The First Time

I never thought I could love you more than when I first saw you sitting in the school room working hard on your literacy. I then took you on an aeroplane and realised there was even more love to give!

When I found your profile you were 5 years old and I fell in love instantly  they say you know when you find the one, but to be honest I didn’t believe them. I then had to fight for nearly a year to persuade your social worker that I was perfect for you making you 6 and a half before I finally got to meet you. I would lie if I didn’t say that your age worried me to begin with. Worried that I would have missed out on so much. In the weeks leading up to that meeting I struggled with these thoughts: I would never get to rock you asleep; never hear your first words; never change your nappy (maybe I should have rejoiced in this!) never take you to school for the first time; not be there when you first swam a stroke. If I thought about all the firsts I would missed I would have become overwhelmed and maybe started to wonder if I was doing the right thing. Then a very wise lady reminded me that there would always be things I had missed, but there was so much more that we could do together.

We have been together 10 months now and I have been thinking of writing this for some time; our firsts are coming thick and fast now so it’s now or never! Of course I got to rock you asleep, of course I got to bath you, of course I got feed you as you regressed and let me. Then we had a first birthday together; A first Christmas together; first New Year together; First Easter Egg hunt with your cousins and my first Mother’s Day.

Then I got to experience so many firsts: The joy and pride you showed when you swam your first stroke, was only beaten by my own joy. The excitement when you mastered a backward roll and then a handspring; when you first learnt to ride your bike to school. Then there are the small ones that bring me so much joy: Your first bus trip, your first train trip, your first boat trip. Getting your first passport.

The ones that surprise me: When you came back from swimming with my best friend – beyond excited – about “that thing that moved us and we had to hold on”. You were laughing so much with your arms and legs all over the place, knocking things off the side but I was still totally confused! Then i was reliably informed there was a wave machine. It had never occurred to me you had never felt or seen a wave! The following weekend we went camping; your first holiday and they joy you expressed (even for a compost toilet!) You helped set everything up, searched for wood, built your first fire, toasted your first marshmallow or smarshmellow as you call it. I may not have heard your first word, but I have your smarshmellows, skirils (squirrels ) startcastic (sarcastic) and menember (remember) which I will treasure for ever. I will never forget your amazement when your first came across seaweed and walked in the sea with wellies. We spent hours touching it, smelling it and squishing it all for the first time and then second time the following day. You were 7 years old, but lapped it up like a woman having the first glass of wine at a weekend or a toddler tasting chocolate for the first time.

I am a traveller and adventurer and thought my ruck sack would have to be hung up. But the first thing you told me was that a “real mum would get you a passport & take you on loads of holidays”. So after 3 camping trips and a caravan holiday in the U.K. and many stop overs at friends around England to check you can cope with nights away from your bed (and you did amazingly), I bit the bullet and am now taking you on your first aeroplane and overseas holiday. They even let you see the cockpit and you felt honoured. So now as you sit next to me on your first flight, staring out the window – stunned at the sight of clouds and the feeling in your tummy. You told me you are a “10 out of 10” and that’s before you get to swim in your first outside pool in the sun, feel hot sand through your toes for your first time, build your first foreign sand castle, swim in the sea with your snorkel for the first time (that you have been practising with in the bath). These are all the things you are excited about, not forgetting your first buffet breakfast where I have agreed you can have whatever you want!

If I didn’t know it before, Miss AAK, I am totally honoured to share my travelling life with you for the first time. Anyone out there who is worried about missing out on all those firsts – create your own. Yes, I cried when we took off and you squealed with joy! I may not be the first person you ever called mummy, but it really doesn’t matter!

My mum’s sausage rolls.

I grew up with avid foodie parents who loved nothing more than trying to outdo each other in the kitchen.

I’ve lost count of the amount of times my father demonstrated how to crack open and dress a crab. Seafood was his speciality and our Sunday tea usually consisted of crab, brown shrimps, winkles and cockles, salad and brown bread and butter and was utterly delicious.

My mum was a different story. Much as she tucked into the seafood with us, her heart was elsewhere and her absolute speciality was and still is making the most perfect shortcrust pastry you have ever tasted. It is a simple thing but done correctly is a thing of beauty.

She created numerous pie and tarts but the thing we loved most as a family – particularly my dad – was her sausage rolls. He was crazy about that combination of shortcrust pastry and filling.

It’s more usual to make a sausage roll using flakey or puff pastry but mum always favoured shortcrust and I have to say I still definitely prefer it.

