Trust Held

I almost lost my seventeen year old daughter at the weekend. I let her go to a music festival, trusting in her judgement and in others. Part of that trust was misplaced. She made a huge error of judgement, did something incredibly stupid and ended up in intensive care on a ventilator. No drugs were involved. Except alcohol is very much a drug.

Behaving irresponsibly with it is something probably many of us have done. I know I have. We experiment, we find our limits.

I let a girl – a really good and sensible girl – a really inexperienced girl – go off for a long weekend, out of my reach, out of my jurisdiction, out of my hands.

She failed her own test. Tested her own limits. Stopped breathing.

Her friends, others there – young people – young people who so often get a bad rap – seventeen and eighteen year olds – saved her life with their quick actions. They, the medics there, the staff in the hospital she was taken to – all of them – in the hands of god – returned my girl to me.

She’s fine now, home. She’s shaken, she’s weepy, she’s in some disbelief.

Chris Nelson put life in context for me today. My trust is very much shaken. But also, weirdly, very much reinforced in others.

My daughter, my whole family, owe a huge debt of gratitude to every single hand that reached out and put love and care into action. I can’t ever begin to repay them. I can hardly bear to think of the consequences had they not. But I can’t stop thinking of them.

At least one person lost their life at that festival. How many more ended up in hospital I don’t know. From speaking to the nursing staff and others there I know that two hospitals admitted people – both young and old – with various injuries and complications arising from drugs, weather, conditions at the site, violence.

Eighty thousand people with access to almost unlimited freedoms gives license to act stupidly, irresponsibly, dangerously.

One mother, allowing her seventeen year old to participate in what I never felt quite right about, going against my own judgement, facilitated what occurred.

I’ve made some dumb decisions in my life – like mother like daughter? I’ve been incredibly lucky that none of those decisions have resulted in near death. This was not one of them.

How do I ever trust myself again to…. just how do I ever trust myself again?

One of the reasons I think I have always trusted, despite it sometimes being misplaced, is the belief in inherent goodness in people. Yes, sometimes, I’ll be wrong. But a lot of times, most of times, I won’t.

Rachel fucked up big time. She knows that. She’s learned something it can take a lifetime to learn – that life is precious and we can’t afford to play roulette with it.

I’ve learned that my faith in people is not misplaced. That there will always be people who rise to occasions, go above and beyond, because they’re good people. There are far more of those about I believe than the, admittedly, many who don’t.

I hope Chris won’t mind me quoting part of his poem here, the first post I read today, something I needed badly to hear, the post that prompted this post of mine. I didn’t want to share my stupidity, my daughter’s, our pain, our naivete, but maybe sharing it will help us and others. Chris’s words certainly helped me.

‘With head high

Stepping out into day’s silent arms

Trusting that the wire will hold…

…As you raise your head once more

And look towards the skies.’

Life is trust. To live is to trust. We hope, we pray, we fail, we fall, we rise. We go on. Trusting, because what else can we do?

My trust, overall, was not misplaced.

My belief in others, in love and goodness, in the hand of god in my life was, in fact, reinforced. Mercifully and with thankfulness that will last my lifetime.

I asked my daughter’s permission before posting this because it is not my wish to humiliate her or to cause her more pain. But, what happened at the weekend, how many people were involved in saving my girl, how much I appreciate the NHS, how grateful we all are for the final result and the care shown, is a testament to love and trust in action. My thanks to Rachel for allowing this. Our whole family’s eternal thanks to each and every one. My trust is held.

Alarmed…but only slightly…

You know the way sometimes your kids embarrass you?

Or vice versa?

Or how sometimes you embarrass yourself?

Or they do?

And you sympathise with them. Although inside you’re laughing.

Only if it was really funny, right enough, and they’re not too heartbroken.

I broke those rules last night. So did my husband.

We’re bad people. Poor parents. Parents without appropriate levels of sympathy. Apparently.

My 22 year-old daughter has been getting on my wick since she moved back home. Twice. She’s untidy.

No, let me rephrase that. She’s a manky midden. And I’m sick of screaming in frustration every time I put my head round her door.

I don’t mind a bit of mess. You can’t have seven weans and not have a bit of mess.

