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.

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

Rules for life…I mean, the treasure hunt.

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This morning M brought me paper and a marker. He wanted me to write rules for a treasure hunt. Now, I like a nice metaphor. I didn’t elect to start a PhD in a weirdly specialised area of English Literature for no reason, folks. But two items in on his list of rules, and it seemed to be jumping off the page. Look…

1. Have fun and learn.

That’s hopefully what we are doing, all the time. It doesn’t matter the hour of the day or the location of our bodies, we are exploring and playing and learning.

2. It’s not about racing and getting the most treasures.

AMEN. It’s not about that, not at all. Everyone develops at their own pace. Everyone considers different things a treasure. There is enough to go around.

3. Some treasure will hide super good.

Sometimes it’s hard to know where your heart lies. Sometimes even once you figure it out, it’s not the easiest thing in the world to achieve. That’s okay. It’s just hiding…super good.

4. After you get all the treasure (chocolate coins), eat it.

Accomplishments are to be celebrated with joy. No use in searching for that treasure then just reburying it. It needs to be integrated into who you are, enjoyed, and then perhaps shared with the world.

5. Hope you have great fun and come back again and again. Treasure is always out!

There is always more treasure available. New levels of treasure on old themes, or even totally new stuff. You normally like diamonds, fine. Excellent. But look! You can like emeralds, too. You can expand and change your mind, and maybe even branch into rubies. You can find treasures most anywhere, and it’s always worth looking.

Because, really, it’s great fun.

I love that little guy. Such a kind hearted, wise person.

Trying to be as strong as I want my children to be.

Driving along in the car, and suddenly his voice pipes up from the back seat. ‘I don’t want to die.’

I don’t know how to respond to that. I say, ‘Well, most people don’t. But you are very young and healthy, so you are okay.’

Growing up, my grandmother talked about death a lot – specifically, her own death. She was/is a tremendous force in my life, so her constant death talk worried me a lot. She was famous for saying, ‘When I die, I don’t want anybody crying. Or I will sit right up in my coffin and punch them in the nose!’ As it turns out, she was cremated so no one was punched….though after her ashes were buried with all the sentimental things thrown in, the graveyard guy said we have to take her out and put some special sticker on the urn. I shit you not. So out came her ashes, while we all had a laugh. Who knows. Maybe she was trying to give us a solid whack from beyond.

I remember being little and compulsively praying over and over again. ‘Dear God, Please let Mom, Dad, me, and Erica live a long, long time.’ Literally over and over. I think it’s safe to say I suffered from death anxiety, which was exacerbated by my grandmother making me write lists of who would get what jewellery/possessions when she died. Incidentally, she lived till she was 89 and I was in my mid-twenties, so it was a long time to deal with her comments about her death.

When she did die, I went to a very black place. I couldn’t move. I had extended leave from work, felt I was having a breakdown, and shortly thereafter entered the counselling required by my counselling/psychotherapy course. I’d been putting off trying to contact a counsellor, and the bereavement gave me a very real reason to move forward with it.

She died what feels like an impossibly long time ago, and I’m now at a place where I can tell the kids about Grandma Annie and feel nostalgia, love, bittersweetness rather than just feeling like I would crumble if I thought about her.

Death was a big topic when I trained to become a counsellor, and I became quite interested in a specialist area known as existential psychotherapy. It is what it sounds like. I read a lot of Yalom (read him now, folks!), did a lot of thinking, processed through a lot of writing.

Then recently, I had a spate of people my age getting ill, and some even dying. One died very unexpectedly, and I was in shock for about a week. This sort of kicked off my death anxiety again (and having children seems to amplify it), even as I try to allow myself to feel what I feel, and still be okay. And I am okay, but I’ve got one little boy who is very worried.

When my mother in law casually mentioned her flowers dying last autumn, things kicked off. He talked incessantly about not wanting them to die. About wanting the exact same flowers to come back next spring. S soon joined in the questions about death – you see, my fabulous sister recently moved to the UK and the kids have been lucky enough to see quite a bit of her. She’s got a dog who was the picture of health whilst in America, but is apparently allergic to the UK and was quite unwell.

