This time, yes

It’s Monday morning. You wake but no one’s shrieking. You rose without a child alarm dobbing in their brother or telling you that their stomach’s sore. Last night the kids weren’t starting with a virus just bad enough to keep them back from school. No teary face startled you at 2am with diabetes nightmares or demands for stickers. Your partner didn’t snore.

Your slippers are beside your bed. Both of them. And they’re Lego free. Your dressing gown is hanging on its usually empty hook. You notice your utter lack of headache as you snug it on.

There’s no crying in the kitchen as you’re walking down the corridor. You find three heads close together at the bench. Surely they are fighting. But when you listen close the oldest is curling out a story. A slapstick tale about a “man who actually had a goatee and then fell into a pit”. They greet you with good morning and then continue laughing. The breakfast that you make them is mostly eaten up.

You remember that it’s library day for one of them. The book is on his bookshelf, not squashed behind his bed. He may have even read it. When you scratch around for coins you find enough for all their lunches. You won’t need to raid their money box today.

Your oldest is outside without coercion. He kicks the soccer ball and doesn’t slip in dog poo. You won’t need to scrub his shoes while he disgusted sobs. Your next one’s on the trampoline and hasn’t cried from scraping. Somehow they’re fully uniformed including matching socks.

The dog’s not even barking at the neighbours.

Your youngest is packing pictures in her school bag. You hadn’t forgotten to print them out in time for news. She hadn’t put them in recycling or spilt her milk all over. You won’t need to run to the computer shouting in your dressing gown.

You call the kids to the car and they come. But you only called them once and didn’t even bellow. You remind them to brush their teeth and they say “already done”. You remind them then to get their bags but they have them on their backs and are thick in conversation. You step back a little somewhat hugely stunned.

On the drive to school the wind lifts leaves from Autumn trees. The youngest asks to open up the sunroof and this time you say yes. No one sneezes or complains about the cold. They reach their arms up high, laughing at the rustling. You drive around the block a few times extra, waiting for a leaf to float on in.

The wet blanket

I’m sitting in someone’s home. A beautiful house by the sea. Watching the pastels of the sunrise over an ocean that’s beguilingly calm.

Yesterday, in the evening light, my husband and three not-so-little ones, ran down to the beach with our lolloping golden dog. The gangly limbs of them all. Their grins and voices rising.

I tried to follow and said I would as they ran ahead. But the old wooden door here wouldn’t close. I rattled and jiggled it pointlessly. Eventually I sent a sad message that I couldn’t join them. But they wouldn’t be gone for long.

When they came laughing back with sandy everythings I had the bath already run. Their bedrooms dimly lit and books ready. All seemed well.

They tumbled in having stripped off sandy clothes in piles on the verandah. They were strutting, drenched, delirious. My daughter puffed her chest proudly: “We were crashed by the waves. It was awesome!”

I felt the tightest hand grip my chest and asked my husband “Did they swim between the flags?”

They weren’t swimming, they were playing. Splashing by the edges and letting the waves chase their scampering feet. The dog was delighted and they were too. It was all that Summer holidays should be. A memory moment.

But shamefully, I couldn’t.

Having been floored by headlines of devastating drownings, I had considered cancelling our beach escape. There was just too much risk, too many ways to die. I was haunted by images of the children’s backs, faces down, floating. Or their dark bodies sinking and me swimming down…

So we’d worked out a way it might work. Between the flags only. No matter what. And now, this first foray into the sea had not stuck to my watertight wishes. My strangling request.

They weren’t swimming, they were playing. They were having so much fun.

But my teetering mind can’t quite get a grip. Can’t hold to rationality and discretion and keeping things in perspective. It’s not you I don’t trust…

I’ve never found water benign. I shuddered as a child at “still waters run deep” with its brooding sense of lurking. I shrieked as slippery somethings brushed my treading water legs. I was stunned by the disregard of my first ocean dumping. My body slamming into sand. Mouth, eyes, hair full of it. And having no idea how to read this swelling mass.

I’d scour pictures and articles of “how to pick a rip” and what to do. Even before leaving for this latest trip, I had another look. But it remains a murky mystery, a place of no apparent pattern. I keep looking but just can’t see.