But she’s more than messy. She grosses me out. Correction. Her room grosses me out.

And it’s not just me who says so. We, as a family, are unanimous in this. Everyone has their own room and is capable of keeping it reasonably tidy so it can be cleaned. Except Mary-Kate. Shovelling shite comes to mind.

And I ignore it. I do. At least, I try to. Everyone says that’s what you should do. I’ve experienced this before. But her levels of clattiness take on proportions that have to be seen to be believed.

I’d post a picture. But I can’t.

Because I spent all yesterday tidying, cleaning, moving furniture around to optimise space. It’s a thing I do. Quite a lot. Missed my vocation really. I could have been a room planner if such a thing exists.

I was up to my eyes in dirty washing, clean washing that hadn’t been put away and cat toys because she’s the cat-girl.

And I thought cats liked clean environments.

Apparently they don’t give a shit.

So, in between chasing cat and dog out of the room while I fumigated and picked up, there was a lot of French. Actually, there were lots of languages. I hadn’t realised how many languages I could swear in. It comes in handy in front of little ears. Fortunately, none of my kids speak, Greek, Gaelic, French, German or gibberish. Neither do I mostly. But I can get by in sweary words.

So, when I hobbled up to bed after making dinner to do a little reading – not blogs, a book, my bad –  and left my husband to empty the last wash of the day I was in a strange place.

Pissed off but satisfied. Ever been there?

About elevenish or so I heard the dulcet tones of said daughter falling through the door. I admit I was looking forward to giving her some verbals when I heard snippets that had my ear cocked in curiosity.

‘Oh, dad, I’m mortified! How could they? Why would they think that? Paramedics……slapping……’

This was too much. But I held on.

She stoated up the stairs as I knew she would. Thrust open my bedroom door where I’m all, ‘Wassup?’

This is where I held my parenting skills and a straight face.

The gist of it is.

Having stayed up until 5a.m. the night before when she sat up with pals in their flat watching ‘Orange Is The New Black’, having gone to work after about four hours of sleep, having had a few quaffs on her staff night out straight after work, she was, she assured me, shattered.

Being the sensible girl she is, she left the party early, got on a bus, set her phone alarm for fifteen minutes later, positioned her bag at the window of the bus and settled down for some quick shut eye while listening through her earphones to ‘some soothing music’.

Some time later…

…she was awakened by someone trying to put her on her back while she lashed out at them in self-defence.

Fear not!

It was a paramedic.

Quickly established, apparently, when she asked, ‘WTF!’

A couple of teenagers had decided that Mary-Kate was ‘out of it’, ‘probably on something’, ‘probably heroin’, ‘she’s mumbling’ ( is that a symptom?) and had reported this to the bus driver who, give him his due, had taken prompt action and called the emergency services.

The bus had been at a standstill for fifteen irate travellers’ minutes all reasonably fuming at being kept from their journey.

Upon questioning, and after gathering some semblance of lucidity after being wakened, Mary-Kate was able to establish that she had indeed ‘only been bloody sleeping’.

‘Was it normal,’ they wanted to know, ‘that you can’t be wakened easily?’

‘Duhh, ask my mum.’

Mary-Kate never knew, neither did I, that if you refuse help from the emergency services you have to speak to them on the phone and reassure them. Must be a liabilty thing. So she did.

‘I’m FINE! I was sleeping. I slept through my alarm. Jeez!’

As Mary-Kate did not call the emergency services herself on a false alarm she is not being billed for it.

But it’s good to know that random teenagers on a bus care enough to report their concerns. Although slightly worrying that they were out at all at that hour and  know so little of life that mumbling in your sleep constitutes heroin addiction.

Good to know too that had Mary-Kate been in need of intervention there was help so readily at hand.

Not so happy with one paragon of citizenship who was heard to bemoan the junkie culture, citing Mary-Kate as an example and telling her ‘to get awa’ hame tae yer mammy’ as Mary finally disembarked, mortified at her experience.

Me? Her daddy?

We were there for her. As we always are for all our kids.

But afterwards. In bed. We laughed.

