Monday, 23 January 2017

And breathe ...

At the moment I am waking up before I need to wake to remind myself that I have two more hours to go before I need to wake up. Then I wake up nearly exactly an hour before I need to get up to remind myself that I need to be out of bed in one hour. Sometimes, I give myself some time out and sleep straight through the following hour until I actually need to get up. At other times, I lie impatiently still, neither fully awake and definitely not asleep and check my phone intermittently. I don't like that this is taking place. It is emotionally exhausting and psychologically unhelpful. I don't like. Not one bit. Although I get it. We've had a lot going on and my mind is fussing with all of this information, my sub conscience poking its nose into places when it has no right to do so.

I am working full time for the first time in eleven years, since September. The first few months were adrenaline filled and since there was just so much change going on, somehow we all rode the wave. One child starting secondary school, the younger one entering the world of childcare for the first time with two different childminders, myself working in a new role and my husband taking on new plus additional domestic and childcare duties really for the first time. Now some months in, I think we're all feeling it in our different ways. My eldest shared with me a couple of nights ago during a strained exchange that he misses not having as much time to just relax with me. Whilst I know that he is extremely privileged to have had a stay at home mum for his entire life and I also know that our evenings and week-ends are spent together and very little time outside of school is spent apart, and that, like me he can be a little dramatic but nonetheless of course mother guilt entered my heart and pierced it a little. 

Normally when I experience a little overwhelm, it either has me scribbling words and thoughts uncontrollably or it's quite the opposite. The last few months I have scribbled away and tucked words in different places, some places almost already forgotten and other in other places, the words just sit waiting, waiting for me to remember them. Time slips away and things are forgotten and just like my ten year old self did, I worry. I worry that I won't remember it all correctly, perhaps that I won't remember it at all. I worry that the days and months and years will roll into a mass of half truths and fractured memories and worst of all, I worry that I won't remember the good days, the happy times, the funny things. So perhaps in the early hours of this morning which technically will be tomorrow, perhaps I'll have a slight reprieve from the list of to do's that knock on my door. Perhaps I'll feel like at least one box is ticked and not in a work kind of way but in a surviving kind of way, a breathing kind of way. Breathe. And breathe. And breathe.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Sweet Peas and Memories on a Properly Cold Day

Today has been one of our coldest and foggiest days so far this year. I haven't left the house all day and I feel a little numb and a little restless for it. It has been an unexpected day. My first day off work since I began my new job in September. A day needed not by I but by that youngest boy of mine, who woke, complaining of aches and a temperature. He is the one that was born with his cup spilling over with joy, his cup is always half full and I am often challenged by this joyful spirit of his. However, our new rhythm of mama working full time and him spending his early mornings and an hour after school with two different childminders on different days, and the transitions in routine, in weather, well I think he needed a day and his body decided to tell him so. His chest began whispering this notion at the week-end, it said quietly 'remember me, I like to return right alongside the dry cold air'. I mostly managed to banish it but the whispers, a few determined ones lingered in the air and made themselves heard but again we are shooing them away, for it is only a week and a bit till the end of term and make it we all four will, by hook or by crook, to the end of term.

Today, I was determined to leave some words. Any words. Even if I was to resign myself to 'I have no words today' because sometimes it's the doing and not the thinking that's necessary. On this cold, cold day where I felt the chill like I haven't felt it so far this year, I used every like persuasion to convince my body that I was not cold, just like my Granny used to do. Scarf around my neck. Woollen socks. Slippers on. Warmed milk in a china cup. A blanket across my knees. When my nose still felt cold and wet like my childhood pet dog Snoopy, I decided that a trip down memory lane must be the only thing missing. The best part of memories is being taken back right into the mood of a previous experience. Right back like it happened yesterday. And so I looked at photos taken earlier in the year, a much warmer time of this year and stumbled across these images. They were taken back on the seventeenth of August, when the sun had scattered freckles on the boys' nose like seeds in a field, when his skin had a slight glow kissed by the sun, when time was our own and we were the boss of time, when it was just me and him, him and I and I had these words to say.

