The Big and the Small

img_1786Like many people, I’ve been a bit preoccupied with crazy events in America of late. I’ve not been able to put it all out of my head enough to feel able to return to my cosy little blog about the small, sheltered world I inhabit with my family. The big, scary outside world has been hammering at the door far too loud. This blog isn’t supposed to be a political place but, all of a sudden, everything seems political. Which has left me, unusually, at a loss for words for a while.

Don’t worry, I’m not going on a political rant. I could, but I won’t. I have been dwelling on how these two worlds collide and how uncomfortable that clash has become for me in the last few weeks. I’ve been becoming more and more obsessed with 24 hour news, watching the fear and rage unfold. These major world events strike such a sharp contrast to my mostly happy little family. I like to keep them apart in my head but I know I can’t do that forever. We are part of this bigger picture, whether I like it or not.

The kids are mostly blissfully unaware of anything beyond our little patch of Sussex and a big part of me wants them to stay that way: safe and ignorant. But I can’t do that forever and I wouldn’t be doing them any favours if I did.

img_1784My eldest, H, is 8. He is becoming more aware of the world. He asks questions about what he hears on the news and worries deeply about things. He knows who Trump is and what he knows he doesn’t like. He hates the wall. He hates Brexit. Dividing and withdrawing from others seems crazy to his 8-year old eyes. I am proud of him for being engaged, and school are great at encouraging that, but I also watch it in a sort of silent horror. His slow transformation from the ignorant bliss state of his 3-year old brother to partial awareness of a fraction of the horrors of the world makes me want to weep. For I know that there is so much more to learn, so much more cruelty and hatred.

H looks on in disbelief at (heavily vetted) images of the conflict in Syria and cannot comprehend that people still drop bombs even though they know that children live there. He asks me “But surely no one would ever WANT to kill a child would they?” It is beyond his comprehension. He is right. It is beyond mine but I have long buried that reaction, as atrocities around the world have mounted throughout my life.

Through his new eyes, I feel I’m becoming less desensitised to that hell. As adults, we learn to filter. You simply have to, or you would struggle to go on. Another day, another horror. You cannot live it all, you simply cannot allow that much feeling. My boy has yet to learn that trick. And with each new discovery he makes, I find myself seeing it anew, remembering what it felt like to learn just how much misery man can inflict.

Not only does my boy have to learn to understand all this, but I also have to gradually release him into this big world, away from our safe small bubble and into the unknown, with all its potential to hurt and destroy.

It is such a fine line, deciding what to tell your child as they grow. How much can they handle? If I tell him too little, I am artificially protecting him, tying him to the apron strings and failing to equip him for the big wide world. Too much too soon and I could damage him, terrify him, unleash nightmares. If anything I think I am guilty of protecting him too much. I hate that I have to be the one to destroy his bubble of ignorance, to remove that sense of safety.

img_1785The world, my love, is not the happy and safe place you have always been taught to believe it is. The story books have lied to you. There are terrible things out there, things we cannot always protect you from. Things I have to teach you, in order to make it possible for you to not only survive but make the world a better place, to make it into the place you already believe it to be.

As a kid, I clearly remember being utterly astonished to learn that not all policemen behaved as they did in Trumpton. That some were corrupt. That some lied and broke the law. The realisation was so shocking that the memory has lived in me for the rest of my life. It was the moment that I began to understand. H has yet to have his moment, but I don’t think it can be far away.

Not long ago, H started crying out of nowhere at the dinner table. When we finally got him to say what was bothering him, he said “I’m crying because I don’t want to grow up and be a teenager. I want to stay a child and play and have fun”. We spent the rest of the meal explaining how great it can be to have a bit more freedom, later bedtimes and all the other cool things about getting older. He calmed down but I know he remains unconvinced. And he doesn’t know the half of it.

I know I can’t protect my kids from reality as they grow or stop them growing up, neither would I want to. But I do wish that I was releasing them into a better world than the one we have, which seems to be becoming more frightening by the day.

