It was Bear’s school sports day today and finally the finish line is finally coming into view. The last corner is just ahead. Finishing is my objective now. Winning is irrelevant. The race? The school year of course.
In September Bear was finishing his homework on the day he got it. This week he did it before breakfast on handing-in day. In September, Bear’s school uniform was ironed and ready for the week on Sunday night. I haven’t ironed since Easter. I’m not even sure I have enough clean shirts to get through the week and what does it matter anyway? He can barely fit into them. I refuse to buy new school uniform in the summer term. Not only does he have six whole weeks to grow out of it, but the uniform must be new and shiny in September. Don’t ask why. It just does. I last wrote in his school reading record about a month ago. He has read his school books to me, but not when I’ve had a pen handy. He only reads them if we don’t have anything else on us, in the same way that I read the sick bag on an aeroplane if I forget my book. He prefers his own books. He’s six. He wants to read. He’s reading. He enjoys it. End of.
This is my big time of year for feeling inadequate. Around now I take stock of what I have achieved compared to what I wanted to achieve and I find myself lacking. I wanted to write every day. Ok so this blog is not all I write but we can all see how well I’ve done. Not. I wanted to get my house sorted out. It still looks as though about twenty untidy people live here. I have this vision of how my house should look. I had a plan for getting it like it. Life got in the way. As for deciding what I want to do with the rest of my life. Well, I might just leave that for September. In fact, I might just leave everything for September. I might just stop being so hard on myself for now. During this school year, Auntie and I cared for our Dad as well as we were able. He died peacefully with both of us by his side. Dogford and Catford are healthy and seemingly happy. Bear is still laughing and Mr. Invisible is still here. I must have done something right.
I think I’ll enjoy the summer and save the resolutions for the season of new beginnings, when the air is filled with the fragrance of empty notebooks and freshly-sharpened pencils.
Life is about living the unthinkable, bearing the unbearable and continuing. Somehow. We live ordinary moments and do ordinary things. Mr. Invisible and I went out for drinks with friends this evening. It was fun. It was ordinary. It was special.
As life goes on, you experience more life-beginning, life-changing, life-ending moments. Each is a step outside time. Ordinary things continue while these extra-ordinary things take place, until you realise that ordinary doesn’t exist. God is in the detail. Everything is connected. Ordinary things are special. We were drinking Pinot Grigio blush and dancing to Dexys Midnight Runners. It’s a celebration of life. An act of love even. Because. Life. Goes. On. Even when it feels impossible. Even when you don’t feel like it. Life is special enough to celebrate. Live. Love. Dance (but only if the babysitter has a late pass!)
You can have too many signs. Sometimes they say so many things that they don’t say anything at all. Inspirational words aren’t quite so inspirational when they become just another thing to clean, or to make me feel inadequate because I haven’t cleaned!
‘No Dad Dancing’ is different. It made Bear laugh. It made Mr. Invisible dance. And each time I see it, I think of my own Dad. I can hear his laughter, his singing. I can see the faded flowers on the tea towel he used to move from side to side behind his hips while he danced in the kitchen of our old house. The one that we don’t live in anymore because we’ve grown up and Mum and Dad are not coming back.
Dad was an enthusiastic dancer. A cousin once pointed out that I’d ‘really gone for it’ when dancing with my Dad at a birthday party. It was the only way to dance with him. The only way I stood a chance of keeping up.
‘No Dad Dancing’ is different. It brings me close to him again. And I need to be close to him again.
I never had books by Julia Donaldson in my house before Bear. It wasn’t personal. I’d just never heard of her. Within a very short time, I knew a number of them by heart and now I can’t imagine life without them. Similarly googly eyes. What would I have done with them before Bear? Maybe put them in pairs on the walls to make Mr. Invisible and I look popular? Like pancake ingredients, they are now firmly established as something I can’t run out of unless I want to be classed as a ‘bad mummy.’
For the past few days, Bear has been rescuing empty bottles to upcycle into weird creatures. He has found tissue paper, bits of card, feathers, paint and glue from our craft supplies and got on with it by himself. Halfway through the second bottle creature, disaster struck. No googly eyes!
After a good rummage in (yet another) box of collage and craft stuff I found a few and saved the day. Phew! Bear celebrated by making a couple of red tissue paper creatures. In the meantime I added googly eyes to my shopping list. You can’t have too many!
I love the way Bear uses language. Children seem to have an innate aptitude for grammar. They need to learn vocabulary and the irregularities. The rest takes care of itself. When Bear was a baby someone advised Mr. Invisible and I that children are as intelligent as we are, just smaller. Bear interchanges expressions into different contexts, sometimes with hilarious results.
We were walking home from school today, hand in hand when I pointed out that he is a bit croaky today. ‘Yes mummy,’ he said. ‘My real voice has gone away. This is my supply voice.’
Now I’m starting to wonder how often his teacher is away!
Bear and I often walk past this VW camper van on the way home from school. Maybe the window sticker is supposed to say something about newer, faster cars. But I hear it mocking me as I try to edge past unnoticed.
