Family Calendar Heartache

It’s strange how it is often the smallest things that have the biggest emotional impact.

This week it was a calendar.

It started with me facing the inevitable fact that another year is almost over.

It’s not so much the time passing that I find demoralising as the fact that it means Christmas, with all its tinsled consumerism, must be right around the corner.

I was counting the weeks on the family calendar,  looking at the 4 columns, one for each of the members in our family.

And that’ when it struck me.

After 20 years of shaping our days around the schedule of our children, next year we won’t need a family calendar.

Next year our lives will be reduced to 2  columns:  mine and my husband Ninesh’s.

“What’s the matter,” asks Ninesh, glancing up from his computer.

“I’ve just realised,” I say, ‘that from next year we’ll be a two -column family.”

Ninesh looks at me and looks at our calendar scrawled with squiggly lines and crossings out.

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“Great,” he says, ” not only will we be free to go out whenever we want, only have to cook for two but we will also have more wall space. .  I don’t know why you’re upset, the rest of us never look at it anyway. We’ve been using the calendars on our phone for years.”

And he’s right.

The only writing on the calendar is mine.

But there is something comforting in writing down what we are all doing and when.

Something that makes me feel complete about knowing where everyone is and when they will be coming home.

It’s not the calendar I will miss, but the sense it gives me that I am still a mum.

Under our daughter’s name there is already mostly only a squiggled line.  She is already beginning to make her own life, far from us, enjoying the independence and vibrancy of student life.

But I have written in big letters, the day she will come home.

Our son, still living at home for a few more months has a packed column, full of work and social life.

Ninesh has dinners and racquetball games, and nights out with friends written under his name.

I have meetings and book club and nights out with friends.

We each have our own lives but somehow, on our calendar they are all entwined.

It’s all there, on the wall. Proof that we are a family.

But in February Joss goes travelling and when he returns we only have him for a month before he leaves us to start a new life in Canada.

I’m not sure that I can justify a family calendar that has 2 columns of squiggled and empty lines.  It will be too obvious a reminder that I have no idea what our children are doing or where they are or who they are with.

It’s not a family calendar but a family life that is hanging on our wall.

“Perhaps we can buy a picture,” suggests Ninesh ” or use the space for photos of the good times we are having without our children.”

At that moment a sound like the splintering of breaking glass echoes from all our phones and the words, “there is motion at your front door,” flash up on our screens.

It’s a present we bought Ninesh for his birthday. A front door bell with a motion detector and video and a link to all our phones.  If someone rings our doorbell, wherever we are in the world, we will all know and be able to talk to them through the video screen and tell them that we are not in ( which they might have realised when we didn’t answer the door).

No longer can a postman hide a package under our doormat and pretend they rang the bell.

No more do I have to open the door to yet another charity persuader trying to guilt me into giving monthly deposits to a cause I have never heard of.

The days of curtain twitching are over, we just need to look at our phones to know who we are not letting in.

“It’s just someone delivering a leaflet,” says Joss, walking between me and the calendar and holding up his phone to show me.

“Won’t you miss our calendar?” I ask him.

“Why would I miss a calendar?” he asks, ‘ I never look at it anyway, I just use the one on my phone.”

I refuse to look at Ninesh’s I-told-you-so-smile.

“But isn’t it nice for you to know where we all are?” I persevere.

“I just text you if I want to know that,” says Joss, reaching for the Weetabix.

And I realise then, how ready I am to imbue a piece of paper four columned paper with a symbolic meaning  it doesn’t have.

It is not the calendar I will miss but the identity it represents.

It’s time to re-define my life.

It’s time for our children to fly, I know that.

I did it when I was their age.

Stepped into the wideness of a beckoning world without a backward glance or a care for the breaking hearts I might be leaving behind.

A family is bigger than the lines on a calendar.

It’s not the knowing “where we are when,” that matters but knowing “who we are now.”

It’s not the columns on a calendar that bind us together but an unspoken, unconditional love.

I know, I really do, that just because our children are wandering so far away from where I can keep them safe, doesn’t mean that we are no longer a family.

But I know too, that “knowing where our children are not,” which is at home with us, is the beginning of a future of always missing them.

I pick up a pen and turn to December 31st. In capital letters across 4 columns I write: GOODBYE.

