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.

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I’m a hot air balloon with too many sandbags.

There’s a few reasons I’ve not been here lately. But here’s today’s major reason: my child was called a little ball of sunshine.

This sparked such an immediate response in me, such a deep train of thought, that I felt compelled to immediately write for the first time in ages. I kept the gender of said child neutral to try to disguise which kid it was. I tried to make it more about my response than about the child – but there was a couple of sentences that touched too closely on that child’s inner world.

I kept writing, even though I knew I wouldn’t post it. At almost ten, my children have a more vivid internal world and interesting thought process than they ever have before, but they are also grown up enough that it feels really wrong to share any of that here.

So that has bummed me out, the realisation that the first time in ages I’ve wanted to write and no one gets to read it. Suzy suggested another anonymous blog, which has certainly been a haven for me in the past, but I think I’m tired of that. I feel best in life when I’m being authentic, but too often I find myself holding back from writing things down in case I hurt people I love, or people I like, or, you know, people I don’t particularly like. I’d rather just try to get random words down again.

I’ve been plagued with a real feeling of inertia lately. That word has never been far from my thoughts. Not the objects in motion tend to stay in motion type of inertia, oh no. I’m an object at rest. And what’s more painful than an object at rest that actually wishes they were in motion? Not many things.

I can quite confidentially say, as the foremost authority of being trapped at rest, that it’s pretty shit.

I feel like I’m putting on a good game face. I still have many things to be thankful for and celebrate, but this sort of murky, sluggish state of being is always lurking in the background. Oh, Alison, you say. Don’t you know that lotus flowers, the most beautiful flowers, grow from murky sludge? Let yourself blossom, Alison, embrace your natural wonder.

I mean, no. Fuck you?

Life is messy and complex. Much of the things I struggle with don’t feel like they are my stories to share. Though they twist and cling to my own experiences and perceptions, it’s still giving too much away to write about them.

So here I am. Someone who craves being authentic to the point of over sharing, feeling really low and isolated and trapped in a concrete layer of inertia.

Age forty started off so well. An amazing surprise party surrounded by the most amazing group of women; women I’m so lucky to know and love. To be loved by.

I was feeling good. I bought a big ass wall calendar (I love diaries and calendars and notebooks, oh my, more than you love lotuses and positivity!) and stuck it up over my bed. I bought a silver glitter pen and a gold one. Every time I did something that sort of moved daily life forward in some way, I got a silver star. Anytime I did something that I felt moved me towards this unspecific goal of ‘having a life worth writing about’ I got a gold star.

Tried stand up paddleboarding (and loved it!): gold star.

Roadtrip alone with my wife, climbing a tree for the first time, accidentally giving myself a prison tattoo: gold, gold, gold.

Went white water rafting with my family, went out dancing (and probably drinking too much) with friends more than once, went to a casting day: throw that gold at me, baby.

Stood up in front of hundreds of people and told a very real, very personal story, despite feeling like I was going to both shit myself and have a heart attack at the same time: biggest and most satisfying of gold stars.

Tried stand up comedy, something I’ve wanted to do for ages: well, I mean, gold star for effort but I didn’t love it as much as I thought I would. I’m grateful I didn’t bomb; I feel like making the world’s smallest audience of twenty year old boys laugh about my friends and their middle age incontinence was a true victory. I think I could do well at it, and it felt so amazing to be working towards something.

It felt big, but it also felt flat. And that’s where I’ve been since then. Flat. Sluggish. Hanging out with my pal Inertia and her friends Guilt, Aimlessness, and Big Ideas But No Follow Through.

Mixed up with all that other personal stuff that, for me, is too personal. Which is saying something, considering there’s probably not a person I see regularly who hasn’t experienced me crossing a line and over sharing something from my messed up imagination.

But my imagination does seem to be misfiring. I’ve gone from too many ideas and not enough time to desperately wishing for an idea, but even if I get one I’m too stuck to actualise it.

That’s how I am, here and now, sat in a library while my little ball of sunshine is at drama school next door. I’m attempting to curate the perfect pick-me-up playlist (suggestions welcome!) whilst also idly looking up the requirements to become a hot air balloon pilot in Britain.

