Clinging To What’s Certain in Uncertain Times

Uncertainty is my biggest stress trigger. I can cope with anything if I am prepared. I’m quite good at slipping into survival mode. But not knowing what is going to happen, stresses me out. A good example is the outbreak of Covid 19. Those first few days as schools closed and lockdowns were imposed were terrifying for me because I just didn’t know what to expect. As soon as things became clearer, I calmed down. I rolled my sleeves up and got on with it just like everybody else.

Image by Kranich17 from Pixabay

Now, we face endless uncertainties. Food prices are rising, gas and fuel prices are soaring and during the last few weeks here in the UK it has been difficult to get petrol for our cars. I can cope with all of these things if there is some level of clarity. If the powers that be were able to say, for example, no petrol for three months! Food prices will get this high! This is how much your central heating will cost you! I wouldn’t be happy, obviously, but I would figure out a way through. It’s the not knowing that stresses me out, not knowing how long to expect disruption for, not knowing how high prices will go, not knowing if at one point we as a family will no longer be able to afford to drive.

I’d love to know! I’d love to know the answers to so many things because then I could plan, prepare and calm down. But I have to accept that uncertainty is about the only thing that is certain right now. Not only are we facing supply chain issues, driver shortages and labour shortages, we are also facing climate change and a world full of ‘leaders’ who refuse to acknowledge what needs to be done. We live in scary, uncertain times and I often wonder how any of us get up in the morning and get on with things.

The answer is that we have to. We are somewhat trapped. We have to go to work to pay the ever-rising bills, to put fuel in the car and so that we can pay our rent or mortgage. We have no choice but to carry on until we can’t.

I don’t want to live my one short life in an increasingly stressed and frightened manner, so I’ve been trying to get to grips with all this, for my own sake, and for my kids. I’ve been reminding myself that while so much is uncertain right now, there are plenty of things that are certain and can be relied on. And I need to cling to those.

So, for me, these things are certain, at least for now and I will be holding on to them as tightly as I can.

  • Love. The most obvious and sometimes the one most taken for granted. I love and I am loved. I am married to my best friend and somehow we always find a way to laugh at things. I have four beautiful, kind-hearted children. I have friends and relatives I can rely on. Love is certain.
  • Laughter. We laugh every day. I am lucky that my husband and all of my children have wonderful, wry, dark sense of humours. There is always something to laugh about and laughing is something we are pretty good at as a family. Laughter is certain.
  • Gardening. In times of stress and uncertainty I turn to my garden even more. When wildlife is threatened around me, I do all I can to encourage it to my little plot. I plant trees, shrubs, seeds and hedges. I do what I can because it makes me feel like I am doing something. Gardening is certain.
  • Writing. The same applies to writing, my one true addiction. I write about what scares me, I face my fears, I create characters to do and say what I can’t, I explore darker futures and every word that comes out of my head makes me feel better and calmer. I will always have writing. Writing is certain.
  • Hope. It’s hard to have, painful even, but we have no choice. We have children and children deserve hope. They deserve to get up in the morning believing that a better future awaits them. They deserve to hold onto that hope and let it guide them. I still have hope. You just have to.
  • The Small Things. I’ve always believed that it’s the small things that get us through. Flowers blooming in Spring, your favourite song turned up loud in the car, a perfect cup of tea, the smell of coffee and a freshly baked cake, a glass of wine on a Friday night, Saturday Night Movie Night and a bowl full of sweeties! Snuggling up under soft blankets on the sofa. Watching Taskmaster and laughing our heads off. Dogs welcoming you home like you’ve been gone forever. Birdsong in the morning. Cold Winter air through open windows as I hide under the duvet. A good book read in a warm bath. The Tawny owls calling at night. Coming home. All these things are certain. All these things are precious.

I hope things are not too uncertain or scary for you right now. It’s a tough world and getting tougher, but there is still plenty to smile about and be grateful for. As long as I have some certainty from the things I’ve mentioned, I know I can keep going.

What about you? What small things keep you going when times are tough?

The First To Fly The Nest

As I write this my oldest child, my firstborn, is in another country. We drove her there yesterday, left her there and drove back. I was so excited for her new start at Aberystwyth University in Wales, but it also felt so strange and wrong to be driving back home without her. Now I’m sat in the kitchen of my startlingly silent house. The other three children are all at school or college. I’m typing opposite the space my daughter has always occupied at the kitchen table and she is not there. She is not in her room either. She is not in the house. Not in the country.

