Friday, 23 September 2011

Tick Tock

I was going to write a letter to my son on starting school and Oh, my little one, there is so very much to say. About how wonderful you are and how my dreams for you reach high and wide (in that I know your strengths and gifts and delicious potential). And then how they, my expectations and hopes, swaddle themselves in a desperate desire that you will be nurtured and loved and cherished and challenged and cheered and accepted and enjoyed. That you will be true to yourself my darling oddball joker, who fittingly at this monumental shift in life gear chose a pencil and a pad bearing a clock as your present for starting reception.

But oddly (and coy as I find it) I realise this is a conversation I would like to have with you in private as you start a new phase of your life. A conversation which will happen now in (all the) words you understand and later, perhaps, in more depth. I find they are private words and think you might need some private time to be yourself, to get settled, set roots and then bloom.

I think this especially when I watch your confused and face puzzling over what you hear adults saying to you and me about your start at school. When I see you fathoming our exclamations that 'we can't believe' you are a schoolboy already. You, my sensible no-longer-toddler sage, are well aware that you are already at school. That it has begun, and that words like 'can't believe', with all their potential magic and strange confusion, should be preserved for especially hard to handle ideas. Like:

  • the routemaster bus (number 9) which still runs in the city like a red ghost laughing at her old master
  • the size of a blue whale and how small it is compared to mountains and planets
  • the luck that finds us when we happen on extraordinary sights in our daily trudge: a windfall of 'yonkers' on a pavement ready for picking or a group of deer hiding in a park in the middle of town

Though I can't explain the allure and beauty of a fallen conker, I can at least explain what some of this surprise is. And I think it is key to something, namely the attitudes people have to babies, children, pregnant women, which fascinate, hearten and appal me every day.

You see, in you, as in your brother (now standing, amusing, trying out words) or in a swelling pregnant belly, are writ large two opposing forces. Potent ideas, the stuff of midnight panics and midnight mass raptures:
  • there is hope and life and possibility for change and growth and the new everywhere
  • we are all going to die
Such simple thoughts but bloody hell, such tricky ones too. And you, in the spurting stage of youth, still growing and changing, you as you become physically coherent, dexterous, lithe, as you shed in turn the spindly limbs of newborns, the cushions of babyhood, the sturdy squareness of toddlerdom and become a boy stretched out with a triangle smooth body and the beginning of a frame, you represent these two things. In your body, pulling out and becoming whilst promising something even bigger (you will be a man one day my son) shows everyone, in every change, that time is marching on.

Death seems a melodramatic subject in a musing on school and time and beauty. Believe me, I don't take it lightly: I know talk of that unknown and merciless warrior, that robber of potential and other times of pain - that thief and pacifier - comes far cheaper than knowing him.

But I think that's why is is so easy for some to be ambivalent, threatened, dismissive or even furious at the next group coming out to bat (babies, kids, bumps). I've joked your very birth, and your amber eyed face-off as I saw you first, rendered me irrelevant. I think it did, but hope I can run alongside you, on the car side of the street for a little while longer.

Your newness (and by you I mean all children, actually) is a double bind: you are infuriatingly unable to do things or act grown up, your ideas are half-formed but fixed and everything is possibly fascinating or frightening. Sometimes it scares you too, as you zoom through existence. The fury rattles round, unknowable, as you learn the worst of things, like making insults hurt or making fun or being loud or cross or harsh or mean, as you also embrace the amazing offering before you too.

Yet also it offers a glittery half mirror for those of us older, a glass for us to fall through into a mirage of nostalgia and sentiment spiced with a memory of fresh new youth. Annoying and anointing. A reflection and a warning, a clear signal that time tick tocks along. And a public one at that. Your public existence, your very person becomes a compliment and a challenge and no more so than when you stand in the too long trousers, with a too big book bag and a miniature Big Ben pencil clutched in your tiny palms, marching on yourself into the face of time, unafraid of the future.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

No windows to see our London...

So as Spider-boy's first day of school approaches I have a lot planned. In my usual overdrive I am very keen to have some fun with him, to enjoy our last hurrah of Mummy and Spider-boy time. We hatched a plan: to go riding on an open-topped bus tour of London.

It's hard to tell who's more excited: him, with his lifelong passion for buses, or me with the shining window in his eye I get to surf off when he proudly tells our friends about what he's going to do with his mummy on the day before he starts school.

And for this precious day, this plan which started on a spur of the moment idea then was built on a promise and cooked up over a fortnight, he and I, getting more and more keen, I was so, so happy. Since I've been back to work, working full time, I find my life is stretched to see-through. There's so little time for anything, No time to focus and regroup, to plan, to think, to write. There is certainly no time for mistakes or things not going according to plan. And I'm not really one of life's planners. Those 'Organised Mum' things give me the willies and yet the compartmentalisation of my life, the splitting and slotting in of things I need to do, that must be done, the deadlines and the commitments is becoming more frenzied.