We happened to be at the library one day, and they wanted me to read a book with a picture of a dog similar to my sister’s on the cover. Of course it was one of those books – a death book. Sweet god, did that kick off the obsessing. We had a very intense few weeks, and then it cooled off.

I am very conscious that I come from a legacy of basically very healthy people who have an unhealthy obsession around death and serious illness. I don’t want to pass that on.

Many friends reassured me that age four is often when death becomes a topic of fascination. And since it seemed to move on, I let their words comfort me. And, indeed, S has become very pragmatic about the whole thing and often provides reassurance to M when he is, as he sometimes says, ‘nervous.’

He asks a lot about my sister’s dog. I don’t want her to die. Will Erica get a new dog? Will she be sad? I will miss Kiwi.

I know these are all normal questions and processing. He’s working out what he believes, and since I can’t hand him platitudes and comfort in terms of a traditional heaven I do not believe in, it means that he is exposed to more possible uncertainties and ways to think about things than other children may be. I think this is a good thing. I value critical thinking, questioning, exploring the hows and whys of things.

I hope these death worries are something he can process, and not something that he carries forward in life (in an unhealthy way, anyway, since it is natural to think about death and life). I won’t say I was overly affected by my own concerns, beyond the manic praying as a child. My anxiety was triggered by situations that would make anyone think about death, life, about the purpose of things. I am also a bit of what some might term a deep thinker, so that meant I focused more on this stuff. Only time will tell how M and S grow up to think about death, but I know it is causing me a lot of painful growth to try to have honest discussions.

Only this morning we found the most awesome leaf – all the green had rotted away, and only the veins were left. M was concerned about this. He wanted to take the leaf into the house to protect it, to make sure it didn’t blow away. He was upset about the leaf dying. Yet again, I took a deep breath and said, ‘But this is how things work. If the leaves didn’t do this, the whole world would be covered up in loads of leaves and there wouldn’t be room for anything else. The old leaves are going back into the earth to feed new trees.’

New trees upset him. He wanted the same trees.

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘But look at these leaves, they are doing it, too. They make the earth richer and stronger and better able to feed the trees that are here.’

I paused. He nodded, hopped off my lap, and was off running and playing again.

I looked down at this unbelievably gorgeous leaf – it looked so fragile, but the veins were still sturdy. Once again, I was able to hear my own words about the way this life works, and once again, I tried to allow myself to become richer and stronger, too.

Even though sometimes that is a hard thing to do.

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Seasons.

And every day you cry over the deaths of the flowers. Why are they dying? I don’t want them to die. Can we have the exact same flowers for next spring and summer?

I say, Oh, I know, it is sad. But this is the cycle of the seasons, the wheel of the year. It will get colder now, everything will rest to get ready for spring. The leaves go back into the earth, to help replenish nutrients. And some flowers do come back, year after year.

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Your sister accepts these small deaths, she tries to explain to you. Still, your mourn for all the colourful little souls, for those things you attach life and meaning to.

And we are in a season of questions.

Do you miss your Grandma Annie? Were you sad when she died? Is our Nana dying?

Why is Great Nana so old? What day will she die? Will you watch her die?

I don’t want to die.

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And the gift in this is my own healing. Death has troubled me greatly, and as I try to impart to you what I realise I believe, I find a sort of quiet peace even as I muddle my way through these sometimes painful discussions.

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Because the truth is, life is full of seasons. How much you have both changed in four years. How much I have changed in 35. Sometimes we weep, sometimes we laugh, always we grow – even when it hurts, even when it seems unfathomable that we will come out the other side. You haven’t known that sort of pain, and I hope you remain in this world of possibilities, of theoretical deaths, for as long as possible.

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The old leaves have to fall, I say, to make room for the new. Each generation nourishes the one to follow. And in this season of deeper questions, powerful discussions of conception and birth and death, I feel ancestors stretching behind me, hopefully nodding in approval.

And looking at the two of you, I finally see the generations ahead.

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