I need to step away from the news and retreat into our small world for a while. Here I can regroup and work out how to be strong and, more importantly, how to teach my babies to be strong too. They have a lot to learn. They have many moments of shock and grim realisation ahead of them and I need to teach them how to handle that. How to turn their shock into action where necessary, to enable them to feel less helpless.

They have to learn to live between the big world and the small. To learn how to block out some of the horror, in order to protect themselves. They must be free to enjoy the happiness of the small, without stopping to care about the big. It is a hard lesson to learn and an even harder one to face as the teacher. I feel unequal to the task.

I will help you to learn as much as I can, my little ones. And I know, when the time comes, you will make a better job of running this world than our generation seems capable of right now.

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Air Pockets

img_1733I woke up feeling lighter today. I’m not sure why. And I don’t think I’d even noticed how heavy I have felt of late – how dragging myself around had become so hard – until something lifted and I found myself in this air pocket. It is a happy place to be and feels like a long lost friend. Like I’m back.

The last few weeks have been hard. There is a lot going on. As I said in my last post, it has been crazy busy and we’ve had our moments of upset but then it is always busy at this time of year and mostly I’ve held it together pretty well. But something changed. The world became a scarier place. It made things feel bigger than I could handle and I allowed myself to be dragged down by the undertow.

It is the most manic time at school, with endless requests for input and money. Christmas looms large and with it the pressure to make it as it as magical as it can be for my kids. There have also been personal things happening but it was the huge world-changing troubles which have added to the weight the most, until I’ve felt almost too heavy to get up in the mornings, unable to see beyond it.

Only now, after the sound and fury of it all, when I’ve given up railing against it, do I let go, become limp. And so I find myself floating back up to the surface, gently washing up on a beach, like driftwood.

It was a funny one this time. Often I see them in technicolor, those spots on the horizon, but this time it crashed like a wave, out of clear blue skies. Perhaps not entirely clear blue but I was wearing some great Supermum-holding-my-shit-well-and-truly-together tinted glasses so I didn’t notice the wisps of trouble in my periferal vision.

The catalyst was my husband coming back from the best part of two weeks away. Not him going away. That bit was strangely easier because I was in full-on Coping Mode while he was gone. Solo parenting, managing some major things and holding at bay some huge background issues beyond my little family unit. But those things were dragging on relentlessly all that time, gnawing away and undermining my foundations like woodworm.

img_1732Daddy’s return date was on the wall; the promise of him coming home, of joyous reunions and easier times, was the focus as a little unit of four throughout half term and beyond. Like all days of great expectation, the reality couldn’t deliver on it’s promise. It wasn’t his fault. He had no idea all my badly balanced eggs were in his cold-filled, jet-lagged basket and the relief just wasn’t enough. I was waiting for the dam to break and I got a pathetic little trickle. And then Trump won. That’s when I really lost my shit.

The things I was able to shrug off became monumental. I sat in the car and sobbed for a world heading for political disaster. I hid in the kitchen in the dark, avoiding my children who seemed bent on being impossible, their moans and squabbles switching from background noise to an assault on my barely there cool. I cried for myself, my family and a world full of problems that felt too big to solve.

So, what changed this morning? Where did the clouds go? That’s the odd thing because I don’t think they went anywhere. They are still right there, bang in my line of sight, but I’m in this little air pocket now where I can see them but I can’t feel them. And it feels good. It’s like watching a car crash on film, as opposed to being in the car. It looks the same but it doesn’t hurt. The world is still relentlessly shifting to the right, with so many people dismissing this disaster as normal. Crisises continue around me which I am unable to help. But now I float through it serenely.

The kids are back to being merely kids: annoying and adorable and equal measure but not about to tip me over into oblivion. They can hang out in my happy air pocket too if they like, as long they don’t get too irritating. The air pocket is ace. I hope it lasts.