Ninesh sighs, that why-do-you-always-have-to-be-so-melodramatic sigh.

“No one’s leaving on the 31st December,” he says. ”  There won’t be any trains.”

“I’m not saying goodbye to the children. I’m saying goodbye to the family calendar,” I explain.

Joss gives a derogatory snort and puts his cereal bowl in the dishwasher.

“It’s just a calendar mum,” he says.

I turn to look at him, trying to drink in his black, close cropped curls, his deep, almost- black eyes, the calm, kind certainty of his presence.

I force myself to remember how this feels, how he looks.

And I realise that I will never be ready for this 2-columned life.

Our phones vibrate to the sound of splintering glass again.

“It’s just a cat”, says Joss.

“How useful for you,” I say, ” even when you are in Canada, you will know when a cat is walking past our front door.”

And suddenly I am filled with the wonder of modern technology.

There is something that can hold our family together across the miles and oceans and dreams.

All you need is a motion-sensor bell and a video camera.

I will hang my heartache in the space where our calendar used to be.

And whenever I want to talk to Joss or Mia, wherever they are, all l will need to do is dance around on our front doorstep.

And I hope they will know that is it not the motion at our front door,  but the love of a faraway mum that is making their phones vibrate to the sound of splintering glass.

“You could just WhatsApp them,” suggests Ninesh, ” the neighbours might think you were less crazy.”

I sigh my “yes-but,” sigh…because where’s the splintering -glass melodrama in that?

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Hot mountain bubbles and fondue friendship

As I write this we are sitting on a plane somewhere over France.

My husband Ninesh and I are travelling back from a dreamy weekend staying in the Grand Hotel Waldhaus, Flims ( a shared gift from one of our oldest and most precious friends: Christine) in the Swiss mountains.

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Our days were full of clean Swiss air, breathtaking walks with majestic views of snow-topped mountains, mirror-still lakes and deep, deep valleys and relaxing afternoons in a hot bubbling pool. As we wandered through age-old forest, past perfect chalets with the flowers ‘just so” on the windowsills, cow bells jangling somewhere just out of sight, we wouldn’t have been surprised to spy Heidi skipping towards us down the velvet green slopes.

It’s been many years since we lived in Switzerland.

Our life there wasn’t always easy.

We had a newborn daughter, knew no one and had to learn the hard way about the secret laws that are an integral part of your brain development if you are born Swiss. Our first few weeks were full of mistakes:

No one told us you have to pay for stickers to put on your rubbish bags or it won’t be collected.

No one told us that those bags can only be left in certain special places or the “rubbish police” will track you down and fine you.

No one told us that glass can’t be recycled on Sundays because it disturbs the weekend peace and quiet.

No one told us that if you live on the first floor ( as we did) of a house with wooden floors you are not allowed to walk around barefoot because it’s too noisy for the people who live below you otherwise.

No one told us that taking a shower or flushing the toilet after 11pm is not allowed if you live in a flat.

Worst of all, no one told us that if you come from abroad and work in one Kanton (small county) you are not allowed to live in a different one

(A costly and complicated hole in our knowledge).

As I sat, rocking our sleepless newborn daughter ( driven over from England at 10 days old) watching the sun rise over perfectly manicured allotments, I would find myself wondering what law I would have unwittingly broken by the time I went to bed.

But on the very first morning, of our very first day in our new home, I wandered into a small bar in search of coffee and company.

And there was Christine.

She stood behind the bar and smiled at me.

It is a smile that has melted the hearts of many men but on that lonely day, it was a smile that warmed my wandering soul.

Sweeping her dark curls carelessly behind her ears, her dark eyes full of warmth, she brought a coffee over to my table and asked me, in very impressive English, where I was from.

And from that very first moment, that ver first coffee, we became friends.

It is a friendship that has lasted 20 years.

A friendship that has been carried over mountains and oceans.

A friendship that wraps itself, safe and warm and golden around us whenever we meet.

A friendship that filled this weekend with the laughter and understanding that can only come with the easy familiarity of a friendship that has become greater and stronger than the sum of the two of us.

“What would have happened?” I ask as we sit over a leisurely breakfast of bread and fruit and unimaginable amounts of cheese ,

“What would have happened if I hadn’t walked into your bar that day?

