Archive for the 'Miscellaneous Missives' Category

Thursday is the new Friday

NS August 19th, 2010

Thursday for me is what some might call ‘Me Time’ but in reality would more accurately be called Outsourced Housework and Childcare Equals a More Patient and Fulfilled Mother Day. But that’s a mouthful so I just call it my favourite day.

On Thursday morning, my wonderful cleaner comes. I greet her as I scramble to get shoes on excitable children and herd them out to the car where I will transport them to Grandma’s house. I feel no existential feminist guilt for this. I look after two small, demanding children all day and am self-employed in two different capacities. If people can outsource their childcare in order to work, I can outsource my cleaning. Or both!

I know someone out there will be thinking I’m some kind of pampered, indulgent, stay-at-home mother who should be looking after her own children 24/7 and cleaning while her husband works hard to bring home the bacon, but to those people I say get off that sanctimony pony, make yourself a cocktail and hitch yourself a ride into the 21st century, compadre.

I do not cook. I do not sew. I do minimal cleaning. As of next month, my daughter will be in school all day and my son with either a childminder or his grandmother three days a week.

My kids probably watch too much TV. I spend too much time on the computer or with my nose in a book. I frequently say No to playing or chasing in order to do my own thing, or do the playing or chasing only until I get bored and decide it is grown-up time again, which is usually after ten minutes.

On Thursday, after I drop the children at their grandmother’s for the day and before I go home to a clean house, I spend an hour in a coffee shop drinking lattes and reading the newspaper from cover to cover. I go for a walk or a meander through the shops. Today, I put up a couple of flyers promoting my doula services.

I drive home. Alone. I sing as loudly as I want, drive faster and revel in not being asked a hundred questions from the back seat. I might stop into the shop on my way home and nearly forget not to park in the parent/child spots. I am able to get in and out in less than 10 minutes. Another Thursday miracle.

I open my front door in gleeful anticipation of clean floors and a gleaming bathroom. The air smells faintly of lemons. It is quiet. I can hear the clock ticking in the living room. Does that clock tick? I never notice unless it’s Thursday.

I look out the smudge-free window and admire the sight of washing flapping in the breeze, juxtaposed against the blue sky and emerald green grass. I turn on the radio and listen to my favourite radio program, Robert Elms on BBC London at noon, while I prepare lunch for one.

The Robert Elms show is a celebration of every aspect of this tumultuous city that we share. For three hours a day we revel in the numerous stories and characters, memories and aspirations which make this such an extraordinary place to live and work. Art and architecture, history, movies and language, shopping, drinking, dining and dancing all carried out to a soundtrack of music for grown ups.

On Thursday I do not have to cut crusts off sandwiches or put juice in cups with lids. I nibble at olives while I half-listen to the radio and daydream of all the places I’m going to see and all the things I’m going to do once I have not only one but THREE days a week in which to be alone.

Most of those days I will be working: doing my editing job; blogging (I consider my two blogs work in that it sometimes results in payment and because it keeps my writing skills sharp, which I still hope to utilise professionally one day); administrative work, research, study and preparation for my doula business; and general household stuff like taxes, banking, shopping, doctor’s appointments, DIY, gardening, etc..

But on at least one day each month, probably on Thursdays, I will catch the train into a new part of London or an area I’ve been but not properly explored, or to a place I’d like to visit. Somewhere along the way while out and about in this wonderful city of mine, I will do something nice for someone I’ve never met. It might be something simple like leaving a note or a small gift for a stranger to find, or helping a mother struggling with her pushchair on the stairs to the Underground. It might involve a bit of street art or guerilla goodness or a random act of kindness.

When out doing my history lessons/walkabouts/random acts of kindness, I will bring my camera and use it. With no children in tow, I will have time to change lenses or adjust  for the lighting and actually learn what my long-coveted pride and joy is capable of. Killing three birds on my life’s to-do list with one stone: fall in love with London, be a positive presence in the world and finally (finally!) learn the art of photography.

Thursday is definitely, and will hopefully continue to be, my favourite day. A day for me and only me. That, in turn, makes me a whole lot nicer to everyone else.

Photo credit

On not settling and the wisdom of 30

NS August 1st, 2010

Something about turning 30 made me finally feel like a proper grown-up, even though I had already acquired a husband, two children, a family car and a mortgaged house in suburbia before then. How much more grown-up than that can one  get, you might ask?

But I don’t define my adulthood by my relationships with other people, how many children I have or how much stuff I own. That’s what I believed in my teens and twenties. The beauty of turning 30 is that all those preconceived notions  you had about life after 30 are immediately thrown out the window.

I thought 30 meant a settled, boring life with little room for fun or growth. I believed that if you hadn’t done your travelling, established a career, given up partying, become health conscious and gotten a foot on the property ladder by the time the 3-0 fell on you like an ax, you were doomed to lead a life of misery and/or juvenile denial, desperately trying to catch up with peers who’d had their heads screwed on straight.

Then I turned 30.

And instead of feeling resigned to my ‘fate’ and depressed at all the things I hadn’t managed to accomplish in my 20s, I was overcome with an incredible sense of determination to reach my goals. And not only would I fulfil them, I would do them well and joyfully, I promised myself.

I never listed those goals here (though I did talk about some of them individually here and there) because I needed time to work out exactly what it is I feel missing in my life, what I want to accomplish and what matters most to me. Slowly, over the course of the past year or so, I’ve been making a mental list and adding and taking things away until I have before me the opportunity to make myself happy. Make myself happy, not waiting for someone or something to fall into my lap or chasing dreams that are someone else’s, what society says I should be aspiring to.

Learning that lesson, not ‘settling’ or what you’ve already got, is what being 30 is all about, I think. If our 20s are for growing and experiencing, our 30s are for finally learning the lessons we glossed over in our haste to beat the clock. What I didn’t know then was that I had set that clock against myself.

Finally realising that I could turn the whole damn thing off, that I didn’t have to keep hitting snooze and sleep-walk through the rest of my life, is the best gift that being a 30-something has given me. I can only imagine how much more I will learn as I progress through this decade.

So now, I am working my way through my new goals and finding the most amazing sense of self as I tick one item after another off my list, or plan and work towards the day I can.

  • Become a runner and complete at least one race
  • Repair and strengthen my marriage
  • Rediscover and appreciate music
  • Learn to play an instrument
  • Become successfully self-employed
  • Explore the fantastic city I live in
  • Make people smile with random acts of kindness
  • Fight for a cause I truly believe in
  • Learn the art of photography
  • Read at least a few pages of a (paper) book every day
  • Control my reactions to things  I cannot control
  • Enjoy my children and live in the moment
  • Write for the sake of writing, as and when I want to
  • Learn to be unafraid of what others may think of me

I’ve already completed some of the things on this list and have plans in place to complete the others. Some are works in progress that will be ongoing, not items I can ever tick completely off my list. These are not things I want to do, but rather processes and learning experiences for who I want to be.

I’ll never settle for anything less again.

Photo credit

Good reads: Internet edition

NS July 27th, 2010

Summer holidays and the doula business are kicking my ass, leaving me little time for writing. But I’m still reading, oh yes! And here’s what’s been tickling my fancy and catching my interest lately.

Mila’s Daydreams – A new mother in Finland tries to imagine what her daughter is dreaming of when she naps. Adele creates gorgeous landscapes around baby Mila and captures it on film. Brilliant, gorgeous and utterly adorable.

Color Me Katie – A freelance photographer and street artist in Brooklyn. Draws funny faces on marshmallows and works with an improv group that recreated a scene from Star Wars on the New York subway recently. Cute. And very, very colourful.

The 52 Seductions – A woman and her husband of 10 years set out to improve their sex lives and seduce each other all over again. Funny, informative, touching and honest. And if you’re looking for new things to try in the bedroom, this is a great place for ideas.

Mama Is… - The amazing cartoonist behind Hathor the Cowgoddess, lactivist extraordinaire. Puts into one drawing what many of us ‘Boob Nazis’ waffle on for two pages saying.

Catalog Living – “A look into the exciting lives of the people who live in your catalogs.” Some of these actually made me guffaw. Very funny.

Offbeat Mama – The spinoff site from Offbeat Bride. Its tagline is “Parenting against the grain” and it embraces alternative lifestyles and a diverse range of parents. Specifically, the creator says, “We support mothers integrating their pre-kid identities and lifestyles into their post-kid realities.” Often contains gorgeous photographs and unique stories from real parents around the world.

Underbellie – Written by the fabulous Kelly Hogaboom, Underbellie is thoughtful, spot-on, uniquely written analysis of feminist parenting and culture. You must read this post and this one. Fan-freaking-tastic.

Birthing Beautiful Ideas – A wonderful blog I recently discovered, written by Kristen Oganowski– “mother, doula, graduate student, feminist, and writer.” Aside from the grad student bit, we appear to be twins. She wrote a beautiful post that made me tear up today. Go read it. Bring tissues.

What (or who) have you been reading lately?

Independence Day

NS July 5th, 2010

I picked up my bag, kissed my sleeping husband on the cheek and slipped out of the silent house just before 7am. The children were still at their grandparents’ house, there for an overnight stay. No teary goodbyes, no last-minute reminders to NH, no prying of clinging fingers from my legs.

Fresh air and sunshine hit me full in the face and I smiled to myself as I walked towards the station. I would not be returning for 36 hours.

At 1pm (after an unexpected and expensive taxi ride from Hereford) I arrived in Hay-on-Wye, a small village-like town just over the border into Wales, home to nearly 40 second-hand and independent bookshops.

I browsed, I walked, I bought, I read. I had lunch at a table outside a cafe and watched a local parade of children dressed in outfits representing cultures from all over the globe in honour of the World Cup. I had many coffees and a scrumptious ice cream. I dined alone at a gourmet gastropub that evening and listened to the conversations in that wonderful lilting Welsh accent all around me as I pretended to read my book. I read in bed until my eyes were heavy (which was relatively early) and had a full 8 hours sleep, uninterrupted. It was bliss.

And the books. Oh, the books! I couldn’t get enough of them. Second-hand book shops are my biggest love after my family. The musty, ancient, knowing smell, the haphazard organisation, the creaking wooden floors and the wise, silent, grey-haired proprietor watching over his or her precious wares — I love every single aspect of it. If I’d had a car or a pack mule with me, I’d have bought way more than I did. As it was, I had to settle for 3 small paperbacks (one on my current fascination with Marxism, one volume of obscure poetry and one children’s book for Noble Girl) and 1 hardback pregnancy and birth book to add to the collection I am trying to amass so I can lend books to my doula clients.

Visiting a second-hand book shop is like going to see old friends.

In addition to only running three buses a day, which was a bit of a shock to this London girl, the town of Hay is trusting.

It was such a positive, uplifting experience, being in a small, close-knit community again. In fact, the only bit of negativity I ran across the entire weekend was this childish scrap of cruelty tucked between two books.

Poor Jessica Smith. Sounds like she knows a right bitch, with poor grammar and spelling to boot.

On the journey home, which took a little over 7 hours on a Sunday, I met a couple travelling around the UK on their honeymoon. They were from the States too so I wished them a happy Independence Day, seeing as it was the 4th of July. They asked where I was headed and, not lying, I said ‘back down to London’. They assumed I was a fellow travelling tourist and I didn’t correct them. For just a small part one journey, I did feel like a lone tourist, visiting places and spaces in my head I hadn’t explored in a very, very long time.

I put my headphones back on and slid down in my seat, watching the rain lash the windows and sheep frolick in the green hills. I closed my eyes and smiled, needing nothing and no one needing me for just a few hours more.

Happy Independence Day indeed.

Essay: Life in bed

NS June 30th, 2010

I wrote this essay in winter and sent it to two of my favourite magazines in the hopes of having it published. I received a rejection from one and never heard back from the other. Instead of letting it gather dust while I am busy with other things, on hiatus from submitting, I’m going to publish it here. No more waiting and hoping, just my words in my space, on my terms.

Bed. It is a place I so desperately want to be but also a place of worry and restlessness and exhaustion; the scene of a cruel prank in which I am awakened at the peak of a much-needed REM cycle but to which I will not easily return, even after the baby, my youngest, is soothed and asleep again. I strain my ears to confirm that which made me stir and find my brow furrowing with annoyance, anger and misery before smoothing itself into placid resignation when the cries become clearer and more urgent. In performing my nightly routine of Bedtime Bolero, I stumble and sway from bed to crib and back again, only half conscious. Too tired to sit upright in the velvet-covered feeding chair that belonged to my husband’s great-grandmother, I trundle back to bed with my warm bundle and curve my body around his, like we’ve done a thousand times before. The drug-like effect of milk production feels like small weights being pressed down onto my eyelids, willing me to nod my head sleepily in time to my son’s hungry gulps and allow his warm, searching hands to burrow beneath the fluffy blue collar of my robe. ‘How could I be angry at this little soul?’ I admonish myself, though I suspect that’s the oxytocin (the so-called ‘love drug’ produced in lactating women) talking. Seeing only occasionally the glow of the street light outside the window through the slits of my bleary eyes, I nestle into my pillow and reflect on the spectrum of life experienced here.

Though it seems quite a boring, unassuming place, so much happens in bed. We spend approximately one-third of our existences there, sleeping. We also read, write, eat, drink, smoke, dream, agonize, cry, vomit, laugh, make love and die there, among other things. Great novels and political manifestos have been written in bed. Inventions conjured up, cities planned, wars plotted, great love affairs begun, families started. In fact, that’s where the offspring of yore were born – in the same location as their creation. Today, the most common bed to be born in belongs not to the family but the hospital; the scratchy-linened, stirrup-equipped, mechanically-reclining kind or, if things don’t go to plan, the steel, sterile one in the operating room. Some babies aren’t born in bed at all but rather into bathtubs, on rural kitchen floors or the backseats of cars that didn’t quite make it in time.

Though we may not remember our own births, bed quickly becomes a central theme in our lives. Early childhood memories revolve around that most magical and frightening place, where we are meant to peacefully slumber. The first flash of consciousness I can recall is clambering over the rails of my wooden crib, aged two, in order to dump pail after pail of water from the bathroom sink onto my older sister’s mattress, a middle child’s revenge for the new baby in the house who was taking up all her parents’ time. At age four or so, the light from the living room glowing in a thin yellow line under my darkened door was a portal into a strange adult world of which I was infinitely curious but infuriatingly barred. From bed I learned to listen carefully and observe with my ears, my parents’ parties intoxicating in more ways than one. The clinking of ice in a glass of bourbon, the crack-pop-fizz! of a beer being opened, the rapid ph-ph-ph-phhhlump of a deck of cards being shuffled, the chatter and laughter of friends…it seemed so glamorous and mysterious then. Eventually though, snooping would give way to somnolence and my head would connect heavily with the pillow of its own volition. Dreams would have to do while my body and mind rested.

Later, at perhaps six or seven, monsters made their way under my lavender dust ruffle and a fear of the dark and unknown often gripped me as I lay awake with blankets clutched tight, heart pounding in my chest and eyes inspecting every suspicious shape. This was not helped by my father’s propensity to allow us to watch age-inappropriate films when my mother was away, featuring nasty characters with evil grins and masks over their eyes, or a wild-eyed clown with an insatiable appetite for children. Nightmare on Elm Street brought just as many to Locust Street, I can tell you. Then, age nine, hearing the sobs and cries of my mother from her room, mourning the loss of her youngest child to the real monster under the bed: cancer. Though the other creatures faded from existence, that was the only one that never left my side and lurked, forever-more, in the shadows of my childhood. It never had a face or discernible features; it was just a deep, dark mass of seemingly indeterminate cruelty. On more than one occasion, I knelt in prayer before climbing into bed at night, even though ours wasn’t a particularly religious family, promising to be better, braver and stronger, if only God would lift the fog of grief engulfing us. Eventually, it cleared enough for us to find one another again, though the mist of loss will always be present.

Cancer wasn’t the only real-life monster I became aware of as a child, unfortunately. At a sixth-grade sleepover a couple of years later, what had begun as a standard pre-teen slumber party (giggling, videos, popcorn, talk of our first schoolgirl crushes, perhaps a bit of make-up or nail polish) turned suddenly into a confessional booth in which I was thrust into the role of priest and my three friends the confessors. But what they confessed that night were not crimes they had perpetrated or sins they’d committed, but those of the man in the next room: our host’s stepfather. It seemed the bed upon which we were sitting was not only the site of make-overs and sing-alongs, but of horrific abuse and intimidation. Ten minutes before I had been eating sickly-sweet candy with my friends. Very quickly, my head was spinning from not only the sugar rush but the sudden rush of reality. The next day, I sat down on my mother’s bed as she folded laundry and told her everything. She hugged me, then sprang into action. After the flurry of doctors, police and child psychologists had passed and their monster was safely locked away, the girls distanced themselves from me, from the pain, and our friendships faltered. I often lay awake at night, counting the stick-on neon stars on my ceiling in an effort to quiet my mind enough to sleep, wondering if I did the right thing. All I could do was hope that, one day, their beds would become places in which they could dream again, not cower in fear.

Upon entering the teen years, my bed became less a place I wanted to escape and more a place of retreat. I vividly recall throwing myself onto the mattress and crying tears of frustration and angst, sure that I was the most misunderstood, mistreated and misjudged 14-year-old the world had ever known. Weren’t we all? I lay there for endless hours, listening to the albums that best expressed my burgeoning independence and scribbled furiously and clumsily in my journal about my rage and the metaphorical cage against which I beat my wings, so desperate to unfurl them and fly away. When I wasn’t sulking in bed I was using it as a launchpad to adulthood with the opposite sex. Bed was simultaneously a place of exploration and exploitation, intimacy and intimidation. It was not only the stage on which we acted out our desires but where we learned of the thin, thin line between ecstasy and agony, of the art and importance of reading subtle body language. It is also where we learned that bedroom politics and the power therein will always be with us, even when we are well past our teens. Even now, as a woman who has been with the same man for eleven years, the vigorous campaigning for more, better, different sex and the why and how often and when it will occur is still ongoing. The passion of new lovers may have been replaced by something more familiar, but the complications remain the same.

A real turning point on my voyage to maturity was when I bought my own bed. After having slept on a succession of mattresses provided by my parents, relatives’ and friends’ cast-offs and landlords of ready-furnished apartments, my husband and I finally made the big leap to orthopedically-correct ownership. It wasn’t as intimate an occasion as we might have hoped, given that my father stood nearby while we tested for potentially embarrassing squeakiness, but we didn’t have a car back then and needed Dad’s pick-up truck and adeptness at moving large items to get the thing home. Still, it was ours and it was freeing, in a small, mundane sort of way. No more worrying about stains, chips, unsprung springs or ill-fitting firmness levels that had us rubbing our backs in the morning. We could make love in our bed and not think of who had done the same before us, or would do so after us. We could smoke right then and there after a marathon session, with the sweaty sheets tucked around our waists and chests, in a perfect, L-shaped improbability, while he grinned or slept and I looked, wild-haired and open-mouthed, into the middle distance — the very picture of Hollywood-styled post-coital bliss. We’d sleep there ’til 10, 11, even 12 on Sundays, with nowhere to go and no one to see but each other. Then, I had excuses not to get out of bed; now, I have none for not doing so. Even though we enjoyed nearly seven years of pre-children cohabitation, I sometimes look back on those days with intense longing and wish I could tell my younger, more carefree self to enjoy them while they lasted, that my older, parental self would want me to ignore the phone, the cat, the laundry or that movie time. ‘Stay in bed!’ I would shout. I’d tell that young couple to bottle up those moments so they could be uncorked and appreciated later (perhaps in the midst of an argument about whose turn it is to get up with the crying toddler or whose career is more important), allowing the weight of responsibility to drift away on an effervescent memory.