I need to get better at making my own air pockets in a challenging and upsetting world, rather than waiting for them to materialise. The world situation is utterly shit but I can’t fix that. There are many things closer to home that I would love to fix too but they may as well be distant political catastrophies half-way round the world for all the good I can do to help fix them. I’m not good at helpless. But I need to get better at it. At least better at focusing on the things I can mend, rather than being pulled down by the ones that I can’t. Being in the mire is not a good place to be and not fair on my family either. With it comes more guilt than I’m comfortable with.

img_1728And as for the treadmill, the weekly cycle of work and school that often leaves no room to pause for breath, well I can only do what I can do. And all that should be a piece of cake anyway from inside this bubble, with other worries kept at bay. Besides, here comes the Christmas hype. With three already glitter-covered, overexcited kids in the mix, I have to just let that one roll me along. And I love it, once the organising is done, so am ready for those tiny voices singing endless rounds of Jingle Bells. Let’s decorate the air pocket with some tinsel and see if we can’t hide that car crash on the outside behind it for a while.

My wonderful Mum has been a calm voice in the storm. As she reminded me, she lived through the Cold War, wondering if the world was about to be blown to pieces at any second. But she is still here. All this too shall pass. The big and the small. There is always cause for hope.

For now, I am mainly going to hope for a calmer few weeks, at least inside my head. That I can manage to stay inside the air pocket, looking out but not being pulled into it all. It is time for a news blackout and to do what I can but not to mourn for what I can’t.

And I hope that our small world continues to be bright, despite the darkness outside.

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Travel Trauma

imageWe just got back from our first foreign holiday with the kids, having opted for cheaper, easier (and wetter) holidays in the UK for many years. After a total washout holiday last year, we took the plunge and went to Corfu. And we had a really brilliant time. From hours on the beach in the sunshine to dolphin spotting on a fantastic boat trip, it was pretty ace, all in.

But you don’t want to hear a dull holiday report of everything going beautifully, do you? Let me instead tell you about our travel trauma on the way home. It was one of those days when, even as I was going though the worst of it, I knew that one day I would look back on it and laugh. So hopefully it will amuse you too. Just don’t read it while eating. You have been warned.

Before we even set off, our M was looking peaky. She had been very subdued and tired the night before and was looking rather washed out and pale, as if she was coming down with something. She refused any breakfast and tried to sleep whenever we sat her down anywhere. She was also car sick for the first time ever earlier in the week so the prospect of getting through a whole day of travel without incident wasn’t looking great.

imageLike a good, organised parent, I made damn sure I was fully prepared for possible spew ups in the coach transfer back to the airport. I packed a plastic bag – having first checked for holes – a whole pack of wipes, a spare t-shirt for M, a bottle of water and lots of tissues. I then congratulated myself for being so clever and forward thinking.

We got on the coach, which was already pretty full. I wanted M to be near the front and my little limpet boy T wanted to be near me, natch. So I sat M next to the window in the first free seats, with me beside her and her T just across the aisle, next to a woman who looked less than pleased about having to endure a coach trip with a snotty toddler. Little did she know what she had coming. But more on that later. My husband and H had to sit half way down the coach in the next available seats.

Well, as expected, we were about half way through our coach journey and my poor little girl was looking awful. I was on standby with my pre-tested carrier bag. Chirpy T was being very good across the aisle, yelling about all the other buses he could spot, making the woman beside him wince at the volume.

imageM started to throw up and, despite me having an open bag on her lap, a good deal of it missed the target because she clamped her hand over her mouth and vomit squirted out between her fingers at crazy angles. It was all over her, on my hands and on her beloved Bear. Sick bag fail. After a very brief moment of panic, I rallied well and dug into my bag, nicely spreading the vom around inside it from the back of my hand. I retrieved the wipes and used about half a bag to clean us up pretty well.