If I hadn’t sat and drunk a coffee?

If you hadn’t smiled and started talking to me?

There are some moments in your life that change everything that happens next aren’t there?”

Christine laughs.

“It wasn’t the moment that changed everything,” says her husband, Remo, slicing the top off his perfectly boiled egg, “it’s what you made of that moment. Everything we do is a choice.”

I bit into another slice of Emmental and thought about what he said.

I am a firm believer in the power of co-incidence, an accepter of the seemingly casual moments that thread together to shape the lives we live.

But I’m not sure how many of those moments we choose or make a conscious decision to act upon.

I know that it was Christine who wrapped my loneliness in a warmth and kindness that changed my life in Switzerland.

It was Christine who helped me to stop breaking the law by sharing the secrets.

It was saying goodbye to Christine that made leaving Switzerland so hared.

It is true what they say, that a home does not consist of bricks and mortar but of the people who give your life meaning.

There is much that I am uncertain of in life. But as I lay in the warm bubbles, gazing at the mountains through the steam, I was sure of one thing:  if Remo is right, if mine and Christine’s friendship is the result of a choice made  so very long ago, then it is probably one of the best decisions I have ever made…that and buying a genuine Swiss fondue set.

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Cocktail nights and Swiss friendship in Flims; Becky, Ninesh, Christine and Remo

It’s a Control Thing

This is another old one but with  control freaks ruling the world, what can we do…..

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about control- about how losing it is often harder than gaining it.
Seems to me if people spent less time trying to take, be in and keep control and more time losing control, the world might be a much easier and nicer place to live in.

I was once on a ” just girls,” weekend to celebrate a friend’s birthday.  As I was loading the dishwasher after breakfast, someone said:
” It’s lucky my husband isn’t here to see how you’ve done that.”
” Done what?” I asked.
” Loaded the dishwasher,” she said, ” he’d just take everything out and do it again. He does it to me all the time.”
” Mine does that as well,” said one of the other girls, ” certain plates go in certain places and all the cutlery has to be sorted into individual areas”
” Mine can’t stand it if the plates are facing different directions,” said another.
Turns out, a lot of partners have a problem with letting go of dishwasher-control.
” Wow,” I said, ” in our house we’re just glad that someone has actually loaded the dishwasher.”

But dishwasher control is nothing to the battles for control that go on in the other parts  of our lives.
It comes in many different forms.
There’s the overt, public, assertive kind of control: this is how it’s going to be done, no discussions, no questions, no arguments
There’s the covert, underhand kind of control:   I know she asked you to to do differently but just do it my way because it’s better and no one will know.”
There’s the passive aggressive, quietly threatening kind of control: I don’t want to be a nuisance but I’ve been up worrying all night because I don’t really agree with what you’re asking me to do and I know my view isn’t important but I will have to seek further advice if you make me do it.
And then there’s the worst kind of control, the personal kind where you are too scared to show or admit how you really feel in case someone uses the information to make you look stupid or feel weak.

That feeling that you need to be in control, and the panicky feeling that you get when you think you ‘re  not, is so intrinsically part of being human, that most of the time we’re not even aware of it.
But it’s a constant and emotionally draining battle.
And it begins from the moment we’re born.
I sometimes wonder if the reason why the first noise we make as babies is a cry not because we are taking our first breath,  but because we’re really cross that we’ve  had no control over when we’ve been born.
Without consulting us, the warm, cosy uterus has expelled us into a cold, hostile world.
Who wouldn’t be mad?
Who wouldn’t cry and want to shout out ” hey, put me back in.  Let me decide when it’s time.”

And that battle for control continues for the rest of our lives.
First we need to control our parents and siblings.
Then we need to control our friends and acquaintances.
Then there’s our work colleagues and our bosses.
And finally we have to control our lovers and partners and eventually our own children.
The more we want control, the more exhausting life becomes because there’s always someone who wants it more and will fight for it harder.
Yet the thought of giving up control, or if not giving it up, losing it for a little while, can be petrifying.
” I can’t do it mum,” says my almost 17 year old daughter, “I can’t just let go, The thought of not being in control makes me feel sick.”
And with all the lessons I have learnt in life, with all my irrelevant experience and unlistened to advice, with all the love I feel for her, I can’t show her how to do it.
I can’t show her how it can sometimes be alright to make yourself vulnerable.
I cant show her the freedom that comes with enjoying the moment without worrying.
I can’t show her how much fun it can be to drift without knowing where you’re going,
or how important it is to sometimes lose yourself in your dreams and be ruled by your heart.

