Dear Son,

There are so many things I want for you: health and happiness. Your father’s brains and your mother’s hairline. Principles and appreciation for a good piece of cake.

I want you to be confident, not arrogant.

Brave, not foolish.

Interested, not obsessed.

Optimistic, not deluded.

I want you to be strong enough to stand up for what you believe and strong enough to change your mind when you realise you are wrong. Because you will be wrong, but how you deal with mistakes will make all the difference.

I hope you have interests and are never ashamed of them. Whether you’re a bookworm or a model builder, a sportsman or a cook, do what you love with pride.

I wish good things for you: an education, a decent job, a home, and a family. But above that, I wish good feelings for you: self worth, self belief, happiness alongside the ability to deal with sadness, satisfaction with the little things, fulfilment from doing and being, not having.

You will need to have things, of course. You were born with the opportunity to do anything, be anyone, or have anything. There is no shame in that; perhaps just be careful how you use that priveledge.

May we always be friends, even when we think differently. May we always communicate, even when there’s nothing to say. May we always be welcome in each other’s lives, as guides, as supporters, or as non-judgemental observers.

And last but not least, I hope you do good in this life. No single man can save the world, but if you put in as much as you take out, more even, and can feel well doing it, then I will feel I’ve done my best by you. 

 Yours forever,

 xx

Photo credit: RDP

Finding Your Normal

Walking down the street the other day, I heard someone say something to the effect of, …and it’s just not normal. Well, not normal by our normal, anyway.

I wanted to go and shake the woman’s hand. Damn it, I wanted to hug her. In all my years of searching for normal, I never considered that I could just define it for myself.

There’s a running joke in our house where, when confronted with a problem, we ask ourselves what normal people would do. I live with this perpetual notion that I’ve missed a trick, that everyone else knows what’s going on and what to do in all situations, and I am a klutz that gets everything just a little bit wrong. My furniture doesn’t match and my clothes are never quite right for the weather. We sometimes use plastic bowls from the picnic set because we don’t have enough china. I use a jam jar as a toothbrush holder and I don’t own a pizza cutter. I’d rather walk to the next bus stop than wait more than five minutes for a bus. The list goes on and contains an oddity of behaviours and reflections on things I presume are a bit, well, abnormal. So I apologise for them, or worse still, I hide them.

When it boils down to it, though, normal is just a set of expectations that a group shares. And if you boil anything down for long enough it becomes nothing. (Right..?) Sure, sometimes normal is good for society, like the norm of regularly showering or covering your mouth when you sneeze. Public health aside, a lot of the other things we do are based on what we presume other people want to see. We think others expect certain things of us, and we go with it to make sure we don’t seem like a weirdo. It can be big or small, from how we spend our money and our politics to how we drink our coffee. (Confession time my caffeine aficionado friends: I often drink weak-tasting instant coffee. And I like it.)

The confident people out there might not get this. They live how they want to live and don’t care what others think. Maybe “normal people” are actually just confident people. There’s definitely something appealing about individuals who are passionate about their interests, however unusual, geeky, or off-the-wall. For sure, living your chosen life-style apologetically is more abnormal than most of the things you’re apologising for (with notable exception, cheaters, liars, or thieves to name a few). Probably no one is normal, just more or less confident about how they go about their day.

But for me, this hasn’t always been obvious. For me, there’s always been a fear of getting it wrong, a somewhat destabilising and debilitating worry of being considered weird that leaves me feeling awkward and uptight. And it’s probably not normal that overhearing a stranger’s out-of-context commentary on normality would make me reconsider this, but, well, it did and I’m not sorry. How I live is basically like everyone else, with its own brand of me splashed in. And it’s okay to be okay with that.

So I say to each his own normal, quirks and all.

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Oderwald, Standard Normal distribution with shading between -2 and 2, https://openclipart.org/detail/171054/normal-distn-shaded-inside-2s, 2012-07-05 accessed 24.06.17

Coffee And Strangers

When you’ve got worries, all the noise and the hurry
Seems to help, I know
Downtown

Petula Clark

The rattling of trays and the clinking of coffee cups. The indistinguishable chatter, voices gradually getting louder, each conversation competing with that to its left and its right. Not loud, just noise-some. Not overbearing, simply loud enough, so that no single voice dominates. Each tête-à-tête easily heard by those who need to hear yet lost on nosey, prickling ears. The sound of friends together, sipping their tea or colleagues grabbing a bite in a hurried lunch hour.

There are things to see in every direction. The couple with their heads together, plotting, perhaps romancing. The mother, worn with the day by noon, ignoring her bundle of joy as he bangs the spoon more and more ferociously on the china cup. The businessman, all suited and booted, who tries to ignore the banging. The young, the old, and the inbetweeners all in one place. The coffee lovers and tea drinkers all sharing air space. Everyone different, with their own baggage and dreams. Everyone interesting in their own, private way.

Then there’s me in my spot on the comfy red and grey sofa. A cup of milky coffee sits next to a plate of crumbs, the remnants of today’s quick bite or daily treat. The little guy lies on his blanket, cooing at the white ceiling like it’s a miracle. Ageing ladies peer over and smile fondly. Nearby caffeine junkies look on nervously, perhaps afraid we’re going to disturb their peace.

And I am happy. There’s no need to talk to anyone; occasional eye contact and the odd smile is enough. I am alone with my thoughts but never lonely, watching the world go about its business. I sit hearing but not listening to the voices of folk I don’t know. Baby and I are delighted to be out, and happy in the company of strangers.

 

The Jogger’s Nod

The oncoming stranger is 10 years older and 15 kilos heavier. The woman you just passed is five years younger and a head taller. The guy you glimpse up the road is your age and built like a bull. However, you know then all, in the tiniest of ways.

