Words for 2022

Early today, an old friend sent me a lovely Guardian piece about words. The article, From respair to cacklefart – the joy of reclaiming long-lost positive words (S. Dent, in the Guardian, 26.12.21) is about the sadly pessimistic nature of vocabulary in the English language and highlights some of the positive words that were once -of-day common place.

I learned, for example, that while I am systematically unkempt (because I frequently do my hair with a two year old on my lap and get interrupted mid-mascara to save a Lego project from certain doom), it is in fact possible to be kempt. I plan to try it sometime. Apparently you can be ruth rather than being ruthless, be gorm rather than gormless, and feck over feckless. Who knew?

(Susie Dent, apparently, since she wrote this article. Ahhhh, Countdown flashback. Anyone?)

As I read on, Googling definitions, I was surprised how many of the words affected me. I was surprised by just how much my own vocabulary, my own self-talk, has become negative, especially in the past two years. Thus, inspired by Dent’s writing and the friend who reached out, I started shaping a new script for 2022.

Next year, for example, I intend to take an attitude of confelicity.

That is con, as in with, and felicity, as in happiness. Since the arrival and dominance of COVID 19 in all our lives, I’ve noticed my own struggle to feel happy for others. I’ve felt more resentful in the last two years than I have in most of my life. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that there is no one concrete to blame for this shit storm, but the feelings of anger have to go somewhere. Rather than being relieved for people who have it easier, I’ve been, to my shame, a bunched up ball of why them, not me?, ignoring, of course, the majority of people who have it worse.

Well, enough already! I even practiced confelicity this week. With Germany imposing strict rules on people returning from the UK, we had to cancel our Christmas plans. Not everyone I know had to. And thank goodness. Last year I would have found this unbearable. It’s ugly, but true. It was painful watching people reunite when I couldn’t, and I found it almost impossible to share their joy. This year, however, I have found hope and joy in seeing others happy, and I intend to let any spark of happiness, whether mine or that of others, rub off on me in 2022.

I refuse to be reduced to an it’s-not-fair kind of gal.

I aim to be gruntled in 2022. I won’t list all the things I have to be pleased about; it would tantamount to bragging. And I don’t really expect anyone to care, but I have a life that is charmed and chaotic, could be described as brilliant or boring, and is wonderful for me. My narrative needs to focus on just how contented with almost all aspects of my life I am, while remembering I am ept to change the things that aren’t working for me.

And finally, saving the best until last, I hope to always find respair in this new dawning year. Fresh hope. On the days when I have parented badly, on the days when work drags me down, on the days when I wonder if I’ll ever be free of anxiety, when the news inspires only hibernation, or when, heaven forbid, my husband runs out of tea, I hope I’ll find fresh hope. I will find it.

And so, while I may be more-or-less unkempt for many years to come, it’s something I can live with; but being inept, disgruntled and despairing isn’t.

Happy New Year, may your 2022 be more wieldy than 2021.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Source and inspiration: Dent, Susie. “From Respair to Cacklefart – the Joy of Reclaiming Long-Lost Positive Words | Susie Dent.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 26 Dec. 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/dec/26/respair-cacklefart-positive-words-english-language.

Pep Talk

Wouldn’t it be nice if we were older, then we wouldn’t have to wait so long…

I’ve always loved that lyric, always thought it was written for me, in that way good songs can make you feel like you’re the only one who understands them. I don’t even know how the rest of the song goes or what it’s really about. It just always reassured me that there was something waiting for me and that when I got older, the facets of my life I didn’t like as a young person would melt away.

How wrong I was.

I am older now. I don’t want to get any older for things to be right.

I’ve waited so long.

You see this morning it still took me ten minutes and several more checks of the oven to leave the house. I still had anxiety as I watched my husband and the kids leave for nursery. I still go to my job, certain I’ll be caught out in all my inadequacy.

I am older. I waited so long. And nothing changed. Time is not my great healer.

I have to be.

The Sum of Many Mothers

I am not a mother; I am many mothers.

I am my own mum, busy picking up after everyone, making sure that dinner is on the table and that there are always a warm and safe pair of arms into which my children can fall.

I am my mother in law, my sisters and my sisters-in-law, a combination of their words of wisdom and cautionary tales. From holiday rituals like making mountains of sandwiches for picnics, singing nursery rhymes I picked up from Grandma, or working my way through the challenges of children, I am all the mothers closest to me.

I am my friends, my army of cheerleaders. Our kids change in different ways and at different times. We evolve as mothers and figure it out in our own way, but I am stronger for knowing I am not alone in the madness.

