Lather, Rinse, Repeat

March is passing by in a blur of birthday parties, visiting friends and enjoying the company of some of my most favourite people. The days have been filled with hard work – endless hours of a steady slog, a thin trail of sweat tracing my spine. 

The fresh air soothes me as I paint fences and saw through the branches of a recently felled tree. My hands are mottled with sap from the conifer, thick splashes lining the creases of my hands and staining my nails. There are bloody scratches on my neck and chest I don’t even remember getting. 

It’s the smell of potatoes roasting in the oven coated with garlic, turmeric, cayenne pepper. It’s enormous pots of lentil chilli bubbling on the stove. It’s roasted peppers and aubergines lending a splash of colour to the world. 

It’s the scent of pine permeating as we build a new bookcase. It’s the arrival of the cherry blossoms, seemingly from nowhere. Branches heavy with thick swathes of blossom in colours all too delicate for these grey days. They remind me of someone who I always thought was too fragile for this world, and I wonder where she is these days. 

It’s a glass of wine in pyjamas, freshly showered after a long day. The sound of the rain. The longer days. Lager and lemon. It is sitting in the armchair folding laundry fresh from the tumble dryer. 

‘It’ is the simple pleasures. The simple moments that break up the monotony. And I sleep soundly within moments, my body sinking into the mattress. 

Sunday ticks over into Monday, into Tuesday and still the days roll on. Laundry, hoovering, cooking, cleaning. Lather, rinse, repeat. Over and over. Yet these are days I wouldn’t change for the world. And with these thoughts, Tuesday slips into Wednesday. 

Wild and Untamed

I wish we could choose the weather. It’s hard to wallow in your own self-pity when the skies are a glorious cobalt blue and the sun is beating down upon your face. The way I feel today is better suited to the bleakness that creeps into the corners of a grey and listless day; the type of day that sees a wind whipping through the weeping willows, tangling their delicate branches into something wild and untamed. These feelings belong in black and white films or old theatre productions with curvaceous women, their lips stained deep red and their cheeks porcelain beneath two circles of blush. I am melancholy and grey, my heart searching for answers I know I will never find.

The summer before my mother died we visited a fayre together. She knew by then that she wasn’t long for this world, but she wanted to see the palm reader, in one of those beautifully decorated gypsy caravans. To this day I wonder if the lady behind that gaudy beaded curtain was able to tell her future. I regret not having the courage to ask my mother.

I want to see the future, to know how much pain I will have to endure, how much heartache. I want to know that my children will be safe and healthy, always. The uncertainty scares me. It leaves me with a knot of fear in my stomach and an ache that weaves through my body, immobilising everything in its path. 

Maybe one day I will visit a palm-reader and see how much truth she can afford me.

On days like today I cannot see the good in life. When some of your favourite people are fighting the grief, watching loved ones suffer and knowing there’s no happy ending to cancer, of loss and despair and the approach of devastating anniversaries – it’s hard to acknowledge that sometimes life just hurts. It. Just. Hurts.

Plainly and simply, I am afraid. I’m afraid of what the future brings and whether or not I have the capacity to change it. I have a friend who believes everything in life is determined by God, that every last nuance of our lives is pre-written and we can do nothing but accept our futures from the Lord. Yet I do not know which is more frightening: knowing that I can’t do anything to change what happens tomorrow, or finding out through hindsight that I could have changed the future, but I never did.

Tomorrow will be a better day.

Hall Dale Quarry

Hall Dale Quarry: Snitterton Road, Matlock DE4 3LZ

The day dawned thick with mist and had we not promised the boys a trip to the quarry, we would have flicked the kettle on for another cup of hot, sweet tea and called it quits. Instead, we loaded a rucksack with bright round tangerines, an enormous stack of peanut butter and marmite sandwiches and flasks of hot chocolate. We loaded the boys and the dog into the car, counted out hats and gloves and set off to the quarry.

Within an hour we were parked up, wrestling into too many layers in an attempt to keep the freezing temperatures at bay. The boys run with excitement, the dog hot on their heels.

The quarry itself is enormous, achingly empty with the sense that life has moved on without it. And yet the richness of history just sprawled out for the taking leaves me breathless. The first time we came here I picked up a rock, and then another, looking half-heartedly for fossils. The third rock I picked up had the most enormous brachiopod wedged into the side, smooth as silk. The detail was immense. It’s not until you’re standing there looking at the fossilised remains of a once living creature that you realise just how small you are in the grand scheme of evolution.

The boys scoured for fossils, delighting in the imprints but screaming with sheer joy at fat bi-valves piling up beside them in haphazard piles of rocks. The dog splashes frantically in a pool of chalky water.

As the day wears on the sky begins to break open, slowly at first, then great big tears appear above us of the brightest blue. By noon it looks like summer, yet the temperature doesn’t once rise above zero.

As the boys rope Daddy into climbing huge piles of gravel with them and then sliding down, I wander off down an overgrown path. The dog follows faithfully. The path winds gently upwards and within moments I am looking over the quarry, the boys so far away they are mere pinpricks of life atop the gravel heap.

We didn’t see another soul all day. It’s lonely here, but it never fails to fill me full of life.

 

Tears

Today I took the boys to a local farm. There’s an enormous sand pit, gorgeous play area and several wooden playhouses. The boys love it. They spend hours getting muddy, bombing around on ride-on tractors and flinging sand around to their hearts’ content.

I overheard several exchanges today between parents and their children.

1)

‘Come on, let’s go and get an ice-cream from the cafe.’

‘No, Mummy. Want to stay. Play.’

‘Come on, we are getting an ice-cream. Or do you want cake instead, or a biscuit?’

‘No, Mummy. Want to play. No want ice-cream.’