Tainted slightly at the idea that services had been used unneccessarily, that some folk don’t know a sound sleep from a coma, that there are many who are unsympathetic to another’s plight – whatever form it takes – and that my darling, dirty daughter didn’t fully appreciate my efforts until I folded her into bed and she could sleep the sleep of the knackered worker/partier/wrongly-accused where she sprawled out, without a single item of clothing atop the duvet, saying, ‘Aw, mummmm’. And slept.

Today.

She’s slightly less mortified. A little miffed. Full of aggrieved – and perhaps justified – annoyance that ‘ye can’t even catch a bit a’ kip oan the bus noo withoot a full-scale investigation.’

This has never happened to me or her dad. The paramedics I mean. In our day, you just ended up at the bus station. And had the long walk home.

I slept like a log last night. Kids all in. Eventually. Crap room tidied. Laughed like a concerned parent whose worst imaginings have been relieved.

And I’m now on room patrol.

Her jaiket’s oan a shaky nail.

And you wonder why I have to keep this 54 year old body in shape. My youngest’s only eight.

FUCK!!!!!!!!

Toes Grown

There’s consolation and some comfort in the knowing

That streets I’ve walked upon they’ll walk on too,

That rivers I have known, they’ll feel in flowing,

Their gift of life transporting, they the crew

Forever destined to new embarkations,

New destinations, some far out of sight, 

Predestined in unknown determinations,

Forked with choices they believe are right.

There’s sympathy and empathy in feeling

That those who venture forth to find their route,

Deserve the trust and onward love they’re stealing,

Travellers whose first steps falter’d, as I put

A hand to hold, support the risk they took then,

Determined but with dainty, tiny toes,

Kissed in days I never saw when

New shoes would grow and feet would wander forth.

There are tears that now the door has opened wider,

While heart is closing round the children grown,

Seeking yet to hold a little longer

Even though they, like time, have flown.

I’m counting heads and reeling from the impact

Of emptier nest while four will still remain,

Pretending joy, acceptance of a life fact,

That children grow. And I still have this to feel again.

Mental Health, Spectrums, Guns, Copernicus and other normal stuff

I might get my arse metaphorically kicked for this post. But here goes nothing.

A few weeks ago I read a post here where Twindaddy speaks on that awful shooting in Santa Barbara and other matters arising from it. When I read it a few light bulbs went off in my head but nothing I could quite put my finger on exactly. I just knew that certain words were jumping out at me and that I had a sense of something. Since then I’ve been thinking – dangerous pastime – and I’ve read a number of other things and heard some more that make me want to put the ideas together into some sort of coherent thought. I’ll let you be the judge of that. I know what I mean.

First off, I’ve mentioned in the past that I’m a teacher. Kids who come under my radar are aged 3 to 12. I’ve been doing this job now for over thirty years. And I’ve seen changes not only in the way children are taught but in the children themselves. In the past, I would occasionally come across a child with behaviour issues. It might not even have been in my own class but there were always at least a few in any school who were known to all the staff as ‘problem children’.

Nowadays, only having one or two in a class would be a miracle. And I’m talking from the earliest classes here. The youngest age group. Behaviour problems that beg to be addressed and solutions to be found. Not for the teacher’s sake although, god knows, it’s a damn sight easier to teach children who are prepared to be taught than to root out the reasons why so many children demonstrate disturbed behaviour.

No, the reason the problems need addressing is because the behaviour of these children impacts negatively on the learning environment and on the other children present in the class. Not to mention the fact that the children who have the problems are among some of the most unhappy little people you may ever come across. Their unhappiness though impacts on society as a whole. Now, in the present time. And later, when problematic becomes unmanaged and unmanageable. Later, when children are grown to adults and they carry with them the scars of a childhood that should never have been.

The job I’ve been doing the last nine years or so is called Area Cover. I go to many different schools as and when required, taking whatever class the headteacher needs me to cover. Sometimes it’s for a year, sometimes for half a day. Mostly it’s for a number of weeks or months at a time. I love it. Prior to doing Area Cover I was in the same school all the time and I got fed up with school politics and the same faces. Also, I had a bad bout of depression around that time and resigned from teaching. Just like that.