I am all the mothers at the playground, wrestling their refusing sack of spuds into pushchairs, digging harmoniously for buried treasure with a boy who really believes we might dig to Australia one day, or sitting exhausted at the bottom of the slide, my day made by the delighted squeals of my girl whizzing into the sand.

I am the sum of many mothers and a better one because of it.

Mum-ing

Sunday morning, 7.40 am. I’ve been up for two hours. My daughter, Cora, woke up just after 5.30, snuggled into me on the sofa and promptly fell back to sleep. Meanwhile, I dozed, making micro movements to avoid waking her up whilst trying to get myself out of the damn awkward position in which I was lying.

Just after 7, she pings awake, informs me she needs her sleeping bag off (which she can’t do herself as we put it on backwards to stop her climbing out of it ten times before she goes to sleep at night) and that it’s breakfast time.

Like right now. My gentle, well mummy would just really love to pop to the loo is met with an indignant no! And since I really don’t want to wake up the rest of the house debating the point, out comes the Wheetabix.

Ten minutes later, in stumbles my four year old, rubbing his eyes and looking dazed. No good morning as he flops into my arms, just a what day is it? He’s asking because on Sunday he’s allowed to watch cartoons in the morning. It’s an arbitrary rule, made up for our own weekend peace so whoever’s on get up duty gets twenty extra minutes for a second cup of tea.

I flick through a book, Owen sits watching TV, Cora is ostensibly eating breakfast, but she learnt the word licking and likes to inform me this is what she is doing whilst craning her neck to see what’s happening in Mighty Express. There is an indescribable peace in this moment.

Then of course Owen spills his water down his pyjamas, then tells me it’s perfectly acceptable to sit on the sofa naked from the waist down. I disagree. Fortunately it’s still early and he’s not properly awake, so the discussion is a short one and soon the last five minute of train drama is playing on the screen, the cereal bowl is empty, and Dan has appeared, 30 years older but the exact template from which Owen was cut, rubbing his eyes and looking dazed. After a cursory up date on the kid’s food/toilet/mood status, I head back to bed for a snooze.

It’s not text book parenting, it’s not news and note worthy, but it’s real and happy.

For me, it’s what mum-ing is. It’s cuddles and uncomfortableness. It’s feeding and caring. Then feeding and caring for yourself. It’s taking a minute of quiet here and there. It’s routines and chaos.

I was going to say I don’t get it right a lot of the time. But who’s to say what right is. Any given day is filled with lovingly prepared meals and a biscuit stuffed into a hand to stop the associated mouth complaining. It’s filled with countless cuddles and snuggles and tens of will-you-just-cut-it-out-for-a-minute. It’s hours of biking and walking, baking and crafts, padded with some tv here and some ignoring there. It’s gaining love from giving love.

I don’t know if I mum right. I don’t think there is such a thing, but to mum to me means trusting you did what you could with the energy and experience you had, trying again tomorrow to do better and knowing your kids at least think you mum the best.

The Ugly Feelings & Me

Corona Virus (both the overall pandemic and my recent experience of having it) has left me feeling pretty much awful.

I mean, what a damn stupid thing to say? Living under a lockdown, kindergartens closed, family miles away and mostly unseen for almost a year and a half, and having spent the last two weeks inside the walls of a ninety-something square metre flat (big by some standards, of course), of course I feel bloody awful.

But I mostly feel awful because of the other feelings I’m tackling.

Like anger.

I feel angry that the politicians seem to be making bad decision after bad decision. I feel angry that I don’t think there is a right decision, not for everyone, anyway.

I feel jealous.

Jealous of people with gardens, jealous of people with daycare still open, jealous of people who can see their family. And I hate jealousy more than any of the feelings. It’s ugly and completely useless.

I feel self-pity (maybe that’s worse than jealousy). Why me? Why now? I don’t deserve this. (Right, because like anyone does.)

And it goes on. I see people walking in groups surely larger than the rules allow and want to shake them, as if they are solely responsible for the mass spreading of the virus. I see people dropping their kids at Kindergarten and want to demand they can justify their need for emergency care. Goodness, I see people going for their haircut and wonder at the necessity, given that you need a negative test to go to the hairdresser here in Berlin; I even worry about the environmental cost of all these swabs going up our noses.

But, it’s all petty, judgemental, and ultimately a waste of brain power and energy. And, if I look inwards, it’s not like I live the life of an angel. Not to mention that my cup is definitely more than half full, all things considered.

I am, therefore, left with a decision to make. A decision I have to make everyday. To feed these feelings, allow them to fester and grow, or to rise above them.

The last two weeks, the second option has been the harder. I’ve not seen anyone outside of my household for three weeks. My nephew is approaching his first birthday and I haven’t seen him in person. A close family member passed away and, while it’s not illegal, going to the UK for the funeral would be complicated and morally questionable.