All I can do is hope that she will one day find someone who she trust enough to help her find it out for herself.

The history of the world has been dominated by fights for control.
One country trying to control another.
One race trying to rule another.
One religion trying to dominate another.
The hardest thing to say is: ” let’s try it your way.”
The hardest thing to swallow is your pride.
But perhaps, if we spent less time battling for control and more time thinking about how to trust and value each other, then maybe the world really would be a  better, less fragile place.
It won’t be easy but it might be worth a try.

So the next time you load a dishwasher, go wild.
Let the plates face different directions, the cups be higgledy-piggledy and the knives and forks be muddled together.
It’s a first step towards letting go ….even if the dishes don’t end up so clean!

How Not to Be a Good Mum

Another way to make it through parenthood…..at least this is how I did it last year….

Something I have realised over this warm and sometimes sunny summer, is that I am stupendously good at not being a “good mum.”

I think this was finally confirmed as I lay, nursing the worst hangover in the world,  curled  up in a taxi and then on a plane seat, on a 15 hour flight back to London  from our holiday in Singapore
Probably not the best role model for our two teenage children, Mia and Joss,sitting in the row in front of us on the plane.
And it wasn’t so much the hangover or the fact that I couldn’t open my eyes without feeling as though pins were being stuck into them or that I was clutching a makeshift ‘vomit,’ bag, that left me pondering my parenting inadequacies.
It was more the way my last words to Mia and Joss from the night before, kept swirling around my alcohol infused brain.

The night before had been our son, Joss’s, birthday and luckily for him and our daughter, our friends in Singapore just happened to know the owner of a nightclub.
Since night clubs in Singapore don’t even open their doors before midnight (obviously) we arranged to meet our friends and the nightclub owner in one of his bars at 10.30 pm.
“10.30!” says our (like me 50 plus friend,) ” that’s quite late.”
Mia and Joss say nothing, just give an almost imperceptible roll of the eyes.
“We don’t mind how late you get back,,” I say, the  epitomy (I believe)  of  laid-back good-mumness, ” but remember we have to leave for the airport by 7.30 tomorrow morning. So make sure you’re back by then and whatever you do don’t drink too much. You definitely don’t want to fly with a hangover.”
Feeling extremely proud of our young-at-heartedness, we arrive at the bar at 10.30.and are greeted by the pony-tailed night club owner.
And of course we have to buy some drinks to say thank you to him.
” What you need,” he says, grinning widely “is one of these.”
And he points at a waitress carrying a tray of very blue cocktails
“What are they?” I ask and he points at the menu
ADIOS YOU MOTHERFUCKER it says in writing so big that even someone as old as me can read it without having to hold the menu at the other end of the table.
And so it was, that while Mia and Joss were eventually whisked off to experience the wildness of Singaporean nightlife, we stayed and drank bright blue and extremely alcoholic AYMFs
Which is why, at 6 the next morning, I woke up in bed, fully dressed, with a head throbbing like a time-bomb just before it explodes.
And Mia and Joss…..they came home at 4 am, slept for a few hours, woke cheerfully and and stared suspiciously at my pale, sun-glassed face..

“What’s wrong with mum?” asks Joss.
And I find myself wondering the same thing.

As I try to ignore my throbbing head and churning stomach, I think back on all the times when our kids could have asked me that.
All the times when I definitely was not being a good mum.

It starts with the times you arrange those “play-dates”, for the kids which are really “coffee and sanity dates” for the parents.
While you sit munching the snacks you prepared for the kids, putting the kettle on for “just one more cup” discussing how hard it is being a mum, how constantly exhausting and demanding motherhood is, the children destroy the living room, paint the spare-room carpet red, tip out all their toys, fight over the one toy from the huge pile that they all want and start hitting each other.
Bravely we sip our coffee and ignore them.
Not being a good mum is exhausting.
It  involves so much clearing up, so much biscuit-eating, so much coffee drinking that it’s lucky we manage to make it through to bedtime and falling asleep next to our toddlers when we’re meant to be reading them a story.