One of the reasons I probably was so depressed was that I had a child in my class that year who was a real problem. Not to me. I loved him. But his life was a Dickensian novel. His mother was a prostitute at home to feed her drug habit, his father was in prison and he was left responsible for a two year old child. He begged for food around doors in his neighbourhood – quite a tough one – and came to school late every day. He got into fights with the other children, he used language that they were mostly scandalised at and he had a whole lot  more to worry about than whether he had his homework with him. He was too busy dealing with life in its most raw form.

At a meeting with his social worker and the head teacher I sat, waiting for his guardian – an aunt who had deigned to accommodate him under the stairs, a la Harry Potter – to make an appearance. She didn’t. Meanwhile, I was fretting that my own children, being minded by my mum, would be wondering where I was and why I wasn’t home yet. The social worker talked of this and that and how the problem would continue to grow as we saw more children being born to drug addicts and the children themselves going on to become parents and not knowing how to parent. I could feel my heart sinking inside like a stone and I just wanted to get home to my own kids to hold them and hug them and let them know that they were loved.

The meeting was abandoned and I drove home the three or four miles in my minibus – our then family vehicle to accommodate the five children I already had and the sixth I was expecting.

I cried all the way home, picked up my own kids, and then spoke to my husband that night about the boy in my class and how I just wanted to bring him home. This was not an option but I couldn’t shake the feeling that this child would be ok if only he had love and normality.

I went off on maternity leave shortly afterwards and never returned. Every time I thought of going back I thought of this boy who had eventually been taken into care, probably with no likelihood of fostering or adoption. His problems would have made him unwanted by many. And he had done nothing to deserve it. Except be born. His hand had been dealt and it was shit.

That was around twelve years ago. Every class then had a kid with some problem or other although his was by far and away the worst, at that time, that I’d ever come across.

Now, by nature of the job I do, I see cases like his to different degrees. I’m in and out of ‘good areas’ and ‘bad areas’ but the problems occur right across the spectrum.

Which kind of brings me to one of the words that Twindaddy used in his post. Asperger’s.

Given that I teach in so many schools and so many classes I do, naturally, encounter children with a range of difficulties. Asperger’s is just one form of autism on the Autistic Spectrum. And I still require help in managing the many different aspects of autism that I may encounter. Not being an expert on it means that I look to the experts for help in doing the best I can to aid learning for children whose needs are different than the norm. This year, for the first time, I’ve also worked with children with mental impairment and/or physical disabilities. The first time left me shell-shocked and in need of wine at the end of the day.

Then I began to enjoy it in a way I hadn’t expected. The challenge of reaching children whose difficulties were more than the average expected proved exciting in a way I wouldn’t have believed. I accidentally one day had a child in stitches laughing and tried to remember what I’d said that had communicated itself to her when usually she sat in her wheelchair unable to speak but obviously taking in more than I’d given her credit for. Then I realised I hadn’t said anything special, just spoken to her as I’d speak to any of the other children I usually teach. I’d made some remark that she’d found funny and as soon as I realised the range of her understanding it became a challenge with me to see if I could get her and a few others laughing. Maybe that’s not my job. But, faced with children who appear to be incapable of normal interaction and discovering that their abilities and difficulties varied hugely all in one class, inspired for me a new way to work with them than my initial reaction had suggested. My perceptions were wrong.

What I do know is that while they had learning difficulties this in no way reflected the level of violence they were capable of. Most of them were pussy cats. One or two certainly could kick off and would invariably turn over a chair or two before taking themselves off to a conveniently padded room that allowed them to vent their anger/frustrations in safety.

We don’t have padded rooms as a matter of course attached to classrooms. That’s only in those units where the risk is deemed sufficient to protect the child from themselves.

But. And this is a big but. In mainstream classes I have wished, for the sake of the children concerned, that there were such rooms. There are children deemed to be normal whose behaviours are violent and aggressive and whose only apparent recourse is venting in action and voice. And then tears.

These are not happy children. These are not ‘normal’ children because their childhoods are not normal. In almost every case there are facts that become apparent that explain the reasons for their behaviour. And, behind every one, there is at least one adult whose inability to parent effectively, for whatever reasons,  is a major factor in their child’s behaviour and unhappiness.