Image by Lubos Houska from Pixabay

I was fine yesterday. I actually surprised myself. I was more worried that she would get an attack of nerves or anxiety, so I tried really hard to stay upbeat and I was genuinely so excited for her. I still am. My firstborn has flown the nest I went into overdrive preparing for her over nineteen years ago when she was still in my tummy. I remember those days. Nesting. Cleaning the flat we lived in, setting up her cot and her nappies and her toys. Feeling so excited while I awaited her arrival. Not knowing if she would be a girl or a boy. I feathered the nest and made a home.

And now she has flown. Which is exactly what she should do. And I am so excited for her as she starts this new, far more adult stage of life. I am so proud of her and I am confident that she is tough enough and capable enough to survive out there on her own.

She will no doubt fly back to the nest for Christmas and I will have to restrain myself from fawning all over her, crying and generally annoying her! That is something to look forward to. But for now, I sit here and all I can feel is loss. This is truly something they never prepare you for as a parent. You get all the advice and warnings about sleepless nights, endless nappies, teething pain, potty training, tantrums, childhood illnesses and more. You get an onslaught of smug grins and rolling eyes from those who have done it first. They make it sound like a nightmare, but it’s not. But no one ever tells you about this bit. The bit where you get left behind and they fly off to start their own life.

I was fine until I drove home from the school run this morning. I was listening to one of her Mother Mother CDs. She got me into the band and they are now my favourite. She’s kindly let me keep all the CDs here as she just uses Spotify these days. I shouldn’t have put the CD on, but I did it out of habit, and then suddenly out of nowhere I was in floods of tears. And it hasn’t really stopped yet. I know it sounds silly, and I blame my perimenopausal hormones for a lot of it. I am all over the place at the best of times!

But I suppose it just hit me. She’s gone. She’s not here. She’s a five hour car drive away. I was listening to the music she used to play endlessly in the kitchen, or in her room. I came home and opened the fridge and there was her soya milk. I looked at her bedroom door and realised I could not bear to go in it. I laughed as I cried for being so emotional but I think my husband was feeling it too. Yesterday we were too busy and too hectic to really feel it.

Now, we learn to adjust.

And I can’t help thinking about how fast it all went. How she was the best thing that ever happened to me. How she changed my life in more ways than she will ever know. How she stayed awake all night in the hospital after her birth…these big blue eyes staring at me so seriously, as if she was trying to work out who I was. I was so proud to carry her home. A trio of elderly ladies stopped us on the way out of the hospital so they could see the brand new baby. She was so tiny. We walked into our flat and into our new life as parents and she promptly threw up all down my back. I was so happy. So in love. So excited for the adventure ahead. She always seemed older and wiser than her age. Always. She was a good baby but she only liked me. As a toddler she would cling to me relentlessly and push my husband away. She hated being in the buggy and I’d usually give in and carry her instead. She cried if I walked out of the room. It was an amazing and humbling thing to be loved and needed that much and like I said, it was the best thing I ever did with my life.

She walked early, talked early, argued early! She was so independent by the time she was three. She never stopped asking questions, she never stopped talking. It was exhausting but so funny. She loved school and soaked up everything they taught her. I remember walking back home after dropping her at school and feeling like my heart had been ripped out, but I was so relieved I still had the other kids with me, and I feel a bit like that again now. I’m going to hug the hell out of them all when they get home later.

She was always so bright, so smart, a bookworm from the start. A writer, like me. A sweet natured and shy girl as she went through school and got older. We’ve never really clashed. We’re alike in some ways, very different in others. Like me, she enjoys her own company and knows her own mind. She has always had a fierce sense of injustice and morality. She loves books and TV and film and will talk about it endlessly.

I can still remember the moment, aged six, when she pulled her hand out of mine and ran ahead to catch up with some friends. I remember thinking oh, you don’t need me anymore. And it was true in some ways, but not in others. They never stop needing you really. You just have to wait in the background until they do.

I’m going to miss her so much. There is a hole in the house today, a hole in my heart. I know it will get easier but for now I am accepting that this is a mourning period. A big chunk of my life has just changed. I had a little baby girl, I fed her, clothed her, loved her, carried her, played with her, taught her everything I could, wiped her tears and picked her up when she fell. In a matter of moments that feel like dreams, she has grown up and all of that is now over. I just feel so, so lucky that we did it. That we had that life and that time and today my head is just crammed full of all the funny things she used to do and say when she was my little girl, my little friend, my sidekick, her hand in mine and all the world before us. I blinked and it was over. But I do remember every little thing.

And now I get to watch her fly.

And there is nothing wrong with the tears I’ll cry. They are tears of love and loss and pride of a job well done. She will always be my little girl. And I hope she knows how very, very proud of her I am and always will be.

Goodbye Skipper…Thank you for changing my life

You came to us during a dark time. With three young children we had been asked to leave our rented home as the house was being sold. My husband had also just lost his job. We found another house nearby, one that would except me working from home as a childminder but after just a month of living there, we received a letter telling us the house was being demolished within six months to make way for flats. They had taken our deposit and let us move in knowing it was being destroyed. We were gutted.

I felt like everything was dark and hopeless. As a parent, I felt such guilt that my children had to suffer this uncertainty. And then in the middle of that I decided to get a puppy. It was a stupid time to get a puppy but it had been over five years since my last dog had died and the houses we had rented since then had all stipulated no pets. I didn’t want that again. I knew I needed something, you see. Something that was just for me. At that time, I had not written anything in years. I had given up long ago on my childhood dreams of being a writer and working with animals. I loved my children and loved being a childminder, but it was all about giving, it was about time management and organising activities, it was about paperwork and largely, exhaustion, with nothing left of myself at the end of the day.

So I found a litter of lurcher pups on the internet and we went to visit you and in February 2010 you came home with us. Life was instantly brighter. Now we had to find a home that would allow dogs and funnily enough, we did, right away. A lovely house on a country lane only ten minutes drive from the town and schools, but with a semi-rural setting. I couldn’t believe it would be our home but it soon was and has been for the last ten years.

Everything finally fell into place. I was so grateful, for you and for our new home. We could have chickens and ducks, grow vegetables, do whatever we wanted. A river runs past us and we only have to walk down the lane to play in it. My husband got a new job in walking distance to the house and not long after that I started to think about changing jobs, now that we were settled.

And that was because of you Skipper. I remembered what I wanted as a child. How I thought my life would be. I would be a writer, surrounded by animals. Maybe I would work in a rescue centre or as a dog-walker. I would be living my childhood dreams. I knew I had to do it, so I handed in my notice as a childminder and started work as a dog-walker. This meant I could concentrate on you far more. I also started fostering for a local dog rescue at this time. In between walking dogs, I sat at the laptop and wrote. All those years I had wasted not believing in myself, not believing I had the time to write…and now here I was. Doing it. Because of you, Skips.

You changed my life when I most needed to. You pushed me forward by forcing me to look back. I love my life now, having gone on to publish ten novels with many more on the way. I started my Community Interest Company Chasing Driftwood Writing Group in 2015 and it continues to go from strength to strength. And you were there the whole time…

You changed my life, Skipper. You helped me find myself again. You made me fall in love with sighthounds and lurchers and now I will always have them in my life.

Of course, you were not easy. You were a learning curve! When I look back now your naughtiness makes me laugh. I tried for weeks on end to get you to sleep on your own in the kitchen. Don’t give in, everyone said, just let him cry it out. I left you a lovely bed, plenty of toys and a jumper of mine so you would have my scent. I tried ignoring you but you screamed, literally screamed like a tortured child. After moving house, I didn’t bother shutting you in the kitchen anymore. I just couldn’t handle that level of anguish so I put your bed at the foot of ours on the floor and you went straight to sleep and didn’t even make a mess in the night. Problem solved.

But of course we had to go out and leave you alone sometimes. Never for long but oh my, how you hated it! You had a large kitchen with a lovely bed, toys, chews, treats, a kong full of treats, yet more treats hidden in cardboard boxes and tubes for you to find. And what did we come back to every time? A river of poo and wee which you had happily trod in and smeared all over the floor, walls, doors etc, not to mention you soon worked out how to climb onto the sideboard and knock the washing up all over the floor! Again, it just wasn’t worth it, so I stopped shutting you in and if I went out I left you the whole house. And funnily enough, you never did a thing…

That’s not to say you didn’t have a suitably destructuve phase. Of course you did. Chewed a big old hole in the arm of the sofa, chewed a few carpets and rugs and the wooden bannisters. You never touched the kids toys though and the chewing was something you grew out of before it ever became an issue.

Oh but you were naughty…couldn’t control your instincts one bit. When the kids ran about you hunted them down by grabbing their sleeves! If they got in the way whileyou were running, well, they soon learned not to. Once you found your feet and your speed, there was no stopping you. You started actively looking for things to chase. You slaughtered squirrels and rabbits, not to mention a few unlucky chickens and guinea pigs. You would be there one minute on a walk and gone the next, gone so fast I’d hardly even see you go. You’d always come back, usually with an injury or two!

