I took my cache of goods to the food bank today, a little early before the end of my #BaublesToAdvent2018 campaign, but the food is bought and better there than waiting in my kitchen.
As I drove there, after the daily school run, in my battered war-horse of a family car I felt just how close this could be. When I arrived there, in my charity shop-bought coat and battered pumps, I could just as easily be asking for help as bringing an offering. My partner and I cut our cloth carefully to ensure a roof over our head, food in our pantry and that the children have all they need, but for my job we might be closer to needing this service than I would wish to think about.
I remember an old hand at work, discussing an awful tragedy which had come to our notice, saying: “There but for the grace of God go I.” Faith or not it is mere chance for a lot of us that we have not become too ill to work, injured or some other circumstances which might keep us from our incomes.
With the exception of the super rich, we all walk such a fine tightrope over these things. We must make sure we do what we can to provide for all, while we can, for tomorrow it could be us.
I sat in the drivers seat of my car, sleeping babies in the back, awaiting the boy as he queued inside the supermarket for sundries and watched a couple walking towards the trolley park.
The woman was tall, strong and carrying weight in the legging and velour top combination that exposed her sturdy form as she carried her child close to her in her arms. A man, who I took to be her partner, shorter than the woman, shuffled steps behind her with a limp, bearing some of the burden on a stick. The child was around the same age as my two little ones in the car and was cosy in a snow suit, wrapped up against the chill of the shifting seasons which brought us to this, the first day of October. The man’s movements were less suggestive of injury than illness. The woman looked back at him and paused, smiling, a moment of genuine love and care. The child joined her with a tiny red-lipped grin and the moment was fixed – of happiness and love. None of the three wore clothes of any expense or structure, their shoes were cheap, everything was well worn and put together in the best way they could muster.
I looked at them and wondered what lay ahead for them. The future does not bode well for people with any vulnerability, particularly not in the current system. Meagre offerings for disability are being attacked and questioned in continuous waves in this political climate, relief from poverty even more so. I watch their child with sadness, wondering what sort of a life she will have in this coming world. I wonder for my own children, for my family.
You wouldn’t think, perhaps, that Deadpool 2 has much to say on this line of thought, but there is a part of the dark comedy Marvel action film that has resonated with me in this respect. If you’ve not seen it, it has a character, Cable, a time traveller who has come back from a dystopian future to kill a young boy, Russell, from the film to prevent him murdering Cable’s wife and daughter in his present. He takes with him a blood soaked teddy bear belonging to his daughter as a grim mascot. The journey has used up one of his two charges for time-hopping, the other he plans to use to return to his family once the deed is done.
In a series of events the main character, Deadpool, sacrifices himself to essentially save the soul of Russell and as he dies Cable, seeing his daughter’s bear become cleansed of blood, slides through time again, this time to insert a lead-based arcade token he has taken from Deadpool, into his body suit, to save Deadpool’s life, yet still allowing the sacrifice to be evident enough to reach the heart of Russell.
The point of this isn’t, as Deadpool crows “You did it for me…”, it’s a matter of hope, as Cable reveals his daughter’s name to be in the moment he slips the token. Cable knows Hope will be safe, but he also knows that without this premise, the premise of him being part of something bigger than himself to reshape the history of the future, the future will still be unbearable. Cable chooses to sacrifice the time with his family to try to be part of something more, to create a better world for Hope to survive in.
Hope lives in a world where people are willing to make sacrifices to make it better. That’s the truth of it all isn’t it. Hope lives when good people refuse to give in, where they work together, raising people up and standing in the way, taking the hits. We all like to think that, when the chips are down, we would be the people who would do our bit.
Well the chips are down.
There’s a lot to think about, for what needs to be done next. We all need to be part of something bigger, for my children, for the little girl in the snowsuit, for hope.
I’m finding myself often sitting and gazing at my now four month old twin daughters.
They already seem so big already. I am right there, close by each day and already I feel like I am missing out on so much. It is all passing by so quickly, their faces shifting in shape from newborn to the chubby faces of their age, almost between blinks. Every minute they seem to pick up fragments of personality, new skills, onwards towards the next stage. Sometimes I find myself, as they cry in my arms through no other cause than tiredness, looking at them warmly and steadily with rapt love, so aware that this stage will be over all too soon.
Their older siblings make things no easier. My biggest girl, my first born and for so long my little side-kick, is moving through the years at school at an alarming pace, becoming more and more independent and I’m painfully aware I’ve missed so much. Ever since my first period of maternity leave for her I have worked full time, often with overtime, to allow our life of the two of us to continue forward with security. I’ve missed school performances, despite my best efforts, and exhaustion has often meant I’ve not been entirely present for so much of our free time. That realisation, that admission, is devastating.
