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.

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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.

Reevaluating, cherishing. 

It’s easy enough to judge each other, but lately I’ve been feeling the need to take a closer look at myself. I started this parenting journey before I got pregnant, as we went to many fertility appointments, as I lay back on a table with two embryos freshly returned to my womb, as my belly grew tight and stretched over many months.

I started with a set of ideals. Some have slipped away, some haven’t. Some I don’t mind losing.

Sure, I wanted a life of only wooden toys, of minimalism. Can I live with, and even thrive, in our world of chaos, clutter, and toys of every conceivable variety? Sure. Gladly. Other things I thought were so instinctual, but they slipped away almost without me noticing. And for those things, those important things, I’m having conversations with friends, reading books, journalling (a lot!), and thinking.

It’s good to reevaluate.

Children are resilient, thank god. I find they are more resilient  than my own sense of well being, of guilt relating to choices I make (or don’t), of my ability to forgive myself and live in the moment. I’ve lost patience and peacefulness a lot – still nothing drastic, but much more than I wanted to, or expected to.

I remember when I was pregnant. I envisioned being huge and happy, frolicking through fields. The reality is that I was huge and happy – once the endless vomiting stopped and I became hydrated enough to remember I had a bladder. And for frolicking? I frolicking in a mofo wheeelchair, unable to walk, unable to stand while holding a baby…or two. Pregnancy was not what I expected, and that was difficult. But that being said, I couldn’t change pregnancy. It was what it was.

Parenting, now, that I have some control over.

In the last year we’ve met a group of people who have reminded me what I wanted to be, what I was. Standing around a campfire, I’ve had the honour of making friends with people who are who I want to be. More thoughtful, more deliberate, more considerate.

So many times I’ve found myself embarrassed, imagining that I am being judged for the tiny moments my children act like normal children. I’ve worried more about what people think than what my children feel – not always, but enough.

When the reality is that I’m so, so proud of my children for being exactly who they are. I cherish them.

And so, I enter a new season of remembering that my children are individuals, are kind, are funny. That they have freedom and choices, and it’s my job to respect that. All the things that came naturally to me when they were younger have silently begun to erode, and that doesn’t feel right.

Recently we walked on and among endless sand dunes. Some parts were sand, but they were largely supported and enriched by the stout, small grasses and plants that held the sand in place. We wandered in the sun and rain, not entirely sure which path to take but knowing the general direction we wanted to head in. We stopped when we needed, to eat or rest or examine flowers.

As I walk forward in this life, as myself and as a tremendously lucky mother of two amazing children, I gather stout grasses around me. People I trust, a well worn and loved notebook, the ideas and practices of those who have come before me. I have flowers and dandelion clocks and some well worn paths leading surprising places. I may not always know which is the right path to take in any given moment, but I remember the general direction I want to head.

 

Age six is hard, for grown up me and younger me.

I feel embarassment for me when my kids ‘have a moment.’ I feel worried for them that they will lose friends or fail to make new friends during these moments in time. Excepting one truly horrific trip to IKEA years ago, my kids never had a toddler temper tantrum. I was secretly smug.

Yes, I think I talk things through with people (aka children) more than others might – is it because I was a counsellor/therapist? Is it because I worked with children for so long? Is it because I liked attachment parenting, peaceful parenting? Is it because I’m a home educator? Yes, yes, yeah, probably!

I find myself infinitely less patient lately. Perhaps this makes the kids feel less safe, maybe I’ve made them feel shame. I guess I have to admit those things. We’ve all been less than perfect parents, and I actually think that’s okay. We can’t all be understanding and patient and perfect all the time.

But no one ever told me of the guilt and worry that accompany being a parent. You’ve got these small people who are still young enough that you are the centre of their universe. And it’s intense and scary, as well as being lovely and amazing.

