Archive for the tag 'parents'

Mortality, music and chianti

NS July 17th, 2010

I thought I was watching my father die tonight.

It happened right before my eyes, live on webcam, but I was 4060 miles (6533 kilometres) away.

He was okay in the end, thank goodness. But as I sat, my children either side of me, eyes wide and mouths open, watching my mother spring from her seat and shake his lifeless form while shouting his name, that distance may as well have been from moon to sun to Earth and back again.

“What’s wrong with Boppy?” my daughter asked.

Keeping my voice calm and controlled, even though I wanted to scream ‘Daddy! Are you okay, Dad?’ was tricky.

“He’s just not feeling well, sweetheart. Nana will call back when everything is okay. Don’t worry.”

“Okay!” Off she skipped to watch fish swim in the sea. On TV, of course.

Even after that reassuring phone call — he’s okay, just passed out from this cough he can’t shake, we’ll go to the doctor on Monday — I felt odd; numbed.

I opened a bottle of chianti and poured a generous tipple, tapping my fingernails restlessly against the cheap glass. I called my sister, she’d know what to do (she always does). She promised to be the bull dog after my dad to go to the doctor. With his stubbornness, someone has to be. I realised as we talked that she always will be, by default. As the only child who lives in the same area, (let alone continent) as our parents, she will inevitably deal with more of these things than I do.

I feel crappy about that. Have I run away from reality over here? Some day it will come to bite me in the ass. Today, it nipped me.

My husband started talking to me. I argued with him, distracted from my thoughts and not caring much for what I perceived to be his shallow concerns. Who the fuck cares when we’re going to get the birthday card for our godson’s birthday party tomorrow?! For 20 seconds today I thought I was watching my father [What, die? No, that's not it. Well, a little bit. Something scary, at least]…I don’t want to talk about it.

I was not there because of you. I am here, 4060 miles away, because of you. My heart sings but it also aches because of you.

I love you always but I hate you a little sometimes. Not you but your birthright, your geography, your far-awayness. Your castles and your rain and your parents down the road and how well they know our children and how interwoven our lives are with theirs.

I am jealous. Jealous that your parents have us over for lunch without a second thought, drop by without a second thought. I am insanely jealous that you know that if your dad ever keels over in front of you that you can race straight over, be at the door and in his arms in 30 minutes flat.

Me; I stare at a screen with a silent scream in my throat, trying to figure out how to dial 911 from a country that dials 999.

Fuck. How can I be jealous of reality?

And then I had to go and drink most of the rest of that bottle of chianti and watch a really great, sad, lovely, uplifting film, the kind that makes me want to both stare at a wall doing nothing and fulfil my dreams. Then I listened to really great, sad, lovely, uplifting music, the kind that makes my fingers ache to strum a guitar, pound piano keys or fly over a flute, just to make something that is beautiful and makes me feel lighter than air for just a few moments.

So now here I sit, contemplating my father’s mortality with music pumping into my headphones and a tear steadily streaking down my cheek but I’m still smiling because I know that no matter how sad and horrible and lonely and heartbreaking this feels, others have it so much worse and don’t even have the family to fret about or call on the phone. I have live babies and an unbroken family still stitched together at the seams. I have a healthy body that can run for hours (or wants to) and a mind that is riddled with privilege.

I should be so happy and so thankful. I am.

But right now all I can think about is flying those 4060 miles to wrap my arms around my father. I’d not sleep the whole flight and would keep my eyelids open to every turbulent wind, every cloud cluster, every blazing sunrise and every achingly sad sunset that befell me, drinking in every detail of the freedom of flying.

Hang on, Dad. I’ll fly home some day.

Glad that my apple fell near this tree

NS May 10th, 2010

I know (US) Mother’s Day was yesterday but procrastination, as my own mother would tell you, runs in our family. Things that also run in our family: fat knees, night owl tendencies,  long goodbyes, a love of bourbon and laughing at the annual Christmas party until sides are clutched, bladders threaten to burst and asthma inhalers are needed.

Like most teenagers, I swore I’d never become my mother. Our relationship always remained largely amicable and intact but we fought like cats and dogs for many years, mainly because we were so alike in personality and spirit. I see it now in my own daughter, the similarities that will make our future relationship tumultuous. One day, probably in about nine years, she will hate me. If I’m lucky, she’ll just be embarrassed by me. If things go like they did for me and my mom, she will do both in small doses but come back to me, back to a place of love and respect, once those rocky, hormone-fuelled, independence-driven days wane as the maturity level grows.

And I know that when I call my mom to mull all this over, angry and sad and confused over my changed status and mourning the little girl lost to me, she will understand perfectly and yearn to wrap her arms around the phone, around me, and provide comfort. She won’t say ‘I told you so’; she won’t tell me I’m blowing it out of proportion. She’ll remember how much it hurt and think not of what I inflicted on her but how she can make my hurt better. Because that’s what mothers do.

I want to tell you more about her, my mom. In thinking about what a hero and inspiration she’s been to me, I tried to come up with some less-sappy and clichéd synonyms because those kinds of euphemisms are meaningless, overused and not at all my style. And the great thing about my mom? She would not only understand but completely agree. So instead of telling you in minute detail how strong she is or how she shaped me, I’ll just share a few glimpses into what kind of person she is.