Recently, ever aware of time passing me by, I’ve started to fret that I’m not remembering enough. I find myself desperately trying to soak up the detail of each moment, trying to hold down every sensation – how the light falls across the babies smiles, how their skin feels on mine, the exact sound of their coos. These are the details of the times I will have to use to sustain me when I have to be away from them, as they put these early months behind them, develop and grow.
In this second maternity leave, I find myself dreading my return to work. I’m equally cursed and blessed you see. A well paying job but having to sacrifice time with my babies to make it work. All the security, but so little time to be with the very thing I am working for.
I know, it’s rare these days for anyone to have the luxury of staying at home to see their children grow up and it might as well be a pipe dream. It is what everyone would have, would that they could. But some people do – don’t they – they have the best of both worlds? Security and the time to make the most of precious moments?
This, surely, is something I can make work? I am creative, I seem to be able to write things people want to read. Would this be even possible? I have ideas for novels, for books, for projects. What would it take for me to advance this in a real way to try and make our dreams come true?
Last month was welcome in sweeping away and closing doors behind it. Taking with it the immediate instant sting of grief, of loss.
It had started with a tiny heartbeat. For us this was Hope, a miracle after an earlier loss. We saw Hope on a screen, wept and held hopeful hands togerther, marvelling at that tiny heart beating in less than a centimetre of potential.
Just three weeks later as my slightly rounded belly was pressed down, we saw Hope again, not much bigger but with that strong, minute pulsing absent. Hope was gone, lost. All there was now was grief and medical options to physically let her go.
That heartbeat had drummed out a promise of a future world, a world that we now know will not become. Thoughts had been turned to preparations. Preparations which are no longer needed. The loss of that tiny heartbeat had been incorporated into our own heartbeats, only to be a soft echo and nothing more.
Two weeks after that, well, what we are left with is the wondering – what is Hope?
What is hope? Defined by the Merriam Webster dictionary as “desire accompanied by expectation or belief in fulfillment”. The dictionary definition, as with so many words, falls far short of the lived experience of hope.
Hope is, in the absence of concrete guarantees, the need to get back up. Hope is not a wish, not a vision of what is better, it is the part that screams “DO NOT GIVE IN”. It is not a petalline and blush concept – it is found in the viscera, perhaps even is of the blood rather than the heart. It is the part of all of us that – in the face of abject mortality, in the line of failure after failure, after losses so great we fear we might never breathe again – tears apart at fear, at defeat, at fatigue. It understands that there can be better than this and shrieks “GET BACK UP.”
Hope is in every act of carrying on, every moment of continuing with each other, with our children who have made it into the world. Hope bursts through, blistering and ripping through grief, into love. It does it again and again and will not stop. Hope is the thing that unifies us all. It inspires courage and lets us start over again and again, and again.
Hope is not lost. Hope lives on always, in all of us.
* If you have been or are being affected by pregnancy loss please make sure you are supported. If you are struggling there are a great many organisations offering help and support. The Miscarriage Association and babyloss are good places to start. And, for all it’s worth, our hearts are with you too.
My partner James has also written about this experience- unusually from the perspective of the dad. I warn you, it is heartbreaking but worth reading here.
This morning my boy drew himself into bed, exhausted after his share of caring for the twins in the night and with hot coffee on the bedside table for me to awake and to take over care. He held me close in his hot arms and spoke softly in his low, deep tones to me about love, our love, in the terms of kindness that are habitual for us. The safety, the intimacy and the feeling of the pieces being put together. This is it, for always, all at once familiar and new, exciting and reliable, home and adventure. For all the scars we carry are held as jewels which led us to this very moment, every moment.
On a morning last week my first-born, my golden haired girl, crawled into that same bed, afraid and frantic from a nightmare, having quietly scaled the stairs up to our room in the dark. I brought her close to me and whispered words of comfort to her, intertwined with threats to the spectres of the dark, from the burning ferocity of maternal love. As she melted into safety, into my concerned but tired embrace, we fell asleep in the dark, my heart held in my arms and swept over by the honeyed sensation of knowing she is safe.
Twenty-four years ago, sitting with my arms around my grandmother as she wept, having fallen in the hospital toilet in what turned out to be her last months, promoted from 12-year-old to the first familiar face of comfort in a moment of fearful realisation. She told me not of her pain but of her shame. The love and protection she always had given me became a well to draw upon to quench this sudden, terrifying need for reassurance. I held her close and spoke words of love which I hoped were enough.
