2015, in bits and pieces

I had a professor once, at university, who sat us down at the beginning of our module – the two of us, in the study we’d had to go through three quads and two staircases to find – and gave us a reading list of books and articles he’d written himself. And that was, like, it.

Here’s a list of my wisdom; please study it in your spare time.

It was one of the most Oxford things that ever happened to me.

Anyway, I must’ve learned something from good old Professor B, because I’m about to do sort of the same thing.

2015 didn’t feel like much of a banner year – a great one, definitely, but a bit of a nondescript twelve months. Until I looked at my Twitter timeline, and remembered that a) between the holidays and milestones, all sorts of little things happened, and b) I read some articles that were so fantastic and brilliant, it was pure joy to reread them, and c) I actually wrote some things I was pretty proud of too.

So here they are. 2015, in the tiny bits and pieces.

That January Feeling

January (640x640)

Will be sat on this sofa forever until I have melded with the fabric & they try to spatula me off & Tim is all ‘no this is the sofa she loved’

***

Working thru Harry Potter audiobooks in instalments while houseworking. Book 5 might’s well have been called ‘That Time Harry Was A Jerk’.

I read and loved:

an article by Kate Gross’ mum, about her final moments on Christmas day (you should also read Kate Gross’ book, Late Fragments, which is one of the very best books I read this year).

this series called How Wizards Do Money (the financial management of Harry Potter characters), of which you should read every last scrap because it’s wonderful.

And I wrote:

A letter to the self I was before I had children, with some friendly advice (eat slower, have more schedule-free sex).

The February I took against Stephen Hawking in Awkward Fashion

February (640x511)

So we saw #TheTheoryofEverything last night. This morning I am spitting mad at Stephen Hawking, and by extension, all men. This is awkward.

I read and loved:

this beautiful post about all our possible imaginary children.

this gorgeously evocative article about the food story of a marriage.

this best everrrrr review of Fifty Shades.

The March I Turned Thirty and Discovered This Philip Larkin Poem

March (640x512)

In fact, may you be dull – / If that is what a skilled, / 

Vigilant, flexible, / Unemphasised, enthralled /

Catching of happiness is called.

***

3YO thinks that Nelly and Kelly song is about art.

Listen: ‘no matter what I do – ART – all I think about is you – ART’.

I read and loved:

this analogy you’ve probably seen by now, about how making tea is like consent (a swear-free version is here, if you want it).

this list of every Buffy argument made on the internet since 1998.

And I wrote:

a confessional piece about my inappropriate fiction crushes (PRINCE CASPIAN, HOLLA)

a mother’s day tribute to the women who made me

The April I was Diet-Shamed By Tesco

April (640x640)

Tesco: ‘we notice you have not bought these items you often buy’

Me: *looks* Ben & Jerry’s Karamel Sutra YES ALRIGHT TESCO I FEEL ASHAMED

***

We don’t need the heating on, that’s for sure’, he said, heading downstairs. ‘…we do though’, I whispered plaintively to the empty air. #scenesfromamarriage

I read and loved:

this magnificent grammar-geek article about the phrase ‘no, totally’.

And I wrote:

A piece finally admitting my angry mummy tendencies

A letter to my shy boy eldest

The May Where Antler-Pinterest Got a Bit Much

May (640x640)

Child has been saying he’s still hungry for an hour, but hasn’t had any better suggestions for what he wants than ‘invisible sandwich’.

***

Hey guys, just got back from the future and they said that decorating with antlers when you’re not a cowboy or Gaston was a little weird, k?

***

The particular shame when it’s your boy clutching a dog-eared chicken nugget he won’t throw away as he toddles round a village playground.

I swear every mother was in Boden and everyone threw shade like I’ve never seen.

Then the worst part, when I look at him five minutes later and the nugget is nowhere to be seen #whereisthenugget

I read and loved:

this beautiful short story, ‘Light’.

I Stole a Pen from Douglas Adams’ Grave – just lovely

And I wrote:

The funny old thing about time

The post that made me cry the most while writing it: Be brave

The June We Spent Mostly in Bed

June (640x497)

Flipping ravaged by this stomach bug. Just wept at the delicious prospect of a cola ice pop and wept again at the Hunger Games teaser.

***

Almost-2YO just described a sneeze as a ‘burp splash’,which is easily the most satisfying thing that’ll happen today.