About a year ago, one of my kids went a little bit crazy. Like stomping off in a black rage needing their ‘privacy’ every single time we met up with other people. That child has come through the other side, and it looks like their sibling is now entering the arena of crazy. This child is whining and screaming and crying. A lot.

I find this so much more difficult to deal with. Maybe because I can see it is having, or could have, a very real effect on that child’s existing friendships. Also I find it difficult that my kind, easygoing, not-a-bad-bone-in-their-body kid is freaking out about shit that I find it difficult to empathise with.

But while chatting with a friend this evening (Oh, where would we be without kindred spirits?), I was hit with a bolt of truth. I wrote something like this to her –

{this child} just reminds me so much of a younger me. I was very, very smart but socially I was very behind. I struggled with friendships. This is painful on a number of levels.

It’s hard as now most people probably see me as suprememly confident, as funny, as smart, as really clued in with emotional things and human relationships. Those things are all true; they were not ALWAYS true. I had a very lonely childhood, but I think – looking back – I was really bloody happy when I was alone. I didn’t really have friends, and I felt awkward about not having them, but when I was home?

Oh, I was running alone through the woods, imagining worlds I miss now. I was writing endless stories in those thin, cheap spiral bound notebooks. I was playing with Fisher Price Little People until I was probably too old for it.

This child is like me. This child is intensely bright, and that probably adds to their difficulties. Other people may not see the creative mind – no one knew the things I knew when I was little. I’m lucky to see into the bits of their mind they choose to share; this child is lucky to not be at school.

My friend said, So what? Maybe right now they prefer sitting with the grown ups. That’s fine.

And she’s right.

I weep for the little me who had no grown ups to sit with, and who always felt slightly out of sync with my peers. I grew and bloomed and now think I’m fantastic with people. I can see that will happen for this child; their humour and kindness and creativity will make it impossible for any other outcome.

But right now, at age six, it’s hard. It’s awfully hard.

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Thunderstorm at the end of summer.

It’s after bath time, and he creeps into my room, silent and steady. He notices a flash outside the window, so we both sit up. He leans in, excited body and quickened breath. ‘This is awesome!’ he stage whispers, the sky filling with bright flashes of light.

He sister and mummy come in, stay awhile, then leave. He looks at me.

‘It’s just me and my Mama,’ he says. ‘This is awesome.’

Not sure if he means me or the lightening, which he says he’s never seen before, I ask, ‘Do you want to come outside with me and watch it from there?’ His eye widen. He nods.

We slink down the stairs; I wrap him in a big orange sarong, I fling a green one around my waist. We sit on the front step. Rain drips down the magnolia tree, the sky steadily performs, and then we hear the first rumble of thunder. I put my arm around him, I catch glimpses of his joyful face in the inky darkness, we look for streaks of lightening.

I tell him about how you can tell how close the storm is. Wait for the lightning, then count until you hear thunder. We whisper about the fighter jet we saw that goes faster than the speed of light, and I think about how his childhood is doing the same thing. But not tonight.

Tonight our bodies are dry, but our feet get wet if we stretch them out. We say hello to the thunder, the lightning; we sit out here so silently among the gradual increase of rumbles and rolling sound.

I didn’t have to say yes tonight, because it was my idea. He thought it was amazing to watch lightning through a window. I showed him what it was like to watch lightning under the sky.

This was our night.

And it was awesome.

Tang Soo Do.

The kids were told off several times tonight (in a nice way) for cuddling during Tang Soo Do. It would be one or the other’s turn to punch and kick stuff, and they were too busy hugging.

The teacher was like, ‘What are you doing?’

S exclaimed, ‘Cuddling!’

After class, the teacher was hanging around while all the kids were getting shoes on, etc. S went up to say thank you, and the teacher replied, ‘You’re welcome. You did really well tonight. But the two of you need to stop cuddling! Cuddles at home, kicking and punching at Tang Soo Do!’

It was at that point that I chose to inform her that the mainstay of their recent home activity is, in fact, punching and kicking.