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.

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.

Alone in a boat.

A study of me, as a child:

I’m in a canoe.

Every summer I’m out here, on an island within an island. I’m alone with my grandmother who cannot swim, yet somehow gives me the ultimate freedom to disappear on the water every day for hours.  She doesn’t seem to worry or fret; she’s just this benign presence who makes me food when I appear.  We watch the same tv programmes together every evening, out there in the pitch black, where there is always the sound of water.  She scratches my back lightly while I fall asleep, and I am happy.

In this canoe, I go the places she probably expects I’ll go.  This place is full of endless canals, off a channel of water big enough to hold huge freighters and the occasional navy ship.  This water is the border between two countries, full of waves and depth and wind.

I learn the canals, intimately.  I know which bridges require me to actually lay down in the bottom on the boat, and which I can just squeak through by bending over as flat as I can. I know which banks have rusty, inexplicable metal sticking out of the sand far enough to scrape the canoe.  I go and I go and I go.  I make up stories in my head as I circle old houses, built long before I was born, and everything smells sort of green and fishy.

But I go places she doesn’t expect.  I go into the channel.  I’m alone, I’m eight years old, I’ve never worn a life jacket.  I think nothing of taking my canoe into the channel.  I stick near the sides, away from the racing speed boats, away from the sucking power of the freighters, but I don’t go too close to the breakwalls, because I know too well that a few big waves can make for a scary couple of minutes when you’re being pushed into a steel wall and no one knows where you are.

Sometimes I stay in the channel only long enough to break into the next series of canals.  Sometimes I go out there just for the exhilaration of it, paddling till I’ve had enough, then turning around to head back.  Sometimes I go out there to sit in the canoe that should be too large for a young child, rising and falling deliciously, boat rocking from side to side.

I know how to angle the canoe (and my grandfather’s motorboat, for that matter!) into the waves to minimise risk of being plunged into the rough, cold water.  I know how to turn, how to manoeuvre, how to get through tight spots without touching either side. No one taught me.

In that boat, the little me knew what it was to steer through a dark, aluminium tunnel and shout to hear the echo.  I took nothing.  No food, no toys.  And while the younger me was always glued to a book, I took no book with me.  It was hours alone, and I was never lonely, and it was perfect.  A shining memory that I can still feel, decades after all the other memories are clouded and tear filled.

Sometimes I worry about a child I know, who seems to struggle with friendships and self-identity and, quite simply, too many people.

But today I remembered me.  Me that was alone, that was so happy, that had that one woman back on the island.  That island, and my grandmother, both my safe harbours.  School playground me was alone, or verbally fighting with whoever my best friend was at the minute.  She was alone, and she was lonely.  She knew she was different, but she couldn’t figure out why. But island me? She was wild, and free. She trusted her body, she trusted the boat, she needed nothing other than a paddle and her own thoughts.

She grew up okay.  She’s got friends.  She is good with people.  She is funny and trusting and vulnerable.  Little me would be proud.  And I think this other child I know, they need a lot of alone time and me….I think I need to allow that space.  I’ll be there to provide food, to read books with, to be there when I am needed.  That kid reminds me of me, and I’ll tell you a secret I didn’t really understand until right this minute: little me was pretty fucking amazing. Just the way she was.

A love letter.

I see you.

I see that getting out of bed is a victory sometimes, how these small-yet-huge tasks you do make you into an isolated hero.  I see you making tough decisions between financially supporting your family and emotionally supporting them; you weigh things up, you are doing your best.

I see how you try to sort out your own complications without passing them onto your children; your smile is so beautiful and I wonder if you realise that.  I see you, brave enough to start a life across the world, and brave enough to start a new life within that country. Possibilities surround you because you are strong enough to create them, even when you cry alone in the night.

I see your questions, your doubts, your deep desire to do the right thing;  I see your questioning is so fierce because it matches the weight of your love.  I see how you fought to expand your family, and how you fight to make sure every member of your family is supported and thriving.  Even when it tears you apart.

