Tag Archives: family

Death, distraction and dandelions

When Ida sleeps she usually flings her arms up above her head – It’s hard to describe but she has the air of a very relaxed hipster sprawled over a heap of stuffed animals like a Shoreditch dragon stretched over her hoard.

And yes – she’s back in the cot although happy enough in the lower bunk – that’s a whole other post.

I know quite a bit about her sleeping habits as I’ve taken to spending  time next to her whilst she’s sleeping. This is partly to remind myself how much I love her, easier to remember when she’s not trampling over me in her bid for world domination. Also it’s because I’m in a quite a reflective mood recently.

Steve’s dad, stepdad, passed away recently. He had Alzheimer’s and was quite frail but it happened unexpectedly after a fall and a bad reaction to general anesthetic –  and very, very – as anyone who’s sat by a similar bedside will recognise, quickly.

The death certificate says pneumonia but as we said to Zeph whilst stroking the back of his head – he was just tired and the springs had wound down.

Now I’m no stranger to the complexities of dealing with death, many of my ponderings I’ve shared here before; here and here but once again I find myself wrestling with big questions from my lovely boy.

In  a recent early morning he raged at me, pummeling and kicking in frustrated anger – demanding I promise the cancer will never come back. Which of course I can’t, especially since my particular, highly treatable, flavour is high recurrence.

I have to bear it, shoulder the anger – cup the punches and stroke his back keeping up the murmur. The I love you, it’ll be okay, even when it isn’t murmur.

I know exactly where he’s coming from. Don’t we all? The sudden overwhelming urge to gather up all the people we love and hold them still. To freeze them in this moment so they come to no harm.

So they come to nothing at all. No change, no  danger, no growth. No living – no life. Hard as it is you have to unclench that fist. Because death is not waiting for us at the end of a line – it’s traveling along with us. Being alive is moving through your days with death right next to you. The other side of the coin.

Still, it’s a big life event and as such is rippling my pond. Watching Steve dealing sensitively with Zeph while struggling with the legacy of losing his biological father at a similar age. Recognising his sadness at the loss of someone from his life and a piece of his childhood gone. Sadness for his mum and family and sadness at certain gulfs that line difficult relationships.

Remembering that his default position is to retreat and not talk and mine, after serious therapy, is to talk talk talk it out. That neither way is the right way although an ocassional meet in the middle is good for both our souls.

The funeral was last week and Zeph was very sure he wanted to go and so he came. It was a lovely service – fitting for a very quiet gentle man. At one point we listened to a recording of him singing a solo at a past christmas concert.

The poignancy of listing to his sure voice while he lay in his coffin at the front of the church was very nearly unbearable. At the end of the service Zeph and I went to sit in the churchyard to collect ourselves.

“It was my favourite bit and the worse bit” he said. I just nodded, feeling, as I do now, as I write about it, my eyes prickling painfully. Sometimes our digital age seems crudely cruel. Like magnets pushing at each other it seemed indecent to have hearing him and to never yet hear him brushing shoulders in almost physical collusion.

I try hard not to avert my eyes and talk openly to Zeph. He seems hyperaware of the frailty of life. Every day seems a balancing act of talking about it yet not obsessing about it. Making allowances and setting boundaries.

Mostly I feel not up to the task. Never has the mantra of being good enough is good enough been muttered more fervently as I spread myself ever thinner.

I also have taken to watching him in his sleep as well. Parenting sleeping children is a piece of cake. We’ve also been reading this picture book.

Death, Duck and the Tulip which I’d whole heartedly recommend.

As always most hours are filled with Beautiful Things. This weekend particularly has been lit by the most glorious sunshine. An afternoon of constructing a cardboard robot costume with Ida is hugely satisfying and baking brownies with Zeph soothing with a satisfying end result.

My peony is covered with fat buds and the garden is full of forget me nots and dandelions.

I am very fond of dandelions.

Spreading the word for Breakthrough Breast Cancer. Ninety words.