(Urgh, morals, the bane of my life.)

But I really need to start standing up the all the Ugly Feelings. I have to check them and check my own privilege every day, every hour even. We as a family were lucky enough to have had COVID 19 and be okay. It wasn’t pleasant or pretty, I thought my poor daughter’s nose would never stop running and my son would climb the walls, but it passed and we are okay. But these feelings, this useless negativity could do me more harm in the long run.

It could turn me into someone who resents people their good fortune. It could turn me into someone entitled and indulged. It could turn me into someone who doesn’t see past the end of their nose, who forgets the two bright and wonderful kids she gets to spend her days with, the relative fortune she has, the vaccine on the way, and the fact that one day, perhaps in a month, perhaps in two or three or four, I will hug my family again, I will cuddle my nieces and nephews (even the big grown up ones, probably much taller than me these days), and get to sleep in my own bed again. (My own, own bed, in my room, with the stars I chose still along the top of the wardrobe, in my home town.)

It really is time for me to master the ugly feelings. Or else, what is already an awful time for everyone, will be an awful time that I handled badly, with no advantage or use to anyone.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The Seven Stages of (another) Lockdown

Stage one: Well, we knew that was coming.

Weeks of ugly statistics, no signs of improvements, hospitals overwhelmed. When the politicians call a news conference to tell us we are getter new lockdown rules, it’s hardly surprising.

Stage two: Surprise

You are proposing what? What! I can’t believe it. That’s mental.

Stage three: It’s not fair!

I can’t send my kid to nursery. I can’t have a playdate. I can’t do anything. I can’t even go and buy a bloody spanner if I need one.

Stage four: Blame and resentment.

If only those idiots would follow the rules. Well, it’s okay for those folks with family just up the road. Grandma can pop over and help. And as for those people with big houses and gardens, what are they complaining about.

Stage five: Acceptance.

People are dying. Hospitals are overrun. Nursery staff are putting themselves in the line of fire. Key workers are having to mix their kids with other people. This is how it has to be.

Stage six: Coping

Right, we’ve got this. We will walk, colour, bake, play, watch TV, play, walk, probably watch a tiny bit more TV. It’s not for so long. Maybe it will go on. But we will cope. Because it’s the right thing to do. Because it’s only fair on the people who can’t protect themselves. Because it could be so much worse.

Stage seven: Breath out

Away with the anger, frustration, thinking you know better, resenting the rules, resenting the people who seem to have it easier. Remembering the people who have it much harder. Breath out. Relax. One day at a time. One day. At a time.

2020: Serve and Volley

Whether you measure 2020 against previous years or your expectations as 2019 came to a close, it isn’t going to come out well.

Virus. Denial. Lockdown. Relief. Denial. Lockdown. Virus.

Every time I think about 2020, my mind engages in a table tennis game, paddling thoughts back and forth at speeds to make Olympic players envious. It was a really, bloody hard year – and it could have been harder. It really could have been. People lost their jobs, their homes, their loved ones. But using other people’s misery to reassure myself is repugnant. Then again, so is self pity without perspective applied. And this is how the mental conversation goes. Back and forth, serve and volley, occasionally hitting the net.


It’s been a crappy year. We’ve been limited, afraid, staring into an abyss.

It could have been so much worse. We had a home, an income. We had our health.

I haven’t seen my sisters for a year. I haven’t held my new nephew.

We had each other’s back. Across the miles, we stayed close and connected. My son considers his cousin, who he hasn’t played with in a year – a quarter of his life -, one of his best friends.

I missed my grandad’s funeral.

*Thought hits the net. There is no return shot.*

We didn’t get to explore our new city.

Berlin is still there. We got to know our neighbourhood, the real heart of our new home.

We had to spend so much time together.

We got to spend so much time together.

Nothing exciting happened.

My daughter learned to walk. My son learned to ride a bike. We paid attention to the seasons. We had at-home date night every week.

We couldn’t go on holiday. We couldn’t eat in restaurants.

Give it a rest, Helen. You’ve had these privileges for more than thirty years.

Our family missed our kids growing up.

They did. They really did. It’s inescapable. They were always going to though, the minute we had babies abroad.

It wasn’t fair. It isn’t fair.

No, it’s not. But, imagine if you’d been almost anywhere else in the world. Imagine if you started off with an unfair life. It could have been unfairer.

Christmas was ruined.

You’re an atheist. And you had a tree, presents, dinner, and your family. Christmas was great.

I wish it was all over.

