Life Is Story and Stories Are Everywhere

Just recently I penned a guest post for another blog, the topic of which was the reason I write. I know people write for many, many complex reasons, and I think there is more than one reason that compels me to make up stories, but certainly one of the biggest reasons is simply to live more lives. To become other people, to step into their shoes, to create them and control them, to live with them and die with them. It’s the same reason I read, I guess. So that I’m not just me, living this one life.

What I also notice, as I go through my one, short life, punctuated by the lives of the people and worlds I have lovingly created, is how stories are everywhere. How they make up our lives and our worlds, and our day to day existence. Maybe you don’t always notice them, but if you look, stories are everywhere. Everything is, in fact, a story. Or at least, the potential for one. The inspiration for one.

When you get an idea for a story, it’s because you asked a question. You asked, what if? You asked, why? You asked, what is going on here? And you wanted to know the answers to those questions, so you made some up.

Children are wonderful at doing this. Natural play in childhood is nothing but stories and make-believe. I find this utterly enchanting. How they lose themselves completely in made-up worlds. These worlds and stories might make no sense at all to us, the adults, but to them they do. They set them up and let them roll. They start them out of nothing, out of the thin blue air. And they carry them on, for weeks, sometimes years.

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Look at this Playmobil set up. My 3-year-old got given a box of the stuff this week but it was his 10-year-old brother and 13-year-old sister who set it all up like this. I walked past it while tidying up and found myself wondering what was going on. There is one fellow, an outlaw, tied to the roof of a wagon, for instance, and I wanted to know why. There are a lot of rifles placed on a table in the sheriff’s office, and this was also obviously part of the story. The kids had dinner and went back to the Playmobil. I had to do other things, but I would have loved to know what happened next to all these people! This might look like play, and it is, but it’s also a story in action, one that I am sure will develop over the next few days.

A few days ago my youngest sat down to do some drawings on his chalkboard. I wasn’t allowed to join in, I was only allowed to watch. He started drawing big circles and little circles with lines joining them, up. He chatted to himself and when I asked about it, he gave the circles all names like Hop and Plop and Poop and said they were all holding hands because they were friends. They didn’t have faces, but some did have bananas! He then drew a square around them all and said they had gone into a house. This went on for a while, with my son adding further layers to the story. It was a lovely moment, art and storytelling interlinked quite naturally!

Children are just natural storytellers, and we should notice and cherish and encourage this as much as possible. Tonight, one of my older sons early creations, came back to visit us, and I was once again reminded how naturally children construct stories and carry them on through their lives.

When he was almost three, my older son used to get scared at night and get into our bed. We would ask him about this and he would talk about odd little creatures he called the Muckoos. In the day, his sisters would question him, and he would describe them in ever greater detail. (They were small and spiky and multi-coloured and liked to steal biscuits) They also kept him awake at night with their noise and they did lots of naughty things around the house. As the story grew among us all, my son started blaming the Muckoos when things went wrong. I wrote a story about it at the time, which I still have, and may one day do something with!

I’ve never forgotten the Muckoos, and I quite often call my littlest son a Muckoo, as in my mind it sums up a small child, mucky and messy and troublesome and cheeky! I sometimes call him Muckoo Madness, and he will retort; I am not Muckoo Madness!

Anyway, sometimes we have trouble getting the littlest one to bed, and my older son has been helping out the last few nights, by pretending to be a creature called Gavin, who loves stories. This in itself, is just gorgeous. He insists on sitting on a pillow on one side of me, while his little brother sits on the other side. They both get toys to cuddle and we all choose one book to read. Then ‘Gavin’ has to go back to his cave, and my little son happily goes to bed. What a way to use storytelling to encourage a young child to sit still and listen to stories! Tonight, my older son remembered the Muckoos, and ‘Gavin’ told us he was a Muckoo, in fact, the last of his kind. Quite a poignant moment, I felt! It was magical to witness this ‘story’ resurfacing after so many years and I am quite convinced it will continue to develop further layers and complexities…

And for anyone wondering what the last Muckoo looks like, my oldest son agreed to draw one for you!

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For now, I Can Still Carry You

Tonight, the last night you will be two years old, I lay next to you in your bed, and you pulled my arm under your head, as you always do, and with three cars clutched in your hands, you said to me; “I want to get in Mummy’s tummy.”

I giggled and asked you; “why?”

You said; “to hide.”

Minutes later you were sleeping soundly, so I kissed my two-year-old goodnight for the last time, retrieved my arm and snuck out of your room. Just before story time I’d grabbed you and pulled you across my lap. I said I was checking to see if you still fit there, and you did. You still fit in my arms. Just. You pointed out that your feet were sticking out and you were right. They were miles away.

