Tech Free Day

Last Saturday Storm Arwen battered most of the UK and although we escaped any damage to the house or garden, we did suffer the inevitable power cut. They are fairly common where we live so to wake up to no power was not much of a surprise. Usually they are pretty quick to fix but this one lasted 24 hours, which I think might be the longest we have ever gone without electricity and technology as a family.

At first, we didn’t panic. Well, I didn’t. Updates suggested we would be back on again by noon, so we got on with our usual Saturday. We then realised that none of the kids could do their weekend homework as these days it is all online. My 17 year old had a bit of a meltdown as she is in the final year of A-Levels and has a lot of coursework due in next week. She had planned to get stuck into it over the weekend and the thought of losing an entire day really upset her.

Aside from that and the gnawing guilt that there was nothing I could do to help her, we plodded on, fully expecting it to be back on for dinner time and our usual Saturday night movie night. We have a few traditions on Saturdays which have evolved due to the fact that we only have one car – which means all week I drive everyone everywhere and pick them all back up again. At the weekend I do not want to drive at all, and as husband usually works Saturdays, he gets the car and I get a break from it. This does leave us a bit stranded at home, but it is beautiful here with plenty to do and we never get bored on a Saturday. We usually have a to-do list of household chores, homework, gardening jobs and fun things. Towards the end of the day if we have ticked off all our jobs, the boys get to go on the PS4 and I enjoy a long hot bubble bath with a glass of wine and a good book. Perfect. After that, a dinner in front of the TV and movie night and sweeties.

Sadly, the updates suggested the power would not go on until 4pm, which soon became 5pm, then 6pm, then 10pm and of course long before that we had resigned ourselves to a very different kind of Saturday. One without any technology!

Doesn’t it make you realise as an adult how often you pick up your phone for no reason? Just to check it, just to feel it, just to look at it? It made me realise I am quite addicted to just simply checking it or scrolling social media when I am a bit bored.

I soon realised I felt better without it though. No more bad news running down my news feed. No more adverts trying to sell me things. No more posts about injustice, climate change, energy prices or corona virus. I felt quite free! It was like the bad news didn’t exist anymore so I decided to enjoy it.

I read a book until it was too dark to see and then we got out the candles and fairy lights and strung them up around the lounge. I was able to make dinner thanks to the gas oven, so me and three kids ate dinner by candlelight, under blankets! My 17 year old had no option but to join us and remarkably she soon cheered up.

Image by Jeremy Kyejo from Pixabay

In fact, what happened over the next five hours was really quiet lovely. For five hours, me and three of my children snuggled on the sofa surrounded by fairy lights and candles and just talked. There was absolutely nothing to do but stay under the blankets for warmth and talk to each other. I thought the 7 year old would get bored or restless but he didn’t. And for five hours we talked and laughed. It doesn’t seem possible now but it really was five hours. I made a few hot chocolates and we had our bowls of sweets without our movie, and we just talked and laughed until we all retired to bed at 10pm.

It was magical.

The next day the power was back on and inevitably we all turned to technology, watching Netflix, scrolling our phones and catching up on news. I stopped scrolling after a few moments though. I realised I just didn’t want it. In that moment, I could have quite happily took my phone and thrown it in the bin. I didn’t want the intrusion back.

I think if it wasn’t for my job, I would take all the social media apps off my phone. I keep them on there because I need to try and market my books and build up my company, and these days it all happens online. But the tech free day made me long for simpler times. Just recently I have got back into letter writing and it’s been a fascinating and wonderful connection with the written word, with patience, with anticipation and communication. I’ve been writing to my oldest sister who lives a few hours away and I feel like we have never communicated as well as we currently are through letters! I look forward to her replies and make a cup of tea to curl up and savour them with. We have stopped texting, and instead just wait patiently for the letters to arrive. Again, its quite magical in its honest simplicity.

I don’t think we’ll ever get rid of technology and plenty of it is marvellous. I couldn’t sell books without it. But I do think it’s important not to completely turn our backs on some of the old ways. I intend to embrace them when I can – turning my phone off at weekends, refusing to look at emails, writing letters and breaking my addiction to social media. I think I will be much happier for it.

What about you? Are you a tech addict or a social media slave? How long do you think you could go without them? Do you miss anything that used to be the norm in the past but is now unusual? Feel free to comment and share!

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.

To Be A Boy Of 7…Part 2

A million years ago, but also, only yesterday, I wrote this piece for your big brother, Dylan. https://chantelleatkins.com/2015/04/08/to-be-a-boy-of-7/ A million years ago, but also, only yesterday, he was seven like you are now. When he was seven, you were just a tiny baby, so you didn’t know him then. He was all stick arms and legs and tons of white-blonde hair. In a tiny blink of an eye, he grew older, he grew up and now he is a gangly fourteen year old with a sweet, wry smile.