The vom bag was a right off with spew dripping down the sides and, from the look on M’s face, more was clearly on the way. I frantically searched in vain for another bag in my rucksack but only found about 50 nappy sacks, which were clearly not up to the job. So I did a stage whisper down the coach to my husband, who dug out and lobbed down a beaten up old plastic bag with multiple holes in the bottom. It would have to do.

imageOriginal spew covered bag inserted into hole-filled bag, along with handfuls of used wipes, and we were ready for round two, which didn’t take long to arrive. Throughout the whole process, dear little M was remarkably calm and a total trooper. No crying or yelling. She just quietly threw her guts up, whilst I tried to deal with the fallout in as inconspicuous a way as possible. The smell may have given us away a tad but I thought, given the circumstances, things were just about under control.

It was at this point that T started moaning from across the aisle. And I don’t mean a bit of background, bored griping. I mean serious whining. I was still balancing the bag of doom on M’s lap when this moaning ramped up and suddenly, out of absolutely bloody nowhere, he projectile vomitted up his toast and jam. This from a kid who has never been travel sick in his life and, unlike M, had showed no signs of illness previously.

It was one of those moments when you are literally frozen in panic. I had spew on both sides and I had no idea what to do next. I wanted a hole in the bottom of the coach to swallow me up. My husband clocked that something was afoot but had no idea what until I turned to him and simply mouthed “Help!”

He was there in a flash and, thankfully, got the clean up started as I was still reeling and frozen in horror. It was one of his most epic moments, for which I will be eternally grateful. T was stripped, the remainder of the pack of wipes was used up and vom was picked out of hair. About 40 of our 50 nappy sacks were employed to bag up various items of clothing and regurgitated matter. And let’s not forget that T was sat next to some poor random woman who did her very best to stare out the window and ignore the whole drama, whilst surreptitiously dodging bits of flying spew.

We finally pulled into the airport and I could have wept with relief. I apologised profusely to the woman and bundled our nappy clad toddler and vom girl off the bus, followed by H who was loudly saying “So, has everyone been sick?!”

Multiple bags of vom dumped, full body changes and lots of washing of hands and hair in the grimy toilets and we were sorted. We had no wipes left but hey, we were at an airport, so there was bound to be a chemist here, right?

After standing in no less that six different queues, we were through security and went in search of a chemist. Hmmm. No chemist. But surely one of these random tat shops would sell some basic essentials like baby wipes, wouldn’t they? No, they wouldn’t. If we’d been after olive oil or Greek tourist crap though, we’d have been sorted.

So, we were stuck in the limbo world between passport control the aeroplanes, with a two-hour wait and a three-hour flight ahead of us, with three kids, one of whom still wears nappies and was definitely due a crap.

imageI stocked up on napkins from the snack bar and a large bottle of water as my makeshift wipes kit and prayed.

Our flight was eventually called and we were in our final queue to board, with T happily watching the planes out the window. He ran over to tell me all about them and the whiff hit me. He had done a massive shit. Excellent timing, son.

On to the plane we went and my first question to the smiling air steward was “Are there sick bags in the seat pockets and can I use the toilet right now? This one has done a big poo”.

I won’t go into details but I hope you never have the experience of having to change the nappy of a gangly toddler in a tiny aeroplane toilet with nothing but napkins, hand-towels and water at your disposal.

The rest of the journey was thankfully uneventful. As uneventful as flying with three kids can be anyway. Until we got to Gatwick and realised one of our bags had gone AWOL en route. Marvellous.

Given how straightforward our journey to Corfu was, and how horrendous the trip home was, I think we’ve seen the full gamut of what travel with kids can be during our first foray into foreign holidays. We saw the highs with the total joy on the faces of kids flying for the first time, and we definitely saw the lows.

If I can take any positives from the lows, I guess I at least have a good story to embarrass the little two with when they are older. Oh, and I now know that it is a good idea to take travel sickness tablets for kids with you on holiday, even if you don’t think you’ll need them.

And wipes. Definitely take more wipes.

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(In in case you were wondering, Bear has been washed on a delicate cycle, smells sweet again and is recovering well from his ordeal).

