On Mother’s Day: An Apology

I just wanted to say I’m sorry.

I’m sorry I smiled and stayed silent when you said I make it look easy. I’m sorry I lied and said: “You just get on with it don’t you.” I couldn’t say how I’d sacrificed desperately needed sleep to pump breastmilk, dashed around vacuuming for your arrival and ran to the shop for cake, just to not look like a slug of a mother.

I’m sorry I made it look like I bounced back without a care, I put on my heels and make up to try to seem as much as I did before. I couldn’t tell you I had to do it to determine where they ended and I began, again. I wasn’t sure, but definition seemed to start with reverting to the material that marked me out before, as if unchanged.

I couldn’t find it in myself to tell you how hard it all was, from the pain and trauma of giving birth, the demoralising process of establishing feeding, the completeness of how you must give yourself over, in entirety, to the support of another human being.

I couldn’t tell you about the times the crying seems to go on for so long that, for sheer safety’s sake, you need to just put the baby gently in bed, walk out of the room, close the door and allow yourself to dissolve into tears on the floor. I couldn’t tell you there was no turning back.

I couldn’t because, good god, there are so many who will. They’ll tell you about the hours spent in labour, their horrific delivery, their sleepless nights, their soul destroying nightmare experiences.

I couldn’t, because I couldn’t steal your hopeful anticipation from yourself. I couldn’t because uou deserved the time of feeling that it would be beautiful, that it would be natural, that it would be bliss.

So I am sorry. So, so sorry.

So what should I tell you?

I should tell you it will get better. I should tell you all those moments you hoped for will come, as blissful as you ever dreamed, as long as you become so, so much kinder to yourself. I should tell you I’ve been there, I’ve seen it, I’ve forgiven myself.

I must tell you that you should too, let the wonder and exhaustion and time overwhelm you, before it passes by.

Raising hope from Astonishing Kindness

 

The bleakness of the world goes on, as it ever has, and still we are here. Waiting.

 

We can wait for change, hunkered down with supplies, padded against the actions of the outside, but it brings us no further forward. We are not creatures who wait for things to happen, we are part of the world, part of its machinery of moving parts, ever progressing, even if it be to inevitable doom.

 

Kindness is change

Kindness, astonishing or not, is an agent of change. It attaches to people, brings them closer together. It makes bonds between people, in time and to place. It makes neighbours from strangers, associates into friends. Words of gentleness speak across the barriers of language, of culture, of faith and speak to something more fundamental. The need for safety, for understanding, for community.

 

It gives us hope that people might be better, that they can choose to be so. More is possible than simply making sure we are safe, we can make others safe too.

 Sewing and sowing

I hope now, as I watch my children grow and feel the fluttering of new life within my belly, that each stitch of kindness I sew into the fabric of the world, becomes part of a colourful tapestry that I share in with millions.

 

Ready as I am for the worst, I will continue to put effort out into the world. I want to raise hope like a crop, harvesting sheaves of it to share and to re-plant.

 

Grow with me.

 

Prepare for the worst and hope for the best

As the end of March draws closer, we watch and wait.

With the silence of the absent waves before a tsunami, we’re holding our breath and watching the shore. It’s easy to be sucked into such a pause. The quiet is deafening, there are no birds. The waiting is hypnotic and fixes you stationary where you stand.

Once the wave breaks though, should we still be standing, there will be much to do. So we have been making ready, encouraging others to higher ground and doing what we can.

Life will continue after the big wave, even as it lays waste to all in its path, and intransigence about what might have been without the water will make it different.

We must fix in our minds what we hope to make the world look like after the wave. We must prepare for the worst, but hope for the best.

Can we share some #AstonishingKindness?

The world is so bleak.

 

I’m lucky, I can make ready and prepare. I do what I can to protect hearth and home, to keep my children fed, clothed and housed. But, with what’s ahead promises a lot of suffering for a lot of people, many of them will suffer and are suffering before we will.

 

This week alone we’ve seen ahomeless man set on fire as he slept, extinction-prone sharks turning up in dishes in UK restaurants and a foodbank plundered and frozen food deliberately spoiled by the thieves. That’s just a little sample of the legion of horrors written of in the UK press. Callousness abounds, even if we ignore the likely cliff edge that approaches on March 29, and divisions are widening each day.