But you, what are you like at seven? What is being a boy of seven like, for you?

I think to be a boy of seven must still be a glorious thing. I think your heart is as full and free as his was.

Yet being seven, is not as easy for you as it was for him…You’re more intense, more sensitive, more questioning and less able to sleep. Your brain never lets you switch off…Night after night, no matter what effort I’ve put in to wear you out, you delay sleep, you fight sleep and your mind fills with worries. You tell them to the worry dolls, Sam, Shepherd and Raven and you write them down in letters for me. You tell me that bedtime is too long, that you have to lie there for hours, that you feel like crying, that your stomach hurts or your eyes are sore. I try to be patient. I talk you through it. You listen, and you try what I suggest, but it’s like your mind just keeps on spinning. I sometimes wish I knew what was going on inside there.

I wonder if I am too soft on you…but do I really want to make you hard? I say it sometimes when you are being too sensitive, when you have exclaimed ‘ow’ for the thousandth time that day, when you tell me you are getting your ‘cry feeling’. I say you need to get over it, it doesn’t hurt that much, you will be okay, stop worrying, stop making a big deal, please, please, just go to sleep. Toughen up. I tell you this sometimes because I worry that your worries will drag you down.

Know this. I wouldn’t change you though. I wouldn’t change a wiry strawberry blonde hair on your head. Your hair that always smells like the rain. I wouldn’t change a thing about you, because you are one in a million. Sometimes people describe you this way, a real character they say. If you were not real, I would want to invent you!

The little boy who stops to say hello to woodlice and bumblebees, the little boy who always takes one sock off at some point during the day, the little boy who always says please and thank you to everything and everyone, the little boy whose stomach hurts when he gets his ‘cry feeling’, the little boy who just cannot stand to be told off, the little boy who does not like to play alone, the little boy who always brings home ‘good sticks’ and ‘cool stones’.

I love watching you walking along with a good stone or stick in your hand. Sometimes they end up in my pockets, but mostly you hold on to them. The kitchen window sill is full of your finds. The garden is littered with important sticks and several of them have residence in your bedroom. And every time when you walk the dogs with me, you ask if we can pretend to be in a zombie apocalypse. You’ll give me a stick and tell me its a machine gun. You’ll have a sword or a shotgun or a bat. We’ll take down the zombies together whilst searching for supplies. We’ll look for a shelter, or a community to join. We’ll rescue each other, again and again and again.

You want to be a builder or a vet. I see both in you. You play with bricks and blocks every day, creating towns and communities and car parks. You are kindly to animals, to even the smallest spider or tiniest caterpillar. They all deserve a friendly hello and protection.

At the moment, I see you are changing fast. It feels like seven is the bridge between little boy and big boy, and there you are, perched and teetering. You are outgrowing all your clothes and shoes. Every time I look at you I am shocked. Your face is thinner but your hair even wilder. Your legs go on forever and your appetite is huge. I try to fill you up but you are never satisfied. You are a small, warm hand in mind but you are getting too pick to pick up. You like to snuggle. You ask if I have time to snuggle with you now or later. You ask for me to snuggle you up. You tell me you love me about a million times a day. You also tell me I am pretty and you tell me off if I get cross with myself. You are my biggest fan.

Today we walked the dogs together and as we approached the road I felt your hand reach out for mine. I felt its smallness and softness and I felt the belief from you that I will always take care of you. We had to pretend we were leaving our base to get supplies and when we came back you begged me to play real army with you, which meant I got some of your best sticks as swords and you got your toy guns. You laid out all your weapons on the sofa in your room and told me to upgrade mine when I had enough points. You showed me your upgrade pose – blowing the top of each gun and then pointing them while you tipped your audience a wink. You made me laugh. You always make me laugh. Every day, there is something you say or do that sets me off. You’re just happy that I’m playing with you and as you say, I’m ‘getting into it’. I keep reminding myself how little time we have left of you wanting to play like this. How I must grab it with both hands, even when I’m tired, or not in the mood.

Because it means so much to you. You hate to play alone. Unattended, you wander around and make noises and get told off for annoying people. It’s like you don’t know how to be alone, not at bedtime, nor play time. I tell you all the time to play with your toys but you hate to do it alone, even though you have the most amazing imagination. But it pleases me that you read alone at bedtime, because reading is how we learn to be okay with being alone. I tell you you are never really alone, because you are full of memories, and dreams, and hopes, and you are full of all the people who love and adore you. I hope one day you will believe me.