And if you’re unhappy in childhood what chance do you have for a normal adulthood, free of mental torment?

Which kind of brings me to Rene’s post Monkeys and Morality from Hank Green, one half of the brother team who, through their online vlogs, seek to educate a world to more than video games and shallow thought. Their bite-sized education should be compulsory for many if not all parents and adults who seek to understand how we as humans tick. This particular video addresses significant areas in child development. This is the stuff I studied at college. I have no idea whether it is still taught to teachers although I have my doubts based on certain information I’m gathering around education, how it’s taught and what training is given to future educators. Whole other post. And a rather worrying one.

Children are not small adults. That’s the main thing. Their normal development is dependent on kind touch and an authoritative but understanding parenting style that guides but explains. It is dependent on interaction from parents/carers that expresses concern and love in a way that we think everyone knows but not all practise.

The results of non-contact as outlined in the video and conducted as an experiment on monkeys a fair number of years ago reflects the many negative aspects of absence of parental contact and care-giving. It is so worth a watch. (11.38 mins worth)

The unfortunate infant monkey in the experiment manifested self-abusive behaviours and later went on to become incapable of parenting when allowed to breed. It had no idea what to do. How could it? Imagine generations of the same scenario.

Imagine generations of the same scenario among humans. Humans with their supposedly greater capacity to reason and communicate. We don’t have to imagine. It is happening now. Where we live. Everywhere. There are children being born to parents whose neglect of love in a meaningful way is and has been impacting on the capabilities subsequent generations have to show love. Both for themselves and for others.

I’d say that affects mental health. It doesn’t perhaps cover all range of mental illnesses and the reasons for them. But it sure goes some way to understanding why so many suffer in ways that cannot be explained or diagnosed through medical knowledge and why so many have need of psychiatric assistance to unravel the damage often done in the earliest formative years.

So are any of us normal?

I’m thinking of my own parents here. My father was a strict man. He had standards of behaviour he expected us to live by. But he was also very loving and explained the world to us in ways we could understand. My mother was more of a soft mark when it came to getting what we wanted but she was also no pushover and tempered giving with explanations of why certain things had to be, the practicalities of life. She opened up a world of questions for us and allowed free speech in a way that my dad sometimes overruled by virtue of his fatherhood.  The ‘because I said so’ school.

Between the two of them I guess there was a balance. But does that mean I’m normal? I have suffered from depression off and on since I was about twelve. I get angst ridden about the world, my world, my ability to cope with certain aspects of life. Then I come out of it.

I’ve called myself here an optimistic depressive. Then I came across a blog post, that I can’t remember where, put my phraseology into another light. So now I’m a flexible optimist. I do believe that most things turn out for the best and trust way too often when experience should have taught me otherwise. Maybe I’m just a bit thick in that department. But it’s who I am and I accept it. Just as I accept that there will be times when my flexible optimism takes a bit of a nose dive and leaves me wondering WTF?

I’m operating on a spectrum. A range of feelings and emotions and life-experiences that colour how I perceive and react to the good and bad stuff that happens to us all. So, sometimes I cope. Sometimes I don’t. Then I do again.

Since I started here just over a year ago I have come to realise, in a way that I might never otherwise have, that pretty much everybody appears to be operating on this spectrum of mental health. And I kind of think that’s normal. Maybe we should stop thinking of mental health as the presence or absence of an illness diagnosed or otherwise and perhaps perceive it as a spectrum we all operate on, sometimes verging on the extremes for one reason or another be it chemical or circumstantial but with each of us sliding along it dependent on our ability to cope with any given set of circumstances at any given time based on life experiences and the tools to cope with them.

Or would that be a Copernican idea too far?

And what the hell does all of this have to do with guns? Or the control of them?

You might be aware that here in the UK we don’t have the ‘right to bear arms’ either selectively interpreting the Second Amendment or otherwise. Our police aren’t armed either. Except in exceptional circumstances. I haven’t really weighed in on this in the past because I’ve thought that others might think, ‘Shut the fuck up. This has nothing to do with you.’ And maybe it hasn’t.

But an outside perspective, I’ve decided, can sometimes help. That’s my reasoning. And I’m sticking to it.