Another year has passed and we’ve sped through it together, despite both our efforts to slow things down. You, with your feet dragging on dog walks and constant questioning; “what’s that? What’s that? What’s that?” and me, with my addiction to grabbing you and holding you as tight as I can, while you wriggle to be free.

You’re not so much a toddler any more, my little man. You’re about to be three. You’re a little boy. You still ask for my arm at night and I still have to lay with you until you fall asleep, and more often than not you end up in our bed at some point, but I treasure those moments as I know how quickly your next birthday will approach. Last year, I was thinking; for now, you still fit in my arms. This year, I am thinking, for now, I can still carry you.This year will see changes coming our way. Pre-school is on the horizon. You’ll have to leave these arms and trust someone else’s. You’ll have to learn to run to them when you fall and scrape your knees. And I’ll have to drive back home without you, to an empty house.

Even now, the thought makes my breath hitch in my throat and tears fill my eyes. That’s what you are to me, my blue eyed boy, you are the hitch in my throat and the grasp to my heart. I can barely look at you sometimes without tears flooding my eyes, without the urge to grip you and hold you so tightly it would hurt. And it’s been like that since the beginning because you are the last one, and the straggler at the end of this beautiful, breathtaking journey. This journey into motherhood that back then saved me from myself, and even now, saves me from the darkness of this uncertain world.

The first time around, I remember holding your biggest sister, when she was oh so tiny, and she had the same big blue eyes that you have, and we stood at the window together in the hospital where she had been born. And I was exhausted and utterly in love and the most excited person in the world. For months I had been talking to her in utero, telling her my plans and dreams, giving her advice, talking to her about life, the universe, and everything. And now here she was, filling my arms, making my arms feel like that was what they had been made to do. Hold her. And staring into that perfect face, feeling the most terrifying yet soul fulfilling explosion of love, enough love to last a lifetime.

I looked at her and thought it would be slow. I thought we had so much time ahead of us and she was so tiny, so fragile and pink and new, it seemed impossible that she would ever walk, or talk or pull her hand out of mine. But she did. So quickly I was left blinking. I held my second baby girl in the murky waters of a hospital pool, catching her underwater and pulling her up to my chest. I was the first person to touch and hold her, and she didn’t cry, not once. I had to unwound the cord from her legs and I was laughing and crying and as high as a kite. It’s still bizarre to me how you can be so utterly in love with a strange, new person.

The third time, I met your brother, and he didn’t cry either. Just lay in my arms and sucked his thumb. I knew by then how fast time would go and I truly thought he would be the last one. But I didn’t want any of it to be for the last time…not yet. So the thought of you was born with your brother. Every time I held his hand, and felt him fall asleep against my shoulder, I longed for it not to be for the last time. I longed to be able to do all those things again. My love for him, my addiction to love, brought you into this world.

You, my angel faced baby boy, you are the last one. And everything we do now is for the last time. A few months after you turned two we had our last breastfeed. Not long after that you wore your last nappy. And now you want to do everything yourself. Soon the last pushchair ride will happen. One day you won’t want me to lie with you while you fall asleep. There will be so many first times and so many lasts.

We know we won’t go through this again, and that one day this journey, in many ways will be over. Children don’t stay. They grow bigger and older and they move on. You look into their faces and you still see the baby and the toddler and the child, like ghosts. You can still hear the things they used to say, the words they used to mispronounce, and I know so much of your dad and I’s future, will involve reminiscing about the funny things you all did.

You’ve just stopped saying ‘deed-do’ and you now say thank you instead. ‘Deez’ is now please. A year ago you were only just putting words together, but now you’re bossing us all about, telling us we’re your best friends, but that we also have to go to prison, and do we want food from your shop? You think everything is amazing; running down hills, scrambling through trees, building dens. And you ‘wud’ everything. You’re soaking up everything I teach you about nature. You point at weeds and ask what they are called and if we can eat them. You remember some of them and tell me first. You ‘wud’ crows and holly bushes, and you ‘wud’ nettles and bees and Oaks. I hope you wud everything and find everything amazing for the rest of your life.

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This time three years ago I was waiting for you to arrive. You were two weeks late, had to be induced and got stuck on the way out making it the most horrific birth I’ve had. They rushed you from the room and it felt like forever waiting for you to come back. But I heard you cry and saw your face and when you came back, I felt like an animal, wanting to snatch you into my arms and sniff you all over. Mine. Mine. That’s the intensity of the love. The person you would kill for and die for. I remember those post-birth moments with all of you, as clear as day. The exhaustion, the cold sweat, the shaking, the after pains, and the weight of the baby in my arms, making everything okay, making the world brighter, life more vivid, me stronger. Never ever wanting to let go.