(Mother forcibly removes screaming child to go and get ice-cream.)

2)

‘Come on, it’s time to go home. Let’s go home to put on the dinosaur film.’

‘No, I’ve buried a treasure chest. I want to dig it up again before we go.’

(Irate mother) ‘I said it’s time to go NOW. We won’t come back again if you don’t come now.

(Little boy follows his mother home in tears.)

3)

‘Come on, we need to get back now. Your little sister is tired.’

‘I don’t want to go. I’m playing with these boys, digging holes.’

‘Okay, then Mummy is leaving without you.’

(Mother walks off, leaving the boy to run after her crying when he realised she wasn’t coming back.)

I sat there in the sunshine building sandcastles with my boys and I felt sad. I know everyone has time constraints, but all three of these exchanges ended in tears and I felt so bad for the children. I wanted to tell the mother of the first little girl that she didn’t want an ice-cream, she just wanted to be wild and free. I wanted to tell the third mother how contemptuous I felt towards her to put her innocent and trusting little boy in a position where he truly believed his protector had abandoned him.

I am, by no means, a perfect mother – but I do pride myself on allowing my boys to play over getting food or watching television, should they choose to play. My heart breaks when I see these tiny snippets of other lives. If they treat their children that way in public, how do they behave behind closed doors? It would have taken each of those parents 5 minutes to engage with their children and speak respectfully to them so they understood what was required of them. 

Am I being too judgemental? I think every child has the right to play, to get dirty clothes and even dirtier faces. I lost count today of the number of times I heard, ‘don’t do that, you’ll get dirty’. What is childhood if you cannot run barefoot in the sand or feed the animals freshly pulled handfuls of Clover?

When my boys were born, I made a promise. And that promise was to always let them play, to let them be children, for as long as they want to be children.

We are in no hurry to forget how to play in this house. I hope those little souls are sleeping soundly now, their tears forgotten and with memories of a good day swirling in their dreamlands.

Questions

“People take on the shapes of the songs and the stories that surround them, especially if they don’t have their own song.~ Neil Gaiman, “Anansi Boys”

The above quote showed up on my Facebook a couple of weeks ago, and it’s been tumbling in my thoughts ever since. I can’t quite seem to shake it. 

I’ve been asking myself what stories I invite my boys to join. Which books do we read together with strong men as a source of inspiration? What films do we watch that teach our boys about how to treat other people? What qualities of a good man do we talk about and discuss? Does my husband embody those same qualities? Do our friends? Do our families? What qualities do we affirm in our own boys? 

How do we approach our boys? Have we ever uttered the words, ‘boys will be boys’ and assumed it acceptable? Do we listen to them? Do we sit down and give them our undivided attention the way we expect them to give us theirs? How do the men in our lives treat women? Would we be happy for our boys to emulate that same behaviour? How do we speak about other cultures and religions? Are we accepting, or do we speak from a place of ignorance and fear? How do we speak to our children, full stop? Do we treat them with respect or do we continually chastise, mock and belittle them with our thoughtless, impatient words? 

How do we change these things if we realise we’re not happy with what we’ve learnt about ourselves and what we are inadvertently teaching our boys? How do we open up a discussion about how and why some people choose to destroy others and tear them down instead of building them up?

How do you encourage your boys to sing their own songs? 

There are so many questions borne from a single quote, and my answers to them will shape the very essence of my boys. 

That’s a pretty powerful realisation, and one that scares me immensely. 

Dawn

It’s 6.30 a.m. and I’m propped up in bed listening to the dawn chorus through the open window. A cockerel crows nearby as a cool breeze washes over me. The dog sighs gently by the side of the bed, his head seeking out my fingertips for a scratch behind the ears. 

I can hear the clinking of spoons downstairs meaning the boys are helping themselves to breakfast. I like this new, independent stage of theirs, even if it does mean there’ll be milk and Shredded Wheat everywhere. In a bittersweet fashion, I like that they are no longer babies, and the sense of freedom that comes with that realisation is immense. 

Routine is loosening its grip on our days. The days are longer, but fuller. We can go further, stay for longer. We are no longer bound by nap time or baby food or exhausted toddlers. We have three fully-fledged little boys, so full of enthusiasm for life. They’re a joy to share the days with. 

We have got dates for beach trips and bike races and visiting friends. Parties are in the diary. Friends are letting me snuggle their babies; such perfect bundles of warmth and innocence sleeping peacefully on my chest. The days are brighter, bringing Spring a step closer every day. Life is good, and a new day begins. 

Wednesday

It’s raining again, the way it almost always is when I am inspired to write. If it’s not the rain, it’s a glass of Rioja, or a hazy evening spent nursing a bottle of whisky.

The rain falls seamlessly, blending into the day with ease. The earth smells ripe; plump with the promise of new life and I inhale deeply as I stand on the doorstep waiting for the dog. 

I watch the hens outside; pathetic looking creatures when wet, devoid of their usual character and excited chatter. They are bedraggled and forlorn, but a joy to watch nonetheless.

In an effort to spend more 1:1 time with the boys, we decided to let each of them pick a parent and pick an activity. This morning, therefore, brought a bike ride to the park with my youngest before the rain set in. It was my first time on a bike for well over a decade. For a while, I wondered if I could actually remember how to ride. It turns out I can, albeit in the fashion of a slightly wobbly 5-year-old who’s riding without stabilisers for the first time. My middle son picked the BMX track with Dad this afternoon and he returned home splashed with mud from head to foot and the most enormous smile on his face. 

Tomorrow I am heading swimming with my eldest. Right now, I’m sitting drinking green tea underneath an open window. There’s something so comforting about the rain, and there is no place else I would rather be right now.