It started with a simple dream, a hammock under a tree…
Stuff. It’s a bind isn’t it. I’ve been accumulating it like lint for years. I’ve never been wealthy. Much like everyone else just modest gains in income, but roughly breaking even each month after consumerist drives have led me to the acquisition of a cool what-not, the must have doo-dad or the pretty, shiny thing. Stuff that keeps me in the exact same position I’ve been in all my life – treading water.
Don’t get me wrong – it’s a fortunate comatose position to be in – but lord knows it’s a waste of a life if stuff is all you have to show for it at the end.
In finding the boy, my soulmate (a concept I never believed in, much less daring to hope he was an actual, real person) I found a real dream. First mooted as a donkey sanctuary, where I could rest my weary head in a pretty, flower covered straw hat, it evolved into the simple idea of a house in a wood with a hammock. Security and a home in which to go the long way round for coffee (coffee via stopping for a kiss naturally). We wanted a home where we could run as close to self sufficiency as we could – green energy, harvested water and a garden to eat. We didn’t want for much, just a simple and quiet life spent with our babies and each other.
But, over the last year this dream has seemed to become ever distant with the pressures of work, the new challenges of housing a family which all of a sudden was being added to by two new girls and trying to accommodate the wants and desires of our older, more vocal brood. With these pressures come little oddities. The need for “spoiling” ourselves which, roughly translated, was just spending money on a takeaway, or two, or more a week – because of convenience and exhaustion. Little treats to myself included buying books, many of which are on a pile of books that I continue to have little time to read; items for the babies – often which are not needed but that I wish to have just in case; objets- little bits of art, ephemera and, for the want of a better word, tat; finally food – spending on what I fancied at the time rather than engaging in the tedious exercise of packed lunches or cooking what I had in (which in turn has led to obscene levels of waste.
As I say, although I’ve had the luxury of being able to sustain these behaviours, I’m not wealthy and it has been just enough. The boy, bless his heart, has quietly and without comment left me to this wasteful waistrel approach to my disposable income whilst using all his earnings to support our family and to ensure he is able to drive the many miles to collect his children each weekend. He has no space in that to treat himself.
But this accumulation of stuff has brought us no closer to the dream of hammocks by a house in the woods. It has simply given us more things to move, more things to dust and less freedom to make our modest dream come true.
I can’t even tell you where my attachment to things began, but it has been a long standing fixation it seems. I remember being a precious child about the tea chest of toys I had. My mother couldn’t afford much when we were growing up – until I was two she was a single mum, having given birth to me at 18 years old – even with the support of my adoptive father as he became – we didn’t have much for many years. Even so, I had an old tea chest, enterprisingly coated in a piece of poly-vinyl faux matt leather, about a foot and a half cubed (I recall emptying it out and sitting within it – a toy that held toys). It was full of toys – some home made such as the full wardrobe of Sindy clothes lovingly produced by my mother and aunt – many second hand or donated to us – with the rest made up of the biannual occasion of new toys at Christmas and birthdays. All in all my parents did well for us on a limited budget. The point of this segue into nostalgia is that I would cherish each and every fragment in that tea chest – right down to the broken bits in the bottom – and would never cede an item when it came to being persuaded that some of it had to go.
This continued into my adolescence when I became increasingly precious about stuff. I’d walk a portion of my two bus route across town to school to save the fare and would take to spending it on things in charity shops along the route. Things only ramped up when I remained at home and went to uni for a year, a squandered period in which I invested my student loan in clothes, things and going out – further supplementing my habit with money from my part time job. As I embarked on a career aged 20 – already with a substantial cache of crap – I left home and continued to buy, buy, buy unfettered by the criticism of my parents.
I moved several times, each time hauling a greater and greater quantity of things, moved in with partners and broke up with partners. I never allowed the disposal of more than a handful of items each time. It wasn’t until, after one break up which meant I had to store all my earthly belongings in my parents garage and my precious stuff was destroyed by a fire, that my collection was reduced.
I remember a friend of my mother’s remarking at the time that, although devastating to me, it would be liberating in the long run. I didn’t see it like that then, especially as I was aware of that friend’s own attachment to things, so I picked up where I left off.