The Power of Laughter

With three small kids, the level of humour in this house is pretty basic. It tends to revolve around poo, farts and bottoms, for the most part. I’ve never been mad keen on toilet humour, so the endless stream of poo jokes can get a tad wearing, although there is no doubt that it brings laughter to the house. Plenty of it.

imageM, my middle one, my apparently angelic looking little girl, is the worst culprit by a clear mile. Never let it be said that boys are more rude. She likes to sing everything as she goes through life and, sure as eggs is eggs, each little ditty eventually ends up harking back to bums. She warbles a floaty little tune to any words that come into her head and it is usually something along the lines of “I love fluffy bunny rabbits, la la la, they are very sweet, especially when lots of poo comes out of their fluffy little bums, la la la la!”

Cue hysterical laughing from her big brother. He is her greatest fan and finds her so funny that she literally has him bent double and crying with laughter. All this nicely fuels the fire of M’s poo-joke obsession and her need for an appreciative audience.

Although I struggle to get the joke in as wholehearted a way as the kids, it is hard not be amused by their hysteria. At the weekend, my husband did an impression of M, singing and adding the word poo to every line. They were literally rolling around on the floor, struggling for breath, such was their level of amusement. A grown-up making a poo joke is even more delightful to their little ears for some reason. I challenge anyone not to laugh along when faced with two such hysterically happy kids, no matter how lame the joke is.

In addition to M’s potty mouth, there is of course the ultimate funny incident: the fart. Not only do their little bums make much louder noises than should be possible for such small people, but once one of them cracks out a fart, that is it. I can expect nothing from them other than hooting and crying with mirth for a good ten minutes. Even the little one gets this level of humour and joins in. I mean, there isn’t a lot to get.

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So, I was pondering this the other day. Do all kids have this puerile toilet humour? I don’t remember having it to such a degree as a child but I dare say my parents would correct me on that one. I think I’ve always been a bit of a prude about these things, as far back as I can remember anyway. Slackstick? Yes, always. There are few things funnier than someone falling over. But bum jokes? Not so much.

There hasn’t been a lot to smile about in the news lately, so being surrounded by guffawing kids yelling “poo” brings a much-needed lightness to a world has been looking increasingly dark. I have to admit that I spend a lot of time avoiding the news these days. There is only so much misery and hopelessness one can digest without sinking under the weight of it. I’m well aware that being an ostrich and burying my head in the sand is not a solution. But I have three small people relying on me to keep my head above water and not slip down into a mire of emotion about things I cannot change. So being an ostrich suits me and my family right now.

Yesterday, yet another series of bombs went off in another crowded city, with devasting results. After reading the basics, I decided it was time to employ the ostrich. Not only do I not want my kids being exposed to the horror of it on the news in the background but I cannot handle it myself. News blackout time.

But being an ostrich can mean you miss the good things too. The things that make you laugh and lighten the load. My mate sent me a link other other day to quite possibly my favourite news story of the year so far which I might have missed otherwise, with my head so firmly wedged in the sand.

You may have read about the new polar exploration ship that the Natural Environment Research Council asked the public to suggest names for. The names were delightfully ridiculous, with the clear favourite, leagues ahead of the others in the number of votes received: the incredible Boaty McBoatface. OK, so I know how childish it is to revel in the joy of such a stupid name being foisted on a new ship by the great British public but I found it ridiculously amusing. It is the adult equivalent of the poo joke. There is nothing to it but somehow it is hysterically funny. Every time I think of it, even days later, I can’t help but laugh out loud. It is just such a wonderful example of our country’s ability to be subversive and funny, in a world where there isn’t always a lot to laugh about.

Is it really that funny? Possibly not. But then neither is a song about the fluffy bunny having a dump. But sometimes the simplest of things can bring a lightness that grabs us, no matter how old we are, that reminds us that there are a lot of kindred spirits out there who laugh at the same things that we laugh at. That there are, in fact, still things to laugh about.

I will be very cross if the NERC renege on the deal and opt for another name for Boaty McBoatface. After all, most of us wouldn’t have even known anything about the NERC or their new ship were it not for this story. Besides, it has made thousands of people smile. Reason enough to keep it. And no matter what they call it, I strongly suspect it will always be known as Boaty.

