Bare Legs, Brambles, and Broken Glass

This morning I woke up really late, after not be able (willing!) to fall asleep last night. There was sunshine for the first time in ages, I heard a basketball bouncing, I heard my children shouting and my wife laughing.

My FOMO kicked in, and I threw a fleece robe over my bare body, slipped on some Crocs, grabbed a coffee, and went outside. I’m nothing if not classy. I sat on some inherited-from-my-sister wicker furniture, which is in an awkward bit of my garden. As in, a foot away and facing our greenhouse, which got broken in the last major storm. So broken glass carefully picked up and on the wall behind me, the greenhouse’s snarl of brambles now exploding out of the broken pane, and my naked ass sat out in that sunshine.

It’s not a bad place to start over.

My wife was trying to do more clearing of our personal jungle – I started earlier in the week, arms shaking from the weight of whatever you call those giant clipper things, leaving brambles all over the ground and trampoline. The kids were cleaning off the trampoline. Here we all were, on the sixth morning of our self isolation due to the Coronavirus.

Last week we started social distancing. Thursday we went to a remote part of Wales and down a mine with friends. Friday we went to the park. We were skipping all classes at that point, but still around people. Saturday was the last really risky day – one child at her beloved drama school, the other at his newly found basketball classes. It was too much for me. I was done.

Sunday Suzy and I were meant to go to Story Slam, which is a really great monthly event here in Bristol. Each month has a theme – origins, pride, growth, fire – and anyone can put their name in the hat for a chance to tell a five minute true story about their life, or fill in an anonymous slip to be read out. I’ve done both several times, and while I love being on stage, I also always walk away feeling really privileged to have heard other people’s stories. So it was a wrench to cancel that event and stay home, though the kids went to their grandparents for a couple of hours. I don’t think I really understood that that would be the last time they saw these five-minute-away grandparents for many weeks, many months, perhaps a year and a half.

Monday Suzy went to work. Monday night I told her I couldn’t take it anymore. By then, scientific reports were making the situation pretty clear, as was the horror stories coming from Italy.

Tuesday she stopped going to work; she’s lucky to be able to work from home, for now. Wednesday, her company moved to having everyone work from home. She went out Tuesday morning to pick up some supplies, but myself and the kids have solidly been in since late Sunday afternoon.

With the many (too little, too late) government announcements this week, slowing society down step by step, it was made clear that anyone in a high risk group needs to self isolate for an initial period of twelve weeks. I *think* that starts Monday, but for us it’s happening already. Two of us have (mild) asthma, but one of us has strong enough anxiety that she (spoiler: me) is taking the self isolation thing seriously. I don’t want to take risks; I don’t want to expose other people to risk.

I didn’t know where to start this post. With my twenty four hour mini breakdown earlier this week, with that evening I couldn’t stop crying? With taking up cross stitching in an effort to stop picking up my phone and becoming overloaded? With the walk I took with my family one night, where we didn’t see another living soul?

Or maybe this:

We had a delivery dropped off a couple of days ago. I opened the door, explained we were self isolating, and just asked the man to please put the delivery on the floor. He asked if we were okay and wished us the best. He started back to his car, then turned and asked if we needed anything. We did. Milk. And a cucumber, the mainstay of one of my children’s diets.

He asked me to give him ten minutes. I ran around, digging for the change to pay him. Then I heard the knock at the door.

I opened it, and he was already driving away, no payment required. He rolled his window down and gave me a big thumbs up, as I shouted, ‘Thank you!’ He left a big four pit of milk and two cucumbers on our doorstep.

People are good. Small acts of kindness help our mental and physical health. Smiling at each other is not in quarantine.

Stay safe and well, all. I have a feeling I’m going to be back here a lot. Please do leave comments, message, whatever. We all need to keep in touch. I’m on facebook as Alison May – you can also find me there at Adventures in Unschooling, which links to my main profile in a few shared places. I’m making a lot of stuff visible publicly. I’m also sporadically on Instagram and Twitter as @alisonmariemay (I won’t be accepting facebook friend requests from people I don’t know or haven’t chatted with, but am always open to a chat in the comments section!) I’ve also caved and downloaded TikTok, which I shamefully love, but I’ve yet to post anything there. However, I have watched a lot of gay men lip synching and people dancing on rollerskates.

What if the future is even better than the past?

There’s something bittersweet about watching my children have these fleeting moments that are echoes of my childhood. I spent virtually every summer on the water, in the water, listening and smelling and loving the water. My grandparents had a boat, and I loved to sit on the front of it while the boat sped along the waves (and looking back, my life was probably at risk! But how wonderful it was.).

We are in America now. My children are on their grandparents’ boat, on the water, in the water. It smells like sunshine and water weeds. They are joyfully piloting the boat, asking to swim in the centre of a lake bigger than they ever knew existed.