Then there are those daily manically stressful 10-minutes-before-school-moments, spent shouting at the kids because you’ve forgotten to wash their PE kit, still covered in mud from last week or lost the note that was meant to have been signed 2 weeks ago to give permission for a school trip that is happening today.
” You never gave it to me,” I shout at our ( then)  6 year old son ( even though I know it was me who took it out of the book bag ). Immediately he starts to cry and now I not only feel cross but also guilty.

Or those themed dressing-up days at school when our kids arrive wrapped in a sheet with a hole in it for their heads or a safety-pinned towel, while everyone else is in beautifully sewn princess dresses or amazing superhero costumes.
I catch Mia and Joss looking longingly at the costumes of their friends and run away before I have to chat with the “perfect mums,” about how they have stayed up all night adding the finishing touches to their creations while I have stayed up drinking wine and watching the re-runs of “Friends.”

And then there’s those arguments that you just can’t let your 6 and 7 year olds win.  Those times when, to avoid them having the last word, you wait until they are almost  asleep before saying: “and it wasn’t my fault about your PE kit. You should have reminded me shouldn’t you?” and creeping out I shut the bedroom door with a quietly victorious click.

“Those are nothing,” says our now 18 year old daughter when I ask her views on my (lack of) good mum qualities,”what you do now is much, much worse”.
” Really?” I ask disappointedly,  biscuit half-way to my mouth. “Really?”
Because secretly I’ve  always thought I was doing better as a mum of teenagers than I did as a mum of toddlers and young children.
Deep down inside, I had believed that I had somehow managed to find  that “cool laid-backness but caring-when-it-matters,” attitude.
” Yea,” says Mia reflectively,
” What do I do that’s so bad?” I ask,
” Like when I go out clubbing and you say you’ll make up the bed in the shed just in case!  That’s horrible …Or all the advice you give me about what to say to boys which is completely wrong and makes everything worse.  Or when you try to use LOL in a message or talk to the parents of our friends.  And you’re always telling Joss and I to have parties when you and dad are away for the weekend. You need to stop doing that.  It’s embarrassing.”
“I’ll try,” I say plaintively, ” it’s not easy being a mum you know.”
Mia shrugs.
“Your choice,” she says and wanders off into the living room.

And, as always, she’s right.
I long ago gave up trying to have the last word.
It stops working when your kids start going to bed after you.
It was our choice to become parents.
I think I just forgot to read the rule book.

“Welcome to Gatwick, London where the local time is 8.30,” says the voice over the intercom. the weather in London is warm with 100% chance of rain. We hope you have enjoyed your flight.”

I open my eyes tentatively and realise that my hangover, like our holiday, is fading.
In the row in front,  Joss and Mia are reaching for their hand luggage from the overhead lockers.

“What’s for dinner when we get home?” asks Joss.” I’m starving. And all the trains are cancelled by the way. Just checked on my phone.”
“Why didn’t we just drive and leave the car in the car park like I said,” groans Mia.

I pull my sunglasses back down over my eyes.wondering if I can plead hangover above motherhood for just a few more hours.

” One thing they never warn you about becoming a mum” said a friend of mine a long time before we had kids of our own ” is that it’s relentless.”

And I’ve never forgotten that word because I’ve never found one that better sums up parenthood.
Relentless, guilt-ridden, exhausting and the hardest, most rewarding job you will ever do – even if you get it as badly wrong as I do so much of the time.

But just in case this is one of those truly ” how not to be a good mum days,” ….anyone up for for joining me in a bright blue AYMF?

1 comment:

  1. Brilliant!!! So true, so well written xxx

Making It Through Parenthood

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So, I think  we have made it through parenthood.

A week ago our son, our youngest child, turned 18 .

We  are now officially the parents of 2 adults instead of 2 children.

“Does this mean we can return to our pre-children lives of sex-and-drugs -and- rock-and-roll? ” I ask my friend Cath.

“Something like that,” she replies, but I sense disbelief in her answer

Not disbelief that we won’t be able to return to pre-children life but doubt that it ever involved much “sex or drugs or rock-and-roll.”

And she is, of course, right.

Our past is rarely as wild as we would like to remember it. (“Except for the sex,” my husband, Ninesh,  wants me to make clear).