I read and loved:

A billion reasons why I hate the school run, by the incomparable Hurrah for Gin

And I wrote:

A runners’ creed, for those who hate it (I STILL HATE IT)

The July We Started to Go a Bit Mad

July (640x640)

That hot-day thing when you’re towelling dry and a giant moth flutters out on your vulnerable naked body all OH HI, I’M SHOWERING TOO #nope

***

Boys banging walls and chanting a self-penned song entitled ‘Time to Wee’. All we need is a conch to go full on ‘Flies’. #summerholidays

I read and loved:

This raw, moving, dignified letter from the Huff Post Executive editor to her husband lost to suicide

And I wrote:

T’s now-you-are-two birthday letter

An indignant post about speaking up for your bad days, fellow women

The August that BAKE-OFF CAME BACK

August (640x640)

‘I want to get in there’
we all do Mary, we all do #GBBO

***

Just said ‘scuse me, loves’ to a group of #readingfestival-goers in Tesco.
Them: deliberating about beer.
Me: trying to reach the nappies.

My old age is assured and only death remains ahead.

I read and loved:

This fantastic list for new parents from Steph Douglas

This installment of Ask Polly (I LOVE ASK POLLY) about being a ‘calm question mark’

And I wrote:

An impassioned post for World Breastfeeding Day about how motherhood is so much more than your milk

H’s now-you-are-four birthday letter, with much sobbing (the last one before school, argh)

Something I’d been thinking about for a while: how parenting a mini-me is so much harder than you’d think

The September That Was All About School

September 15 (640x384)

So how much jogging on the spot would I need to do to eat a chocolate digestive? Asking for a friend. #caloriecounting #bleurgh

***

Apple: WE JUST INVENTED THE PENCIL
everyone: apple, the pencil’s been around for…
Apple: IT’S GOT OUR NAME ON IT IT’S OURS NOW
Apple: what a great idea
Apple: well done apple

I read and loved:

this by Sali Hughes about when the cult of wellness becomes unhealthy (you should read anything by Sali Hughes)

And I wrote:

this nowhere-near-comprehensive list of all the inappropriate places H has peed

after experiencing the September Rages: dear boy, you can be unpretty here

that time a McDonald’s addict counted calories for a month and did not die

The October We Listened to Harry Potter a Lot

October (640x640)

Me: ‘it’s either a kite or a hawk.’
4YO: ‘I know! It’s a hawk-rocks’
Me: ‘a what?’
4YO: ‘a hawk-rux’
Me:’oh. No, he’s not a horcrux’

***

There are only three ways of using a car horn that don’t make you a jerk.

1. Hello, friend! [cheerful beep and wave]
2. Madam, I am here and you appear not to have seen me [short urgent beep and serious face]
3. Sir, the light has gone green and you have not noticed [polite beep, smile]

If you use the horn angrily, you are a jerk. If you lean on it for 3 seconds+, you are a jerk. If you do it while gesticulating furiously…
..you are a jerk. Like, people aren’t omniscient. They make mistakes. Cut the human race a bit of slack. (Seems to be mostly men, too)

I read and loved:

a gorgeously written article by Sophie Heawood about what it’s really like to be a single parent (you should also read everything Sophie Heawood writes. E v e r y t h i n g.)

an eye-opening post by my bloggy friend Amy, about washing away her day as a children’s nurse

this weep-inducing imagining of a Harry Potter where Hermione never did anyone’s homework for them

this happy-making article on how Nora Ephron made friends

And I wrote:

on marriage – ask for what you need; stand up for what you think

a letter to the brand-new mother of two – embrace the chaos, because it’s all going to be fine

The November T’s Favourite Song Became Hey Jude

November (640x640)

Imagine being this guy & remembering how you refused to clap to the recording of Hey Jude, even for a double fee.

CTc0EdWWcAAAoLo

***

[thumbs down] = finding a bogey that’s not yours underneath your chin
[thumbs up] = it’s not a bogey, it’s a piece of porridge!
[thumbs down] = the porridge wasn’t yours either

***

I have reached a level of hormonal stability where ‘God on High’ still makes me cry but ‘A Little Drop of Rain’ doesn’t, so good job uterus.

