Moments: October 2014

Having reminded myself not to worry about how often I write, I now feel ready for a bit of a Moments round-up.

Another month is whizzing by, and I feel the need to pin a few pieces of it down.

Fresh moments seem as plentiful as leaves on the tree. You think they’ll stay just fine, but turn around and they’re caught up in the wind, crunched under car tyres and the like.

It’s not that the quality of the experience goes – it’s just that I lose sight of them with the next set of leaves in front of me.

Time for a spot of autumnal nature table.

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We try a park-based playdate with a nursery friend. I smile at the two little things sitting there, essentially swapping the contents of their lunchboxes around, doing their very best sharing while also tearing through the calories.

It’s hard work, going to nursery.

We do a long overdue library trip. My back is sore. Mini is determined to use a toy buggy to take a friend along. I manage to find a working compromise, and the faithful friend rides on the top of some of the lighter books.

New foods join the table. Mini joins Junior in demanding porridge for supper. To add to the autumnal feel, there is even a sudden interest in mince and potatoes. I can only hope we might make it as far as stews when it really gets cold.

===

Sickness decides to stalk us, and hasn’t let up yet.

We try to keep cheerful in different ways. A new sticker book to raise the invalid’s spirits. A made-up outing to the supermarket to occupy the one that’s well.

The bug is a strange one – enough to knock any of us for six, yet a few hours later, you’re able to be bouncing about, waiting for an outing. (At least, Junior and Mini are.)

We make our way off on holiday in the midst of it all. There are two bathrooms; extra sets of sheets. This is all very helpful when you need to clean up after the next bout of nausea.

I find my own way to rise above it all, doing the supermarket run several times over to find a place that sells chicken pieces so I can make chicken soup for the invalids.

The sun on the sea is dazzling. The fields are full of birds chasing after the plough. There are a few moments of peace, even in the midst of the task at hand, and I breathe them in.

===

One of the cupboards at the cottage has a model Tracy Island. Junior is overcome with excitement, being the owner of a Thunderbirds box set.

Mini has other thoughts about what the swimming pool cover is actually for, but starts flying the models around just the same.

We make it to the beach a few times. The sand is particularly yellowy; more granular. Soon the bathtubs have a layer of sediment when we come back and wash off feet again.

I improve my skills of reversing over gravel in tight spaces. No one is allowed to sit in the car while I get it in and out of the drive. I try to avoid looking in the direction of the cottage; I am being vetted, just the same.

Meals keep changing depending on who is ill. We get through stacks and stacks of toast. Something safe for those delicate tummies. Somehow we still seem to bring back half the food I packed.

===

There are other moments to add, I’m sure of it. If I close my eyes for a while, I may be able to bring the leaves back again, before they become just another covering for the ground.

It is October, and my boots crunch over the leaves, as I walk another round of nursery and school and everyday.

 

Little, and not all that often

October has seen me decide to reboot the blog before.

This time round, it’s probably looking like the reverse.

That’s OK. Blogs come and go, but they can also restart; have a hiatus while the writer is doing something else important, and many more variants.

I’m not doing daily writing discipline, this time round. Nor am I trying out a particular type of writing, or any of the other mini seasons I’ve done in the last year or two.

But I am here. Using words, thinking about them.

Not necessarily padding around writing posts in my head just now. To be truthful, more interested in Battenburg and box sets right now. (And it is the season of nights drawing in too.)

But I still want to bait the line with words every now and then; let them float out for a bit.

Sometimes they get a nibble from others, sometimes not. That’s become less important too, although it is nice to know when others like the bait.

===

I write because I continue to read what others write. I appreciate finding just the right set of ideas to carry me through. I write to give something back.

I write to clear my head. I write to capture a particular set of moments that would otherwise disappear entirely. I write to work through emotions, at times, to find a more constructive response to circumstances.

I write because it’s fun to tap away at the keys; to feel the rhythm of the letters combining, the pattern of sentences flowing. There is a music to words that I become more aware of, year by year.

I write to connect with others. All those other individuals, sitting at home, thinking their thoughts. (I’m betting a reasonable proportion of those are parents, duty bound to stay home, but still wanting to ‘chat’ somehow.)

Sure, the Internet is full of thoughts, and we don’t want to read them all. That’s fine. But we are allowed to think them, and to add our tuppence worth.

===

I write because it’s me. It doesn’t make me less me to be writing less regularly just now. But I write again to remind myself that this is one of the places where I feel most at home.

I write because there are natural and healthy limits to box sets and Battenburg, even when I’m tired and my mind and body tell me otherwise. Writing soothes a need for peace and quiet, for perspective – for escape, too – in a different way.

I write because I am an introvert, and sometimes I’m too tired to have the conversation for real, with people around.

(Or, equally, because I can get all the words out, in order, without interruptions, because Junior and Mini are in bed by the time the laptop comes out.)

I write because I become more and more convinced how much we need story; how much we rely on it. We can watch TV series, we can follow the sagas of stars in gossip mags (if we really want to), but all of it points back to story.

===

Story is you and me walking along together, when I write the words and you read them, at whatever time that is. Story is you and me trying to make sense of life – mine, yours, the other lives entwined with our own.