It seems every time there is an atrocity committed that a reason behind it has to be found. That a possible diagnosis of mental illness can excuse or explain why someone takes a gun and essentially executes innocents. But I think that’s a cop out. How many people do you know who have mental health issues and how many of those are likely to harm anyone in that way other than possibly themselves?

Of those I have taught and those I still do I could lay bets on who would likely be the perpetrator of such an act and the most likely candidates I can think of given their penchant for violence and aggression are those who live with that as their childhood. And even that doesn’t signify that they would. They’re much more likely to commit suicide too. Or go on to inflict the same rotten childhood on their own young in the absence of any better example or overriding desire. But, if I were to seek reasons why someone randomly opens fire I’d be looking at their childhood for answers. Who we become is formed essentially in the earliest of years. What scars we carry or otherwise remain until relieved in some way.

If screening for mental health issues were to become a factor in determining who should have the right to carry a gun then that would have to be extended to all those who have had a childhood of violence or neglect or control or laxity. That’s a lot of screening. And who knows who might slip through? Could be the police officer who rescues an abused or neglected child and whose own mental trigger determines whether that parent should live or die.

We are too complex as beings to determine these things based on some random testing. We are too complex as beings to be judged on mental stability based on others’ perceptions of what mental health and illness are. But, even monkeys know that love and nurture determine how we perceive the world around us. And that its absence muddies the colours of the spectrum of life from one end to the other.

Asperger’s when mentioned in TD’s post got me thinking about how so much of life is on a spectrum of one sort or another. Happiness/sadness. Pain/joy. Reality/unreality. Positivity/negativity. Knowledge/ignorance. Love/hate. Right/wrong. Evil/goodness. Innocence/guilt.  Everything in between is deemed normal. But we all shift on the spectrums. For good or bad. We cope sometimes. We don’t sometimes. Our perceptions change and reflect circumstances and mitigating factors.

Maybe, in any extreme, there will always be the potential for someone to snap and react in a totally shocking way. Whether by gun or knife or any other weapon. Arming a population with guns – and I would include police here – increases the risk of greater damage than would otherwise be the case. Who can possibly know the internal workings of any mind and whose hand might itch to avenge their own unhappiness? The child that snaps in class may have been sitting quite calmly five minutes earlier before erupting over apparently nothing. I don’t want an unhappy anyone armed for more than turning over a few chairs with no padded room available to let off steam.

I don’t know what’s normal and what’s not other than what we perceive in general terms but how many of us fit into the general?

I’m choosing to see normal as life operating on various spectrums, all interconnected, all having significance. It won’t cure mental illnesses where medical diagnosis says medicate. It won’t change children and adults who operate on the Autistic Spectrum when recognised. All it changes for me is my perception. That maybe there are many spectrums we don’t yet think of. For me, my own little Copernican Revolution. Something of a shift in my cosmos.

Arse now bent over for a kicking. I’m hoping I’ve been more lucid than I suspect I have but I did want to get this down.

I had been attempting to comment on another much more succinct post on the subject of gun control when I lost it all to my kindle. It was getting way too long-winded anyway. Much like this post. If you’ve reached the end here, thank you for reading all the way through. I don’t even know if I’ve answered all my own thoughts on this. I’ll probably mull away some more especially if feedback suggests I’m way off mark or there are other things I should have weighted more.

Anyway, thanks for reading. Not only this post but all the bits and pieces I write. And thanks too for all that you write that gives me food for thought. Even if those thoughts are scattered at times.

Disparity

So, here’s a joke for you.  I was sharing this in a comment with a fellow blogger. Thought you might like it too. Laughter. Good for the soul, you know. And, apparently, it can help you sleep……

A mother is concerned at the disparity between the personalities of her twin sons. One is an eternal optimist, the other a complete pessimist. She wants to find out why so trots them off to a child psychologist who speaks to both boys. At the end of the session, he tells the mum to bring them both back on their next birthday. He’s asked them both what they would like.
She returns with the boys on their birthday and the psychologist takes the pessimistic child into a room, a room full of every type of toy he had mentioned. The child’s response? ‘Not really what I asked for. That’s the wrong kind of bike. I wanted a BMX. I don’t like the colour of that computer. It all sucks.’
Oh dear.
The second – optimistic – child is taken to a room where an enormous pile of shite lies steaming. The boy dives into and starts throwing it here, there and everywhere.
The psychologist is horrified and asks desperately, ‘What are you doing?!’
To which the child replies, ‘This amount of shite! There’s gotta be a pony in here somewhere.’