I am so glad that my kids know so very little of the horrors of the world right now, but of course that cannot last forever. While it does last, I will drink in their wonderful giggles as they crease up about bums and bodily functions. And I will laugh along with them, no matter how rubbish the joke. I will also hang onto the joy of Boaty McBoatface and other such childish, harmless humour that we are so good at in this country. In the face of such sadness, we really need it.

I hope you find something ridiculous and childish to laugh about today. If you have young kids, you will doubtless be spoilt for choice. There really is no better way of getting through the day than laughing like a kid who just sang a song about poo.

Thanks for the laughs, little potty-mouth.

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Toddler Groups: A Survivor’s Story

imageI’ve not been to a toddler group for about three years. Last time I went, I pretty much swore off them, having had my fill. However, last Wednesday’s rain was set in, T was in a very busy mood and I was feeling too skint to blow £20 on a morning chaining tea at soft play. So, against my better judgement, I decided to revisit a group held in a local church, just to give T a morning out. After all, we are home alone together, now that M has started school, and I felt a bit under pressure to entertain the lively little lad.

Like most such toddler groups, this one was run by well meaning Christian ladies whose own kids are much older and who want to provide a service to local Mums, with a less than subtle undercurrent of converting them to see the light, where possible. Pleasant as they were and much as T enjoyed bombing about playing with manky old toys, I was very quickly reminded why I stopped going.

The fact that these groups are so inextricably linked to churches creates an automatic issue for me. I’m not religious and don’t want to bring my kids up in a religious way. At one group I attended I was faced with a full on conversion attempt by the pushy vicar telling me I was bound for hell. Needless to say, we didn’t go back to that one. Everything is about God at these groups. The story and song time is religious, even the colouring pictures are holy scenes. But, much as that puts me off, it isn’t the real problem I have with them. The big issue for me is that they are such apparently happy, friendly places but I found that they can be anything but for the people who are really in need of a bit of compassion.

I am sure lots of Mums have very positive experiences of toddler groups. I didn’t. I’ve been to many in my time, some better than others, but the one that sticks in my memory was a group I used to go to with a small, angry baby H. I was a brand new Mum, going through an extremely painful and traumatic transition from breezy freedom to being at the mercy of a tiny rage monster. I had some lovely new Mum friends but I also had many seemingly endless days to fill with a miserable baby in tow.

So, I signed up to lots of groups, hoping to keep the baby happy and inject some adult conversation into my day, above and beyond trying to engage the Sainsbury’s cashier in a chat, out of sheer desperation to speak to a grown up. These were not my happiest days, I’ll freely admit.

Some baby and toddler activities were brilliant. Anything involving music was a winner. But the standard toddler groups were awkward and ultimately disappointing. They were full of cliques of local Mums who had known each other for years and basically had very little time for interlopers like me, recently out of London and with no network. I don’t think they meant to be mean, but they had their friends and weren’t really interested in meeting anyone else.

I’m not a shy person and am usually happy to kick start conversations but I felt like a fish out of water. I was at a pretty low ebb and not really able to rally and keep trying to make friends: being shattered, lonely and miserable, reaching out to unfriendly women who shut you out, was pretty demoralising. So, I sat and drank tea each week, trying to look busy and not like the sad, lonely one with no mates. Dire as it was, it was still better than the alternative of sitting at home with the baby.

To give them their due, the ladies running this particular group were lovely. It is possible they spotted a Mum-on-the-Edge and took pity, chatting to me and offering well meaning advice, tea and cake, without mentioning God once (other than shoving the odd church flyer at me).

imageH and I always snuck out before the religious songs at the end. It was all bad enough to endure, without having to sit through baby indoctrination too.

That first toddler group feels like another lifetime now. I look back on that anxious, sad and stressed Mum with great sympathy but almost as if she is another person. Seven years of parenting and three kids later, I feel like I have changed beyond measure. I am too busy to have time to fill, I am confident in my own parenting abilities and I have a wonderful network of friends. But I still have room for more and I would never be one of those cliquey Mums who cut people out.