That about sums this shit up. I doubt I’ll be piloting a balloon anytime soon, but by god if I won’t understand the intricate process of how to do so. I feel like setting goals was giving me purpose this year – the storytelling event and stand up comedy were both exciting things I worked toward. I need a new goal now. Ideally something powerful and true.

If not hot air ballooning, then what? Other shit on my list of stuff to do reads like the Who’s Who of Midlife Crisis – get a tattoo, go somewhere in Europe spontaneously for a weekend, probably drink and dance more, be an extra in a tv show or movie, go on a transformational long distance wilderness hike, figure out what bra size I am.

Again, I’m always open to suggestions.

Yours,

Alison

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.

Gazing outward.

I’ve always loved labyrinths, ever since I was little.

It was only as I grew older that I learned more about them, that I was able to ascribe deeper meaning to my own truth.  I remember a number of years ago reading that they can be symbolic of a journey inward, for deeper understanding of self, before using that knowledge to then return outward again.  I have the feeling I’ve written before about how I think this relates to motherhood.

It does.  Generic parenting, home educating, all of it.  When a baby is born, everything turns inward.  Your only focus is keeping this little being alive.  Changing shitty nappies, feeding, feeding, always feeding, cuddling and marvelling and sleeping.  That’s it.

When that baby is a toddler, it becomes so much more intense – or it did for me.  Two babies running in opposite directions, one falling on a plant pot and the other eating cat poop.  There was a lot of frantic blood wiping, comforting, but also a lot of getting out paints only to clean up and put them away ten minutes later.

And so it carried on.  But now, my babies are somehow nine years old.  And only now do I really feel the possibility of coming away from the centre of that labyrinth.  This blog doesn’t need to detail my children – while they don’t mind being online presences, I am starting to mind on their behalf.  But you know, I’m learning that so much of unschooling and parenting is actually about the parent, not the child. We are a part of the equation.

We have all the worries and wobbles.  In what specific and glorious ways am I messing my children up?  Should we be doing more math and less mess?  What life do I see for my children, am I doing enough to help that become reality? We have the anger, the assumptions, the awful second guessing and doubt.

But also, just lately, just now, I have something other than all those things.  Oh, they are still there, but my capacity to hold them seems to have widened and I’m left with the most precious gift of all: space.

I’ve done something right, I’ve made some good choices along the way.  My children know what to pack for each day and just get ready for that adventure without prompting or needing me to double check (though I still do). The house is a hideous mess of Lego and playmobil and endless things I don’t understand – bits of wire, rocks shoved under the couch, papers full of drawings and plans and sharks about to eat unsuspecting surfers.  But when I can’t take it, when I ask, they’ll tidy.

I’ve been brave and made friends.  A really good circle of friends who are also trying to create space or forgetting that they ever had space or are pretending they don’t need that space.  We’re in the same boat, even if we educate differently, even if we parent differently, even if we are just so exhausted it’s hard to see where we overlap or miss the boat entirely.

I’ve made a lot of bad decisions, too, but the good ones, the ones that are buying me this bit of safe space, means that I’m no longer in the middle of that labyrinth, stupidly hopeful but drowning in despair. I’m actually, sort of, kind of, thinking it’s time to start facing outward again.  Maybe taking a step or two in that direction.

There’s a lot I want for my children.  But you know what?  There’s a lot I want for myself, too. And that’s okay, even if it’s hard to imagine just what ‘myself’ might look like these days.

Building yourself, one world at a time.

She’s describing her newest Playmobil family to me.

‘This is the dad, he works at the hospital. The mum works at a restaurant. And this is the kid. She’s just….a free kid, because she’s home educated.’

Can we pause for a moment, just for the collective joy swelling of our hearts when we hear our kids say something like this?

I find parenthood is interwoven with guilt and second guessing myself, much of the time. The top 10% of my brain is telling me I’m doing a great job, to trust myself and the kids. The other 90% is like, ‘Really? You think that’s a good idea? Have you thought about the 83920438 ways this decision (whatever it may be) might screw your kids up?’

I hope I’m not alone in feeling that way.

I do find that I’m better at propping other people up than telling them I need support. I like reaching out to people when they might need a boost. I like inspiring others. But in reality, sometimes, especially during gloomy months full of clouds, ear infections, and sad news, I’m just trying my best to get through every day.