'Spent half the day with just this one today. We took a walk around our local park and as we did so, I recalled memories from his toddler years. We smelled the scent of sweet peas from a way away, so we followed our noses. I began to tell the boy all about how the scent triggered memories of Grandma Peppermint, who in the summer months always had a vase full of sweet peas at the top of the stairs as you entered her flat. They came from Uncle Horace's garden, he would bring a big bunch that he had cut from his garden and had wrapped in last weeks newspaper. Gran would always say that she preferred flowers in the garden than in a vase but she always confessed that the scent of sweet peas indoors was rather spectacular.'

Monday, 21 November 2016

Light and Dark and every shade of Grey

It's been a long time, a really long time. There have been lots of changes. Last year I was studying to become a teaching assistant, now I am working full time as a teaching assistant in a school that's a twenty minute walk from my house. My eldest boy also started secondary school in September and the youngest boy started being looked after by two different childminders before and after school as I can no longer commit to the school run. So, after ten years, I am no longer dropping off and collecting the children from the school playground. 

Life is full and busy and after half a term of riding the wave of change with adrenaline and perhaps even euphoria, now the built up tiredness is kicking in. I feel weary at the moment. But there's never a good time to start back here, that's why it has taken so long to return. Many many drafts have been written on my phone and never published, many. But I ache for the ritual of posting here. I long to tell my story, even if it is me telling my story to I, because just getting that story down in the first place somehow makes it real, it marks the passing of time and is forever logged and memory being what it is, I know I'll describe these current days and weeks differently if I reflect on them at another time or phase, even if its just a subtle difference. 

Story is everything. Often when there is heartache or heartbreak, there's either a need to keep telling your story or the ache and the break silence you. I have felt mute since a big family falling out of sorts exactly a year ago. It was all full of drama and hurt and made me think deeply about my perception of closeness and relationship, understanding and empathy, it has made me re-think my priorities and re-examine my strengths and weaknesses. I have thought a lot about my role as both victim and perpetrator and as a woman and as a mother and as the little girl always trying to please. 

Growing up is hard, especially when you realise that the lessons keep coming and that the answers aren't always black or white. Sometimes the palette has to get messy around the edges, things have to get dirtied in order to find new shades of colour. So, I think that's where I am, mixing new shades. Some are beautiful and unexpected, others are a little murkier and leave me with regret but I wouldn't be without any of the shades, they each tell a story of their own, ones that I am ready to tell once again.

Friday, 24 June 2016

What a soon to be 8 year old boy collected on a Summer's day

What I heard

. Children playing in the school next to the park
. A train
. Dogs barking
. Birds making a tweeting song
. Water splashing down at the water fall

What I saw

. Fresh helicopters on the ground
. Old tree that has been cut down
. Nettles
. Cute labradoodles, one black, one white
. Mushrooms growing on a dead tree stump
. A Woodpecker
. A duck feather floating in the air by the duck pond
. A Butterfly
. Some friends from school
. Bamboo in a muddy marsh
. The tree where I liked to squish berries when I was little
. Earwig hiding in the Elderflower bush
. A squirrel
. A Robin
. Unstable rocks sticking out of the ground
. A feather by a pine tree

What I smelt

. Roses in the rose garden (I couldn't smell it much but mum could)

What I tasted
. Banana from mum's bag of goodies
. Water from my water bottle
. A couple of chocolates from mum's box that Year 4 gave her as a  leaving present
. Salt on my fingers
. Wind in my mouth
. A burp 

Monday, 21 March 2016

Papercuts on a Blue Day

When I stop and listen, I hear the birds. They are singing sprightly and with driven purpose. They shout in jubilation at the unexpected blue skies. I catch my reflection in the grey bathroom tiles and listen to the rhythm of the drip drip hot tap. I'm spent. Saddened by the bickering and attitude of nonchalance at my instruction, the boys and I did not exist as one this morning. This leaves a small cut in my heart. It stings like those incidental papercuts that take forever to go away. I'm spent. My body is telling me so as it does every three years or so. My latest spend has meant a week-end of antibiotics and a wall being hit, hard. Still, I keep on, because that's what you do. I hate having to do the school run with a fever and the drip, drip of my nose, the ache in my lower back that comes from trying all night long to find a comfortable position. The blinding pain in my sinuses, that right side of my face, that flash like lightning, that's gone in a flash. The one that makes me question if indeed it happened, until the next flash of course. I try and distract myself with a list of chores, I muddle through the fog in my brain and recite things like, put a load of washing on, fold dry clothes on radiators, marinade the chicken, check e-mails for job application pack. Through the fog I hear whispers of a few of my favourite things, watching films, eating ice cream with real coffee poured on top, cutting my toe nails after waiting far too long, writing ideas on scraps of paper about art and writing and people I've watched. I think of the days when a day off sick meant tall glasses of Lilt, and a blanket on the settee with the remote controls to the TV and video tucked under my thigh for easy access, and crisps, always crisps, my lover and friend and forever foe. I think of how this sick day could mean I finally put together all of those random notes from my phone titled 'blog post'. Like this one from last friday:

Watching Breathless. Drinking proper coffee. And trying to stop my brain from enjoying the memory of the first drag of a Marlboro. Talking with my husband about how we can't ever let our youngest watch this film. The clothes. The sassiness. The cigarettes. The girls. He would love it all. Thinking about that dill vinaigrette that I haven't got around to making that will be the perfect accompaniment to the puy lentil, roasted beetroot and goats cheese salad. Wearing slippers in bed. Fantasising about walking the streets of Paris carrying pretty patisserie boxes by the string. Short walks in the rain, with wet faces that shine. Melting dark chocolate in a large ceramic bowl over a saucepan with simmering water and topping ice cream with the warm velvet that hardens like ice atop mountains. Remembering the weight of their heads on my chest before they were even double digits in months, how I watched them rise and fall with each of my breaths.

And back down, I fall from the fluffy clouds of lingering. Waiting, for something to happen, to feel better, to have energy, to be cleansed, healed, rejuvenated. Not quite it would seem. And so for now, here are some words that have spilled, they may seep and I may mop them with the cheap white serviette I have ready to hand. It greedily drinks up and spoils and all that's left is a pool of emotion tainted with the dirt of lifes grimy spills. There are spills and it would seem that they are far apart and then suddenly so frequent. Why so? I ask. Who knows. But such is the sequence, such is the pattern. And it smarts and stings, just like those papercuts, the ones that itch and burn and remind you that they are here to stay. The ones that take forever to go away.

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Because there's never a good time ...

Because there's never a good time. Because every day I think I'll get time to write, I mean properly write and then when I slip myself between my favourite, creased white sheets, I realise once more, 'I haven't written today, not really written'. Of course, there are the notes and ideas scribbled in pencil on school newsletters and junk mail that sits on top of my fridge forming a kind of paper pyramid art installation, but those words are not transferred from this place to a journal or even here. No. They gather dust and eventually join a new installation. The one on my desk. The desk that I haven't touched in months and months and months. The one that resembles some kind of shrine, the sort of shrine dedicated to someone who has died and their belongings are left, preserved, exactly as they left them. This is me right now. And that's ok. I started a teaching assistant course back in September, and life has been accumulating dust since then as the pace of life gathered momentum and then speed. My role has shifted, changed, morphed. I have dust gathered in the corners of the fitted carpet, particularly in the hallway upstairs. I have a morning schema of looking at the dust ball clusters each morning when I get up and out of bed to take my first pee in the morning. Once I arrive in the bathroom and sit on the toilet, I notice the dirty bathroom mirrors and the stray afro hairs of mine that decorate the light bathroom floor. My Artist self tries to convince my Mrs.Beeton self that there's beauty in the lines and patterns that my dead hair is making, like ripples in water, yeah, beautiful marks in sand. I glance down at my feet as I sit in silence, a few seconds after I've finished peeing. I look at the book mountain that every male in my family has contributed towards making. Comics, art magazines, books, encyclopaedias, fact books and then my contribution, the miscellany of Barack Obama. I wonder if the dust cover of my book is covered in pee since the collection of books are stacked on the floor, dangerously close to the bowel of the toilet and you know, I live with three males. I begin imagining tricks that you see on programmes like CSI and imagine powder and brushes and uv light identifying all the areas in my bathroom that have pee. I think about pee a lot. I realise too as I hear the delicious tap, tap, tap of the keyboard that I've done it. I'm finally here, I've shown up and what am I doing? I'm talking endlessly about pee. But that's ok. 