I did my best, playing games with you, jogging with you, looking out for trouble and before long your recall was pretty perfect unless there was a deer to chase of course. In your later years, even that became too much trouble for you.

You were always in the way…Every time I turned around you were there trying to tell me something. You knew the time, your life ran on clockwork. It’s walk time. Dinner time. Walk time again. Time the kids got back from school so you could devour the leftovers in their lunchboxes. Oh what a greedy dog! Nothing was safe! You counter surfed and could reach the unreachable! A whole leg of lamb you ran up the garden with. An entire apple and blackberry crumble you wolfed down when I left it on the side to answer the door. The contents of the fridge on more than one occasion. A whole 1kg tub of Stork which you promptly threw up everywhere. Entire bins, ripped and shredded on the kitchen floor or sometimes for extra fun, carried upstairs and spread out all over my bed! A bag of sugar once, still not sure how you reached that, but I came home to a thick white path all through the house… The gerbils food and treats; you climbed on a chair to get their plastic tub down from a shelf and then broke the lid and ate the lot. Bird food! Grapes! Oh my god how many times did you climb like a monkey to eat the kids Xmas calenders! Even this last Xmas, our last with you, you managed to get into the lounge and eat some presents! And the reason we always shut you out of the lounge at Christmas? You seemed to think it was highly important to piss on the Christmas tree every time you saw it.

Every left over crumb in the bin was yours and you would hang around until we were out or in bed before you would start to root through for it. Clever boy, you never stole in front of us, always biding your time. I always knew if you were sat on the stairs watching the kitchen it was because someone had left a crumb of something somewhere you knew you could reach and you were just waiting.

Oh the times I came home to utter chaos…

But boy, I do miss your greetings. You’d spot us from the upstairs window and the howling/crying would start in earnest. You sounded like the happiest boy alive that your humans were home. Your feet up on the gate, your body wriggling while you howled a high pitch hello, you’re home! And you would turn in circles while I greeted you. Then you’d be in the way of course, no sense of space whatsoever, I was always tripping over you or telling you to get out of the way.

How many times did I call you a bloody dog or a bloody twat?

Every day.

Oh but I loved you, boy. If there is anything I wish it’s that you knew and understood how loved you were. I loved your howling when I came home, your circles and the way you leaned your whole body against my legs for fuss. You were a great leaner! Everyone always said how loving and gentle you were, everyone loved how you leaned on them. And how you’d demand fuss by poking your head into laps and nudging people, sending many a cup of tea flying! No one could resist your gentle charms.

It’s like a hole now, you are gone. I come home and you are not there howling for your mummy. I miss you being in the way. I feel sad when I don’t have to put the rubbish bin behind the kitchen sink taps because that was the only place you couldn’t get it. I feel sad when someone leaves leftovers on a plate on the side and it’s still there in the morning…

I miss you on walks, so slow and steady towards the end. Always looking at me. What was that about, old boy? What were you trying to tell me? Those eyes, melted chocolate and long lashes. You were so beautiful, so graceful and I’ve never seen a faster dog, when you were young, the ground would shake under your feet.

You taught me so much, gave me so much, You gave me back myself, made me realise who I was and what I wanted. You made me brave. You made me calm. Oh how I miss our long walks on the common, our place eh? Ours. I still think you will come back, you know. It’s like maybe you are on holiday. It feels so empty without you and the tears are permanently caught in my throat.

You were such a good boy Skips. You loved me so much You were so loyal to me. You didn’t want to go and I know that. You fought and fought, still wanting walks and food even when your body was totally giving up on you. It was like you were determined to ignore it. That haunts me now. That you didn’t want to go, didn’t want to leave us. Loyal until the end.

Skipper, I will always love you. I will always miss you. You were not an easy dog but you were one of us. We all miss you massively. Thank you for being the best dog in the world ever, for being my best friend. I felt like we just got each other. In many ways, we were very similar. You never really understood other dogs the way I’ve never really understood other people. We were both shy and introverted sometimes. We liked our space and our peace and quiet and our time together. I will never forget our time, Skips. I will never forget our journey. It was not long enough but it was significant and I was so lucky to have you. Darling boy, I love you and miss you. Don’t sleep tight or rest in peace boy…just keep running xxx

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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