What’s on the other side of the mountain?

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Today I was at my local library. I don’t know if you read my last post (which was a shockingly long time ago, sorry), but due to my new life as a student, I am utilising this facility with pleasing frequency now. It helps me to swallow the alarming increase in the council tax bill this year – I use my free 30 minute parking nearly every day and I use my local library – go me! I am literally squeezing every last drop out of the council (this is meant to be sarcastic)!

Anyway, whilst I was flicking through cook books and taking photos of some of the recipes (don’t tell me you don’t do the same thing) and avoiding opening the book that I should have been reading (very very dry, tiny writing, difficult to pronounce words) I observed a convoy of prams and buggies arriving. One by one, the women (for they were all women) unpeeled their bundles from their cosy cocoons revealing little boys and girls in varying states of stupor. All of them were very very cute, some squeaking what sounded like little words like hi and mummy. My heart leaped and I had a little surge of love – that general feeling of love I usually feel when I see little people, because they are incredibly sweet.

I also had a feeling of jealousy, I can’t lie about this. These lucky people who were young enough to still have babies and who were lucky enough to be dealing with a baby or a toddler and not a teenager who clearly thinks I am a total IDIOT or an opinionated 7 year old who is obsessed with ROBLOX (an online game – google it!), or a borderline hormonal 11 year old boy who is equally obsessed with Fortnite (another computer game – google this one too)! The mums left their prams parked in front of the book cases and headed up stairs.

About 10 minutes later, I remembered that I had to buy mince (the glamour) and got up to leave the relative sanctuary of the library. As I walked out of the building I heard the strains of ‘she’ll be coming round the mountain’ floating down the stairs and I realised that the mums and babies had come to a music group. And then the memories came flooding back!

When my now 13 year old was a baby, I had enrolled in a local group called Joe Jingles. Every week I would rock up to the local church and sit cross legged on the floor armed with cow bells and tambourines singing all the songs, doing all the actions, laughing and clapping, desperately trying to get my girl to show some interest. I worried that her development was stunted, that her not joining in, her dis-interest was a bad reflection on me as a mother. I worried about what the other mums thought of me, what I was wearing, what my baby was wearing, how she was behaving, what they thought of my pram, blah blah fucking blah.

When the boy came along, I did it all again, and I enrolled him in a dance class for toddlers. Again, the embarrassment when he didn’t get the steps right – yes, I’m being honest here – the distance of a few years certainly helps! When the monster arrived, I was maybe more relaxed. I was a bit knackered and preoccupied with the other two. She was not subjected to the same ‘events’. I felt guilty about this of course, but quite frankly, I didn’t have time to think about it really. I also had a sense of freedom from prying eyes. I was not interested in the whole social aspect of these activities and I chose to commune with the people I knew and felt comfortable with.

Please don’t get me wrong though. I am not knocking these groups and classes. They were a life saver for me as a mum of babies and toddlers. That world can be lonely and monotonous. Providing stimulation for an inquisitive child on your own, all day, every day, is exhausting. It’s not an exaggeration to say that going to something like a music group or dance or play group, can be the reason why you don’t descend into a dark hole of despondency. And yet…

That familiar feeling of total and indescribable exhaustion washed over my mind and my body when I heard the strains of nursery rhymes and cow bells floating from that upstairs room at the library. It brought back memories of broken sleep, long stretches of boredom, feeling unsure of who I was exactly and how I was going to get through the rest of the day after the loud, chaotic hour would be over.

In that same moment, my thoughts were tinged with a sense of regret and an over-riding feeling that I wish I could have pitched up Bill and Ted style in my time machine and explained to my younger dude self that I should sing and dance and enjoy myself, jump straight in and savour every single second because it is gone in a flash.

And what’s more, your children and their inexorable journey onwards causes you, the parent to forget what has gone before and to know only the moment in which you are currently immersed. As a result, you will find yourself sitting in a library in 12 years, stealing recipes from a library book, you’ll be that bit more wrinkly and grey, looking at these young mummies as if they are aliens, watching across a vast, un-crossable chasm as they look straight through you even though you feel like you know them so well.

I remember asking my sister for advice about new born babies when I was pregnant with my first. Her second child was just 6 months old at the time and even then, she told me that it was all a bit foggy and she found it hard to remember exactly what her baby had been like at days or weeks old. I couldn’t believe her! But, I can report that the same thing happened to me. I can remember giving birth and I know that I breast-fed and I changed nappies, and I lived with babies who crawled around and sat in high chairs and couldn’t feed themselves or get glasses out of cupboards and couldn’t constantly open the fucking fridge to steal food – but beyond these vague facts that I know to be true because I have children, the rest is a bit fuzzy! !