Other essential ingredients are of course a good quality free range pork sausagemeat, pinch of mixed herbs and a grated onion, and a beaten egg for glazing.

Needless to say, this recipe has been passed on to me and my daughter now loves them the same way my father did. If she sees me making them she will let out a squeal of delight and rush over to try and ‘help’ me roll out the pastry (most of this ends up in her mouth). I imagine she’ll be making them herself before too long. Maybe with her own daughter.

Time marches on and my father sadly died this year but at the end of last year when he was getting frail and not eating very much, he and my mother came to stay and he asked if she would make some of her famous sausage rolls. We were both so pleased that he wanted to eat something – and seeing that my mother was tired I immediately jumped in and offered to make them instead.

“Ooh yes please! Can I help?”, came the cry from my daughter peeping round his bedroom door, so off we two went and made mum’s famous sausage rolls.

When they were done and we were all tucking into them around my dad’s bed, he took a bite, turned to my mum and said “Do you know I think this pastry might be even better than yours”…

I’ll never forget the look on her face or the smile on his. Priceless.

Thanks for all the laughs dad.

And Happy Father’s Day.

Four Years.

Four years ago today you arrived in our home twinkly and tiny and so brave under the circumstances…
Or did we misread that?
In retrospect you must have been flooded with fear. Your little body stuck in a massive terrifying moment that went on and on. And because we didn’t know you, we assumed arrogantly that your smile was a symptom of calm and acceptance. A sign that we were in fact good parents already who had a good grasp of your needs.
I’m so sorry my darling for our naivety.
I’m so sorry I hadn’t a clue about the trauma you must have suffered.
I wish I could go back and cuddle that baby girl with the insight I have now. But I can’t.
So here we are four years on.
Four years of waking up to your chuckle.
Four years of wiping way your tears
Four years of being called mummy.
Four years of loving you so much it hurts that I’m not perfect at it.
Four big years.
I can remember trying to look forward in time to the little girl you would become but it seemed impossible, scary even. Like the 5 year old you would be a whole new little person I would have to meet and get to know all over again. What if you were harder to win over than the baby in front of me? Who in fact were you going to be?
And yet here we are 4 years on. You are simply you. A bigger, brighter more articulate version of that baby we brought home. It’s miraculous how children grow and develop so quickly and there is so much more of of it to do. So much more to look forward to.
Thank you for our four years.

Best years of my life so far.

Easily.

Here’s to many many more my beautiful daughter.

3 horsemen

The twisted briars cloud my vista
I only see the dark and tangled past
It’s upon me the 3 horsemen
It’s crowding me
Drowning me
Making me twist and feel like I’m failing
Flailing, shivering in my nest.
I stop. I stare. I implode. I scream.
The journey of my youngest feels
Like a weighted stone and doubles
The pain of my childhood.
I see my mother’s wrinkled face and don’t feel love.
I don’t feel compassion. I don’t feel joy.
I only feel sad. Sad like a bag of rocks weighing me down.
It slips into my childhood disease and makes my stomach churn.
My cheeks burn with embarrassment. I feel guilty, I feel shame at this.
I have to resolve this.
I need to move through it.
I can’t go under it.
I can’t get over it.
I need to go through it.
I try and see open doors but I only feel brick walls.
The prospect of drowning in this is a fingertip away but I need to find a path which allows me to see the wretched past and the matriarch and allows enough light in so that the flowers can bloom. So that I can become the mother to my 2, that they need me to be. So I can be brave. So I can let it go. I am not my mother. I have time to be a brave mum to my 2 as they need me to be brave, to fight for them. To be their advocate. They chose me to be in their lives and I will get on these horses and I will pound down the walls and find those open doors.

Always be by your side.

Photo by Lili Gooch

Photo by Lili Gooch

A few months back my 4 year old daughter astonished me by suddenly opening her eyes as she was drifting off to sleep and whispering “I’ll always be by your side Mama.” She gave me a sweet little smile afterwards and I was so taken aback that it brought tears to my eyes.

It’s not something I had heard from her before, nor is it a phrase I use so it was surprising and delightful to me. I will never forget it and for a time, it became a bit of a theme for us. We would say it to each other when perhaps previously we would have said “I love you”. It also became something of a weapon in times of conflict… “I don’t love you, and I’m not going to always be by your side” she would emphatically inform me, incandescent with rage over something I had done. My usual response would be “That’s a shame but I still love you and will still always want to to be by your side” But there were no concessions from her at times such as these.