I'm thinking too about my friend Maggie and how I can't believe that a week has passed since I saw her, how time flies. Last friday, on my way home from the morning school drop off, I decided to pay my friend Maggie (who lives simply a road away) an impromptu visit. The art of 'the drop in' has been lost I fear. There are very, very few people now that I feel free to turn up unannounced on their doorstep. Maggie is one of the few and I love her even more for making me feel crazily spontaneous, when put simply, I am just popping over, dropping round, passing by. I met Maggie a few years back. It was around the time that I decided that I needed to shift the baby weight, the baby weight that was meant to be on a short stay that outstayed its welcome for over five years. Resigned to the fact that this burden was going nowhere, I decided for the first time to join a local slimming group, and this is where I met Marvellous Maggie. We hit it off immediately and sparks flew and then she said 'you have the most wonderful shaped head, I'd love to sculpt it!' Well, being half African that's just about the greatest compliment you can offer and I thought of how proud my Aunty Adelaide would be. So, I think of Maggie, my dear friend Maggie. I call her 'Mad Maggie' and sometimes in my head I give her a full title: 'Mad Maggie Cotton'. She is 79 years old now and was the first female percussionist to play with the City of Birmingham Orchestra. She's a fabulous Yorkshire lass and one of the most fascinating people I have ever met. Last friday, when I called round unannounced, we sat and drank tea and coffee and ate buttered scones next to the fire and put the world to right, just the way you should on a friday morning. We laughed and laughed, about what I can't especially remember but there is always laughter with her and I. I think too of my good head and just how Aunty Adelaide would say these words to me with her lilting voice and Ghanaian accent, 'you have a good head oh'. I ache for her, for her words, for her firm reassuring hand that she would place on my forearm to reassure me. I think of the friday mornings that I spent with her, watching and taking notes as she cooked our traditional food. I thought of this as I prepared jollof rice this week and I took my time as I prepared the food, I took my time, just like she told me I should. And when my family sat down to eat the jollof, we spoke about her and the homeland and celebrated a little and made plans for our return. 

I think about that youngest boy of mine, the one that I can see in the background as I type. The one who is swishing and turning and whacking his light saber around the sitting room. The one who knows he's not allowed to do this but is depending on me being immersed in what I'm doing enough to be able to get his own way. That's ok. I think of earlier in the week, Monday to be specific, when he asked to play on his pogo stick after school. I think of the horrific thud that I heard and the flat indentation on his forehead where it slammed against the concrete slab in the back garden. I think of me shouting minutes before 'stop making holes in the grass with that pogo stick'. I think of the next day, my free day, the day I was meant to be writing a module on how to safeguard children and young people and how instead I had a boy with a bad headache to take care of. I think of how I had to prod him a couple of times in the night and wake him to make sure he wasn't concussed. I think of the pale face of my eldest boy at the scene of the pogo stick injury, his body in more shock than the injured party and I accept there and then, he will not follow his maternal grandparents into the medical profession. Because there's never a good time, during a particularly busy week, we found the time to celebrate the good news of our eldest boy finding out that he had received his first choice of secondary school. We celebrated with curry at our local, served lovely food by people who have been serving us food since our boys were babies. Because there's never a good time, we avoided chores and headed out to Leamington for the day yesterday. We found a parking spot just far enough from the centre to be able to longingly admire the many town houses as we walked in, whilst that youngest boy of ours flung his new light saber around and we added just a pinch of melancholy, by missing the eldest boy and brother who is adventuring away for the week-end with our church youth group. Because there's never a good time to write, yet alone edit and there's definitely never a good time to get back to the drafts in the draft box. And so, warts and all and jumbled and out of sequence words it is today. Because it's always better to do an okay job than not get round to the job at all and today I got here and I wrote words, and they weren't scribbled on scrap paper around the house and then stuck surreptitiously to kitchen cabinets in the hope that in some stolen moment, they will jog my own memory. No. They are here, just where they should be, for now at least. Because sometimes, the greatest gift is time. Time to get round to doing the things that make you happy, time to move the scribbles and the blurry images into their proper place, in spite of the wobbly lines and in spite of the blurs. Because now is always better than later, always.

Friday, 29 January 2016

Blow Gold All Over The Place

Christmas happened some time back and I am just surfacing from both the rest and the surge of busyness that followed all of the rest. We moved slowly over the festive period. Relieved to have reached the end of term. We listened to music. We enjoyed parties at good friends houses that were suitable for adults and kids and stayed up late drinking good wine and prosecco. We ate good food. We played games, uno and ludo and cluedo were our favourites. We made lots of coffee, fresh percolated coffee. We stayed in pyjamas all day long. We savoured the smell of homemade cookies and filled the old biscuit tin with cookie after cookie. We had long naps in the middle of the day. We took off for rainy walks and drives in our old car. We had our moments, both good and bad. We drank in us four. 

I'm never sure about this season, all the expectation, all of the spending, all of the chaos and family entanglements. Never sure. But this year, despite some stomach wrenching disappointment with family and said entanglements, this year I really enjoyed the christmas holidays. This year I felt like a grown up, able to make choices without any obligations, able to do as I please and it was a good feeling. As we headed into the holiday season, our family of four kept reminding one another, 'let's be patient and kind'. That was the best thing we could have done, of course we weren't always patient and kind but we gently reminded one another to be so and those words became actions.

We like spending time in the city as a family and we did so over the christmas period. I think I will always have happy memories of time spent in the city with these boys of mine. Like the afternoon that we headed into the centre and we each took one boy and split up so that they could buy a gift for one another. It was busy and buzzy. It got dark early and we had a fairly long walk back to the car which we'd parked in Digbeth, during this walk back that youngest boy of mine 'tiggered' his way through busy streets and puddles and sidewalks and curbs, jumping and kicking and splashing and thrashing and causing my hubby's wrists to ache. Of course, that ball of fire promptly fell asleep seconds after getting into his carseat. I even managed to transfer him from the car onto the sofa just like the old days. He slept there for a long time and I thought, 'hey, it's the holidays, let Tigger sleep!' That night, full to the brim with rest, Tigger couldn't sleep and so hubby and I played Ludo with him till stupid o'clock. I didn't really mind, plus I especially loved the way he made fake fart noises with his armpit every time he rolled a six on the dice. 

There were happy moments like on christmas day, when the youngest boy disppeared and I found him tucked up in bed, with a bowl of tortilla chips, reading an adventure time comic and loving life. It's the little things, always the little things. Like watching my husband most evenings, in the corner of our living room working on a drawing. When you live in a small house with children that have turned into giants overnight, you need a corner. I admire his discipline and dedication and ability to turn off everything else that is happening around 'his corner'. I love watching the boys watching their dad and knowing that this image of him will be one they keep with them always. Peeking through the crack in the door of the boys bedroom and seeing my boys curled up together on their top bunk. Then hearing my eldest boy reading Winnie the Poo to his little brother and feeling my lip quivering remembering when that big boy of mine was under two and covered in chicken pox and the only thing that would soothe him was watching Winnie the Poo, which we watched over and over and over again for a few days. 

The were moments too when the boys spoke words that will stay with me forever. Like when that youngest of mine told me 'Mum, keep this soft bit forever' whilst nestling into my wobbly belly and I could have cried rivers to swim in with that gesture of acceptance. Or when my ten year old sat alongside me whilst strumming his guitar and said 'I don't know what happens but when I play music, I just see a story' and continued talking with the sparkliest of eyes and I could just see all of the romance and angst and heartache and heartbreak ahead. 

Sometimes there's just happiness in the simplest of things, for instance that morning when I made cookies for a friend and there was the perfect amount of cookie dough left over to make a heart shaped cookie muffin for my hubby's breakfast. Also, when you decide at 10pm on Christmas Eve that you want something handmade to go in the children's stockings because you realise you don't really have 'little presents' to go in because you decided not to buy for the sake of buying and you figure that satsumas won't be adequate. So, milk and and white chocolate cookies it is, even if you don't have parchment paper to make it look pretty. You fill their stockings with handmade cookies and the next day they give you smiles and hugs of genuine gratitude and fill their bellies with something you made with love, something that you hoped they would understand as perfectly as they seem to. For these simple pleasures, I am grateful. 

Life isn't without the odd bruise, but words spoken from the heart and memories made together make up for those falls and the cries that come mostly from disappointment. We took joy in staying indoors and saving our pennies, we embraced the pouring rain and the fresh air, we valued family and laughter and we remembered that it's all about balance. It's all in knowing how to stay warm without getting burned.