Ta da! Like? I love it. It kinda describes differences in my own offspring. ;) x

Benevolent Dictatorship: Deceased

There’s a twelve-man tent in my garden and it’s interfering with one of my washing lines.

Last night, it was erected without my knowledge. I do not know what is going on in my own house. But, apparently, some children are in rebellion.

My house, my rules. Sorry, our house, our rules. Nope, I was right the first time. I like to call it a benevolent dictatorship. A certain amount of freedom, an equal amount of responsibility and ‘do as you’re told when I say’.

It works for me.

And for them, apparently.

Because, I didn’t say they couldn’t put the tent up.

They didn’t ask. But, it goes something like this.

Kid:- Do you think we should maybe air the tent before we go camping?’

Me:- (Not really listening.) Probably.

Kid:- I could do it.

Me:- Mmmmm?

So, that, it would seem constitutes agreement now in my household. No flat out refusal. No affirmative, per se. But, a blank, unconscious ‘Mmmmm?’

A subtle appeal to dad, who does, of course, ask, ‘Did Mum say OK?’

Their answer, a version of, ‘Mmmmm.’

So, last night, my three youngest, 6,11,15 and several friends of my 15year old, camped out in the garden while I crept upstairs and gladdened my heart with a King-sized bed and my duvet, remembering soon that I will be there and calling it fun.

The back door was left open all night to allow for toilet breaks in the midst of their midnight feast. My kitchen was pretty much wrecked this morning, apologies abounding from every quarter.

They cleared it up. But they had an agenda. They’re doing it all again tonight.

I have a feeling that my benevolent dictatorship days are fast disappearing beyond the horizon.

Maybe I’m mellowing, thinking, ‘Aw, who gives a shit? The kids are having a laugh.’

Thank God, I’ve got great neighbours.

Sunday Up The Braes

Sunday comes.

We fetch our summer buckets; gaily coloured, red, blue, yellow and green. In a while, the plastic pails will hold Autumn’s fruits. Dad holds hands with one or other of us, alternating as each child takes a turn to race ahead. We skip along, stopping to check the hedgerows, trying to spot the nests that are hidden there. And, when we do, a proud cry goes up.

‘I’ve found one!’

We count the eggs but do not touch. We have been warned. None of us wants to be responsible for the mother bird’s non-return. Dad’s previous instructions are always bidden; his wisdom heeded, if not always completely understood.

We examine the markings on the eggs and note their colour. Dad identifies them. Sometimes we are proud to remember their names from earlier lessons. We scan the skies for the parents and wait quietly some way off to see if any bird spotted will return to the nest while we watch.

‘They never go too far away,’ says Dad. ‘They protect their young.’

The air is fresh and there is a crispness that makes it pleasant to take deep breaths.

‘Breathe deeply,’ says Dad, ‘in through your nose and out through your mouth. It’s good for you.’

We all inhale deeply and the smell of manure sails down tubes to eager lungs. Two or three deep breaths render us dizzy. One of us starts to turn in circles, arms outstretched, going madly round; adding in a fun way to the light-headedness of the moment.

In a twirl of excitement, we reach the woods and our first activity is to retrieve our home-made swing; hidden in the undergrowth on a previous week. We always expect someone else to have found it. We are always pleased to discover that they have not.

Dad ties the long rope to one of our favourite trees. Legs astride the swing’s strong branch, we take turns. We throw our heads back laughing, shouting for a turn, laughing in turn. We swing back and forth and round and round; sometimes pushing, sometimes being pushed. We swing until the fun in doing so is exhausted. The moment of completeness coincides with Dad calling on us. It is time to light the fire.

Collecting twigs is a competition. Are they dry? Will they burn? I’ve brought most. Look at me. I’ve done well. Dad’s praises are limited, directed and precise.