We do have fun, but I've noticed that I've started almost making windows for things I never thought I'd need to plan. Not quite a note in the diary for the bit of the week where we all have a good time, after the online shop and before setting up a direct debit for the council tax, but we're not far off.

The day before something shifts though. Spider-boy suddenly reneges on our deal. He declines, he fights, he derides and dismisses. Sleep does nothing to quell his grump - the next morning he's even more adamant. It is a boring idea, something he'd rather do with daddy, and failing that at the very least on a family day (which is what he calls a weekend). Bluntly he starts being horrible to me.

He is four. Four! He is deliberately (well, I'm pretty sure deliberately) saying and doing unkind things. He unleashes on the landing about the distinctions in his head. It is not that he doesn't like me, it is time with me just me which is not his 'favourite', he wishes I was at work, and doesn't want me to take him on a special treat for school. He is particularly scathing about the idea of 'Mummy & Spider-boy Days' pointing out he sees me every day and he doesn't need time with just me, no brother, no dad: it will be 'stupid'.

Before you think him a heartless wretch, believe me I know there was more going on. He was sabotaging fun things, as toddlers and young children often do, he was on a roll, and by God I know what it is like to be on a roll, and he was in a strange nowhere-land, having left nursery but not yet being at school.

He's wrong, about all our time together. I know, because I miss, miss, miss it. I know that if I calculate it properly today is the first day in about 12 months which has just been me and him (no baby brother, no relatives). I took him to the shops a few weeks ago but all our other time has been with someone else. He's forgotten, because he does get attention and games and fun and love and stories. Or rather, perhaps he hasn't, forgotten or forgiven me for being unable to walk and having to be helped to care from him and then topping that trick by having a baby, often clamped to my tit, and just generally around.

And I know he's confused by the stop/start nature of a very long settling in period for school, something I barely understand or can organise with my work and our life. He, like all of us, is unsettled.

I know all that but I still feel humiliated and hated. I know this is small fry but I don't know how I can stand it or cope with this mean and unloving version of my boy on a day I've been so excited about. I try ringing daddy and when that doesn't work I crack and cry. I tell him he is being unkind and I don't know what to do, that I wish he wasn't being so horrid and I love him very much.

I hear a petulant twang that reminds me of his. He cries too and we wind up on the stairs. It is almost 11 and we're both exhausted. I go upstairs to wash my face and say I am going to finish getting ready for the day. I hear a shuffling, and it sounds like ice cracking at the start of a thaw.

'Maybe we shouldn't tell daddy about the shouting' he says, 'if we go on the bus now'. And we are ready in 10 minutes. We get club sandwiches and a coffee, we go to a tourist shop to buy tickets, we wait at a stop and get on the wrong route because we can't bear to hang around at a bus stop when we could be at the top in the winning open top seats. The wind blows through our hair as a lady tells us about kings and queens, bastard royals, war memorials, palaces and gallows. We jump off on whims, take in a river tour, scoff our sandwiches in our seats, see the London Eye up close, learn facts, weather a storm or two. School and arguments and stressed out family life teetering on a (work life) balance are all forgotten as we delve into history and urban myth and rise victorious with a Big Ben pencil and a cake outside St Paul's.

We barely talk about school tomorrow, and I make a mental note to find some time to berate myself, and then learn a lesson, from having too much invested in having the sort of day to cherish with my little one. After all, the pressure I was creating for it to be meaningful and symbolic, for it being the kind of day that allows you to look to the ones you love in a world where horrid things happen, this was naive and destined for disaster from the off. It was almost as naive as his hope that by cancelling his before school treat he could cancel school too.

When we made it on to the open top bus, he nearly wet himself with thrilled excitement. I'll never forget his face in the sun as he jumped on his seat spotting the lions (he later built a model of London on the dining room table to commemorate our trip). Giddy to be with my first born, and trying to grab my sentimental moment, I said:

'Do you know who, of all the people in the world, I most like going on a bus with?'

He replied, with feeling: 'the Burrito Brothers?'

Thursday, 8 September 2011

The second coming

I just read @spudballoo's post on her second child's first day at school. I too am compiling my thoughts for when Spider-boy enters that arena, although until next Thursday when he is definitely going to be in a classroom, with his teacher, without me, I am firmly in denial.

I am very interested in what she, and some of the readers in comments below, describe as the 'good value' element of second children though. My second son too, is absolutely, all or nothing. When he was born the midwives christened us both '0-60' and he has always been like this. Perfectly charming, or complete crazed, happy or tragic, screaming or juddering with wheezy mirth. There is no middle ground with him. And really this fascinates me.

You see, as an eldest (with traits of single child as my siblings are far younger) myself I have always been slightly dismissive about second children. Maybe dismissive isn't quite right, but certainly I've not always understood their emotions, motivations. Their drive, their laughter in the face of authority, their 'come and have a go if you think you're hard enough'. I'm a firm believer that family place can have a huge affect on your personality. Now though is a time for taking on and talking out my attitude to second timers as, not only have I married one, but I have one too.