 

It’s enough to make you think of turning away from the world, for running away and keeping close only those things we love, for shutting the door to anything else. Preserve what you love, the rest of it can go to the wall.

 

But this world will not heal if we only reach within ourselves, within our smallest possible groupings. We have to reach out beyond this, make our worlds large, our knowledge wide and our generosity a way of life. The world will not stay away and to ignore it is as good as to condone it.

 

I’ve always loved the words of Maya Angelou. Her writing offers comfort, direction and above all an understanding that vulnerability is at the core of humanity, that mistakes are the mother of opportunities to improve. When I came across this excerpt from a poem titled “Continue”, a piece she wrote for her “daughter” and friend Oprah Winfrey, I found a sentiment that is so very needed at this time.

 

My wish for you is that you continue. Continue to be who and how you are, to astonish a mean world with your acts of kindness. Continue to allow humor to lighten the burden of your tender heart.”

Maya Angelou

 

Astonishing a mean world with kindness is so very much needed. Again and again until it gets boring, until it becomes commonplace, until kindness is the norm.

 

So, to do my little bit, in the month of love, I’ll be using the hashtag #AstonishingKindness throughout February to do a daily blast of five tweets to bring more beauty, truth and love into the darkness.

 

Tweet 1. Highlighting foodbanks in the UK who have the highest demand in the lead up to Brexit in March and putting aside an item a day that I’ll contribute to MK Foodbank at the end of the month.

 

Tweet 2. Promoting a social enterprise which is doing real good in communities here in the UK.

 

Tweet 3. Identifying community projects in the UK who are bringing people together and making change for those in most need.

 

Tweet 4. Recommendations for brilliant and beautifuls reads – poetry, fiction, essays – anything that brings beauty, truth and love into the world.

 

Tweet 5. A story of real kindness – with a beautiful image to inspire hope for the day.

 

Of course I’ll need suggestions and contributions – most of all I’ll need your support. That’s what’s needed right now – support for each other in taking steps to draw people together, to push forward the idea that the world should be full of kindness, honesty and love, to prove that we can be better.

 

I’ll leave you with more words from Maya Angelou, words spoken as eulogy to Coretta Scott King:

 

“I pledge to you, my sister, I will never cease. I mean to say, I want to see a better world. I mean to say, I want to see some peace somewhere. I mean to say, I want to see some honesty, some fair play. I want to see kindness and justice. This is what I want to see.”

George’s Last Three: A short story

George sat on the bench on the end of the pier, his back to the sea, looking back at the vista of the town as the sun set over it.

The town had changed so much throughout his life, from a thriving seaside oasis in his childhood, a welcome escape from the noise of the city where he had been born. A heaven all of its own. Memories of days spent running from the disaster zone of his mother and father. Running with his brother and sisters to hide between the metal legs of the pier, like a safe apron he could pull on the strings of for protection. Safety his mother had never been able to be, in the face of the rage of Dad. This place had been special then and, even now, with its sense of decay and deprivation, George felt happiness even as he looked across the closed shops and the scattered forms of homeless people on the sea front.

George’s legs were set wide and his meaty paws, with their tattooed digits, rested on his thighs as he started to struggle to breathe and the pain latched around his chest. His first thought was to panic, to fight, but then the pain lifted, like the end of a sudden shower of rain on a summers day. Gone.

It was then that the sallow young man appeared on the bench at his side. George tried not to take umbrage to the fact this youth, with his dark clothes and unlikely colouring, was invading his space when there were at least a half dozen empty benches around them, but it irked him. Little git, he thought. I’ve had enough of these kids on here. He puffed out his breath to signal his annoyance and, in a fit of long redundant muscle memory, cracked his now painless arthritic knuckles into a crunching fist.

George then noticed the tips of the boy’s wings, black and smooth and batlike as they were. While not an educated man, George had always had wit enough to read situations well. It had kept him alive on the streets and seen him well in earning a crust. He put the pieces together: the sudden absence of both sudden and long-borne pain; the appearance, as if by magic; batwings on a person…

You’re not what I expected,” he huffed.

The youth tilted his face to George: “I hardly ever am, this one woman…” His voice tailed off. “This isn’t about what you expect. Or about me. It is about leaving things behind. Making your exit.”