  • Never afraid of getting her hands dirty or of physical labour, she drove a forklift at a factory when she was eight months pregnant with me. She can also move a sofa or bed in or out of a house, on her own, literally on her back. Her brute strength and pivoting skills are unmatched
  • My mom is the McGyver of the crafting world. Give her a bit of cardboard, a scrap of fabric, a safety pin and a magic marker and she can make a superhero outfit, an exact replica of an ancient Egyptian funeral pyre or a Native American headdress
  • She never gives up on her dreams, no matter how long it takes to achieve them or how slowly she progresses. I know that before she dies she will have put on paper the book that’s already inscribed in her mind, have taken those glass-blowing and language classes she’s talked about for years and have travelled to many of the places she dreams of seeing. My biggest dream is to be able to, one day, help her achieve at least one of these
  • She is the most honest, hard-working, ethical person I know. This is a woman who would not take even ten minutes over her allotted lunch break without docking it from her own pay. And she does the payroll! As a result, I am utterly incapable of cheating at games or not saying anything when given incorrect change that would be to my advantage
  • If caffeine were made illegal today, my mother would be in jail tomorrow for trying to procure a coffee or cola on the black market. This is the only thing for which I can envision her breaking the law
  • She is an unashamed backseat driver of the most extreme proportions. I’m not talking about little arguments over map-reading skills or a bit of bickering about speeding, I’m talking about being surprised she hasn’t actually shoved my dad out of the driver’s seat of a moving car and taken the wheel herself. My dad affectionately refers to her as The Nagigator
  • Her dedication to tirelessly advocating and caring for everyone in our family who has ever been terminally ill (including her own daughter, father, mother, grandmother, brother and father-in-law) leaves me speechless with awe. The kindness and respect she showed to the most socially awkward, mentally unstable and physically unwell or disabled people she dealt with on a daily basis in her former job, one she held for nearly 20 years, had a huge impact on me and my views towards fairness, equality and the importance of humanity
  • As a busy working mom when we were growing up, she often cleaned at night instead of sleeping, when the mess got to be too much. I would wake up in the morning to a tidied room, vacuumed carpet and new sheets on my bed, all done right under my nose while I slept. It was like magic. Mary Poppins and her spoonful of sugar crap had nothing on my mom
  • The holidays were never complete until she’d uttered the words, “Merry fucking Christmas” before slamming a door
  • She always apologised afterwards and we always forgave her because we knew how hard she worked and how much she did for us, even when she didn’t

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.

Hush little baby, don’t you cry

NS February 21st, 2010

…mama’s gonna sing you a lullaby.

Or is she?

A recent survey found that although 40% of parents thought lullabies were great tools for teaching children words and music, only 12% knew the words. More and more, parents are singing pop and rock songs to their children, or TV theme tunes. And there’s nothing wrong with that, of course. When I sing The Noble Baby to sleep, I’m known to throw in some Carol King (‘Child of Mine’), Joni Mitchell (‘The Circle Game’ and ‘River’), Aerosmith (‘Dream On’) and even some Rolling Stones (‘Wild Horses’), among others.

But I have to say, I am a huge fan of traditional lullabies. I think they’re not only beautiful and comforting but an important part of our oral storytelling history. My mother sang or played them for me and my sisters all throughout our childhoods, as did her mother before her. I know the words to at least a dozen still popular in the US and have learned many more while here in England. I have been singing ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ to my daughter every night since she was a baby and as soon as I turn out the light and begin, she automatically settles down onto her pillow and nods sleepily while I half-whisper the words. My 17-month-old son, always on my hip at bedtime, imitates her and rests his head on my shoulder. He’s learning quickly that lullaby time means sleep time.

What I didn’t know, however, is that there are three more verses to ‘Twinkle Twinkle’! And did you know that Little Bo Peep has five? Already we have lost big parts of these songs and what little remains is fading fast, which makes me quite sad. That’s why when I heard about this fantastic campaign to Save The Lullaby, I was immediately interested. And when I discovered that Sophie Barker (who has sung for Zero 7, one of my favourite bands and whose song ‘In The Waiting Line’ I listened to constantly when pregnant with TNC) was behind the campaign and has released a new CD with producer KK (who has worked with Brian Eno and Bjork), I went from interested to excited.

I listened to a couple clips from their new CD, entitled ‘Lullaby’, and was mesmerized, as were my children. TNC curled up in my lap and sat in silence for a good ten minutes, which is unheard of. The CD* has been in my player all morning, on repeat, and I’ve not grown tired of it at all. It also comes with a beautifully illustrated hardcover booklet with lyrics to all the songs so you can sing along.

You can also see Sophie and KK on BBC News talking about the project and playing another piece live.

“The album, ‘Lullaby’, makes a stand for our forgotten bedtime tunes,” says Sophie, “ it reminds parents of the magic and soothing quality of our traditional lullabies – we’ve even included a sing-a-long lyric book for those who are more likely to know the Friends theme tune than Frere Jacques.”

The full song list includes:

1. Twinkle Twinkle Little Star

2. Somewhere Over The Rainbow

3. Ride a Cock Horse

4. Lavender’s Blue

5. Frere Jacques

6. There was a Crooked Man

7. Sing a Song of Sixpence

8. Little Bo Peep

9. Baa Baa Black Sheep

10. Little Miss Muffet

11. Brahms Lullaby

12. Oranges And Lemons

13. Hush Little Baby

14. Rock a Bye Baby

15. Dream a Little Dream

16. The Owl and the Pussycat

17. Row Your Boat

18. Silent Night

If any of you are interested and depending on the response shown here, there may be an opportunity for me to interview Sophie (squeeee!) so if you have any questions you’d like me to ask her about the CD, put them in comments or you can email them to me at noblesavage @ noblesavage(dot)me(dot)uk.

‘Lullaby’ can be bought from Sophie’s site or the usual suspects like Amazon and Play.

*Full disclosure — it was sent to me by the album’s PR company, though I fell in love with it immediately so would have bought it regardless!

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