One of my favourite blog reads is over at Kate on Thin Ice. I think her Groovy Mums is …well… groovy and I appreciate her proactive approach to charities and what blogging can do to spread important messages. Which is why I have meant for ages to join in with this blog hop.

Queen of the procrastinaters I am, I am. Since I managed to carve a bit of me-time out on this Valentines day to scrub some mould off the bathroom ceiling, (steady.) I really think I should pull my finger out.

Basically she’s looking for 90 bloggers to write 90 words about an important woman in their life and include the following information about the Breakthrough Breast Cancer campaign.

“Pink Ribbon Bingo have pledged to support Breakthrough Breast Cancer all year round with 15% of the gross revenue accrued through online play on the site being donated to the charity. Visitors also have the opportunity to donate a percentage of their winnings directly to the charity. Along with the fundraising element, Pink Ribbon Bingo and The Daily Mail online will be helping the charity to raise awareness by promoting their vital health messages such as TLC (Touch, Look, Check).

“Celebrity supporter videos on the Pink Ribbon Bingo website including Jessie J, Melanie C, Tom Ellis, Macy Gray, Sharon Corr and Kelly Hoopen – http://www.pinkribbonbingo.com/ .

If you click on these YouTube links, you can hear Kate Thornton and Tamzin Outwaite’s support.

Kate: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=brz793lgb_g&feature=youtu.be

Tamzin: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BCh671wnj2o“

I’m lucky to have lots of inspiring, supporting women in my life. Since I read Kate’s blog I’ve turned over in my mind who I’d like to write about.

And I’ve settled on my very beautiful three-year old daughter, Ida.

She changes so much just by her existence. From the minute she took her first resolute breath, flailing her arms firmly in the air – fixing me in her passionate gaze she began her work.

With her in my arms and my hopes, dreams and fears for her in my mind I look at my mother with new understanding. The bridge begun with Zeph’s birth is now complete between us. Unassailable.

I look back down the years to little Laura and I forgive her and start to learn to love and help her. She deserves exactly what my daughter does. Safety, understanding, love and freedom.

Sadly most people’s lives are touched by cancer. Lets keep campaiging for research for a cure and better treatments and spread the word about what we can do to look after ourselves.

I’ll be teaching my daughter for sure.

more small things

Walking to school this morning Zeph was highly satisfied with the frosted grass and his icy puffs of breath. Despite freezing my toes off I had to agree that I liked the seasonal snap as well although my too tender heart bleeds for all the drooping blossom and withered spring flowers.

Ida is still in her commanding birthday mood. She had a brilliant array of presents so we’ve had a happy couple of days playing with new playdough, concocting a stream of lurid teaparties and many, many games of snap and pairs.

She’s also done brilliantly well for clothes over the last month which means on family outings we all look slightly mismatched. A princess amidst scarecrows.

We had a happy afternoon icing cupcakes and the big, minutely described , birthday cake.

I was especially amused by the way we had to sing happy Birthday to each of us through out the day, so nobody felt left out.

I spent today sorting through fabrics and beads. My stock is at very low levels as I did so well on the christmas markets. At night my head is buzzing with new ideas but it’s hard carving out the time to really get stuff done ( I’m pretty sure that’ll sound familar to everyone…)

My sister bought me this much lusted after spice drawer set a few b’days ago. (she does the BEST presents.) I’ve had it in my kitchen where you couldn’t really see it and it never really worked for my spices which always seem to end up in jamjars… So I retrieved  it, gave it a wash and filled those china drawers with delicously clinking beads.

I pass it many times a day and quite a few of those times I stop to look in one of those drawers and it cheers me. Immensely.

Small, round Beautiful Things.

Lava lamps at home

Zeph just marched into the room with his lip wobbling and tears streaming down his face.

” I can’t believe you’re watching James Bond without me!”

He’s livid and quite inconsolable. I push my chair away from the desk slightly so he can lean against me. His shoulders are stiff with fury. I rub his back as Steve and I take turns telling him that it’s late at night, we watch Bond together if it’s on in the day. Rainy bank holidays. Slow sunday tea-times. It is a school night – he has to go back up to bed.