A main aim of my parenting is to keep the kids from drowning. The media reminds me each Summer how perilous this will be. I am floored with grief for those families who suffer each year. Their bodies tiny against that vastness, waiting, watching by the shoreline. Or poolside stunned.

Reports, again, with no patterns. Many times it’s visitors unfamiliar with the tricky deep who wash away. Or children, not yet equipped, are taken. But then sometimes the sea swallows those who know its waters well. Surfers, long term swimmers, ocean dwellers. I am stymied by this sorrow and the seeming randomness.

This is what water can do. It can fill a backyard pool. Chlorinated cool on a western Summer’s day. Clean. Bright. A blazing blue sky.

A harried mother accepts an offer for babysitting of a sort. She delivers her oldest two and takes the baby with her. Just a short time to run a few errands. Her friend has two of her own, girls already in their swimmers and calling the oldest in. “Come and play synchronized swimming”. The three of them laugh and do handstands in the shallow end. The visiting girl tries a backward somersault or two and feels the water fill her nose. There are choreographed routines and much bossiness. The girl’s little brother pushes his toy truck and makes his toy truck sounds.

The girl is facing the kitchen window, where the sink looks out on the garden. She can’t see her friend’s mother, but she knows she’s there, watching them and washing up. She does a glorious backflip and thinks of seals and flippers, mermaids and ballet underwater.

When she surfaces she’s startled by a strange, loud voice. It speaks in stereo, in both ears and all around and through her all at once. The depth of it too – a richness she has never heard – more sound than accent. She hears it as organ chords calling. Symphonic speech. The word-sounds repeat: “Turn around.” “Huh?” And this time with the utmost insistence – the ultimate command: “TURN AROUND.”

She does. She must. She can’t but not.

And where is her brother anyway?

She looks to the pool’s edge where he’d been pushing that truck. She can’t see him and is confused for an elongated second.

Then turns to the deep.

She swims, thrashes her way to it and dives down. Pulls her brother under his shoulders, his silvery wide-eyed face. The truck. Grabs him and pushes him up and up. Then somehow gets to the side, his waterlogged clothes dragging. Shoves him on to the tiles and feels the blood leave her body.

The girls have screamed for their mother and she rushes out all eighties hair and panic. They run to her beautiful brother. Lying on his side. Silent.

But breathing.

 

 

 

 

 

Millions

There are millions of us. Some stats say hundreds of millions.

You might not know who we are by looking. But there’s some telltale signs once you know how to see.

We’re the ones that more often than not take the seat. In the park, sitting. Leaning against the tree. Propping ourselves up by the wall.

You might also know us by our absence. Appointments missed, cancelled, forgotten. No shows at social events. A little aloof or non-committal…avoidant even. Slipping out after an hour or so. We’re rarely the last to leave.

We’re often wearing clothes that would never need ironing. Soft, easy to pull on, tags removed. Creaseless trousers. Sweat pants. A stretchy top. Shoes that you can walk in.

We’ll smile sometimes, but not always and not as broadly as we’d like. Sometimes we have to save up our smiles – the energy it takes to animate – for only when it’s essential.

Often our eyes are heavy. Dark circled. Dull, as though covered by a film. Sometimes our eyes are puffy or bloodshot. You might wonder if we’ve been crying. We usually have.

We might suddenly need to leave. This isn’t personal. We’d stay and play if we could. How we’d love to linger.

But there’s somewhere else we need to be. And it’s urgent.

This might be our sofa. Our bed. Or a warm Epsomed bath. Or sometimes it’s our head on our desk. Our car. Somewhere we can safely sit and sink.

Other times we might be trying to work out where the nearest bathroom is and how much time we have. Not always. Not everyone.

We may speak vaguely and seem distracted – as though we’re slightly confused, mildly irritated or even a little drunk. Again this isn’t personal. We’re in the fog. It will lift. But it can take a while.

You might think we choose not to wear makeup and have undone hair. And sometimes we do. But other times…there are short cuts we must take to make it out the door at all. Even when we do look well, this might have taken all we have. We washed our hair and blow-dried it. So there’s nothing now left in the tank.