At last Wednesday’s toddler group, T and I rocked up noisily to pay our 50p entry fee. We were a very different duo to that angry baby and desperate Mum of the early days. T is a happy lad in a way that H never was and I was only there for the stewed tea and to give my lad something to do for a couple of hours.

Apart from that, it was all painfully familiar. Mums in cliques, friendly organisers giving me concerned looks as I sat on my own with my boy. The difference was just in my outlook. T had no interest in doing any of the organised activities and I had no interest in chatting to the other Mums. Instead of sitting there longing for someone to befriend me, I was pretty keen to avoid the banal chat. Not one of the other Mums approached me as a new face to say hello to anyway. The me of today was delighted but I was very aware of how the new Mum me would have felt to be so ignored.

T had an absolute riot. He would be delighted to go back next week. I don’t think we will though. I think I’d rather pay for soft play. It was interesting to go back in time and revisit how I felt and remind myself how things have changed for me. But I don’t need it. In fact, I think I may actually need to never go again. Who wants to be made to feel like the outsider, whilst simultaneously having their kids being told that God wants to use them? Not I.

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It all feels rather one-sided to me and not worth the paltry 50p entry fee. I’m glad I went back though, if only to be reminded how things were, that I hadn’t imagined how miserable it could be. It also showed me how far I’ve come and that I survived it.

It felt good leave and go out into the rain, happy in the knowledge that the toddler group thing really isn’t for me.

Hold Them Close

imageI am reeling this evening. Not from toddler tantrums, not from the first day back at school. I have been on the edge of tears for much of the day, trying to keep my head focused on work and failing. None of my children are to blame. I’ve been crying for one small boy found lying face down on a beach in Turkey.

I know Aylan and his brother are the tip of the iceberg. I know this particular little boy, whose limp body we have seen all over today’s press, is just one of many thousands who have died this year. These other deaths have not been photographed and shared the world over, have not been the subject of an outpouring of public grief and outrage, but that doesn’t make them any less real. Aylan’s death would not be special in any way, apart from the fact that it has been seen. And, traumatic as it is, see it we must. We turn away far too often.

The political debate rages and those of us watching the unfolding crisis in horror do what pathetically little we can. We sign petitions, share stories and look up who we can send our donations to. But before that comes the gut wrenching emotional reaction to what we see.

I know my tears won’t help Aylan’s poor lifeless body, but I cannot get his image out of my head. You see, I have held my own tiny children in my arms. I know how it feels to have a little boy, to hold his hand and wipe his nose, to have his little legs wrapped around my torso, as I balance him on my hip. I know what a delight and a trouble he can be, what incredible energy he has, something us adults marvel over, wishing we could bottle it. To see all of that gone, nothing left but a tiny lifeless body, is almost beyond bearing.

I am, of course, thinking of my own little ones when I look at him. I am thinking of how soft their cheeks are, how infectious their laugh, how sharp their elbows are when they clamber over me. Maybe these things hit home harder when you are a parent of your own small children but I can’t imagine that anyone could look at that image and not think of other little ones they know. Aylan could be any of our children. We are just so incredibly bloody lucky that we live in a safe, affluent country. We are no more or less deserving of safety. It is just pure luck, that’s all.

Listening to the voice of the boys’ father on the radio – hearing how he struggled and failed to keep his family alive – I feel sick. To imagine being in that position is shocking and too horrific for words. We would all do everything we could to save our babies, even risk such incredibly dangerous journeys and slum conditions. Just think what they must be fleeing that is horrendous enough to force them to undertake such a migration with babes in arms.

But the cry that Britain is “too full” continues. The tone is slightly softer today perhaps, in the face of a wave of public opinion, but the answer is still that this is someone else’s problem. History will rightly judge our response harshly. Will this picture be a catalyst for the world to act? I am not hopeful. I have seen too much of the world to be hopeful.