My noisy little boy who can’t sit still. Watching a movie with you is like being on a trampoline. You ask endless questions we can’t possibly know the answers to. You live for the details. You want to know everything about everything. A little frown creeps onto your forehead when I answer you as best I can. You are my last little one and not so little anymore. I guess in some ways you will always be my baby boy, no matter how tall you grow, and I am sure you are going to be taller than all of us. Lately I’ve seen the changes that seven brings. The self-consciousness when you realise you’re the oldest one in the park. Telling me a park is too busy for you to play in. You have always been obsessed by parks, but now you are put off easily. You tell me you don’t want to embarrass yourself. You seem too aware of what big kids and little kids can and can’t do.

But at home, you are you. Our little wild thing, with one sock missing and always with a smear of food on your shoulder from wiping your face. You get in the bath and turn the water brown and I laugh and say, that’s how you know you had a good day. You write me little notes asking me to play with you. Little wish lists of things I’ll try to fit into the day. Army men. Playmobil set-ups. Zombies. Lego. Bricks and cars.

I’ve tried to hold onto you from the start, knowing you were the last and sometimes the knowing is like being unable to catch a breath. My God, it goes so fast. A chubby baby fills your arms, gets down and toddles away, climbs a tree, runs down a hill and then finally, one day, pulls their hand from yours and leaves. Parenthood is always letting go. One small step at a time. Parenthood is always being left behind, waving, smiling, crying, watching them go. And it’s a privilege and a joy, my sweet, funny, complicated, non-sleeping little boy…You are a joy, my boy of seven, you are glorious.

Guest Post #7 Hello Home…

Welcome to another guest post for my ‘Hello Home…’ pandemic themed feature. It would seem all of us have experienced or are still experiencing a lockdown of some sort while the corona virus continues to blight our lives. Although we are all in the same situation, we experience it differently because our homes are all so different. Thinking about this inspired me to write a piece a few weeks ago dedicated to my house and what it has meant to me during these strange and unsettling times. I then decided to reach out to others who might want to talk about what their home has meant to them during the pandemic. Today please welcome writer Adeola Sheehy to the blog!

My house has shrunk.

I’m not entirely sure when it happened, but sometime just past summer the walls began to move.

This house has always been cosy, but I now understand that bungalows have a habit of getting smaller the longer you stay in them, especially when the people inside just keep growing bigger.

I look down at the floor and expect to see a visible path in the carpet. There is a perfect circle to run in, from the hallway, through the kitchen, round through the front room and back again. I know it is perfect because I watch the exhilaration on their faces as they chase each other, and because I laugh at their shrieks as I join in the pursuit.

On a Monday there are so many people in my house I’m reminded of a house-party and my second favourite spot in the hallway, there are no getaway stairs here. Only now all the ‘guests’ are in tiny boxes on screens, with each child in a different class in a different room. There aren’t enough rooms or screens, so I end up here, in the hallway. Except this party is oddly quiet. I wonder if this is what those silent discos feel like? Everyone in their own individual worlds, together.

Our daily lives are now governed by these mini invasions, sudden bursts of people all talking at the same time, scrabbling for a moment of connection.

The nights are a contrast and that silence has a different feel.

Once it’s just the house and I, we both exhale, deep and long, releasing the built up tension and softening the edges which have hardened through the day’s onslaught.

The walls recede there in the dark. They shift back into place, a retreat from the battle lines drawn in the day. It’s those daylight hours, with their noise and movement that take up all the air and physical space. That’s when the walls move in and I start plotting my escape.

I used to love travel, but I loved coming home too. That brief window of time when you step inside the door and see the space as an outsider. It only lasts minutes, like the moment you bump into an old friend or lover on a busy street

and your eyes drink each other in, smiling in recognition, noticing the changes. The instant familiarity and simultaneous curiosity of the new.

Then slowly it all slots into place, the warmth of people fills the air, the sound of chatter pushes the stillness out and it’s all the same once more.

I haven’t left in over a year and familiarity is not helping our relationship. I need to leave so I can miss you. Your walls are like arms encouraging me on my way, pushing me out the door. We will like each other again I’m sure, but right now I can’t imagine how you got so small and I just don’t seem to fit.

Thank you so much to Adeola for writing this piece for the blog. If you would like to find out more about Adeola and her work, her bio and links are below!

Mother, writer, and women circle facilitator, Adeola leads courses in creativity and all aspects of the feminine experience. The written word has been her expression, safe haven, and dearest love for as long as she can remember. Be it fiction, poems, essays, or musings on life, her pen is almost always attached to paper.  

Follow her on Instagram at @adeola_moonsong and at her blog https://www.adeolasheehyaworldinwords.com/