Nothing.

And every now and then you might catch us running, laughing, full of verve…silly, frivolous, fun. Some days we are super fab and up for it. There are moments our eyes flash with “I’ve still got it” or “things are not so bad”. Don’t be suspicious or even confused. This is a contrast we know too well. It never lasts. Don’t be seduced.

And if there was a time you were up for listening to us speak of it, you might hear:

“some days I have to weigh up whether the cost of picking up the butter knife to butter my bread is worth it. Sometimes the pain is just too great. So I have to leave it there.”

“I’m embarrassed about always having something wrong. There’s always something. I’ve stopped telling people anymore. I feel like such a moaner so I keep it to myself.”

“Most people don’t know I’m unwell. They just think I’m unreliable. I can’t explain to them what’s going on. I don’t have the energy and it’s not something I want to be known by. But it’s at the stage of effecting my professional reputation.”

“I don’t know what I have to offer anymore. I’d like to find a partner but now, like this, how realistic is it? What would I say to them? Would anyone really be up for me as I am?”

“A friend said she was worried about me. But that was it. She seemed frustrated that I wasn’t who I used to be. I felt like I’d disappointed her somehow. Or let her down. We don’t really talk anymore.”

“The whole family suffers. It’s not just me. We’re all exhausted now. We’re all impacted. We’re all bearing this weight.”

“My physio told me it’s not a real thing. It’s not something to believe in. She called in a junior physio to watch how much I “overreacted” to her working on me. The junior started laughing. My physio said “I know, right! I’m hardly putting any pressure on her at all!” and they laughed some more. I started to cry but I don’t think they noticed.”

“Sometimes I wish you could see how I’m feeling. Like I wish my arm would be swollen and bleeding or something. So it wasn’t invisible. It feels like another burden, having to explain myself, having to describe it. And sometimes even having to convince others. Educate them. Put up with their resistance. I just can’t do it.”

“When things are really bad I lie in my room and don’t come out for a few days. No-one really knows as I don’t have a flatmate or a partner. I just get through it. Until the next time.”

“Every time I go to the doctor’s I feel ashamed. I’m so reluctant to mention my symptoms or concerns these days as in the past they’ve always said “well that’s just part of it, not a new thing. You’ve just got to accept it.” But now I don’t know whether I’m sick or whether it’s just another symptom of it.”

“A friend offered to buy me a cooked chicken and drop it around as I was having a flare. I felt overwhelmed and said, ‘the thing is, I’m going to need a cooked chicken on and off for the next thirty years’.”

…………………………….

The assessment

It’s Spring and the city light is squinty bright. We’re driving up winding streets with seascape views so stunning I almost forgive the traffic crush. My stomach is aching with nerves and my hands are shaky.

We find Building 2 after being buzzed in at the boom gate. It’s an industrial complex with a café and a bushblock next door. I can smell the heat on the gums, banskias, natives flowering. Double-storeyed monoliths loom. We take the lift to the second floor.

Inside we say goodbye and I sit in the corner on a black vinyl couch. The magazines are old and domestic. Cakes and clothing and gossip and body size.

I unwrap my half eaten sandwich and crouch over a paper napkin. The first resuming bite slops tomato on my light pink top. I pad at it with the napkin and manage to both squash and spread it further.

The receptionist at the front desk is chatting to another staff member. They’re comparing shoes. They have worn “the same” as each other, though to me they look quite different. There’s detailed talk (so much of it!) of footwear and driving to their work meeting later that day as neither “want to walk in high heels”. I look at my broad sandalled feet.

My name is called and I’m ushered down the corridor and into a windowless room. The walls and carpet are yellowish beige and there are two noisy canvasses hung. Four itchy blue chairs circle a coffee table. “Please take a seat”.

The day begins and on it goes in various forms till the mid afternoon. There’s talking and answering all sorts of questions and discussing such a range of topics that I’m genuinely surprised. My mother is phoned for an interview part way through and I retreat to the café to guzzle peach iced tea and answer more questionnaires. My head is now spinning.