Tonight, our house continues in it’s own little bubble of love and safety. It is full of the usual mayhem, always amplified on a work day, with all that catching up to be squeezed into just an hour or so. Snacks to be had, baths to be done. H gave me his report on his first day of school – it was awesome, apparently. M was full of the latest gossip from nursery and a tiny finger injury she had to show me ten times. My pudgy little T spouted general scribble and nonsense, as always. He was very proud of his newest word – popcorn – which he repeated endlessly.

I hurried them along when they were slowly munching snacks in front of the TV. I told them off when they squabbled in the bath. A standard night really. But I watched them with a shadow in the corner of my eye tonight.

They are my world, these three. One man’s world has gone dark today. I’m not religious but the saying “There but for the grace of God go I” says it all.

Tonight we cuddle perhaps just a little longer and harder than normal at bedtime, though they are in blissful ignorance as to why. And I am both deeply sad and thankful beyond measure.

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Some Days

Some days I struggle. I wake with the usual dawn ear-piercing screams from the toddler and wait for a blissful moment of blankness before the wave crashes over me. Then the hours ahead feel like a mountain to climb, counting down until bedtime, when I can give in to it.

Some days stretch out in front of me like an impossible task, an endurance test to be negotiated through a black curtain that hangs off me, sticking like treacle.

On these days I feel the weight upon my shoulders is so heavy that picking up the extra load of my toddler, whinging with pudgy arms outstretched, might just break my back.

Even the giggles and warmth of my beautiful children cannot reach me. They become three heavy loads to be carried, when my legs cannot even stand my own weight.

Inside me is a bubbling well, like indigestion. It has a flimsy lid that doesn’t fit properly, which I spend my day wrestling with in an attempt to keep it in place. And all the while the well boils. Keeping busy and making endless cups of tea helps to keep it in check. But next to nothing can send it out of control. A squabble, a broken plate, little things that would go unnoticed on other days. But these days are not other days.

These days hunt in packs, snapping at my heels, taking it in turns to jump on my back and close their jaws around my neck, trying to pull me down. They are relentless and each morning brings a fresh assault. Sometimes I think they are going to get the better of me and, were it not for my three small dependents, they probably would. I could give in to the pack and sink for a time. It would be such a relief to surrender.

But my own pack of bright-eyed babies won’t allow that. They make it necessary to drag myself out of bed at the start of the day, even when it feels like it is completely beyond me. Their daily rhythms and their needs force me to carry on and face the challenges of the day, even when the fog is so heavy that I can hardly see or hear them.

Some days I can open up and talk about my pain with my small, cherished band of close confidants. But not yet. The well is in overdrive. Once the bubbles die down, I can begin to give it a name. But it is too soon.

These days are not every day. They don’t last and are interspersed with long periods of sunshine. But the roots run deep and they don’t go away. The pack will return.

On better days, when the well is silent, I can reflect and day dream about a life where feelings don’t run so deep, where I could drift along the surface like so many others seem to do, with little waves pleasantly bobbing me up and down. But I wonder if that life really exists. Perhaps everyone has the highs and lows but most simply deal with them better and don’t feel the overwhelming desire to sink with the ship. To lose the highs but be saved the lows feels like a price worth paying right now.

I’ve become pretty good at faking it to the world. I can even put it on hold altogether for a family event or a weekend away, until the public eye has turned away. Perhaps everyone else is doing the same. Just the thought of that makes the well boil violently and I suddenly want to cry.

Perhaps it is just a toxic mix of genes and circumstances. Perhaps knowing why isn’t important.

Today, a double morning cuddle reached me. The sun rise broke through the fog, if only a little. Today I simply feel deeply sad but perhaps a little less in turmoil.

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Perhaps tomorrow I will feel a little less sad. Perhaps the next day I will feel better still. The struggle back to ‘normal’ is so much harder than sinking and I don’t have the strength just yet. It’s all I can do to get all four of us through the day, clothed, fed and in one piece – and all with minimum tears from each of us.

Until tomorrow, I will make more tea, plaster on a weak smile and wait for the sun to break through.