By the time I met my future ex-husband I had less stuff and it wasn’t until our marriage fell apart and I moved out that I realised how little I had. I remember moving into my own flat for the first time, the first property I had ever owned, and scraping together what free furniture I could to put in it so my then toddler daughter and I could build a home. From this starting point I dedicated myself to filling that place, taking my solo earnings and investing them as and when I could, with pieces of second hand furniture and new bits and bobs. I did so and by the time I met the boy I had once again stuffed a space with things. Fortunately, due to his own disasters, he came with very little, so once again I got away with maintaining the collection. He even diligently moved all of this when it came to moving into a bigger house, which circumstances meant could only be a rental property, literally filling the house with all this stuff.
The time has now come where, with the arrival of our twins, any gains I’ve made in savings are being put into the luxury of maintaining my maternity leave. The dream is no closer and I have to reflect on my role, or lack of therein, in that. I cannot change my income situation and the boy does his thing to just try and keep the plates spinning. I’m certainly in no need of handouts and would not accept them – so I have to think of what I can do to change these circumstances.
In honest reflection it means I have to deal with the stuff and my need for the stuff. It has to make a contribution to our lives or it has to go and contribute for its previous upkeep by being sold. It is of such volume I’m not even certain where to start, but go it must and not for any sort of zen, tackling the clutter reason. I have to accept that my attachment to things stands between us and a dream.
Now, the last time I did a silly minded challenge to self was in ridding myself of a wardrobe full of clothes in 2016 – what a ludicrously decadent thing to be able to do – but it meant I was able to shake off my fast fashion habit (chronicled at my Quiet Radicals blog).
I’m giving myself a year, yet again, a year to turn it around. I’ve no expectation of that meaning by this time next year we’ll be ensconced in our house in the woods. What I’m aiming for is a turnaround in my behaviour and laying a foundation to make that dream a reality, to save (for) that dream.
As I write I have my littlest, big twin balanced in the crook of my arm, trying to relieve her of the wind which I can hear gently growling within her belly after nursing her, as her minutes-older little sister, already full of milk, gurgles softly within the safety of her moses basket a few feet away.
Its 5.45am, just over two hours after I’ve relieved my partner for my share of the night shift. We’re working as a team and tonight I’m trying a new approach to my share of the night feeds. The last couple of nights I’ve found half-asleep breastfeeding a little trying, often ending with me dozing in bed with a child in my arms. This is a bad state of affairs – I’m more aware than most of the threat of co-sleeping – so I’ve had a think and decided a fully awake set of early morning feeds is the answer. It seems it has also given me time and headspace to create – so here I write.
In the last weeks I came to the realisation that I was thoroughly entranced by the scrolling of social media. It’s understandable I think, alongside the exhaustion of dealing with two newborns, to revert to mindless scanning of all the feeds, but it can become an exhausting and consuming process of mentally sifting words, concepts and news. It has stifled creativity in me and, although sparking ideas, has become somewhat obstructive due to its distracting ease. I came to realise that, having had months of a pregnancy so physically exhausting that it rendered me massively mentally diminished, that my faculties were back firing on all pistons and time was a-wasting. I decided on a full-blown act of self care and gifted myself the kindness of a week long break from the pressure of social media, full force cold turkey.
Kindness has become a new obsession, with the return of my capability to reflect and analyse. It seems that the threats to the world right now are rooted in a place where kindness is somewhat lacking. There is a lot of focus, globally on protectionist policies and a reduction in social provision which has seen the most vulnerable start to suffer – the news in the UK recently has reported increases in homelessness, the impact of benefits changes on the poor and increases in racism reports following Brexit. Globally the headlines have been dominated by the accounts of sexual assault and harassment, looming threats of nuclear war and mass manipulation of people and democracies using covertly collected data through social media. The world has become a dark place, without redeeming features.
This is a bleak setting in which to be nurturing new life, so its understandable that my brain might be reaching for answers to this darkness. Kindness, that most basic sign of the good that permeates humanity, is the easiest to go to. It leaves traces everywhere.
I’ve been lucky over the last six weeks to have benefited from kindnesses of several kinds. The kindness of strangers – the cheering comments of other social media users on the days when new baby exhaustion has been grinding; the kindness of personal values – the anaesthetist flying in the face of accepted practice by insisting I have the support of my partner’s presence as the doctor administered the terrifying spinal block needed for the birth of my children; and the kindness of love as my partner set aside the suffering of full blown ‘flu to ensure I did not have to deal with around the clock feeding alone.
This is all such great fortune and I know that in this I am supported by so much advantage and privilege. This is not the norm for so many people. In fact structures and systems in this world mean that so many people are exposed to discrimination, cruelty and exploitation. I resolved to set my mind to kindness, to understand how kindness might become a revolutionary act, how, with intention, kindness might change the world, starting small and growing outwards.