Quivering with rage he points an accusatory finger at us, ” while you’re down here, watching it, having fun and laughing – without me?”

I’m running low on sympathy. “Yes.” His father offers a token theme tune watch before returning to bed. More lighter fuel on troubled waters than oil. “Why would I want to do that? – I don’t care about the theme tune – I’m going to miss the FILM!”

Do you remember finding it hard to imagine your parents with their own life? My parents were quite young when they had me and were each others first sweethearts but Zeph is continually appalled and astonished by photographs of us with earlier partners. On other holidays, in other houses. Familiar furniture in other unsettling settings.

I just broke the camels back with the straw like observation that the reason he’s so upset is because he’s TIRED. There was flouncing and doorslamming. Gah. 

I don’t even like stupid James Bond.

Double gah.

We did this amazing experiment found on Science Sparks, a website full of fantastic inspiration, after school today. It went incredibly well and the kids were satisfyingly enthusiastic. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Although it got a bit scary at one moment when I lost control of the Alka-Seltzers and they were intent on making one of the bottles explode….

 I had the good intention of taking some photos while they were doing it. Pause for some hollow laughter. Did I mention I lost control of the Alka- Seltzer’s? So these were taken with just the grown ups, down here on our own, having callous heartless fizzing fun to the back drop of Robbie Coltrane doing a very dodgy russian accent.

Ooooh – the hedonism.

Little legacies, thought full food.

little legacy A small thing handed down by a predecessor
Little legacy is a remembrance project , a positive and creative space, to celebrate small things handed down by predecessors.
This is a link up over at the Alexander Residence – hop over and read some of the other wonderful posts this week..
This weeks legacies from Kate and Penny brought tears to my eyes. I’m lucky enough to still have my Mum and reading these memories make me treasure that even more than I already do.
My mum was very young when I was born. One of the great benefits of that is the wonderful opportunity this gave me to be close to my grandparents on both sides. In fact I also remember three of my great grandparents very well.
The thing I love most about Penny’s legacy project is how it reinforces my heart-felt belief that the things I do everyday guided by my Granny’s voice in my ear are what keep her honoured and revered in my heart and make her alive to my children. She was a born instructor. A memorable, strong-willed vibrant woman.
I’ve written before (and linked up here before as well) about all the tiny cooking rituals she’s seeded in me. Reading Penny’s post about sewing with her mum makes me think so sharply of our cooking lessons.
I joined the cooking rota relatively early. My parents both worked full-time and my sister and I had chores to do when we got home from school. My mum had cooked for her entire family from an early age and could not see why I couldn’t be responsible for two dinners a week during my later years in junior school. At the beginning things were left for me to prepare with instructions but as time passed I had to look in the fridge or larder and plan from the (usually sparse) ingredients there.
It was my Granny who showed me how. Standing in her kitchen with an apron cooking alongside her she wound me round with  a steady stream of instruction, story and superstition. Pacifying spirits, making small helpings spread a long way, weaving magic with the cheapest cuts and mysterious innards, balancing health with spices, healing hurts with carbohydrates we passed the years.
Every single day I do something in my kitchen that my Granny told me to never forget. Today I’m boiling butter beans for a bean bake and there’s a tomato in there with them.
I don’t know why.
but I’ve done it without and it’s not as good.  
Always a splash of milk in with tinned tomatoes, cheaper the meat then the lower the heat, okra thickens better than cornflour, sniff the melon to see if it’s ripe, always, always put in the bone – that’s where all the flavour is.
Cold hands for pastry, wet hands to make meatballs, if you add bread they go further and taste lighter. Always pass salt to the gods.
Start meringues with a slice of lemon wiped around the bowl. Less is more for allspice and it numbs the heart as well as the tongue. A drop of vinegar in the water to poach eggs and if you put an apple in your potato sack it’ll slow the shoots coming. Dust your fruit to stop it sinking in cakes, salt smothers flame on a grill and always, always keep a crust and some cloves on your windowsill for good health and luck.
You can always stretch a meal to welcome a guest, good hospitality is your honour and pride.  Respect food, there’s literally someone dying out there for lack of it. Meals cooked with love say – I care about you, I have woven this with my hands and my knowledge and the best my purse could purchase and I offer it up, friend, loved one, to sustain you and bring you pleasure. 
 Every time I look in my cupboards, fridge and larder and mentally juggle ingredients to conjure up a meal she’s at my shoulder. Truthfully I can’t think of a better way to honour her and her memory. To keep her alive in my life and for my children.
Zeph already salts correctly. I find myself quoting her truths to him as we cook together or as he stands by watching.
“Why are you using a eggshell to fish out that broken bit?”
“Like calls to like…”
So it goes on. Soothing and familar. Small, everyday and earth shakingly, world formingly important.