When I return to the room there’s still more discussion. Then, finally, as we limp to the finish line, the assessor delivers her diagnosis, my diagnosis: you have autism spectrum disorder. You have had it since birth, you will always have it and it is not ambiguous. You are not borderline, it is not a maybe, it’s very clear. Here are my findings and here’s my reasoning and here are some recommendations.

Though I know she’s a clinical psychologist specialising in autism, I hear myself nevertheless asking how long she’s been doing these assessments, you know just in case she has no idea. She smiles and says “six years”.

She hands me some paperwork and leads me to the lift. Down I go to the afternoon sun and sit out by the gate waiting for my husband to collect me. He arrives with our daughter and a block of chocolate.

We drive back to the seaside suburb we’re staying in and he heads out to collect the boys from their robotics day. I’m alone in the apartment, an art deco place with terrible acoustics. I make a rattling cup of tea and wait.

Soon there’s a knock on the door and I open it to the four of them. First my oldest son who too has autism. He is beaming. His mouth seems gorgeously huge – his face is all smile and shining eyes. He doesn’t say hello but simply bursts with “so I hear you have autism – that’s awesome!” and wraps his arms around me so tight and for so long that I’m quite sure it’s the longest he’s ever hugged me. Then our second son, who is also autistic. “Hi mum, you’ve got autism. Cool.” And he slides past nodding to himself. Our daughter’s next, tugging at my arm “we bought you flowers mummy!” and then my husband stumbles in carrying bags and hats and water bottles…“Hey bella” and I fall into another embrace that seems to last forever.

 

A little letting go…

In what seems such a short while, we’ll be seeing our littlest one start her school days. I’ve had one of those unexpected delights hanging out with her for these almost five years. She’s hardly ever driven me crazy – despite expecting kids to. There’s an ease with her that I still can’t explain. I am cheesily utterly blessed and still stunned by this fact. It’s been an Instaworthy time…if I could’ve been bothered.

I watch her tentatively step into the world without me. Those preschool days filled with crafting and busy with routine. The cardboard constructions – toilet rolls and boxes becoming magnificent somethings. The paintings scrunched in her bag – each explained later in detail. The flowers, butterflies and “mums” in pinks and purples and yellow. The drawing crammed to the edges with hearts – “because I tried to paint infinity love hearts for you”… the tiny wrapped gifts and sudden hugs and her singsong voice.

All of this seems a mini preparation – a practice – for those bigger goodbyes. I can feel the next one lurking. Just over the New Year’s horizon. As Summer closes it will fold us in.

And I know she’s not really going anywhere. Not quite yet. But I’ve seen it before now, twice, and I know the changes school brings. As soon as it starts something exquisite ends. That private cocooning…the dreamy sleepy snuggling…days stretching out and on…witnessing those tiny flickers of light come into flame.

She’s been trying on her brother’s uniform. It almost fits.

I am slow to enrol her. I procrastinate over the paperwork. I find it all too perfunctory. I don’t want to let go of her soft little hand – warm in mine. I can feel a resistance, which I must wrestle quietly.

I know how quickly time dissolves once they start school. How much it drags when they’re still babies – “the days are long but the years are fast”… how I seemed to sit forever in the stewing mess of tiredness and nappies and showerless days. Cold cups of tea gone grey on the sink. 24 hour rotations. Isolation. Sleep deprivation that ate at my body and soul. Self-recrimination. Muddledom. Days that could turn on a dime.

Then the giggling. The delight. The toddling chubby legs and the lightness of their feet.

Now the weight of my older sons’ bodies. Their legs long and feet heavy. Their movement – a little toward and a little away. Me waiting in the wings just in case. I’m here if you need me but sometimes you don’t and that’s how it’s meant to be…adoring on the sidelines of their growing lives.

The juggernaut of school. Notes to lose and lunchboxes to fill. The homework to scratch out. The weariness and push of it all. The relentless term time rhythm.

But here she is. This little pint sized pup. Her big brown eyes so liquid deep.