It makes me happy; it makes me sad. What sort of life would they have if we lived in America? Specifically, this bit of America with water and huge lakes everywhere, lakes so big they look like the ocean.

I think nostalgia overwhelms me when I get on a boat. I could sit here all day. But I’m wary of letting that nostalgia put this life on a pedestal. Maybe one day my children will be watching their children live the life my kids had when they were little. No regular boats, no jumping off pontoons.

But maybe my future grandchildren will splash along rivers, play deep in the dappled woods, feel the magic of dancing around a campfire as the sun sets. And my kids will look, and sigh, and feel nostalgic and wonder what if, even as my grandchildren create their own childhood memories.

And so the cycle goes.

Untangling.

It’s so easy to get tangled up in this world, whatever your age. Wondering who you are and how you fit in, adapting to change, navigating relationships and friendships, exploring the world in the way that feels true to you.

Sometimes it’s important to find a little corner of peace, a place to untangle yourself. A spot where, whether for ten minutes or ten hours, you find a way to give yourself time and space. Doesn’t matter if you then distract yourself, burrow in, create something, whatever.

When you find that little oasis, take it for what it is. And when you are lucky enough to be with someone else when they find it, keep quiet and let them be. The most complex and confusing relationship any of us have, and the one that has the potential to yield a lot of growth and contentment, is the one we have with ourselves.

Unschooling in adults.

I know a man who exemplifies what unschooling looks like when you’re an adult. My friend’s husband is someone I think of when I think about how my life isn’t ‘unschooling my children’ – I’m not doing something to them, I’m providing space and facilitation for them to do it themselves. And lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how the framework and ideals of unschooling aren’t just great for kids, but for adults, too.

This guy I know? He sort of throws himself into trying things out and learning new ways to do stuff. He follows his interests and consequently is a very interesting person. I’ve not hung out with him loads, but I’m always impressed when I do. He doesn’t hesitate to grab any child’s hands to help them learn to roller skate. He brims over with enthusiasm and will talk to anyone of any age about mutual interests. He does what brings him joy, without seeming to care much what others think of him.

I hope these are some of the things I’m helping to instill in my children. The joy of following your curiosity, to not be afraid of being a beginner, the inner resources to know how to find outer support and knowledge.

I hope when they are my age they are excited about life and all the possibilities still open to them. I hope they are willing to try, even if they feel exposed and afraid and silly. I hope my children continue to have such a strong inner compass and the courage to follow where the needle leads, especially when the poles seem to switch places.

If only we all embodied these ideals, what a fascinating place the world will be. We all have our stories, and it’s great to try to enrich your own story….and to take the time to hear someone else’s.

Embracing the unknown is a tall task, but what better opportunity to learn what that feels like than right here and now? What have you wanted to try that you’ve put off? Who are the people you want around you when you do it? What can you do today to answer a question you’ve had, experience something you’ve always wanted to try, figure out a way to make a first step?

Mine was as simple as finding the right tool for the job. I spent £11 on a wireless keyboard and finding a lightweight, cheap way to write (using my phone as the computer) is filling up holes that were so big I thought I just had to learn to live with them.

In case you need to hear it: I believe in you.

Finding my religion.

Walking in this river as the sun sets, stopping regularly to talk to the women I’m with, is as close to religion as I’ll get.

The woo side of me thinks about the power of a circle of women standing in running water, sharing truths as the water both carries things toward us and away from us.

The child in me loves the exploring, the delight in allowing ourselves to fear the really deep bit that appeared to grab our giant stick and drag it down.

The fearful/brave me likes testing my body out, doing things I couldn’t have dreamed about when I spent my life tethered to a wheelchair and crutches.

The asshole in me likes laughing when a friend screams and almost falls in.

The friend in me likes holding hands to keep our balance, and holding each others’ words….to keep our balance.

So this is my religion. Open skies, trees hanging low and lush, river rapidly darkening so it’s hard to see where to place my feet. Talking and laughing and sharing under the hidden stars, exploring just a little bit further, really being in the here and now instead of thinking about the past or planning for the future.

It’s reminding myself how great it is to figure out what I need, ask people who wants to join me, and things aligning enough in a few busy lives to come together and create space.

It’s fun.

I don’t know if we’ll do it again, if the same people will come, if those who couldn’t come this time will come to the next, but none of it matters.

We walked, we stood still. We laughed, we cried. We lost our balance and found it again.

If that’s not religion, I don’t know what is.

Sometimes I feel like I know what life is, but I’m still not certain I’m right.

This time forty years ago, my mother would have been nearing her due date, a tiny me inside her and waiting to come out. This time ten years ago, my belly was stretched and full, my children both waiting to come out.

