Sunday, April 24, 2011

Pain and pleasure

We've just returned from our family week in Ballyvaughan in the Burren on the West Coast of Ireland. The family week we have every year with my mum and dad, my brother and his family, and me and mine. The family week mum and dad organised last summer before my mum's stroke. The family week that no longer involves my family. Not as it was anyway.

This time last year I was there with my mum. We pottered on wild west beaches, collecting shells with the girls, enjoying choccy buns with our tea, sitting side by side with our faces to the sun. This year, her absence was present everywhere. I never knew it was possible to feel so much pain without bleeding. The pain continues, as the realisation dawns that the trauma will not end. The trauma is constant. As my three girls delighted in the company of their cousins, the house was filled with their laughter, the laugher that made my mum's life happy. But she wasn't there to hear it. And amidst the noise of childish chatter I would be suddenly struck down, paralysed on the spot, cup in hand, children scampering around me, lost in my loss. While the world went on around me, I was still. And in my stillness I could see her. Her blue fleece walking along the beach, her white T-shirt soothing Ruby's screaming teeth, her sun hat tilted back as the sun scorched our skin as the view scorched our eyes with its beauty. A bloodless coup has taken place, not a mark on my body but my head and my heart beaten and bruised.

It was possibly the hardest week of my life after the two following her stroke, made more intense by the beauty of the landscape and the glorious weather, both of which my mum appreciated more than anything. People often use the phrase 'breathtaking' to describe a stunning view, but the beauty of the Burren is breath-giving. The expanse inflates your lungs, the beauty makes you breath deeper, sucking it in, absorbing the glory of the landscape into your bones, as if your eyes are not enough to capture it all. It gave me the strength to carry on, to enjoy the moments of pleasure as we all pottered on wild west beaches, collected shells with my girls, ate choccy buns with our tea, and sat with our faces to the sun. And feeling her with me still.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Opposites attract

I think as a parent we spend huge amounts of time trying to see other people in our children - ourselves, our partners, our mothers. It's like we have to find recognition in the stranger, finding a connection with this part of ourselves, yet an unknown unfurling before our eyes. Like unwrapping the christmas present under the tree before Christmas morning, or at least giving it a quick shake to guess what's inside. The surprise is too great, the wait too long. We identify the nose, this trait, that look - "ah, she has has my mum's eyes". I was told "you are just like your father!" (and not in a good way!). I even do it to myself, identifying bits of me and my personality that come from someone else - a sense of security that I'm connected amidst my yearning to be unique.

And so it is with the girls. From day one, my indignation as I lay exhausted and battered, the magic moment waning as all and sundry proclaimed Daisy to be the spitting image of her dad. (Hah! She's growing up to be the image of me! Oh the satisfaction!). Then Poppy came along and we analysed eyelashes (my mum's), earlobes (my brother's), her finger length (who knows?) and her belly button (her dad's) and while bits of her belong to Daisy, me, her dad and everyone we know, Poppy would grow to be all her own and always will be. And as each developed into amazing, weird and wonderful originals, we now try and piece Ruby into the mix. Who does she look like? Who will she be like? And, like the others, it is impossible to imagine, prepostrous to ponder the depth and detail she will be. Like the others, no matter how much we unwrap or compare or sneak-a-peak or guess, she will merge unique, and complex and mesmerising.

But, I do wonder how she will fit into the mix, and how she shake up the dynamic. Daisy and Poppy have had 4 years to bond and they are as close as sisters could be. People often ask if they are twins which I find odd. Despite the 18 month age difference, Daisy is blonde, Poppy is brown haired and they couldn't be more different. In fact they are polar opposites, which is probably why they attract each other so much. Everything about them is a contradiction.

Daisy will wrap herself in her duvet, only an eye and a nostril peaking out, covered and protected, her personality cautious and fearful. Poppy won't be covered, her legs akimbo above the duvet, exposed, her personality fearless and spontanious. Daisy loves chocolate, Poppy loves brocolli. Daisy is like summer, bright sunshine, full of song and sass. Poppy is like Spring, moody and unpredictable, full of light and dark. Daisy sleeps and picks at her food. Poppy is restless and eats with gusto. Daisy eats the jelly and savours the ice-cream, Poppy wolfs the ice-cream and slowly sucks the jelly. Daisy is skittish and needs people constantly - a little social butterfly. Poppy is methodical, happy in her own company, a social part-timer Poles apart and peas in a pod. Where will Ruby fit in the spectrum... the surprise slowly unfolds.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Child's Play

I've talked about my inner child before - about the desperate diva throwing toddler-esque tantrums, spitting out my dummy when I'm faced with endless, thankless, relentless demands when all I want to do is hide under my duvet, quiet and alone. Recently my inner gargoyle has raised her ugly head (and voice) more than I care to remember (will my kids? is the question that keeps me awake some nights). The overwhelming overwhelmingness of my life right now is giving my spoilt brat inside a sustained sugar hit. All that new baby neediness, and the responsibilities of my mum's illness has me screeching up the walls some days. And then last week on Mother's Day I read an article by Eleanor Mills in the Sunday Times. It was about this modern generation of spoilt brats, pissed off with parenting, done in by the demands, and resentful of relentless crappy work. It got me thinking. This is what I signed up for. I wanted a busy family, a noisy household. The last six months as I've struggled with three under the age of 6, my mum's voice plays over in my head, "well, you wanted three!". It was my choice. And I wouldn't change it. And I don't know whether it was the article, or some level of acceptance with my mum's situation, or the fact that at six months I'm finally getting to grips with this baby lark, but I've tentatively realised my inner gargoyle isn't so petulant these days. In fact, my inner child has been having a bit of a field day of late - in a good way. I've been bouncing on the trampoline with gay abandon, freewheeling on my bike down the road, singing our Everything Has To Be a Song Days with gusto and generally remembering how to be a fun mum again. Oh the gargoyle is only resting no doubt, but I hope she has taken a permanent back seat. I hope I am slowly stumbling out of the haze of the last 6 months, and beginning to see life again through the eyes of a child, and the heart and maturity of a mother.