with Acute Hemorrhagic Leukoencephalitis, an inflammatory disease of the brain. I remember being told that the hospital had only seen three people presening with this diagnosis up until this point, one had passed and the other two had been left completely incapaticated needing 24 hour care. No – one could help.
Her passing left a space which I have wondered about recently,a space which has been occupied by many distractions, none of which have allowed me to be able to clear the path ahead and make good emotional progress in life. Instead the feelings of grief swim in and out of my days cornered by defenses that usher them out.
I refer to her death as leaving a space but chasm probably better describes the gap that was created. Her passing opened up a hole so vast it reached across by life span, where memories will not be formed and childhood moments that make us, will dissolve without her to help preserve them. A gap where our children have grown apart where their lives would have joined and where I grew a life which is far removed from the one I inhabited in her life-time. I have filled the time with training as a teacher, youth worker and now therapist and of course bearing a son, her nephew, who will never know his Auntie. Less tinged with emotion, its also a space where global events have occured which would have impacted us differently but which we would have experienced and reflected upon together.
This gap in my life went on unprocessed and as we know, if you have read my previous entry , when lockdown began the additinal space that this event created was a bit too much to bear. It was confusing, noisy and chaotic and offered no respite, but and there is a but, as it continued i found it a useful place to be and so decided in the end that I wanted a bit more of it- that perhaps now was the time to actually sit myself right in the middle of it and take what it had to offer.
It has been wonderful, enlightening and so far i have achieved more with all the children in four weeks (and 6 months if you include lockdwn) than in the previous four years, since the youngest arrived. There is routine, laughter, lots of time together, we eat together and conversation flows from each room , between floors. Its been tough financially but the merits of being at home are priceless.
What has been more difficult to bear, is that as time goes on since my resignation, the things which I remember as bothering me but which I didnt want to think about, have slowly crept forward; my sisters death being one of them and I visecrally find myself reacting daily to moments of real space where i have been confronted by panic and sadness. In all my years and all my exeriences I have never paniced which is quite remarkable given, so this is novel and quite honestly, scary.The frequency is becoming infuriating.Sometimes the feeling that there is nothing or no-one to hold onto is unbearable. It takes me to a place where a primitive anxiety lies, which in the words of Esther Bick feels as if, “With every separation and discontinuity (in knowledge of the object, for instance) [is] another unknown dimension, the fall into space”(Bick,198:150). Bick proposed that the infant when unheld in this space, will search frantically for something to hold onto to prevent this fall and I feel as if the work that I have undertaken teaching and caring has prevented me from such a descent. Now, by choosing to put my career on hold, this space is too vast for me to cope with and the panic is the fall into space I have avoided. I am reminded though, of Donald Winnicott whose proposition of the potential space which exists between mother and infant is crucial, to allow the child to grow and cope with the space that stretches out before them in life. This potential space is how we learn to be with ourselves , by ourself.I am encouraged by this concept, feeling that here and now I have my own potential space and although not with my Mother I am with the famliy I have created. Without the previous distractions previous defenses are disarmed and I have the chance to learn to be again. It has felt slightly disconcerting that I have regressed again however perhaps this is where I am meant to be. Shelia Heiti in Motherhood notes that if we are brought back to the same situation more than once, despite efforts to build a different life, perhaps this is our destiny. This is where I am today – feeling that my attempts to cheat on myself with an alternative persona are a denial of where and who I am and I should not be ashamed that I am a mother and a mother alone.

And so I think back on today and I am overjoyed to see that being given space is not interminable to my daughter;where I will stretch the space over years and be unable to find anything to hold onto or will hold on for too long, she with good wisdom embraces the bad feeling she ignored yesterday, then does what we do when sufficient conditions have been created in early life – we reach out and give our fears back to our parents and let them digest it for us.

A bit like the bird who part digests its food for its young – part digesting childrens emotions when they are young, is so important. It allows them to be able to process their feelings for themselves later on and not rely on the effortful and ultimately damaging diversions which many of us create for ourselves.

Vista

I have been suffering with a cold. I worried for a day it might be covid and suppressed coughs in my throat. I began to wonder what would become of my children. What would become of the little chap. There is no one to help. It worries me now ; more than the first wave did. I feel vulnerable not because I am high risk but because the consequences would be catastrophic if I were to become ill and then have to be hospitalised. It doesn’t bear thinking about- but of course that I don’t want to contemplate it , is exactly why I should be thinking about it. The unbearable should always, always, always be sat opposite and looked at. Any attempt to mask it will only transform it into something far removed from its original cause. That is when time grabs hold and pushes you along, like a dinghy boat on an open sea – it’s easy to get dragged out and not so easy to find a current home.

And so I think of how much I am the centre of their live’s and how much normality, for them depends upon me.

It’s difficult to grasp but now our day to day lives are in synchrony I feel the full realisation of it, as perhaps I have not not done before.

I leave the thought there.

For now, that is all I need to consider and the only thing the children need me to do and be is right here.