Island Blog – Little Fires

I believe that grandparents have a gift. One that is gifted to them. They also have a gift to give, through translation, nothing lost, unless they choose to ignore the opportunity it brings them, and by extension, the generation below and the one below that.

On the first gift, I can say it comes as a surprise. This gift is one of a second childhood. Not physically, of course, but in a renewed lease of life. From banging on about arthritis to clambering over a fence with a cackle of glee; from medication programming to random acts of play; from soup at midday on the button to fish finger sandwiches just because we’re hungry – with ketchup, naturally. The awakening of the sleeping child is painless. Sparkles return to rheumy eyes and stolen carrots from the veg counter at Tesco’s are an absolute must. An old woman who has plodded, fallen- arched, and for many years, up one aisle, politely rounding to the next, might suddenly find herself speeding up for a swing-wheelie at the top. The giggles of the little ones egg her on and she just can’t help herself. Her mind is full of naughty ideas that came from nowhere. After all, these half-pint charges of hers have been sternly groomed for a perfect public face and mummy never does any of these things.

As mummy, we don’t either. Many of us are so caught up in right and absolutely wrong that we contain, without intending it, the free spirit of our children until their bodies can barely bend at all. And here comes the second gift, the one given. With granny we can fly and fly high. My granny was like that and we all adored her. The mischief in her eyes set little fires in our own and although she was in all ways the perfect lady, she showed us a side of her true self that my mother rarely saw as a child. I feel sad about that and wonder how much, and how often, I contained my own children in boxes at least two sizes too small for their exuberant personalities. But how else to protect, teach and develop a child into the adult we want them to be, hope they will become? This, in itself sounds like a box, but only to my granny ears. So is it just that we can ‘hand them back’ or is it that second chance to what, make amends? My own children, now parents, are not always delighted at granny’s antics. Initially I faced a few stern reprimands on my behaviour, feeling like the child in trouble and most uncomfortable. Can I say God or should I pretend he doesn’t exist? Can I answer questions on where babies come from, asked by a ten year old, or should I say “Ask Mummy’ thus making it very mysterious and serious? I get my nickers in a right knot at such times, and dither like an old woman who never thought an original thought, or was never allowed to.

9 grandchildren in, I now am more relaxed about the nicker knot thing. I pause a lot after a question is asked. I might distract, as I would a puppy chewing on a cat, suggest some toast or a bounce on the trampoline. I might answer the baby question, but vaguely, with something safe, like ‘Mummy’s tummy’ and leave it at that . As to God, I might say, some believe he exists, some don’t, and round with a question for them. What do mummy and daddy say? Always a safe bet, that one.

I don’t remember my mum having any bother with dithering. She just answered as she saw fit, no matter what parental bans we had put in place. And blow it. Thats what she said. She had no intention of bending to our whims and I cannot imagine ever being brave enough to challenge her. In my day and with my mother, challenge was verboten. However my generation have been confounded with all the new information about parenting. Strait jackets were out, for starters, and choices offered to small people on the best dinner plates. My own children, and I have heard them all employ this, would ask their 3 year old what she would like for supper. I managed to keep my snort silent, although it gave me indigestion and required my scrabble into handbag depths for a Rennies. Now, I am used to it. I remember, once, tapping a child on the leg when her tantrum threatened the entire neighbourhood, and being strongly warned never to touch a child again in anger. It wasn’t anger, I began to say, but said no more after making eye contact with the parent in case. The Childline number is readily available, after all, and there are posters in every school in most of the rooms, and at a child’s eye level.

However, the joys of playing hooky with grandchildren are the best. Naughtiness and mischief fan the embers of my internal fire any time I am with them. And I am reminded, often, of the gift I have received and the gift I can give – that reconnection with my own childhood and the chance to be the child free, the child outside the box, setting all the other children free from their own boxes and, together, heading off into a fantasy world of mischief and fun and laughter.

I am going to have to live for decades more, it seems.

Island Blog 127 Reasons to Stay

sailboat

Since writing my book, Island Wife, I have received many emails and letters from women whose own story relates to my own.  Some of them are short, some long and detailed, but many of them have the same question to ask me.  Why did I stick with my marriage?

The ‘how’ of it, I can answer.  Despite what appeared to be going on, and growing shape and form, I could always find one good reason to stay, one reason, however small and squeaky.  There may well have been a thousand reasons to leave, but it only took one to keep me in place.  In the early days, the reasons numbered five.  My five children.  I was confident and strong in the knowing that, were I to abandon ship, they would be damaged.  I make no judgement, nor did I ever, on women who do leave.  In fact, as I re-investigate my heart right now on this matter, I feel no critical twinges, nor any sense of superiority beside those good women who made a choice, a really tough one and one not without considerable personal angst and pain, guilt and fear.  I just couldn’t do it myself, not for long, anyway.