I see you with your young child, struggling to fit the skin of your evolving identity; you will get there, you are getting there, things will change and expand. Your mind is a joy to get to know.

I see your patience and humour and gentleness, even when you might feel frustrated; you’re always there with quiet encouragement and ready laughter. I see you with your hands full of homemade food, children, and the books that help you be so thoughtful about the sort of person you are. The sort of person who teaches me a lot.

I see your anxiety, your struggle to do what’s best, all the while wondering what ‘best’ looks like and somehow getting it right even when you worry you are not. I see you juggling professional and personal and doing both so incredibly well, and still making time to give of yourself for others. I see you, hanging on in your marriage to me, even though there’s so little time to be us instead of loosely connected islands. I admire your growth and new green shoots, fresh after all this time.

I see you all; I love you all.  

I notice how it makes me feel when we circle around the one who needs it.  When we offer thumbs up messages when there’s no time for more, when we hug without being asked, when we hide notes of power and positivity.  I feel the privilege of being able to blurt out my hurts and triumphs, big and small, without worrying I’ll get anything but support – or kind and honest challenging, if I need it.

I love that the warmth of huddling together in a kitchen on a windy day stays with me long after the wind has stopped blowing. I know how it makes me feel to walk into a house filled to the brim with you all wearing silly hats, coming together with curry and questionable games to celebrate my birthday.

I am still feeling what it’s like to be driving, to hear a song, to think of all of you and how you bring richness to my life, how at times I’ve longed to hold one or two or all of you because sometimes words aren’t enough, and to park my car at the side of the road and get this laptop out.  To finally write again, after so long, and all because I see how powerful and brave and beautiful you all are. And I love you, and you love me, and we are always just one text away from tears or laughter.

For this night, that is enough.  That is everything.

Thank you.

The Starting Block.

My kids are writing their own books.  I’m talking full on chapter books, but also talking graphic novels, short sweary books, and the like.  One of them makes detailed animation based movies – he’s done stop motion claymation, strung together filmed segments, is gaining an amazing talent in sculpting and blocking scenes.  One of them is heavily immersed in the world of musical theatre, and they’ve written a script, drawn and labelled costumes, arranged songs. They are filled with joy both behind and in front of the camera, and have started drama school only to have realised there is a real possibility of working professionally doing the thing they love to do playfully.

Earlier this week, they had two friends over. One was specially coming over to work on a collaborative project with S – they’d had an idea for a novel, so of course they arranged a time to get together and work on it. M and the other child also joined in.

I stood in the kitchen, watching.  They were laughing, throwing ideas out, occasionally pausing to use spell check.  Their thoughts were thick and fast, their words were natural.

Did I feel proud? Yeah. But did I feel jealous? HELL YES.

I’m so pleased to give my children the opportunity to work on their creative ideas. I’m so relieved and grateful that this is a way of life for them.  There’s no crippling self doubt, no feeling they don’t deserve to pursue creative dreams, no thinking that they won’t succeed.  Their success, right now and from my point of view, is that they are simply doing it.  They are making.  They are creating, drawing, writing, singing, acting, exploring.

It’s no exaggeration to say I have a strong preference for the creative arts, that I wish I had realised at a much younger age it was a possibility for me.  That I’d been supported in that.  So something in my heart lightens and glows to see my children creating.  Something in my mind is deeply pleased when I read longitudinal studies stating that children who have been unschooled since the start are extremely likely to go into creative fields – artists, writers, actors, STEM fields.  In fact, four out of five kids grow up to work in those fields.

If M or S want to be that one in five who grows up to be an accountant, or a retail manager, or something not in the creative field – well.  All I really want is for them to be happy.  I want them to get joy from the life they create, I want them to do things to help make the world a better place, I want them to learn and grow and find peace.

I guess that’s still all I want for myself.  My kids just have a head start.