Eventually we forgot about our little phrase and went back to the normal “I love you mama, up to the moon and back” that we had used for years.

And then something happened.

Her grandfather (my father) died and we were all thrown into the chaos of profound grief and bereavement while also attempting the day to day stuff of normal family life. Somehow I was supposed to carry on parenting when I felt like a child myself.
I did try to explain to her that there would times when mummy and daddy got a bit sad over this event and that it was ok if she did too; but this only served to make her feel guilty that she wasn’t as sad as us so I backed off it a bit. I was also worried about the funeral and the carnival of grief that would surround it, but she was surprisingly fine. She admired the flowers, took out her little box of crayons and colouring book, a few My little Ponies and grinned at everyone. She even said “Ooh I like your dress!” to one of my aunties.
For me, it was a day of joyous celebration of everything my father was and in the main I was pretty upbeat and happy to remember him… except for one tiny moment when I wasn’t and I faltered. Quick as a flash a little hand slid into mine and pulled me round to face her. She was smiling so broadly that I couldn’t help but smile back. It totally lifted me and after a second, a little voice rang out “Don’t worry Mama, I’ll always be by your side.”

Beatings

20160728_110151It almost broke my heart. She wouldn’t leave my side to join the hordes of screaming girls running up and down the stairs at the birthday party. And I told her I had to go, at first imploringly, but then a little tinged with anger. She held on to my leg and begged me not to. So I stayed. But not with good grace.

She sat on my feet while the other girls were playing musical chairs and bumps. I pulled her up and pushed her forward to get involved. She pushed back against my insistence. She didn’t want to. She sat back down on my feet, and I audibly sighed. So I jiggled her up and down in time to the music, playfully yes but with a slightly graceless undertone of pushing her forward again. And asked her why she didn’t want to join in. “I just don’t”, she said. I felt sad and frustrated.

She got up halfway through one of the games and went part of the way into the dancing crowd, all the while stealing little looks back at me. I smiled at her. She made the last three and won a sweet.

Then joined fully in pass-the-parcel and won some stickers. She helped a 2 year-old boy sitting next to her to join in the game.

She went politely down into the kitchen to sit at the table with the other girls and wore her party hat, but managed to find herself seated at the end of the table with nobody opposite her. She thanked the hostess politely each time she received some food. The other girls were chatting away; she waved at me and smiled.

After the cake, there were 15 minutes left before the end of the party. I spoke to some adults about Trump and tennis, while she came back into the room on her own and played with the birthday girl’s dolls’ house. By herself.

I felt embarrassed. I just wanted her to have fun and make friends; or I just wanted her not to be the one who wouldn’t join in, the shy girl. I just wanted her to be confident, to be the one the others wanted to play with.

I know she is a little shy. But she’s considered. She’s considerate. She’s exuberant at times and introspective at others. She’s fun and funny. She’s thoughtful, she’s joyful, she feels deeply.

So I beat myself up over my feelings and the way I behaved towards her.

And then we left. She said thank you to the parents and happy birthday to the girl.

On the way home, she was bubbling over with talk about the party and what fun she’d had and told me all about one of her friends who was going to see the film at the cinema that she had seen the day before, and chatted about all the girls and the little boy, and skipped along looking into her party bag and asking me what the things were; she’d had the best time.

And I realised that the sadness and frustration, embarrassment and lack of grace were all my own. I realised that I just didn’t want her to be me.

12 Blogs under the Christmas tree #2

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If you could put one thing under the Christmas tree this year, what would it be?

If I had a chance to do this all again, would I? Yes I would.

I love this time of year, I love the joy and the twinkle of great things to come.
I see the stars and then I wonder how did I get here? To this place, right now.
I asked my son what he wanted for Christmas and he said a dinosaur that roared! My daughter is not old enough to ask for things so I’m just guessing what she would like.
But I know all I want for her is to be able to walk and talk. Last Christmas Day she communicated with me for the first time by playing peep o. In the last year she has blossomed and grown so much but there is part of her that is locked up tight. She reminds me of an Anabel doll, who obligingly does what is needed and then wraps herself back into her own world and sleeps her way through.
I’m asking for hope this year as my present under the tree. Hope to carry on living and loving my family in a way that will nurture and give back. Hope to understand the nuances of childhood trauma. Hope to listen to the unspoken monologues that must need to be heard. Hope to laugh and hope to light a candle for light to shine where there was darkness and hope that tomorrow will bring us all joy and happiness.