I came out late, they came out early, but all three of us had the same due date.

My great grandparents also waited, on a sea rather in it, as they sailed to a new life in America. Almost exactly one hundred years later, I stepped on a plane and spent eight hours wondering what my new life in England would look like.

It feels like there are a lot of connections in life, a lot of circles. A lot of meaning.

Sometimes I feel like I need to find more meaning, or I long to create more meaning; sometimes it feels like it’s been a long time since there’s been a Big Moment, or a Big Adventure, or a Big (hopefully positive) Change.

But really, life is a series of small moments. A few are ‘big,’ but most are ‘small.’

Life is a friend threading some string through a hagstone for me, so I can hang it from my neck as we watch our children climb up sandy dunes and jump down again.

Life is laughing as another friend educates a five year old about the band on her t shirt, blasting music and us singing together while the five year old looks on with a curious combination of polite bemusement and joy.

Life is trying to stay awake as I drive across the city late at night, listening to the soundtrack of Hamilton and rapping along with the lyrics I’ve memorised.

It’s staying up talking till 4:30 am with my wife for the first time in years. It’s how tired my body feels the next day, but how energised my heart feels.

It’s walking up a river in flimsy sandals with friends, as the sky darkens faster than expected and we laugh about crazy river monsters and howling monkeys watching from the trees. It’s a text from my mother reminding me that it was my grandmother’s birthday this week, even as I think about how her death impacts me still.

Life is remembering and creating and trying and being unable to move. It’s pain and obsessing and loving and messy. It’s figuring out how to honour and express your own truth while still trying to be kind and thoughtful.

It’s a lot of big figurings out, but it’s also small noticings. The way I feel when my kid is finding things rough. The way her hands look as she holds a trophy that is so much more than just a bit of gold plating, the way his words tumble out faster and faster as he tells me the plot of the latest book he wants to write. It’s observing how hard I thought it would be to stay calm when we’re running late, but how surprised I feel when I just let it go.

Life is my fingers on this keyboard. The yellow string I’ve tied around my wrist to remind me. The choice to drink Dr Pepper Zero this late at night even when I know caffeine screws me up and I might have to wake up early to go to a circus (of flipping and soaring humans, not animals).

It’s the texts I’ve just gotten from a friend we saw today, saying her children are vomiting like small explosive volcanos. It’s me, trying to not stress about an upcoming transatlantic flight with my children who may consequently be vomiting 38,000 miles above Earth, whilst hoping my friend doesn’t have a hellish, puke covered evening of no sleep.

Life is being the immigrant granddaughter of immigrant ancestors. Criss-crossing the globe, or running the palms of my hands over my belly, as my mother did before me.

It’s all the experience. It’s all growth, even when it’s so boring and I’m so exhausted I almost fall asleep as soon as I sit still. I’m learning what it means to really be human, and slowly understanding that it’s as simple as noticing, breathing, participating, and being.

I’ll probably forget this tomorrow. I’ll be rushed and I’ll be hot, we’ll be stressed and I’ll wonder why I can’t just have a few hours alone in a dark room watching Netflix. Then maybe I’ll get a few hours tomorrow night, and I’ll beat myself up for ‘wasting’ it doing ‘nothing.’

That’s hard. But sometimes, it’s hard being a human. I’m still learning. I’m still here.

My lucky day.

Last night felt rough, but also sort of good because I had people to tell how I was feeling. Even if it wasn’t detailed, even if it was only to say, ‘I’m not okay.’

I woke up determined to try to live life as a productive person.  We are going abroad soon, and I have a million and one things to do before we go.  One of those things was taking my son for a haircut.

While there, I had the best chat with the barbers (the woman cutting M’s hair, and the man who was working on other people). Life’s purpose sort of stuff.  Passion, following your own joy and curiosity – the sort of thing you see on Gilmore Girls and wonder who actually talks like that.  Well, this guy in the barbershop, that’s who.

He overheard me saying to M’s barber that I wished I could shave my head again, but that my wife had said a woman of my age with a shaved head would look like she was seriously ill.  The male barber leapt out from behind his mirror and said, ‘I’ll shave your head, right now, for free.’ And he did.

It felt sort of great and synchronous. Only that morning I’d been saying to Suzy I needed  a new haircut, and it needed to involve shaving at least part of my head.

This was the second little miracle of the day, but the one that feels amazing.  Even if I only just realised that with the rest of my hair up in a messy bun on top of my head, I look like a pineapple from behind.

Today has reminded me that lots of positive things are out there waiting, if you put your needs out there and then are brave enough to just go with it when an opportunity presents itself.

So to those kind barbers, thank you. I’m a very happy pineapple, and I’ll be back.