Surely it’s just natural? My preoccupation now is with the world of the teenager. When friends with older kids told me that toddlers were a piece of cake, just wait until they hit 13, I remember thinking that they were clearly deluded and had terrible memories. Maybe this is partly true. But, I think I am learning that parenting a young adult is possibly the hardest thing I’ve done yet. I must caveat that sentence with a ‘yet’ because I’m sure this will be eclipsed.

None the less, as I left the library today, I suddenly felt very relieved that I was not in the room upstairs but was instead walking out of the building, unencumbered by a heavily laden buggy and unco-operative toddler wondering how long I might be able to cope in the playground before freezing to the core. I virtually skipped to the supermarket and grabbed my 500g pack of mince and positively sprinted back to my car and from there, to my home, driving past the schools in which my offspring were at that very moment imbibing information into their brain sponges!

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A helpful list of Do’s & Don’ts for the VERY mature student…

 

 

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Last week, I returned to college to start a long and potentially life changing journey. Right now, I am just relieved that I’ve started, and I am endeavouring to tackle this challenge one week at a time. I’m still not sure how to juggle the world I already inhabit with a brand new world.  I need to learn to switch seamlessly between the two. Thoughts of what the fuck to put in the packed lunches tomorrow popping into my head whilst I’m trying to engage in a seminar, or the sudden realisation that no-one has any clean pants to wear whilst attempting to contribute to a group discussion, do not really help! Right now, I have to try and take each week as it comes and try and avoid any thoughts of the long game.

With this in mind, and in order to try and get a few things out of my head to make some space for some more useful information, I have compiled a list of…

Things to remember on returning to the world of higher education at the age of 44 and a half.

DO buy a new bag, pens, pencils, notebooks (posh from nice shops, no PUKKA pad from Sainsbury’s in my backpack!) even though these items exist in abundance in my home, to the point where I cannot close the drawers in my desk due to the piles of un-used but very cute, pretty, cool pads lying within.

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New stationery and bag is a must! New books, pen and tin were a lovely gift from a fantastic friend!

DO NOT pick up your 7 year old’s punching unicorn pen by mistake – this will give the wrong impression entirely when taking notes in a serious seminar about serious things.

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This is really a thing & it really resides in my child’s pencil case

DO NOT read the course handbook before you have started the course and then hyperventilate, cry, tell yourself that you have made a hideous mistake and should never have thought in a million years that you could do this.

DO NOT read any course literature whilst a. Sitting in bed or b. Sitting on a comfy chair, as you will definitely fall asleep after reading 3 sentences and wake up 45 minutes later dribbling and panicking.

DO devise a way, whatever you can, to avoid falling asleep on opening any book relating to your course.

DO NOT take a stack of books to the library, sit down, fall asleep and wake up hours later, horrified but not surprised, as this was how I spent 3 years of University and 1 year of Post Graduate study.

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Libraries provide great pillows aka books on which to catch up on much needed sleep!

 

MUST STAY AWAKE – I CANNOT RE-ITERATE THIS ENOUGH.

DO remember to listen when your fellow students are telling you their name.

DO NOT introduce yourself and then forget that under no circumstance should you start thinking about whether your children have eaten their dinner, brushed their teeth or done their homework, when you should be fixing someone’s face and name in your addled brain.

DO buy chocolate and other essential ‘snacks’ to get you through the evening and relish the opportunity to eat these in full view of others, instead of secretly stuffing it in your face in the downstairs loo in order to avoid detection by children who are only allowed sweets on a Saturday.

DO access the facilities of your local library.

DO NOT admit to the librarian that the last time you were in the library was approximately 6 years ago and that you never returned the 4 childrens’ books that you borrowed. It is as a result of this heinous behaviour that I have not been back to the library – too embarrassed to look these good people in the eye and too scared about the hefty fine that I might receive. But this is all in the past, and I merely tested the fact that childrens’ books incur no fines for late return. I have, I believe, contributed a great deal of money in the form of council tax and I hope that my sins are now absolved. I am now fully embracing the world of the library and will be a model customer and avid user of said facility.

DO NOT work out that by the time you get to the end of the whole degree (if indeed you make it that far), you will be 50, yes, 50 years old. I mean, for fuck’s sake. That means I have to accept that I am in my mid 40’s now and arguably should not be entering the realm of the student.

DO NOT dwell on the fact that in the eyes of your fellow students you are middle aged, greying, a bit boring, look like shit, remember the 80’s and enjoy an evening of crochet and desert island discs on the radio.

DO ironically observe that when you are finishing, your oldest child will be well on her way to taking her A-levels and your youngest child will be in her first year at secondary school.

Actually…

DO NOT ironically observe that your children will almost have left home by the time you are qualified. This is quite depressing. Although, perhaps they will be able to give me some good tips on writing essays and revision.

DEFINITELY DO NOT work out that you left university 21 years ago.

DO NOT regale anyone with utterly tedious stories about when you were a student the first time round. It’s not big and it’s not funny and it’s definitely not of interest to anyone else.

