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.
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.
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.
The Large Family are firm favourites in our house. The cheeky young elephants appeal to Bear, while Mr. Invisible and I can relate to Mr. and Mrs. Large as alcohol-free versions of ourselves. Five Minutes Peace particularly resonates. Mrs. Large takes steps to secure this evasive pleasure, as desirable as chocolate and as rare as Kryptonite. It may take days in the planning and still something could come up at the last second to destroy it. Mrs. Large manages three minutes and forty five seconds for herself, but she still has to clear up the mess. There’s always a price to pay!
My morning has been a struggle. Bear was ready in his school uniform promptly, waiting by the front door. Homework, tick. School bag, tick. PE kit, tick. Lunch, tick. But we had to run more or less all the way for him to just about get in last before the door closed, before I got around the corner and wept down the phone to Mr. Invisible. The reason. Grandad. It’s not his fault. It’s not mine either. I just don’t want anymore mornings like this.
So when I unexpectedly found myself between places with five minutes to spare, I jumped at it. Toasted cheesy crumpet and proper coffee with hot milk. On my own. Completely. Priceless.
My Dad was 40 when I was born. I was almost 40 when Bear was born. I sometimes wonder if I am seeing them both through a weird mirror. Is Bear anything like my Dad was at age five? Old photographs give the nod, but they are unreliable witnesses. Even if Grandma were alive to tell me, the passage of eighty years might distort her vision. Will Bear be anything like my Dad when he is 85? They have some personality traits in common. I probably have them too. This is where it gets complicated. I am the mirror, but I am also a link in the chain. This is my story too. But our stories are not the same. I don’t look at Bear and see myself at his age. We share some of the same passions: teddy bears, books, building things, but he is not me. He has his own thoughts, his own dreams and desires, his own fears, his own soul. His life will be a mixture of the things he chooses and the things he chooses to do about the things he can’t choose. (I’ve just got back from the Donald Rumsfeld school of plain English!)
Dad has incurable cancer. It was diagnosed four years ago. Three and a half of those four years were ‘healthy’. The last half has been a challenge. But in the scheme of things it’s not that bad. He isn’t in constant pain. We can still talk about stuff and have a bit of a laugh (as long as it’s timed correctly around medication and exertion!) So what does ‘dying’ mean and is he doing it? Scientists can explain ‘dead’ and ‘alive’ pretty well, but ‘living’ and ‘dying’ is the stuff of philosophers, poets and those on first name terms with Mortality.
Maybe it’s about now. Maybe ‘living’ is about being in the moment. Not just being there, but inhabiting that moment and making it our own. Forever. Once we’ve been in a moment, it’s too late for anyone to take us out of it. Once it’s passed us by, there’s no way of getting back into it.
So as long as his medication has kicked in and he isn’t between places, Dad chooses ‘living.’ Long may it continue.
After Olympic-Fever comes Olympic-Fatigue. Yep! I’ve officially had enough of the Olympics. I thought we might watch a highlights programme at the end of each day and perhaps listen to a few events on the radio. But no, that’s not enough for my lot. All day every day, our telly has been tuned in to one or other of the BBC’s twenty four (yes twenty four!) Olympic channels. I’m a ‘telly for half an hour before bed and definitely not during the day’ sort of person so my stress levels are on the ceiling.
Time for some recovery. Dad wanted a bit of a lie in this morning so I made myself a gorgeous fresh coffee and whipped up some hot milk. I even made a cheerful heart pattern on top. Of course it went cold before I had the chance to drink it. Dad insisted on coming straight downstairs after his shower and then gave us a really hard time because it was too much effort for him. Then there was pandemonium while Bear and Mr. Invisible got themselves ready to go out. They are trekking across to Surrey to watch the Cycling Time Trials. Right now the house is peaceful. Dad is snoozing on the sofa. Dogford is at my feet and Catford is mincing about, but in an undemanding manner. I might even make myself another coffee and actually drink it this time.
Maybe by the time Bear and Mr. Invisible get back, I’ll be sufficiently recovered to do it all over again.
Oops! Actually that was yesterday and I was so exhausted when they got in, I forgot to post!!
Rupert Pink arrived at his new home today. It’s the first time he’s been outside my parents’ house for over forty years. How did my special teddy manage to end up in a black bag in the attic? Maybe I’m biased, but he has always been my gold standard for a teddy bear. He has a proper stiff face, teddy eyes and the right amount of stitching under his shiny black nose. He has moving arms and legs and leather pads for his hands and feet. He isn’t properly pink anymore, but that just adds to his charm.
I can only suppose that he was briefly supplanted in my affections by newer, sleeker, shinier bears. Then he disappeared. I’m sorry Rupert Pink. I hope you’ll forgive me. If you can’t, I know you’ll give Bear a chance to make it right.
It must be a shock to be overwhelmed by an enthusiastic 5-year-old after twenty-odd years in the attic. Poor Roop probably needs a drink! And finally I’ve got just the old teddy bear I want.
I enjoyed my weekend in Ireland. It’s just that I’m pleased to be back. Bear and Mr. Invisible had a fabulous time. I could tell by the state of the house and the lack of clean laundry! I missed them, but I’m glad we did it. I needed to go away to feel grounded again. In the busyness of life it’s easy to lose track of the things that matter. It’s taken me a couple of days and I still haven’t caught up with my jobs, but I’m properly home now.
Mr. Invisible met me at the airport on Sunday night. That’s the start of homecoming. (I love being met from airports.) Next thing ticked off was the red bus. Even when I was at university, my muscles started to relax when I saw my first red bus on homecoming. It’s a bit like the first sip of wine on a summer evening. Indoors, I made Dogford wait while I looked at Bear sleeping soundly in the ‘pea on a fork’ position. He looked huge. He can’t have grown 15 cm in a weekend, so I guess I imagine him as a smaller bear than he really is. Then I let Dogford welcome me properly. Even Lady Catford condescended to be stroked (on her own terms of course!)
Bear’s face lit up when he came into my room on Monday morning. Make no mistake. He had a fantastic weekend, he was bubbling about it and wanted to tell me everything! We were only just on time for school. Walking home through the park after dropping him, I felt the most amazing sense of peace. I felt it again on the the flats this morning. It didn’t rain today (newsworthy!), but there is so much water. The flats are incredibly marshy. Dogford was splashing and generally being a dog. There were the most gorgeous water lillies in the lake. Gentle. There are many beautiful places in the world and lovely people everywhere, but nothing that comes close to home. I’m more certain than ever that it’s my life I’m living, the one I’m supposed to have.