Last weekend though, our son, Joss, compensated for our lack of wild living. .

He started partying on Friday evening and finished at 8 o’clock on Sunday morning after dancing, drinking and clubbing his way through the weekend.

I watched the exhausted teenagers piling off the train on the Sunday morning, face paint smudged, club clothes crumpled….and couldn’t help being very glad I wasn’t them.

 

I am sure, I too, used to be able to pull an “all-nighter,” and just carry on the next day.

I am definitely, almost completely sure….

It is summer after all, nights are barely dark.

“Being born in August is rubbish,” Joss has pointed out many times in the last year as all his friends turned 18 and partied without him.

He has waited long and impatiently for legal entry into clubs and bars, he deserved his weekend of wildness.

And he seems able to balance it all: wildness, work, fun, family, life..

I stand in constant awe of this son of ours.

He is one of the kindest, most caring people I know.

I find myself wondering  where he came from, this thoughtful, big-hearted and determined boy.

He is interested in all that is going on in our damaged world, capable of seeing the bigger picture and yet able to make the most of the smallest moment.

And  there is one thing he is heart-breakingly sure of… he does not want to spend his first years as an adult in our Post-Brexit England.

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Unlike his 19 year old sister, he has not been the victim of the constant, sometimes soft, sometimes harsh racist words and attitudes that seem to have become suddenly  acceptable.

What has made our son Joss, so angry, is the way those who voted for Brexit ( which he couldn’t do since he wasn’t 18) have limited his future.

His sense of disempowerment is tangible.

I don’t think that he has ever felt defined by his mixed-race ( Sri-Lankan, Eastern European, English) heritage. But I believe he has always felt himself to be part of a modern, wide-horizoned, European community.

Last year he lost that part of his identity and his belief in the country he was born in.

But as always, he didn’t sit and moan. Instead he took action,.

Tomorrow’s “A,” level results permitting, he will work and travel for a year and then begin his biggest adventure yet, studying in Canada.

And when I think of that:  of him making a life so far away from us, from where I can keep him safe, from where I can hold him tight and soothe away his sorrow, of his life becoming so distant from ours., I realise that you never make it through parenthood.

Being a parent is not something that has a beginning, a middle or an end.

It is a “forever,”  state of being, an inherent part of who we become.

It is not something we can separate out when our children leave home and continue their journey without us.

Instead we must let them go and try to keep secret from them, the little part of our hearts that they take with them

I will wrap it carefully in the silver threads spun through years of laughter and tears and exhaustion and pride and love and slip it into his pocket when he leaves.

And hope, that if he is ever sad or lonely or feeling far from home, he will chance upon it and know that I am always there, that a part of him is always here, that the enormity of the world can sometimes fit into a single beat of your heart…

But now is not the time to be sad.

Now is the time to  tiptoe around the sleeping teenagers on the living room floor.

Now is the time to practice being those cool parents who never ask too many questions (although we are dying to know) or irritatingly offer to make cups of tea (although we are itching to be nurturing hosts).

Now is the time to enjoy a house full of teenage chatter and laughter and yesterday’s snapchat stories.

Because unlike the wildness of my youth, these moments are real and now and full of tomorrow’s potential.

“Would anyone like a sausage sandwich,” Ninesh and I ask tentatively, as though by saying “yes,” they will make us the happiest people on earth..

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We are neither of us, Ninesh or I, unconfident people but there is something about a roomful of teenagers that creates displacement.

Suddenly we are the least important people in a crowded room.

There is a vibrancy and energy created by teenagers that seems to surround them in a swirl of noise and colour while we, the generation-before, seem to become black and white and muted.

And that’s the difference…it is not that we ever stop being parents, it is that the definition of our role as parents changes.

We are no longer expected to have all the answers, instead we are mostly seen as the problem!

We are no longer the centre of our children’s universe, instead we orbit the edges of their world – just in case.

We are no longer the comfort blanket they wrap around themselves at the end of each day, instead we are a rarely-needed safety net.. and a sometimes useful cash machine.

But what remains unchanged is how much we worry about our kids, how much we dream and hope of their happiness, how unconditionally we love them..

Being a parent is “relentless,” one of my friends told me, long before I was a parent myself..

And I have never found a better word to describe parenthood.