I read and loved: 

My kid is a tiny pedant, and I’m not sorry (SO MUCH MY LIFE)

this life-changing article about how much cod The Rock eats daily

‘I did not know how loved we were’: one of Ella Risbridger’s wonderful articles about lipstick and cancer (read the rest also)

this article about snooping in a dead man’s house that just about knocked me over

And I wrote: 

How not to be a big fat parenting loser

Five messages to give your tiny introvert (both products of much head-bashing)

The December Everyone Came to Stay

December (640x640)

Happy I-Have-No-Idea-Whether-I-Brushed-My-Teeth- So-I’ll-Brush-Them-Again-So-As-Not-To-Gross-Out-The-Playgroup-Mums Friday!

***

‘So. Eet is certain zat the murderer eez on ze train, and eez with us…right…NOW’

YEAH HE IS.

GET ‘IM POIROT #poirotontheradio

I read and loved: 

this lovely post by Radio 4’s Robin Ince (him of the Infinite Monkey Cage, and others) about performing after a loss

this old post which NEVER GETS OLD TO ME about how Peeta is Katniss’ Movie Girlfriend (we must talk about Mockingjay at some point, because Katniiiiiiiiiiss)

And I wrote: 

some things I wish I could say to my hairdresser

this melancholy little post about how Christmasses change and stay the same.

Actually I’ve awarded 2015 an upgrade: it was an excellent year. Here’s to whatever might come in 2016.

Christmas Impossible

Photo 19-12-2015, 1 07 48 pm (883x1024)

I hate airports. Stuff Hugh Grant with his ‘my favourite place in the world is an airport’ thing. The Arrivals part is brilliant – marred only slightly if you are the owner of the child dragging his brother along the floor by the foot – but sooner or later you’re making that inevitable return visit to Departures. Heartbreak, raw for everyone to see, in the middle of all the horrid jolly souls going on holiday for New Year.

All the McDonald’s Festive Pies in the world can’t make up for it, I can tell you that.

This is why I am to be found eating bananas and custard for dinner at 8pm, watching Tom Cruise do tiny ridiculous things in Mission Impossible, and compiling the BIGGEST PHOTO POST EVER of our last week. Indulge me loves; it’s nice to put it all in one place.

So! My sister got married this Christmas. I am one of four, and half of us live overseas. Which meant my mum and step-dad, two younger brothers and their other halves all came here for Christmas week. Since some of our party had never been to the UK before, we crammed e v e r y t h i n g in. It was wonderful.

Wedding first. Absolutely lovely. How classy do they look, eh?

SAM_3587 (768x1024)

The boys were already rabid about having so many extra adults to play with.

SAM_3589 (681x1024)

Then some play time. On Sunday afternoon we ran quickly over to Silchester, the ruins of an ancient Roman town nearby. I bet the Romans had sunsets like these too.

Photo 20-12-2015, 3 51 14 pm (800x800)

Photo 20-12-2015, 4 15 14 pm (800x600)

Of course, you can’t do England without London.

Photo 21-12-2015, 12 18 32 pm (681x1024)

Photo 21-12-2015, 11 55 03 am (800x800)

 

We tripped around Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Westminster Abbey and some other pretty fancy stuff. You know London. Full of it. Embarrassing, really.

Photo 21-12-2015, 11 22 51 am (800x800)

 

Photo 21-12-2015, 1 04 54 pm (681x1024)

Photo 21-12-2015, 12 12 24 pm (800x640)

Photo 21-12-2015, 4 00 03 pm (800x800)

Photo 21-12-2015, 4 22 32 pm (818x1024)

Photo 21-12-2015, 4 15 48 pm (681x1024)

The next day, minus siblings, we went to see Nelson’s flagship at Portsmouth, the Victory. It was fantastic.

H got a bit into it.

Photo 22-12-2015, 1 28 50 pm (800x581)

Please zoom in on that photo by the way: his face is hysterical. Full-on Power Ranger.

Photo 22-12-2015, 12 38 28 pm (800x800)

Photo 22-12-2015, 2 31 11 pm (800x532)

Listening to the tour really brought home to me how splendid and patriotic and yet how irredeemably crap it must have been to serve in the Navy in the 1700s. Body parts. Everywhere. All the blimming time.

Then we did Oxford. City of my heart. Seller of excellent noodles.

Photo 23-12-2015, 2 41 30 pm (800x800)

Photo 23-12-2015, 2 44 17 pm (1) (768x1024)

Photo 23-12-2015, 11 32 00 am (1) (768x1024)

Photo 23-12-2015, 3 05 41 pm (1024x1024)

After all that, there was Christmas. I made my first giant Christmas dinner and it was intensely stressful and, like a miracle, came out beautifully even so.