And so it rolls on. Am I doing my best, as a home educating parent?

It’s a fine line, a high and dizzying tightrope, along the border of feeling you aren’t doing enough and feeling you need to leave plenty of free time for small miracles to happen.

My miracle today is right now. It’s 1:26 pm. I can hear the kids; they are in a very involved game of Playmobil that’s been going on awhile. They are building worlds, they are living in them.

I’m upstairs in the office, alone, writing. A lot of stuff elsewhere, a bit in this blog. I find my old anonymous blogs that grew so popular were probably that way because they were anonymous. I’ve never written an inauthentic word, but a great many words haven’t been written because they were too scary, too painful, too much for me to share.

So this little period – be it ten minutes or thirty – is my miracle. I’m thinking and writing and feeling instead of all the other ways I use to numb myself on days when things all feel a bit too much. I’m here, I’m trying. …And downstairs?

Downstairs are just two kids who are free, because they are home educated. Because they follow their interests, because they explore their joy, because they trust themselves to find their way. And really, who am I to second guess that?

They are building worlds downstairs, I’m building worlds upstairs. We’ve put a money tree leaf on soil, to help it take root and grow. Sheet music has been read, youtube videos have been watched, I actually did the breakfast dishes. This day isn’t yet over, but we’ve done enough. Building a world, building yourself, is work enough.

Amended titles. 

My daughter changed the title of this book. I’m so sad that she needed to. Who said girls can’t love pirates?

This particular book company are notorious for the ‘girls’ book of this’ and the ‘boys book of that’, but stories? Good stories are good stories. They aren’t aimed at a person’s genitals, but at their minds and hearts.

I ordered this book for my seven year old daughter, I’m proud she changed the title, she loves the stories. But never a sighting of this book goes by that she doesn’t rail against the idiocy of the title. Maybe I should be grateful that it gives us scope for conversation and feminism, but instead I’m sad these conversations need to happen from such a young age.

I hope my children never say shit like, ‘But some of my best friends are black!’*

Driving home today, we heard the news on the radio. It was discussing the American football player who refused to stand for the national anthem; it was discussing black people being killed by police in America.

And so the questions came.

‘Mama, what did that say about the police hurting black people?’

‘Mama, why are police hurting black people?’

So we spoke. I told them if a white person and a black person committed the same crime, the black person was likely to be more harshly sentenced, to spend longer in prison. S started to cry – she said we need to speak out and get these people released.

I told them how people of colour are more likely to be treated unfairly in daily life. How they might be denied the same opportunities white people had.

What a hard thing to say to my children, but how easy it was to say it. If we are allies of the human race, we cannot deny racism. It exists. My children could quickly grasp the idea of racism on an institutional and individual level. It was easy to have this discussion (don’t be afraid), but so hard that we had to have this talk.

I said, I hope the two of you grow up to be people who stand up against this sort of behaviour. You might be able to challenge racism in your future jobs, you might be able to reach out and include people that might be left out. But don’t wait till you are grown up. You can make a difference now.

And they talked about how they could help make things better. They spoke as children do, ignorant of the centuries of enslavement and oppression, but so sweet and pure and ideal.

‘Mama, _______ is kind of sort of black and he’s so nice! Mama, ______ is black and she’s very, very kind.’ They went on, naming names of children they knew. Using these children as examples of wonderful people of colour – but not yet realising their friends might be hurt now or in future because of their colour. Not understanding they themselves might be hurt one day because they are raised by two mothers.

But they named names*.

And I sit here, home after a morning walking through thunder and lightning, thinking that the most important thing is connection. Putting names and faces and stories to real people instead of buying into stereotypes.

I’ve had emails from people saying they’ve used our family, me, to discuss with their children about queer families. I don’t mind. I come out, I am who I am (trying to have) no hesitations because I know it’s important to the world to be a real person. Not just a label.

So, my sweet children, go on naming those names. Go on questioning the system. Go on planning how you can make a difference.

And, my sweet friends, go on thinking about this stuff. Consider discussing it with your children. They are capable enough to handle the hard stuff, and really, aren’t we all responsible for challenging racism? One way to do that is to teach the next generation that inequality exists. It’s real. But diversity is wonderful; cultures are deep and rich and powerful. They are worth defending, worth learning about.

These conversations are worth having.