I do, too

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The Things I’ll Miss

I’ll be glad when you start sleeping reliably through the night and when you quit announcing it’s morning at 5.42 am. I will. But I will miss the cuddles, the snoozing on the sofa in the dark, your whole weight on my chest, snug and safe.

I’ll be glad when meal times are less of a circus, when you can use a spoon and keep all the food securely on the tray. I will. But I will miss the look of pure determination on your face as you fight a slice of satsuma onto a spoon, the twinkle in your eye as you bat away another slice, eyeing your brother’s biscuit with intent.

I’ll be glad when you’re settled at nursery, some hours a day for me, some hours a day for you, playing happily instead of being dragged around the supermarket. I will. But I will miss you, the mischief and the mayhem, the company and challenge.

With everyday comes a new skill. From climbing where you shouldn’t to experimenting with new words, from peek-a-boo to waving. Everyday we greet a new talent. But everyday we leave something behind. It’s magical and wonderful. With every step, you become more yourself, more independent of me. I’m proud. And I’m sad. I’m glad of the progress; but I do miss the baby you were, just as when you first crawled, I missed the newborn, and the bump before that, even the tiny ball of expectation.

Soon I’ll miss the babble as words take over. I’ll miss the bottle feeds as cups become norm. One day, I’ll even miss the mess, the laundry, the arguments over curfews and unsuitable outfit choices. But everyday I am amazed at the girl in front me, ready to take on the world when only yesterday she fit on the crook of my arm.

Relentless

Kids. Two of them. Always needing something. Always wanting something. While I’m almost certain that my wash bin has a bottom, I’ve not seen it in weeks. I seem to remember owning hair straighteners, but I’m lucky on the days my hair gets a proper brush.

Meal times are like feeding time at the zoo. The big one is pretty well trained. He needs his occasional reminder to sit on his chair rather than hang sideways off it, but he’s not too bad providing he approves of the menu. Offer him carrots and you may as well offer a tiger an avocado smash. The baby communicates in screeches. Like a seal. And like a seal we toss food at her to answer her cries, something nicer if she performs a trick like clapping banana together to make it extra smushy and harder to clean up. My husband and I consume lunch like starved lions who’ve just been offered a whole antelope.

The house is never tidy. Never. Even at 6.30 am, when only 50% of the household is up and we tidied before bed, there are cloth nappies drying that need to go away. The baby’s sleep sack is folded in a heap on the sideboard, not back in the bed yet because big brother is still sleeping. The most likely scenario is that the sleeping bag only makes it back to the crib with the baby in it.

The baby. Oh the baby. Crawling, pulling up, eating everything, although mostly paper. We sweep our floors at least twice a day. I don’t walk the length of the kitchen-living room without picking up six hazardous items (a receipt, a Playmobil figure’s head, the drill bit from a toy drill). These things inexplicably made it to the floor despite being cleaned up earlier (receipt) or hidden away days ago (Playmobil and drill). Sometimes I imagine I have elves hidding in the basement who come out at night, and, rather than leave me shoes, subtly undo any attempt at cleaning from the previous day.

(Then I remember I do have a set of unhelpful elves. They’re called my children, and, occasionally, my husband.)

So, yeah, things are pretty full on. Meal times, nap times, 37 stories (often the same story 34 times), Lego aeroplanes, Lego airports, unending chores, 20 minute discussions about putting on shoes, reminders repeated so often they could play on a loop peddle. (O, give her space. C, paper’s not for eating. Do we climb on the sofa? Do I look like a walking vending machine?)

Let me be clear; I’m not complaining, not really. I’m shattered, but find me a parent of little ones who isn’t. I’ve got all I need.

It’s just it is non-stop. Non-stop being needed. Non-stop thinking ahead. Non-stop being in the moment with an eye out for the next trapped fingers or sofa dive.

And relentless can be a good thing. The big one is relentless in his questions. We spent a perfect twenty minutes on the balcony yesterday. The little one napped, I had a coffee that was still hot, and my son paced up and down, eating an apple and asking me everything on the philosophical scale from what do dogs eat to are we real?

The days are a whirlwind. We do everything and nothing. We achieve miracles, like a three year old who can put his own t shirt on. We achieve nothing, with a to do list that’s had taxes at the top for a month.

And then it’s 8.30 pm. Then there’s a drink of something in my hand and a book on my lap. There’s twenty minutes of chat about how the baby can pull herself up and it’s endlessly cute. There’s anecdote sharing about how the big boy asked me if I was okay when I had tears from cutting onions. A sign that he does have empathy and that the throwing his toy drill at his sister was just a blip.

You see the love is unrelenting, too

And when tiredness, lack of space and personal time go into battle with your kiddos’ laughs, there’s only going to be one winner.