He smokes his pipe and leans against a suitable-sized rock; his legs outstretched to the fire we are preparing. We place the kindling in the middle of the stones already selected and positioned in a neat circle. Dad has previously shown us how to light a fire. Little bits of dried grass catch the flame, while gentle blowing helps it along. Soon the twigs burn and the smell …….I remember it still.

 

Every time I smell wood burn, I think of Dad and those days up the braes. Childish feet walking to a known destination where freedom, fun and adventure unfolded under Dad’s sparse but timely advices.

How I wanted one of the penknives my brothers used, to whittle little twigs to pointed ends that then pierced the potatoes Dad always magicked from hidden pockets.

We roasted those potatoes on our little fire. The boys, who were older, were permitted to turn them with their pointed sticks while my sister and I enviously watched this grown-up activity and wondered when our moment would come.

The potatoes burned nicely on the outside while eventually softened enough inside to eat with tentative fingers. We slugged milk, bought for pennies from the nearby farm. Creamy milk and hot potatoes hit stomachs only aware of hunger pangs when the activity stopped. No thought was given to whether the milk had been pasteurised or not or whose germs we shared in the communal drinking.

Sometimes Dad brought his billy-can and we shared sips of his tea, made from boiling water pilfered from a cattle trough. I was afraid of the cows, sure that they resented my unsuccessful forays at their watering hole. On more than one occasion I had to be rescued by one brother or other. While I stood transfixed by a mucous-laden cow, one of them would fetch the water, patronisingly reassuring me that the cow would not hurt me.

Even after eating, the day was still not over. My brothers carved their names in a broken-down tree, alongside an earlier week’s initials. The tree was our friend and plaything. Lying on its side, from whatever disaster had befallen it; its roots were exposed in a spreading mass. Sufficient exertion on our parts raised its purpose to a magnificent see-saw. Living trees were forbidden us. Nothing else was. There was only one rule. Do not hurt anything. That one rule enfolded us and all of nature in a protective embrace. And so we played freely.

We jumped burns, found special stones and leaves and spread all our treasures out for Dad’s perusal and identification. We only partly took in his words; understanding to follow at another time.

We scattered soil onto the dwindled fire to completely extinguish its living flame. We hid the swing again. Penknives were already closed and we trod the homeward journey.

Now birds were warming eggs in nests already spotted and not. Our bramble buckets were half-empty, the contents already mostly consumed earlier in the day. Dessert before dinner. Etiquette unbound. No silly rules to be observed. Just one rule; respecting the natural order of life. And that one was strict.

Dad’s walks up the braes were an adventure, giving Mum a break with younger siblings only to be attended to. The dinner she had prepared was always eaten with less relish than her efforts deserved. Stomachs full of brambles, potatoes and milk could not enthuse. Eventually Mum learned to abandon the Sunday dinner rule on such days. A plate of home-made soup was more than sufficient.

Faces rosy. Hands dirty. Smiles wide. Sunday bath-time followed.

 

                                                                                                                        

Letter to Mum

(7/2/10)

Dear Mum,

I can’t give this to you or send it but maybe if I write something down it will help me and, if I can clarify my thoughts and feelings, I’ll be able to talk to you.

There’s a hole in me that’s you-shaped. I miss knowing you; knowing that you’re down the road, physically present. I miss not being able to show my love for you. The love I had and have for you – only for you – has nowhere to go. The love of a child for its parent is exactly that. Where can I send it? It isn’t lost. It hasn’t gone. But I’ve nowhere to give it or send it.

Maybe when Dad died I was able to take that love and give more of it to you. But you’re both gone now and the love is trapped inside of me. It wells up and makes me cry.

Maybe without your own parents and without my Dad you took all of that love and transferred it to us – your children and your grandchildren. I felt the measure of that love and I miss that too.

How exactly were you able to transfer it? If that is what you did. Or maybe no – one ever can. Some loves are just for some people. The love I have for all the people in my life stems from the same source but the difference is there in each one.

I want to reach out my arms to you and hear you speak to me. But I’m afraid. I’m afraid of what I’ll hear and that I won’t cope with your words. Maybe you’re already speaking and I’m refusing to listen.