Gardeny goodness

If I was selecting a reflective word-of-the-day style sum up for today I think it may be… vehement. Or strident perhaps – I could stretch to emphatic, rabid or voracious.

Just another day with a toddler.

We didn’t actually do much today, perhaps that was the problem. I need to plan something exhausting first thing. We had  a packed weekend with a family birthday celebration and we’re Weston-super-mare bound at an ungodly hour on Thursday. High tide is quite early so if we want to see the muddy sea at all it’s an early train for us. Those of you familiar with the brown waves of Weston know what I mean I’m sure. So I thought a pottering day would be pleasant. We did manage to complete a mosaic coaster for G’mas birthday gift tomorrow. Bit worried she’ll not be able to identify the dolphin on the front, might have to give her a heads up on the gift tag.

It’s a little grouty but for a joint effort between an excited two-year old and her exasperated brother I consider it a huge success.

I had to keep slipping out for a drop of soothing garden time today. With cups of mint tea made from my very conveniently positioned clump;

Literally outside the back door, I can even reach out in the rain for a few sprigs for my mug. I make it the way my Granny did – in the mug, soused with just boiled water then three ice cubes. You can drink it right way then.. and I do while checking out these beauties;

There’s a reason children’s seed packs always include sunflowers. They’re so reliable and impressive. Ida is beside herself with excitement about these and Zeph is pretty pleased with himself as well, gardener extraordinaire.

 Although there aren’t as many apples on our little tree as last year they are all big beautiful ones. The hollyhocks are drooping and fading but still covered in insects and gorgeous. I’m tickled by something other than bindweed creeping through the bench at the end of the garden.

One of the winter squashes making a break for it. Looking at the very weedy bit today it struck me what a lovely fresh green chickweed is. Still, should probably remove some… Ida is very keen on pulling stuff up, if only she was  little more reliable as to what she pulls.

I’m going to end with two beautiful things from Sundays party;

 Ida’s new party shoes of which she is foot hoppingly happy and proud. Luckily the way her feet are growing they shouldn’t fit her for long.

And Zeph unearthed these Fuzzyfelts at G’mas in the lazy afternoon. Alice and I played exhaustively with these as children and just touching them filled me with the happiest nostalgia. So much better than the revamped modern version – we spent a satisfying hour laying out scenes.

Schools out..

The school year is over. They came out at two and we hit the fair which opened that afternoon.

You have to embrace the trashiness, the sugar, saturated fat, shoving and shrieking. It’s not always easy. It doesn’t help that I’m too fat/old/scared/physically incompetent to go on rides. There’s always a certain amount of bargaining about which rides I’m happy for Z to squander my cash on. A lot of “maybe next year ” is heard. 

I definitely prefer wandering around the rides at night when the lights make my heart skip in pleasure but despite my assurances it’ll still be here when he gets back after his week away he’s not willing to take the chance.

Ida flung her small self wholeheartedly into the trashiness embracing by insisting on wearing a slightly tattered and too big Tinkerbell dress my aunt found in a charity shop for 50p.