DO NOT regale anyone with utterly tedious stories about your children. This is hard because my children are cool and funny and brilliant and I want to tell everyone about them. But on reflection, stories about what they did this morning at breakfast or their many and varied academic/sporting/musical achievements are of no interest to anyone but me.

DO NOT  prioritise cleaning the toilet or hoovering the disgusting floor over having a conversation with your child or your partner, or just sitting down to watch the bake off (even though it has moved to channel 4 and I’m still not sure about the new presenters)

DO remind yourself that whilst you feel old and exhausted and pulled in more directions than can be expressed, this is something that can be achieved and that it is worth it.

DO drink wine

DO NOT: PANIC
DO NOT: QUIT
DO NOT: PROCASTINATE

DO Get off your arse and go and do some studying!

 

What’s in a name?

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Actress and all round sex kitten Gina Lollobrigida (Image taken from Rebelcircus.com)

A few years ago when visiting my family in Denmark, my Grandma gave me a huge bundle of letters, letters that my Mum had written to her parents. They spanned the entire time she lived in the UK, from the early 1960’s to 1987, the year she died. I was incredibly grateful and excited and just amazed really to see these piles of envelopes all containing my Mum’s neat, cursive handwriting, all in Danish. I suddenly had a window into a life that I really didn’t know much about. My sister and I agreed that we would put them away and, one day, when we feel strong enough, we will sit down and read them together.

Having said that, as I was gathering them together, my eye alighted on the postmark on one letter – March 1973, the month and year of my birth. So I pulled the lined paper from the envelope and found it dated 8th March, Middlesex Hospital, Westminster, London. I was breathless to think that the day after I was born, she had written to her mother back in Denmark. After I stopped crying, I smiled and my heart lifted as I felt a sudden connection and closeness to her and to an event that I was obviously at the centre of but can’t recall her ever talking to me about.

The best thing about this letter, apart from the simple everyday, arguably mundane chitty chatty content, was the discovery that my name on the day after my birth was not my name!

Here is a little extract from the letter (badly translated by me I’m afraid).

Dear All

It is now 27 hours since my baby was born and we are both doing very well…

We still haven’t chosen a name for the little one, but I’m pretty certain it’s going to be Gina, pronounced like ‘J’ in John, basically, ‘Djina’. We will see if she turns out to be as famous as Gina Lollobrigida. We are still thinking, so maybe it will change before we have to go and register the name.

It’s bizarre don’t you think? To try and imagine yourself but with a different name.  Well, it’s impossible actually.   Would my life have been different had I been Gina? Perhaps as my Mum suggested I might, I would have lived up to my glamorous namesake and become a famous actress/model/socialite!  Would I feel different, would I have an alternative sense of ME?  I was amazed that I had never known this before.

I suspect Gina was one of her favourites, but perhaps my Dad had not paid it much attention preferring something else. I can understand it now having had these conversations with my partner about our own childrens’ names. Had I been writing to my Mum about my babies, I might well have mentioned several names that never eventually made the cut! You know the conversations where you suggest a name that you love and your partner says it sounds like a dog’s name? Or the name that you have been obsessed with for years that turns out to be your partner’s ex-girlfriend or someone they didn’t like at school.

On reflection, it was probably just a passing moment for my Mum and Dad as they settled eventually on a different name. We all forget things that at the time seem to be so vitally important. But she captured that moment and that thought forever in writing and left it there for me to discover 43 years later

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Whatever my name was at the time of her writing this letter, reading her words, in her handwriting and being able to hear her voice through the words in her native language suddenly made me REAL and placed me firmly with her. That sounds strange doesn’t it? It’s hard to explain. Because she is not here, and it’s so long since she’s been here, I find it hard sometimes to accept that she ever was here.  And those few years that she was with me are perhaps one of my elaborate daydreams that I indulge myself in from time to time!

That moment after you give birth, where a new mother is on her own with her new baby – the private words, looks, emotions that pass between them and that sadly her baby will never be able to recall, but those moments that create the eternal connection. Suddenly I felt these moments coursing through me like electricity. A part of me woke up, came to life, the realisation that I am still the daughter of a mother, I have been held and kissed and snuggled and had a random name whispered in my ear! I was suddenly transported to that moment with her. Was she looking into my scrunched up, angry face trying out the name, Gina, whispering it to me as she held me? At what point did she decide that it wasn’t right? What changed her mind? Time and memory are fickle things. It doesn’t really matter I guess. It saddened me that I couldn’t call my Mum, splutter and laugh down the phone as I cried, ‘Gina? Really? Why? How?’

Whatever, I have physical proof now that I was there and she was there too! Sounds mad, but it has brought a person back to life, it has placed me in history with a person who I wish I knew in 1973, but sadly didn’t know that I did. Now, thanks to this beautiful sheet of paper, I can imagine the conversation going on in her head, fitting the name to the new soul in front of her, forming the bond that will tie us together for all time.