Here she stands shining in the kitchen. Her little apple cheeks. Her hands so small yet already so capable. She has dressed herself and found her purple shoes. She’s washed some berries for a snack. Her ankles peek out from her pink tracksuit pants. Her legs too long for them now. I try to ignore this.

She’s saying something that’s missed in the morning mayhem. I’m grumbling about lost school hats again and threatening ludicrous consequences. And she stands in the kitchen light trying to speak. I catch her voice – what do you want? Expecting another request.

“I just want to tell you that you’re the most beautiful mum in the whole wide universe. I love you so much – all the way to the planet that’s so far away that it has aliens on it. You’re the bestest mum ever and your hair looks dazzling.”

My throat catches and my hand automatically reaches for my greasy ponytail. I feel ashamed of my gruffness and teary with tenderness. She’s not mocking me. She’s not being silly or trying it on. She’s watching me earnestly nodding her blondey-brown bob.

I wipe my breakfasty hands on my dressing gown and reach down to hug her. “Thankyou sweet pea I love you too.” But she’s already wrapped her little arms around my legs and is nuzzling me.

This morning honour. This sunlit treasure. I am filled to brimmingness.

Thank you and thank you again.

I drink it up knowing that soon enough we have to let go…that these mini goodbyes are flushed with the joy of growth – of change – of what should and will be. Yet they also carry a hint of our biggest goodbyes. The final letting goes that will one day come. The leavings that wait…just out of sight…

Bereft. I won’t be lost or bored or empty without you here. For life is full and fascinating. But there’s grief in amongst this milestone nearing. Having walked this before I know not to underestimate it.

And here is today’s one perfectly formed offering – held out to scrambling me…the warmth of a child’s arms wrapped around my knees as I stand teary in the kitchen chaos…

Knowing she will leave soon enough, but right now, here she is…here we stand a little longer…

NYC – miss you already

I ran on adrenaline for 5 days. It was bliss. I wanted for nothing other than more. And then some.

It surprised me how much I still loved you. I’m different to last time we met and of course you are too. And yet, like all the best relationships, you brought out my spirit instantly. I’d forgotten how light I could be.

At our wedding reception, my husband surprised me with a speech that took my breath away. I was his “feather in the wind”.

Over the years since, that turn of phrase has haunted me. I’ve felt anything but. Leaden even. And sorry for him that what drew him to me was no more. I apologised some days: “not exactly feather in the windish…” But it seemed to just be so.

Then I stepped onto your singing sidewalk. All that I shouldn’t like, and in some ways don’t, hummed me back to happiness. People. Yuck. People everywhere. Double yuck. Consumerism and billboards and horns bleating and shopping bags laden and overpriced everythings and construction hammering and smells that hit. So loud. So brash. So much muchness.

And I couldn’t stop grinning. Even when hiding my smile I could feel my eyes shining. So. Happy. To. Be. Here.

How to explain what you love…who you love…why…how to word up mystery and chemistry and rhythm.

I walked well. I didn’t bump or lurch. I hit my stride and it felt just right. I wasn’t too old or pained or awkward. There was space here for me to ride. Just enough in the slipstream for me to slide right in.

So I’m here and I’m walking at this pace that’s bright. I’m loving every corner and feeling that swell of humans pushing past. There’s something happening everywhere. New York doesn’t pretend that change isn’t always. We’re not the rocks we pretend to be. We’re fluid and connected and all together one.

New York doesn’t ask you to be small. It tells you you are. You’re an ant man. You’re nothing at all. You’ll soon pass and another will step in. You don’t amount to much.

And yet it does so with delight. For it’s a joyous ride. You’re nothing and part of it all. You’re no one and so are all those other ones streaming past. You’ll soon pass but until you do…New York says you’ve got every right to go for it. To love it big time.

There’s no shame here in having a go. It still is possible. The cab driver’s been here for 10 years. He loves Manhattan passionately. He still gets nervous driving some days. He says “I’m not gonna lie to you, it’s hairy sometimes”…but he loves it. With the sort of love he wants to let you know about. I LOVE THIS PLACE. He shouts it to me and out the window to the bustling crowd. He tells me “now this is a place you can make a go of it. You can try and you’ll get somewhere. You gotta put the effort in but you can do it. It’s a good thing for the young people. To know they can do something. They can be here and make money. They can work and be a part of it.”