She loved this roundabout – Steve and I remember Zeph loving it as well. He always liked the fire-engine. There is something deeply satisfying about the route of the track, with ups and downs that are exciting enough for toddlers, the carriages have bells to ring and it’s next to  a food stand so I could inhale the fair smell, composed of burnt sugar, onions, cigarette smoke and diesel fumes that makes my skin tingle in anticipation.

Later on in my garden looking fondly at the scabious which has sprung up in my wild grass patch I realise I’m looking forward to taking Zeph back for one last ride on the last day. We’re going to watch the fireworks really which start at 9.30 so we’ll get to wander around the rides in the dark watching the lights and smelling the smells.

I only do it for the kids though…

beautiful Hetties Pincushion

Portrait gallery

We have paparazzi in our midst.

Ida has discovered the power of the big button on my camera and given half a chance sets out to document some moments of everyday life. She’s known how to turn it on and flick through taken photo’s for ages. It’s my sure-fire way of distracting her in till queues or in assemblies since I don’t have a mobile phone which seems to be the twenty first century version of a twisted stick.

Her very favorite thing is to take pictures of our faces. It’s all very hit and miss, especially considering the lack of length in her arms. The beauty of digital is that she can take as many as she likes.  Often she strikes gold.

It’s rare to see a photo of me I love – this one is the best of a very close up bunch where Ida was carefully trying to get my spell freckles in. They’re on the left, under my eye. Small brown beauty spots in a rough spiral. Both the kids used to soothe themselves to sleep by tracing it over and over with a thoughtful careful finger just before dropping off. Zeph declared it was a magic spell and still does it in troubled times.

Of course Zeph has to get in on the act. The house rings with the squabbling over the camera. He has a lot of directions to give but also comes up with the occasional beautiful result. I love this shot (possibly because it’s blurringly beautiful like a silvered regency mirror.) People rarely say “don’t they look like you?..” about my blond-haired blue-eyed daddies-darlings and upside down I think we look-alike around the chin.

I don’t know if Ida took this one or Z but it’s definitely a winner. Oh the cross-eyed adoration.

Value systems

I feel if I’m going to be properly on trend I should write a post about Dads. I feel a bit odd though. Internally bruised. I’m not sure I could handle any more emotion. Suffice to say I really love my Dad and every day I appreciate him more. That relationships are rarely uncomplicated and some are worth working on.

An encounter at the weekend highlighted some of the things I love most about my Dad. A visit to the home of Steve’s brother-in-law who is very well off, through his own business endeavors and has furnished his beautiful lavish home with  high-spec objects and valuable original art left me with a bad taste in my mouth and a knot in my heart. I didn’t supervise my brats closely enough for his liking and he found it necessary to dress me down and list the cost of his acquisitions.

For a start I was struck by his concern over the three million painting while I’m not absolutely sure we’ll make the mortgage next month and how we live worlds apart. Also the fact the kids would never dream of touching a painting with their hands, they’d already surveyed the sculpture in the hall with interest, their hands tucked firmly behind their backs. We spend enough time in galleries for this rule to be engrained. At the time he was making his points Ida was cuddled on my lap and I was distracting her from inevitable toddler boredom by drawing funny animals on a notepad.

He’s used to venting freely I suppose – on people he pays not to deserve courtesy or respect and the fact he accorded me none means he has lost all of mine.

The point that seems most lodged in my tender side is that I think he believes as we can not purchase art in the way he does we could never appreciate it. Perhaps we didn’t understand it was expensive because he’d taken the price tags off or were too ignorant. Whereas the kids were on their very best careful behavior because they know to respect other people’s belongings and beautiful things.