Photo 24-12-2015, 2 01 10 pm (800x532)

SAM_3756 (800x532)

Photo 25-12-2015, 9 21 16 am (800x800)

Even better, my littlest brother proposed to his girlfriend on Christmas Eve, and we all cried, especially when she said yes.

SAM_3801 (800x532)

After Christmas everyone started to go home. Time for some leftover turkey, and one last walk.

Photo 28-12-2015, 3 05 47 pm (800x640)

Photo 28-12-2015, 2 24 20 pm (681x1024)

Photo 28-12-2015, 2 44 52 pm (1) (817x1024)

Photo 28-12-2015, 3 14 18 pm (681x1024)

I am wearing (fake)fur-lined leggings in this photo below, by the way. Thanks, Primark. I felt like Lyra Silvertongue ALL DAY.

SAM_3891 (817x1024)

Photo 28-12-2015, 12 04 51 pm (819x1024)

Phew, still alive? That brings us up to today, with me sat in pyjamas, eating banana custard and watching hobbity Tom Cruise do implausible things, in a doleful sort of way.

It was a great Christmas. Once-in-a-lifetime, really. I’m glad I get to remember it here.

What it’s like

Maybe there’s something about having a houseful of people in their twenties, long before they start thinking about kids, that makes you concentrate on all the things you can’t do now you have children.

(Like staying in bed beyond 7am. Like popping out to the cinema spontaneously. Like, I don’t know, eating a meal and only having to think about your own table manners.)

Anyway, I can’t help doing that occasionally. But I find it useful to remind myself what motherhood is, as well as what it’s not.

For me, this month, it’s

having your two-year-old burst into a room full of people and search every face, anxiety all over him, until he finds yours, and his whole self relaxes.

sitting outside their room reading while they watch a Thomas film, and having them come out to check on you, one and then the other, every thirty seconds.

listening to your four-year-old read a book, his stubby forefinger pointing to the words as he makes the sounds, and feeling like a proper adult parent, doing this Real Parenty Thing, and also that you might die with pride and also that it’s almost time for Enid Blyton, surely.

carrying your too-heavy toddler through the crowds at Buckingham Palace, explaining when he asks that yes, the Queen is probably inside, and she’s probably eating some toast. He looks pleased with this answer. He tells his auntie. Suddenly he gasps, pats both hands solicitously on your cheeks and says ‘Mummy! You’re so cold! Where’s your coat?’

holding your four-year-old’s hand during a long muddy walk, and talking about dinosaurs. He tells you the difference between two dinosaurs you’ve never heard of (one has four claws, the other has two). You have no idea how he knows this. You envision a future, oh, very soon now, where his entire interior life will be joys, interests and complexities that have very little to do with you. The thought makes you feel excited, and a little bereft. Which makes you feel like an idiot but, after all (you reason), becoming less important to someone is hard to do, no matter who it is.

walking to school, one of them in the pushchair, the other scooting next to you, and a grey squirrel runs up the nearest telegraph pole in a flash of fur. For once you all see it, and all at the same time. You watch it up the pole, along the cable. It makes a leap sideways, three feet to the nearby tree. Tiny feet splayed against grey sky. All three of you – two-year-old, four-year-old, thirty-year-old mother – let out a delighted ‘oh!’ as it jumps.

Photo 28-12-2015, 2 28 53 pm (800x799)

The Christmas life

Bring in a tree, a young Norwegian spruce,
Bring hyacinths that rooted in the cold,
Bring winter jasmine as its buds unfold:
Bring the Christmas life into this house.

Bring red and green and gold, bring things that shine,
Bring candlesticks and music, food and wine.
Bring in your memories of Christmas past,
Bring in your tears for all that you have lost.

Bring in the shepherd boy, the ox and ass,
Bring in the stillness of an icy night,
Bring in a birth, of hope and love and light;
Bring the Christmas life into this house.

Wendy Cope
Christmas blog post (2) (819x1024)

Christmas blog post1 (819x1024)

Photo 15-12-2015, 2 28 20 pm (800x800)

Photo 14-12-2015, 4 20 49 pm (800x800)

SAM_3338 (800x532)

Almost there. H finished school this afternoon. We’ve done three airport runs out of four, and from tomorrow will be a massive group of twelve.

The tree is up. All the beds are filled. It’s going to be a good one.

Happy Christmas to you, lovely people. Wishing you peace, and slow mornings, and really giant pastries for breakfast, and so much love.