When people have been shown an anonymous job description of everything we do as parents  and have been asked how much they think someone doing that job should earn, the response was usually between £60,000 and £100,000 a year.

Personally I think we probably deserve millions.

Being a parent is priceless (and pricey).

It is the most exhaustingly fulfilling thing any of us will ever be  lucky enough to do..

It is the never-ending journey that is worth every step…

It is a lifetime commitment however far away our children wander.

The first 18 years are but a drop in the parenting ocean.

So here’s to you Joss .

Your future lies shimmering before you.

Your adventure is just beginning.

Our job now is to watch you fly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Street Party Gazebo Islands

It is that street party time of year again…the end of July, sunshine and blue skies… except when it’s rainy and cloudy.

So this Sunday, I woke full of hope.  We have been organising street parties  for 5 years now and have had mixed weather success.  But I opened my eyes last Sunday to sunshine streaming through the slots in the blinds. The sky was cloudless…

By 10 am the road was dutifully cleared of parked cars, by 11.30 it was closed.

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Children immediately started filling the empty street.

There is something incredibly freeing about running up and down somewhere that is usually out of bounds, about kicking a ball straight down the middle of a usually busy street, about drawing on ground usually only overrun with moving tyres – and that’s for adults as well as children.IMG_3089This year our street party was in memory of our friend Sheila who usually serves the teas from our front garden and is famous for getting the words to God Save the Queen wrong in Jubilee year.

She died so suddenly and left our road so much emptier, even on its busiest days, that we almost considered cancelling the street party.

Her energy and good humour were always such an integral part of the day.

But her long time neighbour and best friend, and her son and daughter, assured us that she would have wanted the party to go on….and so it did.

Bunting was strung across the road, tables appeared and began to be filled with food, raffle prizes arrived on our doorstep, Ninesh set up the speakers and the road was filled with music.

The children skipped and scooted and ran and cycled and chalked ….and at 3pm, just as the party was due to start and everyone was arriving, the heavens opened and the rain began to pour.

But we are not fair weather street-partiers.. umbrellas were fetched, rain coats donned and while I tried to fathom the best way to keep the food dry, the children solved the problem. Obviously when it rains, tables are for sitting under not at.

I looked up at the sky and wondered if somewhere up there, Sheila was laughing at us. “You knew it was our street party today,” I whispered, ” couldn’t you have sorted the weather?”

And just then, her son Ben arrived.

Ben is living in Sheila’s house now.  Which seems right somehow.

” Mum’s got a gazebo in her shed,” he said, ” shall I get it?”

The rain changed from gently streaming to torrential, the food was almost swimming away.

” I think that would be a great idea,” I said.

And in an instant he was back carrying a bag of poles and cloth.

I would like to say that we had it up and covering the food in no time but that would not be completely true.

By then the party had been joined by our neighbour’s slightly drunk French family who were shouting out instructions in French. The rest of of us had been indulging in some extremely alcoholic marmalade jelly and probably wouldn’t have understood properly, even if the instructions had been in English.

Every time we joined a pole to a corner, the poles in 2 other corners fell out. There appeared to be more corners than sides and the material seemed to be a different shape from anything we were creating.

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But at last it was done.

Sheila’s gazebo was covering the food and most of the inhabitants of our road.  We huddled together drinking, eating and laughing at the craziness of “les Anglais.” Old neighbours, new neighbours, friends from other streets. There was something about being in a tiny, dry space that wrapped itself like a blanket of friendship around us.

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At the edge of our gazebo island the rain continued to pour.  Children raced through the gutter in their once-white socks and competed with each other to make the biggest splash.

And by the time Ben and his sister pulled out the winning raffle tickets, it felt like what we had created was not a street party but a community.”

“What did you like about it,” a local freelance journalist asked one of the children as they sped their bike through a puddle. ” Everything,” he shouted as he slithered past.

And that just about sums it up.

If it hadn’t been for the rain and Sheila’s gazebo, the party would have been more spread out, less cosy, less friendly

Sheila’s gazebo saved the day and made the party one of the best yet.

And a little part of me, can’t help thinking she did it on purpose!

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RIP Sheila…you will never stop being the heart and soul of our street parties.

 

Wine Fountain Blues. A Blog a Day, the Camino Way, Day 6.