I used to watch other wives and mothers, as they flew in on warm winds to stay at Tapselteerie for their family holidays.  I warmed myself in the light of their eyes, eyes that told me they had found a nourishing bond in their own relationships, and that they were, yes, happy.  Of course, I have no knowledge of them now, but those glimpses into another’s life both helped and hindered me.  On the one hand, they made me envious.  They had managed to find a man who honoured them just as they came to him, not in need of any re-arranging, not faulty.  The new light they brought to the marriage was something he needed, wanted to be around, in order to find fulfillment.  He basked in it, sought her wisdom, let her be.  On the other hand, they made me feel that, had I been like them, I would also deserve such freedom within a relationship.  Oh poor little me.

As the children began to try out their wings and, eventually, flew the nest, I became increasingly aware that I was being abandoned by the five who gave me context.  Who am I now?  is a question I often asked myself, as the rooms hollowed out and the quiet of ‘just us’ settled like dust.  People, friends, told me that this was now my time to do something for me, and, yet, after decades of not doing something for me, I had no ideas at all.  When someone has ploughed the same furrow for that length of time, investing fully in the work of every day, and night, it is almost cruel to take it all away and to offer a wide horizon.  What could a no-longer-girl like me do with a broad horizon?  I’ll tell you what she does.  She stands there looking at it, mouth open, eyes wide and head empty, and then dives back to wash the kitchen floor, just to feel safe again.

In a different sort of relationship, one I observed in others and dream-wove from novels and movies, this woman would be given free rein to investigate, to research new roads, and, most importantly, encouraged gently to find her own wings, to grow new confidence as just herself in a new context – that of the big wide world.  If that encouragement is not proffered, and if it matters as much as I think it does, then she will hold to what she knows.

I know about monkey mind.  That chatter inside a head that always works to undermine walking out a dream.  I have worked hard to quiet that voice, and still do, for it is not the truth.  To imagine another life, without stepping into it, is just that.  Dreaming.  I found my way, by writing my story and setting it free in the big wide world.  You might say it was written in the hope for understanding, for empathy.  You might say I hoped it would bring a flash of remorse and a new beginning.  And it might do all of these.  It has already brought me a new self-confidence because to have a well-known and respected publisher take up your book, you must be able to write, and in these times of excellent writers, doubly so.  It has also taught me that feeling sorry for myself and doing nothing to change my situation is, well, pathetic, at best.

In those times of finding just one reason to stay, I discovered other ones, hiding in my attic.  In any relationship, there are at least two people, each with a very different perspective on life and ideas on how to live it.  Bring into each mix, parental baggage, school history, sibling rivalry and so on and then dress this damaged person in cowboy boots, or high heels and call it an adult.  Then shove it out into a world of high expectations, judgements, parameters, boundaries, social constraints and no mappage, no DIY manual on the subject, but only other opinions formed by those who came before, each one lumbering along under the weight of their own ‘stuff’.

I believe I have just found a new definition for Chaos.

Living now, each day as it comes, I learn something new.  Something new about me, about my marriage, my choices, my life thus far.  I still find reasons to keep walking, keep looking around, keep my heart soft and my stride strong and purposeful.  I have bad days, black dreams, bouts of self-pity and I can still make the house shake with a powerful door slam, but these are just a part of the whole.  What I love is a challenge and life is always thus.  I find only momentary delight in winning an argument if my opponent just backs down, remaining certain still of his own belief.  I find there is little (if any at all) point in going over who said what and when and in what tone of voice.  I find no future in paying the slightest attention to either of us in a grumpy mood. I am learning that perspective is king, and that grace is his queen.

At the end, whenever that may be, I will reflect on my choices, made by me, for me, and be content to know, not that I got it right, but that I got it at all.

Island Blog 87 Dancing on the Edge

dancer

Today I am dancing.

Yesterday my almost new microwave stopped waving back and I was momentarily arrested in my dance moves.  Things should work, I said to myself, however cheap they might be, and this little machine was cheap.  But, if something is created, and packaged and marketed, it should make no difference at all how much or how little it costs me.  You get what you pay for was a comment from someone and I thought about that a bit, and then found my retort.

Piffle.