Bear had his first ever spelling test at school last week. There were four sets of words increasing in difficulty from set 1 to 4. Bear’s teacher said the children could choose which set to learn. Much to my relief he decided not to go for set 4. I thought ‘counterintelligence’ was a bit optimistic for a six year-old too! When he chose to learn set 3, my first reaction was to gulp and ask myself if these weren’t too difficult. I’ve known adults who struggle with ‘surprise’ and even some who’ve been on a snowboard before they could actually spell it. But I resolved to apply my usual parenting mantra – provide support and do a bit of clearing up if necessary.
I needn’t have worried. He thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing and spelled all of the words correctly in the test. Apart from another boy in his class who chose set 4, everyone chose one of the easier two sets. I was impressed by the confidence of the two and I admit to feeling slightly humbled. In their shoes I would have balked at the task unless explicitly encouraged by an adult. At first I assumed that Bear is simply more confident than my younger-self. But what if there’s more to it than that? Are we to believe the stuff about school being geared to the way girls learn? Surely if two of the boys could do it, at least four of the girls must have been able to do it too. Maybe the difference between Bear and me has more to do with gender than personality. Apparently testosterone levels double in boys at around the age of four, so hormone differences must come into play even at their tender age.
I could go on all night about measures of success in society being set by men, so of course they’re more successful at the stuff they find important. I’m not going off on that one now, I just know the girls can do it too! We might need confidence and encouragement, but my hope for the girls in his class is that they will find it – from parents, teachers, friends and ultimately from themselves. Come on girls! I know you’ve got it. It’s time for you to know it too!
Snow. What does it mean? Transport chaos. The wrong kind of snow. The right kind of snow at the wrong time. Trying to keep warm. Treacherous pavements. Problems with deliveries to shops. Unable to get to shops. Nightmare journey to work. Even worse coming home.
I guess it depends whether you’re 6 or 86. Grandad used to dread it, the cold, that icy layer when the top bit has melted and then re-frozen, the grey stuff by the side of the road, the slowdown in the economy…
To Bear, it’s the pinnacle of winter. The stuff that he’s been waiting for since the sun first dipped in the autumn sky and we started needing coats and proper shoes. The anticipation is almost as good as the event itself. He was sorely disappointed when Monday’s offering didn’t settle. He’s been listening to weather forecasts and checking for updates on my phone as if life itself depended on it.
It’s almost time. For the past couple of days the frost has still been on the grass mid-afternoon. The early-morning icy layer on the puddles is now an all day event. One more sleep and if the forecast is to believed, we will be living in a Christmas card by mid-morning.
So if you’ve no place to go (and have sufficient food and heating!) let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!
Bear often comes up with something profound seemingly out of the blue. Of course it’s not out of the blue to him. His cogs are constantly whirring and trying to make sense of this world, of which he finds himself at the centre.
We were eating turkey and stilton tart (frozen Christmas offering – yum!) when he started off with, ‘Will Frankie Bear come to heaven with us?’
I am never prepared for these questions. My answer to ‘how do you know there’s a baby in your tummy?’ still haunts me and that was about three years ago. If I’d known it was going to be so important, I might have considered my response, rather than spend the next however many years having to answer further questions and speculation regarding the act of ‘weeing on a stick.’
So what to say? I can hardly tell my six year-old that he probably won’t care by then. Frankie will very likely be in a box in the attic or at the back of a cupboard if he’s a lucky bear. He might even come out occasionally, but he probably won’t be the constant companion he is now. Bear is six. He doesn’t need to know all of this. I opted for, ‘Would it be heaven without Frankie?’
Bear solemnly shook his head. ‘He’s part of love and love lasts forever, so he’ll come.’
Hopefully that set his mind at rest. Call me a bad mum if you like, but the ever after is something he’s going to have to work out for himself. I don’t have all the answers. And even if I do, they’re my answers. He needs to have his own. Even if it takes him a lifetime to work them out. Even if it means that Frankie Bear is going to heaven after all.
I’m good at lists. I write lots of them. Especially to do lists. Sometimes, I even cross something off. At the beginning of each year, I make a list of the things I want to achieve. This gets updated from time to time. Sometimes I even do some of it.
This year I’m giving myself some space to grow. We lost Dad in November (hence the long silence), so there’s a gap in my life. I need this to be filled purposefully and not just taken up with the life-equivalent of fast food.
So here they are, my 2013 resolutions to be fulfilled by my future self, so that my future self will be fulfilled …
- Go to bed. No more stealing from tomorrow to catch up with what I should have done today or worse, with stuff that doesn’t need doing at all!
- Drink water. Hardly any of us get enough of it and I feel so much healthier and energetic when I do, so why don’t I just do it all the time!
- Make everything I do positive. I could make my home more welcoming, spend quality time with friends and family, allow myself a well-earned break from time to time, help out at something or other. Whatever it is, it’s going to count.