I remember being fourteen and awkward. I’d just returned home after a separation and there was a painful distance between me and everyone and everything else. The only thing I was enjoying at school was art and I ate up the artists section in the library and books on my Dads shelves. I had a passion for expressionism, Burra, Klee and Egon Schiele  whose works I pored over and pinned postcards of up on my bedroom wall. There was a private gallery show of his Schiele’s early work and some sketches and my inarticulate spiky Dad took me up on the train to see it. It was in a very exclusive gallery where you had to make an appointment to enter and as we rang the bell I burned with the shame and embarrassment and awkwardness of it. I growled at him that they’d be expecting us to buy something and he replied calmly that for all they knew we might. “It’s not for people like us” I hissed at him vehemently and he swung me round and met my eyes, something my darling Dad doesn’t do often. He replied hotly along these lines, “Do you think he painted this stuff for them, the people with cheque books? Do you think beauty and truth only show when you put a coin in a slot, do you think Teutonic plates stop moving because someone has bought an acre on top of them?”  My dear Red old Dad. Familiarity with his socialism and marxist flirting, sitting bored senseless at countless trade union meetings and fund-raising, consciousness raising rally’s had dulled my eyes to his sincere belief in genuine equality. I loved him fiercely for it right then and now.

Poor Paul. I doubt he’s around kids much. I bet he was mostly busy while his boys were young. He seems driven to collect and possess. He’s buying up vinyl now, sitting back he says it’s for the sound quality but all he talks about are the odd pressings, what they cost him and how they’ll gain in price. This is why he’s so successful. Don’t get me wrong, he’s earned every pound I’m sure. He knows the price of all his beautiful displayed investment items but I’m not sure he knows the value of much.

See that all sounds very airy and who gives a damn. Still I spent an hour crying on my bed when we got home with the kids sat either side of me puzzled. Ida was blithely unaware but Zeph had picked up on the disapproval. We talked about it, the possible reasons behind it all, how he’d done nothing wrong and why I was so upset. Steve said later it’s because I wear my heart on my sleeve. Which is a massive overstatement of my recent attempts to live with a more open heart. I am the last person in the world to expect the things to be fair but it seems I want it fair for my children. I suspect this is going to be a hard lesson to relearn.

It could have also been that I had to physically restrain myself from shouting, losing my temper and mirroring the aggression aimed at me. The crescent marks from my fingernails on my forearms are testament to that. As I cradled my daughter on my lap I bit my tongue, mentally forcing myself to think the best of the person in front of me and to avoid a scene at the hastily arranged sixtieth birthday celebration of someone I like very much and who has a pretty unequal deal I think. It was so last-minute because she finally gave up hope of her husband or sons marking the day in any way.

My dad has already talked to me about his plans to do sixty special things with and for my mum next year as she’ll be sixty. As I write this I feel a surge of pride in his value system. Lovely Dad.

Parklife, new needles and small stuff

I purled an entire row without noticing. Usually I have to concentrate on each stitch. There’s something about it I find really awkward, unwieldy and counter intuitive. Today at the park, sat in the sunshine, I watched Ida trying to climb up the shinning pole and purled a row without paying attention.

I also pushed a pen across a blank page. I definitely found joy in it – but not the twenty odd precocious kids who said over my shoulder, “what’s that? – it’s not very good…” go back to your alcopops and baby bottles full of coke precious ones.

The ring of grime left round the bath after scrubbing Ida – she had a very satisfying afternoon at the park.

Zeph telling us the story of Echo and Narcissus on the way to the cinema since we’ve banned the Pokemon word. Turns out his knowledge of greek myths is as extensive as that of the japanese merchandising menaces.

I secretly bought a felting needle while we were out – can’t wait to examine it and maybe try it out. I have completely lied to Steve about how much it was… he could tell as well. I saw him smirking into his beard. 

As I type this I can hear Ida scampering around upstairs. In a years time I will hardly remember the bedtime wrestling. Time goes by so quickly. I shall not sweat this small stuff. I resolve to reread some Richard Carson.

They smelled of shampoo and clean pj’s as we all curled up for bedtime stories. At the end of one Ida tells us she likes blue kangaroo but she loves ‘Dillo. Steve and I exchange a look of love over their bent heads. I feel in accord with the world.