Day 6, our last day for this year. Estrella to Los Arcos 22kms

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There is an unreal sadness to waking up and knowing that it is the last day of this part of our journey along the Camino.

The sense of lightness that comes with fitting your life into a ruck sack and needing only to follow yellow arrows and shells will be over after today.

The morning hope and anticipation of new landscapes, new stories, new walking companions, will be lost until next year.

But all the same, the sun rises, the way beckons and we don our walking boots.

We find no medieval kings or princesses as we leave hidden-from-view Estella, instead we walk part of the way with a young chemist from Barcelona.

” I have finished my studies at university here,” she says, her walker-sticks tapping the road in time to her words ” but in Spain it is impossible for young people now. Rents are high and wages are low. I have a job in a laboratory but it does not really pay my rent “

” You studied chemistry and yet you speak such good English,” we say. 

She shakes her head.

“Not so good. It must do another test. I need the next certificate in English because I want to go and work in New Zealand next year. “

“Why New Zealand?” I ask.

” Because it is different. It is an adventure,” she says. ” none of my friends, none of the Spanish people my age want to walk the Camino. None of them want to live in New Zealand. I like to do different things.”

She walks with certainty and fearlessness and I am quite sure Spain’s loss will be New Zealand’s gain.

But for now, the future that matters is at the end of our toes.

” Did you know, ” she asks, ” that there is a fountain of wine on this part of the walk?”

For a moment Ninesh and I are so stunned we stop walking.

” A fountain of wine,” we shout, ” you mean like water, only wine?”

Our companion nods, laughing at our excitement.

In the game of ‘ rock, paper, scissors, a fountain of wine would always, always beat a Mountain of Forgiveness .

” It’s not far,” she says, consulting with the ironmonger in the workshop  where we have stopped to purchase some hand crafted iron shells. Like his father and grandfather before him, he stands over a fire day after hot day, creating works of art for those pilgrims and visitors who wander by.

The thought of a fountain of wine just up the road does not seem to be of any interest to him,   but Ninesh and I find ourselves with a renewed spring in our step as our Spanish companion leads the way.

And before we know it, we are there.

It is not so much a fountain as a tap but when you turn it, it runs red, warm wine rinning in a stream and forming alcoholic droplets on the ground around us.

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I’d like to say it was the most delicious wine we have ever tasted but our Spanish chemist took one gulp and spat it out. 

“Not good,” she said, ” don’t try.”

As authoritative in her recommendations as her walking, we used the tap marked

” aqua,” to fill our bottles instead. Like many things, a fountain of wine seems to be better as a concept than a reality. 

And so we walk on through ancient woodlands, past olive groves and vineyards, along white chalky paths and up ridged, rocky hills (of course). When we reach the top we gaze at the view, the Pyrenees stretching as far as the eye can see, wooded summit after wooded summit,  many with churches and monasteries seeming to be balanced precariously on their tips.

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In front and behind us, the unending line of foot-weary, hope- heavy pilgrims make their way towards Santiago de Compostello,

And for a moment it feels as though there is nothing else, only this time, this place, this journey,

And I wonder how many others have stood on this spot, staring at  an ancient, winding path that will forever lead its travellers towards their field of stars.

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At Los Arcos we leave my worn-away boots, our temporary pilgrim way of life and the Camino behind us.

It feels strange to be sitting on a bus, to be moving through scenery while our feet are still.

We find ourselves peering through the window, wondering if the path is perhaps just the other side of  a passing hedge or hill.

But we are back in the modern world and the bus follows blue sign posts to motorways, not yellow arrows to forgotten villages.

We are reclaimed by thoughts of tomorrow and, more importantly, by a search for the perfect tapas and the strongest mojito Bilbao has to offer.

Tomorrow we will step off the plane and into our normal lives (probably with a slight hangover).

But if we listen carefully in the busyness of our hectic days, I am sure we will still hear it,  the beating of our heart to a more ancient rhythm, from a time when all that mattered was the distance still left to travel towards your dreams.

We will be back next year with stronger muscles, newer boots and with a more posititve attitude towards hills.

Until then…..  

Buen Camino. Go well. 

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Quote of the Day 

“I’m going to walk very slowly so that  today lasts longer…” Ninesh

 

Top tip

If you ever get the chance, walk El Camino