I feel part of it here. Not self conscious at all. My self sort of fades and blends with the others. I feel part of a tide of restless humanity. Of creativity and curiousity and living it souls.

There’s so much going on that surrender becomes necessary. A sort of why not go with it.

I eat a burger. I’m usually not a fan. And then a hallelujah this is what I’ve been missing and I only just suppress a happy dance. I’m so happy. This is a moment of bliss. I know it will pass and yet here it is. I’m smack in the middle of it. Here’s the groove and here’s the light and here’s the smile surging through me. And in another bite or two I’ll be done.

Another time I’m walking down 6th Avenue. The sun’s on me and I’m heading to the MOMA shop. I go inside and am standing near the jewellery. A shopper suddenly turns to me, beaming “Hey I remember these from when I was young! Do you?!” and he’s holding a calculator watch and jabbing at the tiny buttons. His face is so lit up I can see the kid in him and I suddenly miss my boys who would love those tiny numbers. But I’m happy for the guy. I get the tiny joys. I get the awesome wonder that you can’t expect or predict but keeps on finding you.

In a Soho café there are 4 guys talking round a table. They seem to be working, though loosely, and are discussing strategy. A blonde guy leans in and you can hear the smile in his voice. “It’s like my grandfather. He had a store on the upper west side. It sold socks at 30 cents each or 3 for a dollar and people would go ‘yeah I’ll take the 3 for a dollar’. Humans!”

In the drugstore I hear of the pharmacist’s dog. He’s regaling his staff and a customer with a listing of its feats. I’m trying not to giggle. It’s a long story but he seems so thrilled to be telling it. His enthusiasm is infectious. Finally, he pauses to take a breath and his assistant passionately declares: “she really is exceptional. It’s. That. Simple.”

And there are dogs everywhere. Outside my hotel window a woman is cradling her pup like a baby. On its back with its little legs in the air. And she kisses its belly as she crosses the road. Smooch smooch smooch. And a pause. Then some more.

I don’t feel lonely in NYC. I feel part of the whole mess of it all. Just a tiny part but a part. Part of the flow. And connected to the creativity and jarring contrasts and brain buzz and body beat.

The haughty and the humble. The uptight and the loose.

So many words. Everyone talking – yacking on their phones – to themselves – to each other – walking and talking and eating and talking and sitting and talking and talking to me and around me and near me and over me.

And why use a few words when you can use many? Refreshing for me who lives for words and has always ached with discomfort around the silent types…those “men of few words”…

But here! Waxing lyrical – street poets – cabbie orators – passionate walkers – opinionated shoppers and thank you mam and enquiring and checking in and billboards and signs and posters and art squeezed in and graffiti kicking and signs of life all round bursting at the seams.

And still eye contact. Plenty of it. It surprised me.

The sweetness of meadow flowers in Central Park. Their perfume heightened by the brewing storm. The humidity and the thunder rolling in.

The sudden downpour catching us off guard. Huddling in the opening of a building with others. Drinking green iced tea from a takeaway cup. Not liking it one sip and loving it the next. Everything changing and making way.

Talking to family back home whilst walking after the storm had quietened. A sudden thunder rumble and my family hearing it as it happened. You’re hearing New York thunder in Central Park. Live. For some reason that made us all feel happy. So much connection. So much possibility.

And noticing my freedom since the last time I was here. I’d thought that I was much less free, having married and had 3 children since I last tripped your city streets. Last time my beau and I held hands and caught snow on our tongues and snuggled and smiled and dreamed of our future. This time he’s at home kid wrangling and I’m their mother and need to be back as soon as I can. I’m heavier yet lighter than ever. I’m more tired and yet awakened inside. I feel so gorgeously awake.

I’d imagined a bit of a weary trudge, an out of my depth overload. A daggy domesticity. A fogginess. But none of that happened.

I felt free. Not free from my little family – free within it. Buttressed by their love and support and gentleness with me. Held by their happiness. I was buoyed by their well wishes and urged to drink it all up. For me and for them. It was intoxicating.