Ten years of Granny

We had a memorial service for Tim’s Granny yesterday. Granny Ann. She passed away a couple of weeks ago.

I haven’t written about it because in a way it feels like borrowed grief. She wasn’t my granny – I only knew her for ten years, not a whole lifetime. So it feels sort of presumptuous.

But I wanted to write down what I knew about Granny Ann.

I miss her. She always wore hiking boots, indoors and out. Boots and hardy tweed skirts, and when she sat on the sofa to do the crossword she would put a sheet of The Times on the cushion and put her muddy feet up.

I learned to love playing cards with Granny. Endless games of Oh Hell in a lamp-lit sitting room, with the darkness drawing in outside. She was a keen and exact card player, and woe betide you if you dealt in the wrong direction or got distracted during your turn.

At Christmas and Easter she brought bags and bags of chocolate. We split it between us and walked it off afterwards, Granny stumping on ahead with her stick and her cheerful hairy dog. Later on we walked ahead while she walked behind. Later still she stayed indoors while we walked, reading The Times with her feet up.

We took baby Henry to visit her just after he was born. She held him and we took photos, and then I asked her about her childhood and her youth and she talked for an hour, telling me stories about a house by the sea and driving a car in South Africa. I’ve forgotten the details, and I wish I hadn’t. I wish I’d written it down.

Every birthday, every Christmas, every anniversary, for Tim and me and the boys when they came: a card on the mat. A beautiful card that she’d chosen to suit us. A cheque inside. Granny’s cheques got us through many skinny patches in our early married life, and then later on eased us through broken cars, sent us for much-needed dinner dates, bought the boys’ coats and shoes, allowed me in early motherhood to go for a haircut, when only a haircut stood between me and feeling like I’d never be a proper human being again.

She could be fierce. She often was. She was sharply intelligent, brisk and no-nonsense, but generous to a fault. Early on she discovered my favourite cheese, and from then on she would send Waitrose bags across with Tim’s mum every now and again. A fat squashy parcel of sausages from the butcher. Shiny oranges, a few pages from the Times supplement she thought I might enjoy, and my favourite cheese. Who was I, really? That’s what I think about, now. I was just the wife of one of her twelve grandchildren. How did she keep room in her head for my cheese preferences?

Earlier this year she came for afternoon tea, to see our new house. It was high summer. She ate my apple cake and brought juice and tiny mince pies. Both our patio doors were wide open and the sun streamed in to soften all our edges. Teddy sat on the floor and fed Binky his raisins. It was the only time she came here, in the end. I can’t remember whether we knew it at the time, but perhaps we did.

There was a moment, a few days after she died, when I realised that we’d never see a card in her handwriting on our doormat, ever again. The absence of her was new and awful. I cried.

She wasn’t my granny, but I loved her. Because of her I know about long lives, well-lived; about the power of detailed, consistent thoughtfulness, about good manners and getting on with things and keeping your end up. That’s quite a lot for ten years. And Granny Ann, I’m grateful.

Things I wish I could say to my hairdresser

IMG_2037

I sound stupid, don’t I? I do, I sound stupid. I’m sorry. I’m just tired. Do I sound tired? Have I forgotten how to conduct a human conversation?

What’s an angled bob, and why are you so keen for me to have one? Or do I have one already? I’m not keeping up.

When I ask how long you’ve been a hairdresser, it’s not because I think you’re too young or incompetent or something. This is just what my small talk looks like.

When you paint my hair with the dye, why do you not paint the whole strand? What’s up with that last inch? Is that the bit you’re going to cut off?

I really like you, but could we not talk for a bit? It’s not you; you’re lovely. This is just the first three-hour block where no one has needed me to do anything for many months, and I don’t want to make noises with my mouth.

Do you come home, like, COVERED in hair? Like you’ve been wrestling with a giant dog six days a week?

If I asked you for another biscuit, would you bring me one without judgement or tell the other hairdressers about the greedy so-and-so in chair #3?

Are there people who can afford a cut and colour every EIGHT WEEKS? Are there? Because if I spent 100 quid on my hair every two months, you’d be dyeing my hair with our bread and milk and electricity. So I’m nodding and vaguely agreeing right now, but I’ll be back in six months. As per.

I don’t want you to feel bad about my excruciating-pain tangled-hair face. My hair tangles a lot. Brush harder, I can take it.