Story is putting one foot up on a stone, and resting on our stick, and saying, ‘hey, I’ve been thinking about this, and…’ It’s making our sign to help others avoid a wrong direction as they follow on their road.

Story is recognising that we are all putting one foot in front of another, day after day, looking to make sense of what is happening to us and around us.

Story is making light of our darknesses (when we’d rather have a streetlamp handy to chase them away). Story is pointing right back at the ones who tell it even better; who help us ponder in a different way.

Story is our tiny details and the big vistas when life drops away in front of us, and we can’t imagine even being allowed to be where we are right now. But we are.

===

Little and often is where I’d like to be. Little, and not that often, is where I actually am.

But I keep coming back to nibble on some words. To weave some more in my own story; to add some details where I’ve enjoyed another’s story.

And little by little, I hope to keep coming back.

Specialist subjects

Do you ever remember thinking about the things you would share with your kids, when they came along?

All those things you love. All those things that you know something about. All those things that you think might even be helpful to them when they grow up.

Well. Some of that happens. Occasionally they even listen to you about something you’re keen to tell them about.

Just like any of us, kids develop specialist subjects, and they expect you to be expert in them.

Whether you are or not.

Mini is all about cars. Car identification: tick. Identifying old cars never previously seen: tick. Ability to continue to identify cars, at speed, even when tired or grumpy: tick.

I have been apprenticed to the school of digger appreciation in the past, so I have learned a little in this respect. Part of me rails against it; part of me is genuinely fascinated by the interest in something that would never have taken my fancy at that age.

So we talk about cars. Turns out I do know something about them now. Driving helps. As does looking at badges of Suzuki vs Seat close up, so we can tell the difference between them. (You’ll be off to check for yourself now.)

We start to introduce some car part terminology: hub caps, exhaust pipes, soft tops. Mini is entranced. I am quite proud of myself. This level of car knowledge I can deal with.

Mini will tell you as soon as a car has different hub caps to its overall make. It never occurred to me to look at hub caps, unless they happened to be particularly shiny and caught my eye, but now we look at hub caps.

We play variants on hand sandwich. Somethings we use hands, sometimes we just talk it through when walking along. There is still bread on the bottom, but then we get windscreens, horns, seatbelts.

Just the kind of things you want in a sandwich.

Mini wants to know ‘how cars go to the toilet’. So we talk about exhaust pipes getting rid of what cars don’t need. And, for good measure (and because we’ve noticed them too), we talk about radiator grilles, and what the car does if it gets too hot.

There is even a particular red Ford GT that we look out for, on our way to the sports centre.

—-

When kids love diggers, you learn to love them too. You spot them when the kids aren’t even there. You might even turn and remark to the person next to you when you’ve seen a particularly cool bit of equipment.

Until you realise that they are just another adult at the bus stop next to you. Then you go quiet.

Actually, I’ve managed not to do that part, just about. And by now, I have forgotten more of my digger knowledge.

Plus Junior has moved on to other things, and I need some working memory to talk about spies, and the MI5 and MI6 buildings, and how much of the spy equipment in books is likely to be possible.

Fortunately, there are also specialist subjects where you overlap. I am discovering that Mini knows a lot of the songs and rhymes that I do. And is keen to learn more.

I can remember telling Junior about the phrase ‘once upon a time’. There was this frisson: I am getting to tell my child about this really wonderful thing. The magic phrase that starts so many stories.

Now Mini is prepared to hear other magic. Like Morningtown Ride, or Golden Slumbers. And, equally, songs like Yellow Submarine, or She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain.

Every now and then, we’ll find another song we have in common. And hopefully sing it together.

(Sometimes I am told off for this. Including for singing along with a song on CD in the car. It’s obviously fine for Mini to sing along with it, though.)

—-

I’ve written before about those points of connection with a parent: where you share the thing they love.

There is a special status to those things. Even in memory, they have some kind of internal glow about them when you recall them.

I am very grateful that there are those points of connection for me with both Junior and Mini. And that Dan has his too.

And part of me can share a smaller glow when recalling things that are my children’s specialist subjects too.

Even when it’s diggers. Or hub caps.

 

Moments: September 2014

September comes round, and for once this year, it’s not about starting up writing again.

But it might be about not getting stuck when I don’t post for a while.

I like September. It’s often one of the best picture months on the calendar (have you noticed? Go and look at your own wall calendar and come back to me about it).

I like the sunshine without as much heat. I like the brambles (as referenced before, and once again, and so on).

I like the sense of purpose and routine – usually around going back to school – without the being completely worn out bit. That’ll come by the end of the autumn term, I know it.

One of my grannies had her birthday at the start of September. It was another reason to like it. And you should know that C. S. Lewis was a big fan of autumn – as I discovered when I read a biography of him some time back.

Here’s where we’re at this time round.

===

Sunshine. Day after day of it. Sure, the temperature goes up and down, you get the coat/jumper/length of sleeve bits wrong at different points.

Part of me is uneasy at the relative lack of rain (it is Scotland, after all). And part of me is very happy to send Junior and Mini back out to the trampoline after tea. Again. And again.