Blissful and blessed I’m now home, but I miss you already city of my soul.

 

 

Dear World

Dear World, you’re breaking our hearts. In some ways, you always have. But now, today, with more news scarring us, scraping our souls, it’s too much to hear. How are we to bear this? And what are we to do?

I read of London’s latest horror surreptitiously for it’s “screen-free Sunday”. Our attempt at respite from the ever noise. Some quiet etched out on this crisp Winter’s day.

I sneak a look and feel a hideous thud. A whack to my chest. My heart is actually aching.

We’re at a loss, or at least I am. Who knows how to proceed? Something is broken. Something has always been broken. But now, being older, and at a time when it’s our turn to take up the reins, to act, to respond, to assist…what do we have to offer? What are we to do?

I can’t comprehend the complexities of our political-religious-cultural-historical-socio-economic-human mess. I am ignorant despite reading and wondering and reading some more. I can’t wrap my head around it. Who actually can? Whatever we’re doing isn’t working. How should we go on? How many layers of sorrow are there? How many degrees of violence? How much yet to learn? We’re in this together. We are brothers and sisters and always have been. All of us.

Overwhelmed, I go back to basics. I start small. I recognise my own inability to love even those I profess to. My own judgmentalism. Violence. Stupidity. At-a-loss-ness. Inaction.

I recommit to fierceness and compassion. To opening. To trying to listen…I will try. We keep on trying. We keep on falling down.

The three musketeers meanwhile are full of silliness. They giggle through an impromptu performance in the corridor. The doors are closed tight. The lights off. And we are asked to sit and watch.

They scamper past. It is so dark. Too dark to see their bodies though I can feel them grinning. Arms bangled high with fluorescent glow sticks. Waving wands of pink, yellow, blue bright light. Suddenly tossing them in the air and squealing as the orbs shine and fall. My eyes glisten. Such loose delight.

I can’t breathe properly. I whisper to my husband “do you feel like you’ve been kicked in the chest?” and he says “it’s so full on.”

As my mind fills with images of panic and death and bewildered horror, our little ones light the dark.

Travelling solo

I’m heading away soon-ish. On my own. As in kid-free spouse-free wandering. It’s both fabulous holy crapola brilliance and I wish they were coming too (and what-will-I-do-with-my-arms-if-I’m-not-kid-wrangling?). I’m agitated by this excited sorrow joy. I keep thinking “if spontaneous combustion were a thing, I’d be at serious risk about now”.

I’ll be saying goodbye to 3 little faces with questioning eyes and the bear hug of him. But it needs to be done. There’s a bag stuffed full of reasons why. Too many to unpack right now. I just have to go.

So, New York, I’m coming back. It’s been too long. I need that hit. The straight to the veins life force of you.

The first time we met – I was smitten. Instantly. Utterly. A man stopped to ask why I was taking photos of the rubbish on your sidewalk “do you think it’s disgusting to see the trash out like this?” I laughed, giddishly. “Are you kidding?! Look at the snow filling its folds. Look at the soft white freshness on the black bags. So much beauty and contrast!” He grinned: “Hey yeah, I see what you’re saying”, and off he rolled. I was brimming. I didn’t usually talk like that (well not out loud). I didn’t even usually take pictures.

I was on my honeymoon then. In love with you and of course with him. New York overwhelmed me happily each day and he held me snug each night. The balance felt right. The world was at our feet – our future sparkling and sure. We were young and fresh and possible.

Ten years ago and yet much more than a decade has passed.

I didn’t know about those 3 little faces yet. How they’d tear me from myself. How I’d simply have to change or else. And how I’d fight the shedding…until one day I didn’t. I’ve always loved the word acquiesce…

I couldn’t know yet what those marriage vows meant. Such aspirational promising. A little embarrassing now. To love…to honour…and, astoundingly, to “romance”…The behind-closed-doors bearing with. The endurance. We stretched and stretched and sometimes broke. Didn’t we, my love…

And what of that body of mine striding down those snowy streets? Buoyant, light, Spring in her step despite the cold. I don’t remember anything about it other than the ease that health holds. It did what I expected it to do. It was not a thing to think of then.