So, let’s delve into this toner business. Do I really need it, or are you upselling me? What the ruddy heck is a creamy blonde? Is this something I want, and if so why? Can hair have base notes? Because I thought that was wine?

When I went to the loo after the hair wash, and one of the straps on my gown got sort of caught inside my trousers afterwards, and when you took it off at the end it whipped out of my waistband and I jumped and said ‘ooh!’…was that as weird for you as it was for me? PS, it was only inside my trousers, not my pants. Is that better?

I know my extreme Englishness makes it sound like I’m putting on a brave face when I tell you I like it. But I do like it. Honest.

Can I have another biscuit before I go?

When motherhood means impersonating furniture

Photo 27-11-2015, 1 28 24 p.m. (800x800)

Our heating chugs into life at 5.30am. The whole house groans and shifts, boiling water trickling into radiators and pushing out hisses of warm air. Getting ready for us all to wake up with our alarms an hour later, even though in this darkest winter month the sun won’t rise until nearly eight o’ clock.

About twice a week the noise wakes Teddy up. He’s a light sleeper anyway, not like his dead-to-the-world brother who topples off the toilet regularly when we wake him up to pee. As soon as he’s awake he yells for one of us in a croaky voice, and I get up sharpish to rescue him, since a Teddy unattended is one that will soon rouse half the street.

We pad back to the big bed, through the dark and the new warmth, and I lie him between us, As soon as I’ve settled myself he wriggles over determinedly and wedges himself into my side. It’s a bizarre thing that a boy who needs strapping down during the day (if you want him within sight) only wants enclosure at night. He sleeps best in his cot, jammed up against the bars. When he’s not in his cot, he likes to pretend I’m one. I don’t usually sleep well with fierce little elbows under my ribs and a hoarse, admonitory ‘Mummeeee, I need a cuggle‘, floating out of the dark every time I move away. So I don’t sleep much during that last hour, as you wouldn’t if you were pretending to be a cot. But it feels like hibernating in endless cosy blankets with a tiny, fluffy, indignant animal, and if this is what it is to be a cot then I never want to move anywhere at all.

***

At half-past three we roll in from school, cold and wet. We’ve never done full school days in winter before, and this stormy November has severely cramped our style. No walks and no outings: just school, a snack, and then – since H is too frazzled for homework and too damp and exhausted to play – we put on a film. Old-school Disney, new-school Pixar, Harry Potter with the proviso that we stick to ones that are almost age-appropriate.

I have been in two-year-old mode all day, and switching abruptly back to four-year-old interaction is jarring and wonderful. I can’t eat chocolate sneakily and pretend it’s grapes, but we can have proper conversation. So he tells me about his day while I turn on the radiators and hunt for the remote and the rain batters the inky windows in bursts. Then as I find it and sit down, he curls right against me like a cat. The music starts up, T hops to his feet (he can’t sit still under a blanket for a million pounds) and we’re off.

At some point I extract myself to put in some more washing. H immediately whimpers after me ‘Mummy! My neck hurts when you’re not here!’ Meaning, of course, that he’s using me as an armchair and now I’ve left his head to fend for itself. It’s not all that comfortable being an armchair – I’m twisted round the wrong way and I’ve needed the loo for about half an hour – but today I leave the washing where it is and come back. The radiators hum gently with hot air. It’s dark and blustery outside, and my four-year-old only wants to sit with me, and if this is what it is to be an armchair then I don’t want to move anywhere at all.

Besides, I don’t know how much longer they’ll want me as part of their furniture. Not long, probably. Not very much longer at all.

Photo 17-11-2015, 3 54 01 p.m. (800x800)

Bacon, waffles, malteasers, birthday

Photo 13-11-2015, 7 27 18 a.m. (799x800)

You can’t really tell, because he’s the eternally youthful type who probably has an ageing portrait of himself in our loft (behind the saggy maternity clothes and 20000 small empty cardboard boxes), but Tim finally turned thirty this month.

We were born in the same year, but I was first, so there’s a long eight months in the middle of the year where I am thirty and wrinkled and hobbling towards the grave, and he is gambolling along in the verdant Spring of his life at twenty-nine, so it’s always gratifying when he catches up. I have been telling him good things about thirty for ages. It’s been kind to me so far. I hope it agrees with him too.