George chuckled: “I always reckoned it’d be the grim reaper. You know, bony face and scythe.” His meaty hand waved over his face before miming a curved blade in the air. The youth smiled sympathetically. “So this is it?” asked George, the weight of his bovine face dropping into a resigned look of sadness.

When you leave the body, you leave it all behind. Every single memory, every single story. We’ve time for just three special moments George,” said the youth.

But it’ll be dark soon,” said George, waving his hand across the view of the town.

You might not have noticed George, but time is stopped. You’re dying, time isn’t a factor any more. We are out of time.”

George’s face crumpled in thought. “Special moments? Just three?”

Just three – think them and we will go back now.”

George’s face uncrumpled and smiled.

He was there in his football strip, the day of his eight birthday, surrounded by his juniors team mates. For the first time ever his father was on the sidelines. There on some sort of a promise from his mother. He could see Dad chatting to Tommy Finnegan’s mother. She was brassy and caught the eye. Even to a boy like him she was noticable. Tight clothes in bright colours. A million miles away from the drudgery of his own mother.

Torn back from the momentary distraction, he heard Tommy shout his name and he turned in time to see the cross, heading it neatly into the goal like a dream. His teammates piled on him in smiles and cheers, as the ref blew his whistle for time. Dad roared from the sidelines: “THAT’S MY BOY!” jumping around and grabbing Tommy’s mum in celebration. Right then George was Terence Sway’s boy and he knew it and it felt like his heart would burst. George didn’t ponder what had come next. How two weeks later Dad and Gloria Finnegan would do a bunk. How he and his siblings would be left with Mother and a whole other world of misery. That was just pain and this wasn’t the time for that.

The youth appeared and the memory shifted. George found himself wearing the skin of his twenty four year old self. He looked at his hands, newly tattooed under his wedding band, pulled his fingers into a painless and functioning fist. He was outside The Bell and he felt glee as it all had started to kick off. The fist to the side of his face was well met as George felt the vigour of his youth mixed with the bravado of drink coursing through his veins. Stunned, but by no means distracted, he span back to the source of the sucker punch, pulsing with pure rage and lamped the bloke straight to the nose, which burst with blood across his face as he fell to the ground. George swung his foot into the man’s side, kicking his ribcage up into a curve, before stamping on the man’s face with his boots. George span round, his own eye cut and bleeding from the earlier blow, dripping down the whiteness of his best shirt. His fists were clenched as he expanded his chest, his face screwed as he roared: “WHO FUCKING WANTS SOME THEN?”

Violent happiness, perhaps the biggest rush of his life. He caught the figure of the youth in the corner of his eye and the world shifted again.

He was sitting in a chair, in his home, the home he’d had with Maggie, before he had spoiled it all. It was dark but he would recognise that place, that moment, even with his eyes closed. The warm weight on his chest, the tiny curve of his sleeping infant son, just settled after what seemed like hours of crying. George couldn’t even remember why he’d gotten up instead of Maggie. It wasn’t the norm – maybe she’d been sick or something – he’d normally sleep through any noises because that was women’s work. But on this occasion he remembered sinking into that chair, very conscious of how small George junior had been and he had felt a quiet joy which was so pure, so burning hot in its purity, that it tore through every defence and awareness of mortality. He cried because he felt at once so much love for this child and so much fear that he couldn’t protect him from the world.

George hadn’t meant to feel that, hadn’t meant to return there, and, as he came back to the pier with the Angel of Death, he sobbed without restraint.

Why did you take me back there?” he said as big, bulbous tears fell from his eyes.


“I didn’t, you did. That was the moment in which you were most happy.”

George looked skyward as he wept. “I left that morning. I couldn’t do it, I would’ve been an awful dad. I didn’t see him again until he was a teenager. He hated me by then.”

The youth now stood before him and looked at him square in the face, wings spreading around them both.

It’s over now George, let it go.”

As he started to seep from his body, George was hit by the relief of it all. Had he known of the use for the French expression “La Petit Mort” as a euphemism for orgasm, he might have compared it to other moments which were now lost to him. But he was just struck by the sensation of lightness, unencumbered by the weight of his body, the burden of all the feelings accumulated and pushed down through his life and, in those last moments of consciousness, he felt something he had never before remembered feeling: freedom.

Baubles To Advent: How Very Close

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.