I am so fascinated by Newborn's second-man-up-to-bat-ness and these traits he has which he seems to share with many so of the second kids I have started to observe around me. Sadly, I can only marvel at his intrepid confidence, and his lack of taking anything quite so seriously, rather than recognise or empathise with it as chiming perfectly with my own world view. He takes things far less to heart than his brother (and me). Where we are worrywarts and self-deprecating clowns; he's the real deal.

And though snapshot for snapshot, taken year on year, month on month, my sons and their smiles are almost identical, my second son is beautiful in a very different way for me. Partly, as I've noted before, because he does, ever so slightly, look more like me, but also because I see something different in him. Not the heart-stopping life-changing craziness of a firstborn who transforms everything, but a shaft of light re-illuminating my world from a new-old vantage point.

There's more to it than my chronic big-sister-ness. There is definitely something about his arrival being somehow 'despite' loads of things. With my Spider-boy, as I was ignorant of the realities of birth and parenting, and also, I guess, hopeful that things wouldn't be quite so totally fucking dreadful, I had great expectations of motherhood which ended, pretty swiftly in brain-trashing body-wrecking humiliation when everything about his arrival (apart from him) was horrendous. For years. So bad I thought maybe it would be forever.

Newborn was desperately wanted, but carried and birthed amidst a mire of dire dread, following a pregnancy marked out by panic that was white noise loud. But despite this he was the marvellous surprise. As I've detailed before I somehow forgot to realise or imagine or anticipate that he would smash his way through the hardest barriers I'd built and be so, almost disarmingly, charmingly uninterested in the bleak past; unaware and uncaring about the turmoil his existence seemed a miraculous rebellion against. His presence became a metaphor made real by his attitude. He is so forward motion and all about him and look at the world and 'I AM ME: HELLO!' that he startled me out of my trepidation.

And that is what is so wonderful to me, the metaphor made real bit, about second children. They come along with all this baggage of expectation (tempered by the reality of having already a child) and yet, couldn't give a rat's ass about the naval gazing and the before, they look only ahead, usually at their older siblings. Which is why I love the swing shot above. You can see his smile, and the motion of his brother's swinging that he's responding to whilst he also creates his own arc. As they crossed paths in the unromantic safety swings, rubber squeaking, chains clinking, I could see him blazing along radiating his own laughing look at the world and basking only in that past glory of his brother as it was reflected back on his own newness. His brother, in fact, is the one looking back (and he, as the eldest, is enchanted).

Monday, 5 September 2011

Feeling Feisty

Standing outside my office last week, as the rain started again and large splotches threatened to soak me, I felt a bit like a victim of the world. Not a martyr to the summer that nearly but never was, but a twotime loser. I have curly hair, and a crutch (again). I looked to the heavens and speared it with a sarcastic thought; thanks God I though, slippy and frizzy had better be THE look for Autumn.

As I mulled this a van pulled past. A van with a window wide open which seemed to be proudly shouting out its owner's view of the world: The Scientist by Coldplay. 'Nobody said it was easy...' blasted through the drizzle.

'Hah', I continued to myself on a roll in my ranting at the skies. 'No, they didn't. The mythical 'they', the generation above mine, the 'nobody' of the title did something far bloody worse. They said we, the mythical our generation, had to spend our lives making it look easy. 'It', of course, being that even more mythical 'it all' of 'having it all' fame'.

I've drafted several posts, harrumphing like a madwoman from my laptop about this, rewriting and reposing the same arguments about what the hell 'it all' is, why it is impossible yet still so alluring and the Nigella trap that I feel so many women, myself barging through the throng desperate not be left out, have fallen into. (The Nigella trap is the desire to be so freaking effortless in everything in life that the un-hardness of things is a be-all-and-end-all of itself, consuming as much time and energy as the stuff you're so easily achieving).

It is as if for women now, the cardinal sin is finding anything, anything, hard. Whether that's pastry-making, childbirth, deciding on a career, choosing flattering sexy separates which straddle work meetings and the school gates whilst looking, crucially, casual and like you weren't trying. And God forbid your hair looks like you spent time wondering how to make it fall so carelessly, sexually, glossily down your back which is no doubt in something you just 'picked up' from a vintage store.

But I don't think I've ever quite nailed it, the proper 'Nobody Said It Was Easy - actually everyone said it should appear that way' post. And I certainly didn't as my straightened fringe (not my whole barnet, of course, in hair care I am predictably half-arsed) melted into unbecoming sponge, which meant when I finally got home, crutch slidey but pelvis still only slightly wobbly, I had to resort to the sort of tunes which always cheer me up, of which the link below is one. I hope you like it, Feist's charmful count-along. I think it totally transcends being used on that advert. And what is more it remains one of the many Thatwoman-dancing-with-herself-or-a-sleepless-baby-in-the-kitchen classics, where, even when I have a crutch, my moves are so great I make my life and living it look really fucking easy.

Oh Mammy has a fine blog with a regular feature where she asks for a song for Mondays. I'm touched she asked me to join in. This post is linked to hers and the other bloggers who also shared some songs.