From their laboured gait to their red faces, they are like your joke mirror image at a fairground: distorted but recognisable. You know their legs are as heavy as yours. You know their hearts are pounding too. You know that they, like you, are part of a very special group. You know that they, like you, share the same secret.

Because none of us will win prizes. None of us will break records or earn trophies. None of us look quite right in the kit or quite comfortable in our chosen pass time. But, none of us minds. That is our secret. None of us worries or wants more than the sound of the pavement under our tired legs and the feeling of warmth radiating from our aching limbs.

We are the joggers of this world, happy to be out, happy to be doing something good for our bodies and our minds. We are lifted by the sight of a fellow jogger, who catches our eye, grimaces, maybe even smiles, and bobs their head in a way that says I see you. I feel it too. Keep going. Yes, however different our exteriors might be, we recognise each other and we nod, because we are the joggers of this world, and we stand united.

Photo on 20-06-2017 at 16.57

 

 

Answer Honestly

Is he a good baby? 

(What on Earth do you mean by good? No, he’s evil. I had an affair with the Devil and spawned a monster…)

Yes, he’s pretty good. Thanks.

How’s he sleeping?

(On his back with his mouth open, for about forty five minutes at a time, an hour if we’re lucky. If we go out for a walk, we can push that time to 90 minutes. Getting him to sleep involves an intricate dance that involves bouncing, rocking, white noise, cuddling, swerving the pushchair so frantically that on coming pedestrians jump into hedges for safety, or, as one friend recently commented,  pushing and pulling in such a way that it looks like we’re trying to mow the lawn with the pushchair. Now, don’t you dare, dare, dare ask if he’s sleeping through yet.)

Okay, you know how it is with babies.

Is he sleeping through, then?

(Oh you went there, didn’t you? No. Well, yes, actually, he did once or twice. Although technically he woke up and banged his legs on the mattress for ten minutes, but we ignored him. Then he started waking up every three hours again. Then the next night just once. Then through again. So I’ve got no idea which way is up and every night it’s like lying in the room with a time bomb. I mean, do you always sleep through the night? Does anyone judge you for not staying asleep for a full eight hours?)

Sometimes which is great. We know we’re lucky there.

Oh, he’s crying, what’s wrong?

(I don’t have a bloody clue. It’s not like I enjoy the persistent screaming and keep the solution hidden up my sleeve for emergencies only.  That question implies that I have a clue about what I’m doing when actually I am just making it up as I go along and trying not to get caught out.)

He’s probably hungry.

How are you coping?

(I’m not. Last night I ate half a box of dry cereal directly from the box because I didn’t know what else to do. I haven’t shaved my legs in three weeks, which is why I am wearing tights in 25 degree temperatures, and my spare room is a dumping ground for all the things in our life so that the living room at least looks tidy when people come over. Oh, and yesterday I cried because I couldn’t get the pushchair to collapse.)

Pretty well, thanks.

Don’t you just love watching them sleep?

(HAHAHAHAHA! In the space of a twenty minute nap, I can wash up, empty the washing machine and take a shower. If I’m having a good day, I can drink a cup of coffee whilst it’s hot. Watching them sleep…)

I know, it’s precious.

Do you love him enormously? 

(Oh yes. I love him so much that it hurts, I could talk to you about him for hours and hours and hours. I love the chunky rolls on his legs, the way he looks at me and his papa, the way he tries to copy our faces, the way he…)

Oh yes. I love him more than anything.

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Image: Schade, https://openclipart.org/detail/247285/stork, 2016, accessed 16.06.2017

Three Months 

It wasn’t just that the world turned upside down. No, the world was uprooted, rigorously shook, and then replanted on uneven ground.

Everything familiar changed. Night and day switched, mixed, and became one continuous and tired existence. The confidence we’d honed over thirty years melted away as every decision was now for three not two. Suddenly, this tiny being was entirely dependent on us. He took our time,  our energy, even part of ourselves. He still does.

When you can count life in hours, every hour counts. Ups and downs are magnified; emotion is intense and inconsistent. Then hours become days, many dark, as the enormity of it all overwhelmed until the first time he grabbed our finger or opened his eyes. Magical moments were enough encouragement to feel like it was possible to cope, to keep going on this rollercoaster we’d created.

As days became weeks the spinning world began to slow. A touch of predictability, coupled with an ability to cope with unpredictability cushioned the ride. Confidence crept back,  day by day. One month passed, then a second and life began to feel familiar again. The first smiles rescued us on days when we felt like we were failing. The miles we strolled, the hours we spent in the small hours feeding and rocking all became normal features of our new existence. 

Now three months have passed. Three whole months. The world is still spinning at a different rate, it’s still a different way up to the way it was before, but it’s a pace to be grateful for, a way of living that we wouldn’t swap. Our own wonderful new world order.

From A Penine Garden

After the sun has burnt the morning mist to a memory, the sky is as clear as a bell. 


The cool dawn air is replaced by a warm morning sun, gentle and kind on the skin.

The birds sing. They sing and sing all morning long, punctuated with a bleating lamb or contented cow.

Along the lane, quiet except for the odd tractor, ramblers embrace the best part of the day, cyclists take on the ups and downs, and dog walkers cover well – trodden paths. Greetings are exchanged,  raised hands of acknowledgement, and kindly waves between strangers as well as friends. 

In the barns and in the fields, work is done, graft on England’s green hills. In the kitchens, the smell of baking masks the country smells, briefly at least.

It’s a culture of its own. The views are the artwork, the nature the music, and the comings and going of every day people are any storyteller’s muse, their lives steeped in the history of the old stone cottages and distant mill towers, the bread and butter of life for previous generations. 

Yes, it’s nice up here, with the sun on your back and the air in your lungs. With a second cup of coffee before the morning is done, it’s hard to want to be anywhere else.