I wonder how this varicosed ache, this wrenched apart and wretched body will fare. How will I walk this time through the steaming Summer swell. Will I stop to rest, to gain my bearings, to catch my breath. Will I venture out or shy within? Will I quiet the inner berate and let myself be…this older, greyer, broader me…

I’ll soon be lurching down those thrumming wonder streets…no doubt teary-eyed and aching-hearted. Awed. Loved-up. So very alone. Yet full of the four of you.

And I can’t fucking wait.

 

Running again

It’s been 3 months since I returned to running. Thought I’d pick up where I left off – only 10 years ago. You know, of course I’d be a little dusty, but I’d shake that off soon enough. Nothing to it.

Bought some runners on the net – thought they were soft pink. Actually fluro orange. So loud and damn optimistic. I was embarrassed to put them on – they seemed excessively claiming of space. But they fit. So…

Had to buy a sports bra or 2. Never used to need one. I remember jogging along Manly beach in swimmers. The audacity of it all. The youthful blissful oblivion…perky and all that. It staggers me now. Girl you have no idea…

So have headphones on. A hidden playlist loaded. The volume’s loud enough that I can’t hear my footfalls or panting. If I could, I’d stop with shame.

Lyrics burning my ears “I get stronger with every step!” and “This is my fight song. Take back my life song.” Cheesy but basically true. Nothing highbrow here.

And then the almost fear of sweat. The dripping in public. The scarlet-faced here-I-am-ness. I’m trying. In public. I’m seriously fucking trying.

A guy overtakes me. He’s springy long-legged geared-up. He moves swiftly yet doesn’t puff. I keep shuffling.

And then the sudden pain of shinsplints. Didn’t I kill those fuckers back in the 90’s?! I’d forgotten that particular every-step-pain. Do I keep running despite it? Am not sure if I can or should.

Stumble into the physio’s not long after. Am strapped and chastised duly. Build up to it and don’t throw yourself in. Pace yourself. Take it slow.

Doesn’t she know that anything less than a full bodied hurl won’t work for me. It’s all too easy to stop. To walk. To walk back home. And shut the door.

Walk for 4 minutes and then run for 1. Wow, that’s not going to get awkward. I’m running whilst eyeing my phone for the countdown and the song’s nearing its peak and now walk. Now. But the music’s pounding. Walk dammit.

Someone’s leading their shiny black dog up ahead. They stop as it pees. I’m walking then realise it’s 3mins 58 and I’m nothing if not earnest so you know I’m going to burst into a run right near them. Oh shit. I’m starting to get the giggles deep at the soon to be glory and ok, here we go. She does a polite tight smile and I give her a supersize grin and I’m off. A hobbled it’s only 1 min lurch. She startles. My eyes water with suppression.

Where’s the gazelle – the ponytailed swish – the lithe arms pumping…where the heck did she go. It was only a decade.

Why does even a run have to humble.

But here – almost – now – comes the runner’s rush and I’m thinking I just might be ok…

 

Easter hat parade

Another Easter hat parade to endure. Scores of kids shuffling, stumbling, skipping around the cement yard. Rolls of cardboard on their heads. Baskets and masks stickered and coloured and 2-dollar-shop-Easterfied.

Parents and carers lining the space. Some seated and others standing in the sun.

Me on the side. Feeling the heat and wishing I’d brought my sunglasses. Actually where are they anyway? It’s seriously bright. Gloriously, painfully so.

Watching these dear little faces parading before us. Loved ones beaming at them. Waving. Calling out. A photo. A grin.

This great swathe of love. A rollingness…a swell. My stomach rises as the children near and falls as they leave and here they are again. Two laps. Too much.

And here comes my son. Here he comes shy behind his egg mask. I can hardly bear to look at him. But look at him. See the curve of his neck. His lanky golden legs. His hands in pockets. His funny little shuffling walk. Perfection. What a goddamn honour living near you.

I step away to catch my breath and stem my tears.

All those shining faces…all that clumsy love. Around it goes…