Since it was a big one we tried to cram in all his favourite things. A boy-free night in a spa hotel in one of our favourite cities. A massage. Some huge dinners. The new James Bond film at the IMAX, in the squashy seats. Having arranged all this beforehand in secret, we left him a washing line hung with notes and sweets to follow from bed to the birthday table, to let him know what we’d be doing. Please imagine for a second pegging sweeties onto a piece of wool with tiny pegs and in the unrestrained presence of a ravenous two-year-old. At 6am. T thought Christmas had come early. I thought I’d panic-sweated out a full two pounds by the time we were done.

SAM_3237 (800x800)

Photo 13-11-2015, 8 10 20 a.m. (800x639)

Tim had specified a few techie presents I’d gratefully ordered from Amazon, so while he exclaimed over extra-powerful lights and a G-clamp (which sounds much ruder than it is, alas), the boys and I made waffles and bacon. He’d requested a Malteaser cake, and I’d rummaged all around the internet before settling on this one. It was a standard three-layer chocolate cake, made into a thing of wonder by pouring half a tin of Horlicks powder into the cake mix and frosting. Did you know the inside of Malteasers is basically solid Horlicks? I love them both, but now I love them both more.

We put an ice fountain on it instead of a regular candle. Because one thing we haven’t done yet with this house is burn it down, so we thought we’d have a crack.

Photo 13-11-2015, 9 26 47 a.m. (800x532)

SAM_3242 (800x639)

We had a quiet day while H was at school, spent mostly eating more cake, watching James Bond movies and weeping a little over Daniel Craig’s beautiful craggy face. Then we dropped the boys off with their grandparents and headed down to Winchester.

We haven’t been away without them all year. Oh, the bed. The huge, squashy-pillowed bed and uninterrupted sleep therein. The pizza-and-pie restaurant we found for dinner. The geriatric couple we made friends with in the sauna, until the lady ruthlessly stole my towel. After Tim’s massage the next morning he emerged smelling bewitchingly of lavender, and we popped into IKEA for a few bits before settling down to weep over Daniel Craig’s beautiful craggy face in HIGH DEFINITION. That bit where he drives the car into the oh my gosh I can’t even. Even Tim couldn’t even. The gentleman sat next to me couldn’t even, and this was despite Tim’s lavender oils drifting soothingly down the aisle. We haven’t been quite the same since.

Photo 13-11-2015, 5 41 30 p.m. (800x800)

Anyway, he makes a good thirty. He makes a good basically everything. Ready for another decade, Mr J? I’ll bring the cake. You bring the G-clamp, now you’ve got one.

Five messages to give your tiny introvert

SAM_3207 (820x1024)

When was the last time you read an article extolling the writer’s love for fuzzy socks and a good book over a loud party? About two-and-a-half minutes ago, right? They’re everywhere. Susan Cain’s Quiet seems to have kicked off the season of the introvert. It feels like it’s suddenly quite hip to sit for a while in a toilet cubicle because no one can see you in there.

These are my people. They are also, I think, the people of my eldest boy.

He might not always be this way. That’s fine too. I try to be cautious about applying labels with glue that won’t rub off. But for now I’m working with the hypothesis that an introvert is raising a probable introvert, and it can be tricky for both of us. It’s not easy being a parent of small, sticky children when alone time is important to you. My toilet cubicle moments now come with an audience. At the end of the day, when I’m tired and frazzled, I almost always have someone literally clinging to my coattails.

Have you noticed, though, that being a small child and an introvert is equally difficult? We encourage and reward people-person behaviour almost from birth:

‘Oh, he’s such a smiler! Always chatting away to complete strangers.’

‘Say hello to [this relation you’ve never met], darling. Now give her a hug. Now give her a kiss.’

‘Why don’t you go and play with the other children? Go on, ask them if you can play.’

If you have a child who refuses to play the game, who doesn’t want to talk about himself unless he knows you very well, who finds large groups overwhelming, whoever might be in them: we read that as being shy, or difficult, or not having good manners.

I interpreted it that way too. Me! When actually, if someone made me do the things I make H do in the name of good child-behaviour, I’d be stressed and furious. The day I realised this (*ping* <–that was my lightbulb moment) I knew I had to get over the why-isn’t-he-performing-for-strangers thing and start parenting with an introvert’s head on.

A DISCLAIMER: I am very obviously not an authority in parenting (a whole four years in, steady on). But I am a flipping expert at being an introvert. My badge is in the shape of an unoccupied toilet cubicle and I wear it proudly. And I know it’s easy to make an introverted child feel out of place and wrong, when all they are is wired differently, because I’ve accidentally done it myself.

