Archive for the 'Squish Squish' Category

A mother on paper

NS March 12th, 2010

She came home, draped in her grandfather’s arms, delivered like a bouquet of roses to my door. Her heavy lidded eyes saw me and her lips smiled, almost imperceptibly. I laid her on the sofa, removed her shoes and coat, smoothed her hair from her forehead and watched her forefinger rhythmically stroke her upper lip as she sucked her thumb.

I closed the door and my heart swelled, glad for her to be back in the warmth of my mother bear’s den. I sat down beside her. She put her head in my lap. Looking down at her face, I marvelled at her beauty and absolute perfection. I gazed for a long time at her ivory cheek, then the pores, then the blood and tissue and bones beneath. Beyond that, the cells, the tiny living particles of life that, together, made her. From my body and his. We made her.

That never stops blowing my mind.

I scoop her up, put her to bed (dress and all, at her insistence) and turn out the light. Downstairs, I begin to tidy up the things she brought home from school and her grandparents’ house. I see three yellow daffodils, tied together with iridescent ribbon, on top of two cards. One is white and depicts a human-like figure with blue construction paper legs, yellow arms, a green body and long red hair. Above it is scrawled ‘Happy Mother’s Day!’ Inside, she has attempted to write her name, though only two of the letters are discernible as such. The figure on the card is smiling. My fears that she thinks of me as a brooding, cross, shouty demon are allayed for now.

The other card is red and circular and, in a teacher’s hand, tells me ‘I love my mum because…’ with her answer dictated and written below. It says:

“She is a very special mummy because she does everything by herself.”

I’m not sure whether that’s good or bad, whether to laugh or cry, so I do a bit of both. Hand over mouth, alone in the dining room, a silent, anguished, joyful tear slides down my cheek. I press the daffodils to my chest and look at the grinning face of my daughter’s imagining. At a time in my life when I feel that everything is changing and anything is possible, an assertion of independence is just what I needed to hear that. That someone has complete confidence in me, even when I don’t; that someone remembers my smiles when all I dwell on are my flaws — that’s more valuable than any gift from a shop she could ever give me.

I had a vision of love

NS January 25th, 2010

And after all that waxing lyrical about staying indoors, what did we end up doing yesterday afternoon, less than two hour after I wrote about looking out windows and staying warm? Strapping the wellies on, driving out to Richmond Park, tromping up and down exceedingly muddy paths and then having a good run around the playground.

The lazy, cosy morning and the outdoor, active afternoon…they were perfect. Each on their own but especially together. And when we pulled up in front of our home, just as darkness was throwing its blanket over the half-lit, golden hue clinging to the edges of the sky, The Noble Husband and I turned to each other and smiled. I switched the ignition off and we sat in silence, holding hands for a moment before we turned around to see our children, both asleep and with their faces turned upward in identical, open-mouthed poses, the very picture of vulnerable, lovely innocence. Our eyes met as we gathered our things and silently relayed every emotion our hearts were bursting with. Before we scooped them up and woke them from their peaceful reveries, we looked once more at their soft faces, breathtakingly beautiful, and watched their chests rise and fall, rise and fall, with the breath that we gave them.

“Is there anything more incredible and wonderful then this?” my heart asked his.

The trembling of his lips and the brightening pools of his eyes said that, indeed, there was not.

Sunday Mothering

NS January 24th, 2010

Quiet contemplation and frenzied scribbling (or typing, rather) may not make sense to many as a suitable and entirely worthwhile pursuit on which to spend an entire Sunday when the sun is shining and there are ruddy, muddy outdoor romps to be had, but to me it is perfection and bliss. My husband does not understand it. My children…do they suffer for it? Or, rather, do they benefit from the happiness and satisfaction it gives me?

My method of Sunday mothering may not involve wellies, mountaintop picnics or forest adventures but instead hot chocolate kisses, counting raindrops on windows and reading stories of wizards and cats and little girls who won’t go to bed. We may only venture outside to gather the necessary supplies for baking more chocolate chip cupcakes but does our quiet, near, indoor adventure mean any less simply because it wasn’t undertaken beneath the grey sky and through the long, wet grass?

Perhaps my children will look back at winter Sundays — their mother curled cosily under her blanket, fingers poised motionless above the keyboard as she takes in a scene of familial merriment with a smile as broad as a river on her lips — and they will not be disappointed that we weren’t somewhere new and dangerous, but familiar and safe and warm. Together.

Letter to self, age 11

NS December 7th, 2009

letter slot

Subsequent to the last post published here, which was from an anonymous guest blogger and was a continuation of a meme involving writing letters to our 16-year-old selves, I decided that I’d like to do one myself. But when I tried to think of what wisdom I should impart to my teenaged self, I realised that the one I’d like to give the most advice to is my 11-year-old self. So if you’ll excuse this bending of the rules, read on.


Dear A****,

It’s been two years since your younger sister died. Your mother still cries at random intervals and at others closes herself off from everyone around her, retreating into a shell of grief, rage and sorrow, the blackness and depths of which you will hopefully never experience yourself. Though you grieve too, know that her grief is different from yours –  all-encompassing, far-reaching and infinte. You alternate between helplessness and uncertainty — wishing you could do or say something to soothe her burning heart — and self-righteousness and anger, feeling that your childhood is merely being gotten through and survived rather than treasured and observed. Be patient with her. She still loves you. This will make you stonger.

You struggle to know your place in the family now that  you are no longer the middle child but the youngest. Every time you argue with one of your parents you weep afterwards, either with regret that you upset them further or with a bitter indignation that you should be worrying about their feelings instead of your own and tiptoeing around the hole in your family where your sister used to be. Allow yourself to be selfish at times without beating yourself up with guilt; you’ve faced some harsh realities in life already and selflessness isn’t a prerequisite to being a good person, especially when you are a child.

You will think that your older sister is perfect and that everyone wants you to be more like her, with her straight As and ‘nice’ friends and involvement in school activities. You will not do as well in school as she does, mostly out of laziness and partly out of boredom, but a) don’t think you aren’t smart just because you don’t have perfect grades and b) don’t mistake good grades for a goody two-shoes — your older sister is one of the most fun, funniest and most generous people you will ever meet so don’t think you have nothing in common with her or that you’ll never be friends. She will eventually become so dear to your heart and such an invaluable confidante that you couldn’t imagine your life without her.

You are starting to realise, even though it’s not really discussed, that your parents are having money problems. Both of them are working, and will continue to work, part-time jobs on top of their full-time ones in order to give you and and your older sister the things you want and need. You will cry when, next year on your birthday, your dad gives you a card made from a brown paper bag with a picture of a stereo taped to the inside with a note from him promising that after just a few more payments, it will be yours. You will keep that card forever and look at it whenever you think of what it means to sacrifice for love. It will also quell the rampant consumerism that threatens to completely take over many teens and sow the seeds of minimalism and ‘making do’ that you try to live by later in life.

One night later this year, when you’re at a sleepover at one of your close friend’s house, she and two other close friends will confide a deep, dark secret to you. They will ask you for your help and you will know what to do. You will hold them as they cry and understand when they retreat emotionally, because the messenger often gets shot. You will talk to child psychologists and police officers as their abuser goes to trial. You will receive a threatening phone call from him before he begins his prison sentence, which will have you looking over your shoulder for the next ten years.

In your teenage years you will watch two of these friends struggle to understand their sexuality and confuse sex with love and acceptance; the other will go through severe anorexia and body dysmorphia and you will have to unplug her treadmill before she passes out in the midst of an exercise frenzy. This will be your first taste of what sexual violence does to girls and women, and of the severe consequences that last a lifetime. You will get angry. Don’t be afraid of that anger; hold onto it but learn to understand and control it — it will lead you to a passion for social justice and activism for women and, aside from writing, will be your life’s calling.

The writing, the writing, the writing. You have just started writing poetry in the journal your parents gave you for Christmas. It sparks something urgent and indescribable in the depths of your soul and you will spend countless hours in the years ahead with a pen gripped between your fingers and your back hunched over a sheaf of papers and, later, a keyboard. Your classmates, teachers and family will soon start to tell you that you’re good at it and encourage you to write more. This will result in speech awards, poetry and articles published in the school paper and, eventually, eulogies for two of your friends at their funerals. You will dream of writing a book that touches and inspires people, of having such a way with words that people get lost inside them, moved to tears or action or both. You will discover that you want to see the world and change it and will begin planning your global travels and humanitarian work. As it stands now, you won’t have quite made it there on either count but don’t let that deter you. Both are great goals.

Pretty soon you will begin going to parties and drinking and, when you are about 17, experimenting with drugs. You will have an absolute whale of a time and make some great memories, but when someone at a party offers you a powdered white substance on a mirror, turn them down. Walk away and never look back, because you come so close to losing yourself to it. You’ll know it’s time to stop when you do it in the morning before class, pawn your jewellery and cry when you run out. Learn how to have a good time but don’t ever let yourself creep out on that ledge again. Many people aren’t so lucky as to talk themselves down.

If you think life is all doom and gloom — don’t. In 10 years’ time you will be married to a wonderful Englishman and living in London. Yes, THAT London, and it will be as fabulous as you could possibly imagine. Five years after that you will become a mother for the first time and begin a new phase in your life. Two and a half years after your daughter arrives, you will give birth to your son, unmedicated, in your dining room (yes, it will be planned that way!) and it will be the most intense, primal and spiritual thing you have ever experienced. Don’t be afraid or embarrassed of this — it will change you and give you physical and mental strength you didn’t know you had. After you’ve done that you will feel you can do anything.

You will find mothering challenging, exasperating, depressing, thrilling, fulfilling and about five thousand different kinds of wonderful. You will beat yourself up when you err or lose your temper or fail to live up to expectations you have been conditioned to believe must be met, but don’t waste the energy. You will love your children and do the best you can with what you’ve got and, really, that’s all that matters.

Be well. Look after yourself. Have fun. Be a child. Never stop caring about others and never stop using your voice, in your life and in your writing, to try to affect change. You may not think they matter, but they do. Oh, how they do.


Me (30 years and five-and-a-half months)

Photo credit

Santa Brain

NS December 4th, 2009



heart copy


You know how some people claim to have ‘pregnancy brain’ or ‘mummy brain’, wherein they attempt to explain why they can’t concentrate on anything other than their offspring, but which is really just code for I Haven’t Slept in a Year and/or These Kids Are Hard Work And Parenting Sucks Every Last Drop of Energy Out of The Space Where Caring About Current Events, Interacting With Other Adults and Having Hobbies Or A Social Life Used To Be? Well, there’s a new one I’d like to add to the list: Santa Brain (or Father Christmas Brain for the British readers).

Josie is likely wretching at the thought, but I have already been sucked into the Christmas Vortex, the depths of which I shan’t return from until the January sales are upon us. I know, I know, it’s only December-the-bloody-4th and there’s still three weeks until the jolly man in the red suit squeezes his corpulent frame down my soot-laden chimney and the little George Jesus lays down his sweet head, and I’m an atheist and a cynic and have never been big on Christmas  and all its capitalistic, religious-driven dogmatic glory. Believe me, I know this.  I’d never EVER have pegged myself as a ‘Christmas Person’ but this year has been different.

Maybe it’s because my sister is coming in two weeks and I’m more excited about that than anything, or that The Noble Child is finally at an age where she truly grasps the concept of the holiday that has melted this Grinch McScrooge”s tiny, icy, bah-humbug heart. Maybe it’s the way her eyes sparkle and the way she claps her hands in gleeful anticipation at the merest mention of Santa and his reindeer that has me all warm and fuzzy ’round the aortic valves. This uncharacteristic soppiness is the reason my house is already festooned with decorations, why we’ve been listening to my Christmas mixed cd since yesterday and why I spent an hour and a half on all fours with a pair of scarves tied around my middle to fashion a harness for Santa (aka TNC in a Santa hat) to hold while I guided the sleigh (armchair) through the night sky (living room), passing out toys to all of the children of the world (The Noble Baby and the cat). It was the most ridiculous but fun way I’ve spent a Thursday afternoon in a long time.

Maybe it’s because when I explained to TNC that not all children get toys on Christmas and that she needs to be very thankful for what she has, her little face crumbled but then quickly lit up as she declared, “I will give all the children my toys and they will be happy again!” and that when I asked her if she would help me wrap the winter scarves, hats and gloves I donate to a homeless shelter each year, she looked me in the eye and said “Of course I will, Mummy! People need to stay warm on Christmas.”

Whatever it is, and however much it might ruin my ‘street cred’ amongst those who dismiss it all as corporate-driven bumpkis, I have rediscovered the magic of Christmas and the element of humanity that it brings out in us. And at a time when so much is going on, with the kids and my career and with my personal life, it has given me back something I’ve been missing for awhile: hope. That may be incredibly corny and hokey and mawkishly sentimental and all the rest of it, but since Christmas is a time to celebrate birth (even if I don’t buy into the whole story behind that particular one), it feels really refreshing and and wonderful to forget all the horrors and injustices of the world for just a little while and let my cynicism be replaced by optimism and a childlike sense of wonder at the world.

This ability to be humbled and step back from the bigger picture to celebrate life’s small joys is one of the most powerful gifts that having children has given me.  So please forgive my Santa Brain — my normal one is still there, it’s just busy being dipped in gingerbread houses, holly wreaths, elves and reindeer games. Ho ho ho!

You hate me, don’t you?

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