If I could replace the nights when anger and resentment sent us inching towards the far corners of the bed with fond memories of his arm draped protectively over my baby-laden, wriggling mountain of a belly, I would always be happy. If I could erase the time I wrecked our computer in a fit of sleep-deprived rage and substitute the memory of him placing our son in my arms immediately after he’d been born, I’d never again feel guilty. But I can’t and I wouldn’t. The bad with the good, that’s what we promised when we married. All the nasty, gory, ugly grimness in order to enjoy the uplifting, companionable, heart-melting wonderfulness.

My reverie is disturbed by my son’s babbling, his wide-open eyes and mischievous grin telling me I have no chance of slipping back into sleep. I smile at the blond mess of hair peeking out from the other side of the pillow, confirmation that my little girl has wandered through at some point in the night to curl up beside her father, her best friend in the whole world. All four of us lie there — breathing warmly on one another’s closely-assembled faces, tucking elbows and knees respectfully to our sides (us) or flailing about indiscriminately (them) — pressing our bodies together to form a pulsing, nuclear mass of love and security, stronger together than we ever could be separately. Despite the lack of sleep, the arguments, the bedroom politics and the hardships, this is what he and I wanted when we decided to become parents. This is what we dreamed of. Our idea of familial bliss, what we saw when we pictured our lives with children, revolved around this image, in this bed. All of the other stuff goes out of focus until only this moment becomes crystallized. We are reminded by their beautiful faces and rising, falling chests of why we do this, of what makes each day worth facing. My lover’s hand finds mine somewhere in the tangle of blankets and we smile faintly at one another, the outlines of our lips barely perceptible in the pink-grey light of a winter’s dawn.

Finally, as the first rays of real sunlight begin peeking through gaps in the blinds, illuminating the thin layer of dust ever-present in our house, the reality and routine of everyday life sets in. I swing my feet out of bed and into slippers. I change a diaper and brush my teeth, squinting away from the easterly-facing bathroom window. I pour the cereal and feed the cat, then wash the bowls and pack the bags. I contemplate crawling back into bed with my second cup of coffee, knowing it won’t happen. Instead, I sip from my mug in the kitchen while I write, my effort to forge a career in snatched moments of peace a distinctly exciting and frustrating endeavor, the possibilities as endless as the limitations.

Later, when the boy is napping, I go upstairs to make the bed. My hands linger as they fluff and smooth the duvet and my lips smile at the morning’s memory. I perch carefully on the edge, close my eyes and try to picture what other memories I will create here, how many more times I will sob into my pillow or lay awake with worry or excitement. I wonder if, once the children are grown and gone, my husband and I will revert to modified versions of our pre-parent selves, with less mind-blowing sex and more cups of tea, but with the same unfettered blitheness on a Sunday morning that we enjoyed in the beginning. I imagine our rekindled closeness will make the likelihood of watching him die, perhaps in this very bed, all the more unfathomable. I’m not able to imagine any further than that before the ache in my chest makes me draw breath and shake off the vision. I go back to the scene from this morning and hold it in my mind until the monsters and demons, both past and future, scurry back under the bed where they belong.

I hear my son awaken in his room, calling to me. I stand and sigh good naturedly. Up and out once more.

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