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But let go we must. Us mothers. We do it every year when you wake up on your birthday. We are letting go bit by bit. When you blow out your candles on your cake, we’ll be looking away and wiping the silly tears from our eyes.

 

You can’t get back in my tummy, my love. We can’t ever go back. I’ll just wipe the tears away when you’re not looking and keep telling you a thousand times a day how much I love you (and it’s more than three) And one day soon you won’t fit in my lap either, and one day soon I won’t be able to pick you up and carry you any more. So for now, let’s hold on as tight as we can. Let’s play hide and seek and read Mr Men books, and serve mud pies and dendelions in our shop. Let’s walk the dogs and go the way you want to go, never on the path, and scratch our legs and find fox holes and rabbit warrens. Let’s play cars, and play-doh and Lego, because one day you won’t want to anymore. Let’s go outside. Let’s snuggle up. Let me and you hold onto each and every day as tight as we possibly can.

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Dear Untamed Human Of Mine

Look at you, so utterly absorbed in all you do, so completely within the moment, not thinking backwards or forwards. Sadly, you do now understand the concept of ‘in a minute’ ‘not now’, ‘just wait.’ It’s weird how it once seem unfathomable that you would be able to articulate speech or instigate questions, but now, approaching your third birthday, you are brimming over with why? And how? Every time you open your mouth we are shocked by the new things that spill out. You make us laugh out loud daily with the things you come out with. It only seems moments ago that you were lying wordlessly in my arms.

It’s funny to me how you know your own mind already. You have a preference for how things should be done and tell me ‘not like that, Mummy.’ And it’s always over the smallest of things, like me trying to put your shoes on, or give you a kiss. It’s like you have to have the last word, the ultimate control over everything. You’re stubborn too. There are days when you argue with me over everything. If it’s raining and I say it’s raining, you will adamantly insist that it is absolutely not raining.

Your funny walks and your funny talks, though in the wrong moment, you will hate for us to laugh at you, in the right ones, you play the clown and laugh your husky laugh along with us. Your funny faces, your spontaneity, your wildness, you have no real clue how to fit in anywhere or how to behave, but we are teaching you, and sometimes I regret this.

When I tell you to hurry up, when I insist the shoes do go on the right feet, when I take your out of your car seat on the ‘wrong’ side, when I make you sit on your chair at dinner time, when I say no to your impulsive demands for biscuits or juice, I am taming you. I am teaching you how to behave.

We are all doing it. We are all complicit in your taming, restraining you from running wild, telling you not to jump in the puddles too much or your socks will get wet, telling you have to hold hands, telling you to hurry up, come on, we have things to do…

Sometimes I watch you. Sometimes I can’t stop staring at you when you’re in a puddle and set on staying there as long as possible because there is nothing more important to you in the world, and I am tired, I need coffee, and all the bribes of hot chocolate or CBeebies have not worked, because you just want to stay in that puddle. I stare at you, at how lost and absorbed and interested you are, swirling your stick around in the water, stamping your feet, walking up and down, repeating the same actions again and again, and it hurts my heart to imagine you in a shirt and tie and blazer, forced to sit still at school.

I can’t imagine you not like this. Wellies and mud, picking up sticks and stones, not listening to a word I say, with your crazy hair and your mucky face, because you hate for me to wipe it, and how you want to climb on absolutely everything, and how it drives me crazy sometimes when I am in a hurry, and want to get on, and don’t want you to hurt yourself and absolutely know that you will. Sometimes I hate myself for telling you to be careful, for warning you of pain you have no concept of. It’s even worse when I scold you because I simply want to get home, because I’ve had enough, because I’m bored, or tired, or grumpy, because I just want one moment to myself…

I wish there was always time in this life for climbing and balancing and puddles and crouching down to intently inspect your world, for wandering off, for taking the other path, for doing something unplanned and not in the schedule, for sitting down and refusing to move, for refusing to wear your hood up in the rain, for everything you love, for everything that holds your interest. My last child, my wild child, I long for you to be forever untamed, forever entranced by trees and tigers and muck and hose pipes.

I look at you sometimes,  and I think of all the things you need to learn to be. Patient, quiet, still, orderly. I think that we are preparing you for pre-school, which will prepare you for school, which will prepare you for employment, and I want to say no, no, no no! We’re teaching you how to behave. We’re teaching you how to fit in. We’re taming you and I’m sorry.

Growing Your Own; A Positive Rebellion

Gardening is a lot like writing. It starts with a seed, and with love, care, attention, commitment and imagination, it grows into something much, much more. For me, gardening and writing are similar because they both involve creating something positive and injecting it into the world. They both make the world brighter and better. They both involve hope, love and rebellion.