If I, in good faith, agree to a contract, which is what I do when I purchase a thing from another person or company or whatever…. inside that contract, written or not written is a promise.  If I find a bargain, for want of a better word and buy it, am I risking disaster because it IS a bargain?  I don’t think so.

Anyway, I contacted the seller who was extremely apologetic and who has already organised a replacement.  So, they didn’t expect it to fail, this little, cheap microwave, now did they?  And nor did I.

Moving on from things, to people………

In every area of my life, I make contracts with other people.  It may be that I agreed to sell raffle tickets for the local agricultural show, or that I said I would pop in this week.  I might have a pheasant called Robin who expects me to throw him grain of a morning, or a cousin who needs to hear my voice as she faces illness and fear.  I can’t be everywhere at once, but I can be somewhere and I can organise myself quite easily to complete my contracts if I take my eyes off myself and point them out into the world.

I have said, in the past, I don’t have time.  Now I wouldn’t allow those words out of my mouth, because it is nonsense.  We all have the same 24 hours in a day.  What I am really saying there is that I am too self-absorbed to take stock and reorganise myself.

When I was young, I danced every Saturday at a local dance school.  Ballet, Modern, Character, Ballroom.  I gained certificates, although heaven knows where they are now.  It doesn’t matter.  I know they once existed and that, apart from the bits I didn’t like, I loved to dance.  As I moved through my life, my footwork got a bit rusty, but what I realised is that I can still dance in other ways.  I can dance through a Saturday changeover, or when baking a cake, or when talking to a seller about a faulty microwave.  Instead of dragging myself along, I can rise on my mental toes and hear the drumbeat of my heart as I move through the ordinary.  Once I begin, my own voice lightens up, my laugh begins to rise and sparkle, and my eyes see only good things.  And, as we all know, Good is always brighter and stronger than Bad.

Once I have practised this a bit, feeling, possibly, a tad foolish at first, I will find it more and more natural, until one day I find myself dancing on the edge of ordinariness with a wild music playing in my heart.  Still feeding Robin the pheasant, still baking cakes, still making a call, or selling raffle tickets, but there is a difference and it is nothing to do with circumstances, and everything to do with the dance in me.

Years ago I had a dream that I would walk by a Waterstone’s window and see my book presented there.  I hadn’t written a single word, nor chosen a story.  Today that dream is in my hands.  Today is the launch of the paperback of Island Wife, my story which will now be sold in big shops and small shops, ferries and visitor centres, both here and abroad, and you know the best thing about all of it?

That through reading my story, someone else may catch a glimpse of themself, and be inspired to put on their own dancing shoes.

Island Blog 68 – Songs for the Girls

Island Blog 68 (futureengagedeliver.com)

fig via: futureengagedeliver.com

I wrote a song for Jenny and one day I will sing it out, perhaps after the funeral.  And then I wrote another for my little grand-daughter, the youngest thus far whose naming ceremony is being celebrated the weekend after.

How life organises these things I cannot say, but she always does and it makes a sort of sense.  It’s not about one life replacing another, but more that the sharp-edged void created in a heart, when someone dies can be softened by a new life.  These two girls will never know each other; will never come together except in my heart, and that is something rather wonderful and quite uniquely precious.

When I write my songs, or create my paintings, or lampshades or cushions or whatever, I work for one person.  I think of who they are and what colours they wear and what stories lie in their eyes, and I work to honour and recognise them all.  This is why I won’t create a production line, nor paint the same, but in blue, to match the furnishings.  Every single piece of work is a one-off.

Much like a life.

The song for Jenny celebrates her as a woman of the sea, of the world and now, of the beyond, wherever that is.  The words are taken from a well-known poem and personalised, and I don’t suppose anyone will mind, because they will hear what they want to hear and think what they want to think about Jenny as they take it all in.  The music will lift them and pull on their heart strings and someone may well recognise parts of other melodies and other phrasing from a different song for there is nothing new under the sun.

And yet, everything is always new when someone catches a thing and forges it again in the fires of their heart.

The song for my granddaughter is different in that the words are all mine, and the melody pinched from a couple of other musicians who won’t know and wouldn’t mind anyway.  We are not talking chart topper here.  The words had to be bespoke, just for her, and with respect paid to her mum and her dad and the fabulous crazy wild people they are, and all those attributes now handed on to one little girl.  It’s light-hearted and fun and will bring smiles to all the faces watching me stand and deliver.

We are all unique, but it is a rare bird that can fly alone into a busy sky, with its own song to sing, certain that just by singing it, everything is new.