We experience that early September burst of summer. Year after year, back in my office days, I would set out around Scotland at this stage in the month, and enjoy sunshine all over the country. I smile at the prospect of it coming round again.

Sometimes, the sun and the light combine in magical ways. At the mid September long weekend, it’s nice enough to go down to the sea and paddle.

Mini has already dispensed with Crocs, trousers and sleeves pushed up as far as they will go. The swell of the Forth is coming in, and I watch a certain amount of wave jumping and sand scrabbling.

We retreat when a jellyfish is washed in (just in case), but in those few minutes, I breathe easier. And we take a little seaweed home to remember it by.

===

There is a trip to feed the ducks on the river by my parents. Suddenly, there is a benefit to the ongoing refusal to eat crusts.

The obligatory basket is brought out to put the crumbs in – and I learn that my mother used it as a little girl when she did the same thing. The binding around the handle is coming loose in one place, but other than that, it is the perfect size for a child’s hand to carry.

There are three adults to one child. The afternoon stretches before us. There is no rush. Plus there might well be pizza for tea.

===

We play and play and play at the park. At least, Mini does. I watch the process of increasing confidence; learning tricks from other children; coming back to the same elements day after day.

Small climbing wall. Scrambling net. Rope bridge (with added potential to swing it sideways, once you’ve built up the courage).

We discuss the possibility of making a list of all the new jumping and swinging skills. Maybe there’ll be enough for some kind of a reward. Mini thinks so. (I do too, to be honest).

We see a succession of junk model robots come home, courtesy of Junior Reader. In true inventor style, they have numbers for the new upgrades: Frank 1, Frank 2, and so on.

As I write, Frank 3 has come home today. He makes rude noises if you press his eyes. I am encouraged to do so.

===

I come to the end of reading Pippi Longstocking to Junior Reader. I am initially sad, then I remind myself that there are two more books still to have fun with.

I am not sure whether it sits in the category of books that are funnier to read to yourself than to read out loud. (The Hyman Kaplan books are also in that group, but those are a way off for Junior Reader.)

In the meantime, I discover a new Church Mice book, second hand. Junior Reader appreciates the dry humour, the word play, and all the little injokes in the drawings.

Mini discovers Meg, Mog and Owl. I have another opportunity to revisit my own childhood, reading and reading them over again.

We talk about which one we like the best – I still think Meg on the Moon is the greatest, with their tea of egg and chips floating around in zero gravity. (Sadly, I can’t show you the individual picture – but you can see the cartoon version online.)

===

There is one golden Saturday morning when Junior and Mini get up, eat breakfast and keep playing. No real squabbles. Dan and I look at each other, get our teas or coffees, and stay in bed as long as possible.

There is a discovery – and rediscovery – of Duplo. Larger and larger blasters are made. Longer and longer trains are put together, along with their various passengers. A clown figure pushes another clown figure in a Duplo pram.

There is a sighting of Yorkshire rhubarb in the supermarket. It’s not the early sprouting stuff, true, but it is also on offer. Rhubarb and brambles. I feel the need for a crumble, and maybe some custard to go with it.

===

There are plenty of other days and hours and minutes that are less moment-y. There are forgotten lunchboxes that come home smelling. There are abandoned socks and argued over food remains, pushed to the side of the plate.

There are attempts to use up food that don’t quite work out. Refusals to do X. Arguments over who gets to open the front door first in the morning.

Still, the light reminds me that we still live in the afterglow of summer. It is autumn, true, but of the pleasantest kind.

I choose to write about the brambles, and the light, and the swell of the sea on an afternoon that seems without end.

Marching two by two

We’ve just had our first go at separate trips, over a long weekend. Dan took Junior Reader to see his side of the family, I took Mini to my parents.

It’s strange, just to be two of us. One parent, one child – and two grandparents to help pick up the slack.

Well, no. Two grandparents to do a myriad of kindnesses, including feeding, entertaining, some gentle disciplining, and lots more.

There are plenty of good things about being a foursome. Lots of learning from each other. But also squabbles, attempts to bridge age gaps, balancing everyone getting enough attention. All those kind of stretching things.

Mini and I go away, and I get to stick to one age group. One set of eating requirements. One level of concentration (or otherwise).

Dan and Junior, for their part, get to do the older kid stuff. Long rides on river boats. Flights, and a chance at an upgrade of seat. Picking sushi together. Staying up that bit later.

Grandparents in both locations were happy, getting more time with just one child – and getting their own grown up child back for a little while. (Parents like to be spoiled just as much as children.)

It is strange how the mind adjusts. Junior Reader came home, and I had to remember again: growing up. Yes, really that size, that leg length. A haircut that Dan arranged, not me. Only a few days away and I have to remember who this person is.

It went well for both teams, everyone came home happy. Tired too, but with lots of new stories to tell. New acquisitions. Opportunities to giggle, and have ‘I missed you’ hugs.

It won’t always be my choice, marching two by two. I’m glad there will be plenty of foursome times too. But maybe just occasionally, we can all benefit from a little divide and conquer.

If only the washing basket would divide itself into half the amount to catch up on. That really would set a seal on the experience.