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I’ve always been attracted to gardening. My parents grew vegetables when I was a kid, and so did my grandparents. I have fond memories of sitting on cool concrete steps with a plastic bowl on my lap, popping peas from their pods. There is nothing in this world quite as divine as the pungent scent of a full grown tomato plant. As soon as I had my own place, I started growing my own. There is something so deliciously simple and satisfying about planting a seed and growing it into a plant, from which you can pick and eat food. If you’ve never had the pleasure, I can assure you it’s an incredible feeling. Like all is well with the world. Like you’ve just solved all the world’s problems, by tugging out a handful of carrots and shaking the dirt from their roots. It never fails to make me smile, the sight of home grown food, picked and ready to eat. It just makes you want to sit back and go ‘ahh’.

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We live in tumultuous times. There are many days when I want to avoid the news, for fear of what will dismay or horrify me next. I sometimes wish I could turn the clock back for all of us, back to a simpler time, where we all grew our own food, worked the fields, and reaped what we sowed.

When I am feeling distraught, just like writing, gardening will make me feel better. I forces me to take a deep breath, it forces me to get on with things, to get on with life, and to do something positive. Getting my hands dirty, feeling the soil under my finger nails, pushing seeds into the earth, it all helps me to feel grounded again and more in control. Being outside, kneeling in the dirt, choosing what to plant, putting my back into turning over the earth, it helps me remember where I come from, where we all come from. Gardening is therapeutic; I keep telling people this. I get my little man out there with me, and I want him to feel the earth and take care of the seeds, and tend them and watch them grow. Right now, I can’t think of anything more important for him to know and understand.

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Gardening grounds me, calms me and satisfies me. From the beginning, it is a labour of love and good intentions. I have the old adage of ‘you reap what you sow’ in mind nearly always, for I know I will get back what I put in. The seeds are the hope, you see. Like new life, bursting with potential. A freshly dug and turned over plot is like the womb, spongey and fresh, eager to provide and sustain. It’s exciting from the first moment you plant the seed. When it rears its head, it’s like birth. You care for it, water it, protect it and finally, you are rewarded with food. The cycle of life right there. And around it goes again, the plant itself providing the seeds from which to start the whole process again.

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When I’m in my garden, I’m calmer and happier, but I am also filled with grit and determination. For I am taking back control. Working the land, growing our own food used to be the norm. It was how we survived. But over time the food industry grew into a monstrous thing, delivering us convenience, but taking away so many other things. What have we traded, what have we compromised on in order to be able to do all our shopping under one huge roof? We’ve not only handed over control of the food chain to massive faceless corporations, we’ve compromised on animal cruelty and environmental damage and destruction. We’ve increased waste massively, through packaging, delivery, and distribution. We’ve lost contact with what is put into our food, what it actually is, where it comes from, and what or who has suffered in order for us to have it exactly as we demand it.

When you try to grow your own food, you remember how it used to be, how it could be again, how important it is to get back that control and to reconnect our roots with the earth we walk on. We have no respect for nature when we are removed from it. When all the hard work is done for us, when we have no idea how foods are made or what is in them, or what damage has been done to the planet in order to obtain them. I believe it’s crucial we teach our children where food comes from. Reconnecting them with the earth and their own wild roots is going to become increasingly important.

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It’s not easy for everyone to grow their own food. Not everyone has the space and barely anyone has the time. But in years to come, I truly believe it’s going to become imperative to learn how. We are going to struggle to feed people on this planet for many reasons. Climate change may be the biggest challenge of our generation, endless war, struggling economies and falling wages will all take their toll. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has noticed that food prices are rising.

Growing your own food, planting a vegetable patch, may be just about the most positive and rebellious thing we can do right now. It’s two fingers up to the establishment, it’s a break away from slavery to the supermarkets, and a refusal to be complicit in animal cruelty, environmental destruction and the taking from those who have less.

Growing your own is saying, go away, I don’t need you, I can do this on my own. I’ve got a new motto this year in my house. It’s ‘I won’t buy it, if I can make it myself.’ Now this only applies to food so far, and is a work in process, but a good intention heading in the right direction. I’m digging my heels in and saying no. I don’t need to buy supermarket naan bread when I make a curry, because I can save the packaging and make my own. I don’t need to buy pizzas, or jam, or pastries or pies, sauces, breads, cakes or biscuits, because I can make my own.

I need to be outside right now. This world is breaking my heart and filling me with terror. I need to be planting things, growing things, nurturing things. I need to be responsible for new life and hope and potential. I need to believe that good things can happen if you are a good person. I need to believe that there is a possibility for a greener, brighter future for my children.

When I am writing or gardening, I am reminded that I still have power.