So from that perspective, here are five messages I think a tiny introvert needs to hear loud and clear.

You will need alone time, so ask for it

Introverts recharge in their own company. How often are small children left alone, particularly when they have a sibling? Little introverts find this confusing, I think: sometimes they need to be clingy and sometimes they want to be by themselves. They anticipate a birthday party gleefully for weeks and then, half an hour in, they’re completely overwhelmed by their friends. I’ve tried to let H know that it’s alright to need alone time. When he asks for it, I make sure we accommodate him.

You can show all of your emotions to me

I can’t think of a better way to push an introvert further in than to let them know, subconsciously or overtly, that you don’t want to see their anger, frustration, jealousy or sadness. They may want to process these feelings independently, especially as they get older, but they do need to know that they always have a safe place with you. The rule in our house is that all your feelings are ok…but it’s not ok to express them with disrespect or fists.

Take your time

Here’s the thing: being an introverted child doesn’t get you a free pass out of good manners, just like being an introverted adult isn’t an excuse for being rude. But it takes them more time to adjust to social situations, so be their ally and give them the time. Let them sit with you for a while before answering questions. Let them know that they can smile instead of saying anything, if that’s easier. Don’t apologise for their quietness in front of them and other adults, in that smiling, passive-aggressive way that communicates to them that they’ve done something wrong.

Be kind, be kind, be kind

They might never be the life and soul of the party. They need to know – because they won’t hear it from many places – that this is alright. There’s more than one way to make your presence felt. There at the edge of the group they will find others. They can be kind, and notice people that don’t usually get noticed. They can make all the difference. What a valuable thing that is.

You are enough: to me, to you and to everyone

Like it or not, schools, work environments and social situations reward people who think on their feet and speak up loudly. Your tiny introvert will get the message from a thousand places: you are too quiet, too slow, too awkward, too boring. Make sure they never, ever get that from you.

There’s nothing wrong with them. To you, they are perfect. Inside a toilet cubicle or out, they are enough. They are enough. Whisper it in their ear. Shout it to the tree-tops if you have to. They are enough.

Photo 23-10-2015 11 34 44 am (768x1024)

Leaf-fall, and other things

We are on the last leg of a long walk (for you), and I am carrying the bike you have just started to ride and the hat you refuse to wear. It’s just starting to turn cold, just the tiniest of chills in the air. Your hands are always red hot, your feet as well, and you probably don’t need a hat at all with the fire you generate for yourself.

In sight of the house, and you are flagging, which for you means wandering off to squeeze through fences and hide behind trees, anything to postpone the moment I will suggest carrying you. I am pretending that we are steam engines to keep you moving. Your jumper is mustard and your duffel coat is stained with greenish moss and you are, as ever, the most beautiful thing I ever saw in my life. Your nose is starting to run and you’re rubbing it across your cheeks in that disgusting way two-year-olds do. You are cold, then. We need to get home.

Then the wind roars and swirls over us, and shakes another batch of dry leaves off the oak trees high above our heads. Thousands of them are pulled free of their last tethers, caught up in gusts and eddies as though for a final hurrah. They swirl in formation, mesmerisingly, like migrating birds, and then fall to earth. We’re caught in it like snow. You look up, and up.

‘The leabs! The leabs are falling down!’ you exclaim. Mouth open in wonder. You can’t stop looking. You still can’t say your V’s.

It’s been a bit of a hard week, where I have wrestled with knotty adult things I will not tell you about, now or later. Or maybe I will, much later, when you find you have wrestling of your own to do. Watching you stand, open-mouthed, in swirling leaf-flakes doesn’t solve anything for me, in the way that beautiful things don’t ever negate hard things but stand side by side with them, light and shadow together and complete in themselves. But for a minute I watch you watching the leaf-fall, and think about how unbearably lovely the look on your face is, and rest. I’m glad of a rest, and glad it comes with you.

‘Do you want some lunch?’ I ask you once the wind has dropped.

‘Yep’, you say, adding after a moment of consideration, ‘a Teddy lunch. Not a train lunch’.

I’d forgotten we were steam trains. I make a wheeshing sound, and not a good one.

‘Thass a elephant noise’, you say, reprovingly.

‘Oh yes. Sorry.’

I shift your bike under my other arm, and we go home.

Photo 11-11-2015 11 58 10 am (1) (800x800)

%d bloggers like this: