Too Much?

January 17, 2017

When Amelia was sick, I hung by her hospital bedside.  I lay on the narrow couch in her room and got up every hour, more, to feel her brow, kiss her cheek, stroke her hair from her face, feverish, then cool, then feverish. I did that for four nights and some nights I snatched only an hour or two. Some nights, persuaded I ought to go home to bed, I’d wake at 2am, lie awake and fretful, then slide from the sheets, pull on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, pick up the car keys and my phone and slip quietly out into the sultry darkness to drive to hospital. I drove too fast on empty roads lit only by a sagging moon and would barrel onto the wards to the surprise of night staff who only expected me at breakfast time. I would enter her room and feel such enormous relief to see her peaceful and free of fever and sleeping painlessly.

You unravel a little with not enough sleep and then I could feel my voice rising hysterically as I fretted to the nurses that the meds weren’t doing their thing hastily enough, or when her veins closed up, inflamed, and staff would have to prod for a new passage for the IV and bruises would bloom. I spent too much time, my haggard complexion jaundiced in the light of my cell phone late at night, or in the mean wee hours of morning, as I consulted with Dr Google. I enraged Amelia’s physician in the way histrionic mothers in hospitals can.

Which embarrassed my  husband  who lost patience with me eventually, for my arguments didn’t make sense anymore. ‘You are a great mother’, he said, sternly, ‘but sometimes you are Too Much’.

My eyes welled hot tears behind sunglasses and I tilted my chin defiantly and didn’t say a word.

It has taken days for me to have the head space to go back to this; sometimes you are Too Much.

This is what I do. Mother. It’s what I have done for 25 years. Fashion and nurture and sculpture and grow small people. It has taken precedence over every single other thing in my life. Everything else has had to wait when there has been a maternal crisis to tend to.  And that’s not a good thing – I know that: to forget to eat, to sleep, to clean your teeth whilst you fret and try to fix your child. You can’t do any job well on coffee and nerves.

But, days later, well fed, well rested, caffeine free, I go back to these words and pick them apart.

Had I done other things – had I combined a proper job with Mothering – would I, then, have been granted a healthier perspective? Is my all consuming parenting the result of the fact it is the single significant job I have? Or are all mothers at risk of becoming Too Much when their children are unwell, afraid, unhappy?

Is mothering a discipline we can meter out sensibly, rationally, or is it something more primal?

*************************

Amelia left this morning. This morning, just; we were 25 minutes into the day. We spent our evening on our shared double bed – which I had insisted upon so that I could throw out an arm in my midnight sleepiness and place a palm upon her brow even as she recovered to check for fever  – playing Rummy. She always beats me. I had strapped her foot.  Lectured on which meds to take when during her 13 hour flight to London.  I could hear the rumble of her taxi down the sandy road to the house, see its headlights cast a glow against the windows. And a familiar weight settled in my chest.

Time to go, I said.

Cheerfully she parcelled up chargers and phone and Kindle and stray bits of clothing to bung into a suitcase fit to burst and she hugged me and she told me she loved me and I stood in my pajamas and bare feet in the dark and I waved and I did not cry until I was back inside. Alone and small in that huge double bed with nobody’s brow to check for coolness.

And it is only then that I know I am not Too Much. For when I have to, when I know they are safe, well, happy, my children, I drop my arms from around them, I open my hand and force a wave goodbye.

And I kiss my fingertips and I blow.

And I let go.

too-much

 

 

Change

January 15, 2017

tide1

It’s a big, heaving, living, sighing thing out there: that great big sea that comes and goes and whispers and roars and lies calmly flat or rages and roils.

tide3

I imagine an enormous silent creature that rises as the tide recedes, its stony spine visible, one that is swallowed by the waters as the water rolls back in again so that I no longer see its bonewhite back as the waves charge up the beach and  ghost craps scuttle sideways in and out of the breakers.

tide2

Evolution is a slow thing. But not the movement of the ocean, the pull of tides. It’s on the turn. Every six hours, a new face.

tide4

And that makes me think about Change. I think of friends whose lives have changed already this year. Blink of an eye change. I think about friends who know their lives are going to change. I wonder about my own; about the changes that may manifest this year.

tide-last

Some change is inevitable. Expected. Like the rolling in and out of the sea.  It changes shape, its timetable. But it’s going to happen. Change.

But some change hits you like a bolt from the blue. I know about that kind of change. People say change is good, that it keeps us on our toes, makes us better people, broader thinkers. And it does: the right kind of Change. But not that kind of Change. That kind of change unseats you so you topple and sway and subsequent decisions are born of giddy off-centre thinking and too little sleep.

Whatever its shape, whatever shape it leaves you in, there is apparently no alternative but to put your head down and brave it. I’ve seen friends rise with grace from Terrible Change. Did they, I wonder, stand in the storm and when the wind resolutely blew the wrong way, buffeted them mercilessly, did they learn to adjust their sails.

I think it’s easier said than done. So this evening, as my tide recedes  and the sound of the sea quietens,  I’m thinking about friends trying to manage sudden, ill winds and I’m wishing them a smoother passage.

Describing Words

January 14, 2017

beautiful-sand-island-beach

Amelia says that the waves that roll onto the distant reef at low tide look like a chaotic line of girls doing the cancan; their foamy rolls the snow-white of uplifted petticoats.  The ocean is myriad blues and greens, over the sand it runs the colour of sea glass: the palest jade so that I can see the ripples cast curls of bright sunshine on the sand beneath, with a little depth the colour intensifies so that I know, at low tide, where the perfect swimming spots are: sandy underfoot but deep enough that I might be fully, coolly immersed. And far out to my dart straight horizons – no wonder the earliest explorers imagined the world flat for from here it looks it, as if were i to venture that far I may fall clean off the edge – the water turns the darkest inkiest blues. Nearly black.

sib-fishermen-boats1

At low tide, small sand banks and corals outcrops raise their heads above the water as stepping stones. Sometimes we use them as such, when making our way out to deeper water to swim. When the tide turns, it will do so quickly, one moment the sand island that I see clearly now, large enough to bowl cricket balls, is high and dry and the next swallowed by the incoming sea which will chase quickly up the beach until waves crash and rinse the sand clean. By midnight it will have slunk back, and I will walk, as I did last night, on a beach that glows in the light of a fullfat moon.

sib-full-moon1

The sky is absolutely clear, pale blue deepening to azure when I tip my head back to look directly above me.  No clouds. Not a single one.

It is a huge view, we drink it in from the wide verandah upon which both my daughter and I sit to write. As huge as it is, we have no difficulty finding enough words to describe it.

But Amelia still cannot articulate the pain that felled her directly in front of where I sit now. She is well now. She limps. She is a wordsmith. But she cannot describe the pain that day.

 

Butterflies

January 11, 2017

kites

The sea is silver at dawn. Unedited,  I upload the photo I take. It’s cast in pewter. A single lean fisherman steps into the frame, his spear hooked across his shoulder. I see him every morning. At the same time. Sometimes he waves.

Mornings are hot and still but the breeze quickens by noon. The Kaskazi is blowing fiercely now.  From north to south.  A flock of brilliant butterflies flits down the reef in front of me. They’re the kites on a 1000 klm journey from above Malindi to tropic exotic cloveandspices Zanzibar. I wave from my beach, willing them on in their noble cause, raising awareness of our beautiful oceans. My heart swells and for the briefest moment I think I may cry.

By mid afternoon the tide is high, a swollen spring, the beach is all eaten up and the sea runs with wild white horses tossing foamy heads. The palm fronds lift and fly as ladies skirts and the fan above my head rotates all on its own. Magically, Mother Nature spinning the blade for there is no power to do it.

Everybody’s back at work. The cottages here are all empty, closed up. Verandahs no longer decked with colourful kikoy cushions, strung with bright beach towels and swim wear, strewn with flipflops and masks. All the guests have gone home. They’ll have opened their cases, smelt the last of the sun and the sea and the salt and they’ll have tipped their damp beach clothes into the washing machine and the floor beneath their feet will be dusted with the sand that spills.

And for a moment they will want to weep.

But, they will tell themselves sternly, there’s always next year. Always another time.

As for me, my work is with me, I flip the lid of my laptop and settle to write, with the vastness of the Indian Ocean roiling at my feet, meters away, its spray settles to my skin so that I can taste the sea on my lips when I lick them. The sea drums and the wind roars and the cicadas hiss in agitation at being buffeted about in tree tops and behind me a bantam sounds a late afternoon crow and despite the cacophony, there is a calm.

I think of Amelia, getting better every day; I think of those big beautiful butterflies dancing their way south and I think of holidays and next times and the sand in my shoes when I finally get home.

Poison

January 9, 2017

stonefish

The surf on the reef drums a steady beat, the rhythm of ebbing tides the soundtrack to my night, the wind chimes its instruments in palm fronds that clap gently, applauding an orchestra.

I can see the frothy white lace that trims distant breaking waves, it is luminous in the moonlight. The sea is black. This afternoon I swam between tides, wearing a mask, back and forth in gin clear water, shallow and warm, watching gently waving weeds beneath me, tiny fish dart, clouds of polyps hung as dust motes might in bright sunshine. Tonight I am embraced by calm. This afternoon the sea seemed benign.

I shouldn’t still be here. At the beach. I should be far away back home in the west. And I should have written the words I promised myself I’d write daily days ago. I told myself sternly, there will be no excuses for not putting pen to paper, fingers to keyboard. Except in Emergencies.

So I have an excuse.

Tuesday evening. Amelia is six hours from leaving home to return to London. One last swim we say and we – she, Hat and I – take to the water. The tide is out, the sea myriad hues of aquamarine and bottle green. We wade knee deep then hunker low and we talk and we laugh and we watch the quiet beach and wonder when we’ll be back. The sun is beginning to tip over a western boundary so that long shadows stripe the white sand like a zebra crossing. It will be cool enough to walk soon and then we will crack open a bottle of champagne, to drink to holidays and family and the new year and then Amelia will leave.

Time to get out girls, I say. We debate the best route to the beach. In the event, it’s the worst. We crocodile walk on our hands towards the path we always take through the coral which can prickle with urchins if we don’t watch our step. We are slow, occasionally resting on our haunches, feet planted on the sand, crouching low in the warmbath water out of a nipping breeze.

And then Amelia says. Ow. And she says it again. Ow, ow. More urgently. Ow, what is that? I think, urchin? I think a toe stubbed on an unseen, underwater rock. I even laugh at her expression, I think she is playing, teasing, I think she is cryinglaughing. I raise her foot from the water to see. A puncture mark on her big toe is bleeding, not profusely but energetically. The blood runs. And the pain is building in intensity. And I think it is none of those things.

Now, now as I sit on my verandah, calm, watching the night, listening to a surf trimmed in lacy white, I cannot remember every detail clearly but I remember my daughter’s face, contorted with confusion and growing agony. We urge her out of the water to the beach. The tide’s turned and I am aware of water hastily rising. But Amelia cannot walk and she cannot swim. She seems disorientated by the pain, her distress is palpable and grows louder. A man on the beach looks anxious. Hat and I try to support her weight through the water but she is taller than both of us and slippery when wet. I can’t, she whispers, I can’t walk. We drag her then, me by her feet, Hat supports her head. But her distress grows.

Shall I get dad? says Hat who is beginning to looked afraid. Yes, I say, get Dad. He is swimming not far away. Hat gesticulates madly. Waves. Wades through water fast and carelessly, mindless of urchins and rocks and coral and whatever it is that Amelia has trodden on.

Amelia’s pain accelerates. She is beside herself now. She screams in agony. Her body arches back. It takes all my strength to hold this tall, wet girl above the water, cradling her, telling her it will be OK, I’m getting help. My mind isn’t clear. I only know there are no snakes in our seas. That’s all I can think. What else can this be. I can’t think. I know it’s bad but I can’t think. I hold her. And it is hard to hold her in this quickening tide. Her body is convulsing with muscle spasms. She is terrified. I tell her over and over, it’ll be ok. She is warm still and that is good, her colour is good and that is good. A guest rushes to the water noticing our distress, he is a doctor as is his wife, he feels her pulse, ‘fast but that’s to be expected’. I see the flicker of concern pass between them. Anthony is with us now. He knows immediately that this is serious. He runs for the car, and brings it as close as he can to the beach. I hold Amelia in the water, ‘what is it mama? why won’t the pain stop mama, what is it mama?’. I don’t know. I can’t answer either question. I feel panic rising. For a single awful second I wonder, will I lose my precious, beautiful daughter in this lovely place, the place that my children call home, that their dad calls home. I know I will hate if forever if I lose my girl here. I push the thought from my head.

Then people are helping us to lift Amelia from the water, four men carry her to the car, writhing and crying in pain. I run up the beach, slowed by sand and panic so that my chest is too tight for air. My tongue has stuck to the roof of my mouth. Fear. I throw a pair of shorts and a shirt over my wet costume, I grab a towel for Amelia and then we are in the car, she, Ant and I, speeding to hospital. Recklessly. Ant weaves through tuktuks and drives vehicles off the road. Our car is big, a menacing roo bar at the front ploughs the way forward.

I hold Amelia tight all the way, all 20 minutes of it. She is hysterical with pain, I beg her to breath, she arches her back and then her head tips forward and her eyes roll up and I shake her and beg, ‘breathe Melie, breathe’. And I repeat as a mantra, ‘it’s ok my baby, it’s ok my baby, it’s ok my baby girl’. And she is not a baby girl, she is a woman of 23 and none of this is OK. I have never been so afraid in my life.

When we get to the hospital she is bundled into a wheelchair, in her bikini, a towel around her waist, a t-shirt damply thrown over her head to preserve some modesty and warmth. We are surrounded by worried faces, a doctor, two, and Amelia begs, continues to beg, ‘make it stop, please, please make the pain stop’.

They try lidocaine shots in her foot, for a brief three minutes there is respite and I see relief flood her face, ‘oh thankyouthankyouthankyou’ and then it’s back, whatever appalling agony it is that is consuming her, it’s back in a matter of brief minutes. Morphine. Pethidine. Nothing works. Finally they haul in the anaesthetist who tries to establish from my daughter, strung with pain but trying to comply, ‘where is the pain? where does the pain stop’. she motions to the top of her foot – the pain is climbing, her thigh is beginning to throb – and they draw a line with a pen at the place where the pain stops and then they puncture the line with shots of nerve blocker and finally, finally there is some relief. She can breathe. I can too.

A stone fish they pronounce. There, in her big toe, the telltale black puncture mark is clearly visible. IV lines are strung up about her bed, cortisone, pain relief, antibiotics flood her system to combat the venom. Stonefish are the most poisonous creatures in the sea. They lie in wait, sluggish and ugly, like some monstrous, mythical, prehistoric species that time has forgotten and only remembers when some poor soul stands on one. At the hint of trouble they raise their dorsal fin as a lethal fan, threaded with 13 spines, like hypodermic needles, and inject their venom deep. They are nicknamed the King of Pain, fishermen have attempted to amputate their own limbs to escape the agony, people have drowned because of the incapacitating pain that has hobbled them.

Amelia would have drowned had Hat and I not been with her to drag her from that evening’s rising tide. It is hard to write those words.

That first night in hospital we work on managing her pain, she cries a bit, she hallucinates alot, she even laughs drunkenly and tells us all she loves us in a sleepy slur. Hat’s face floods with relief when she sees her sister. She laughs and she cries a little bit more.

But the next day a fever builds and the swelling begins and her foot wears a hot red sock of growing infection. By evening the sock is pulled higher and her skin is flushed sunburn red by a rising temperature. A second antibiotic is introduced. Marine injuries can grow dangerous bacteria fast.

She lies in her hospital bed for four nights and I doze fitfully on the couch beside her and track the nurses that come and go and change drugs and then IV lines as her veins become inflamed with medication and venom and fever and her own distress. She is pitted with puncture marks, blue with bruises and all the while her foot swells. Somebody mentions gangrene. Only days before we had laughed at losing a big toe, losing a big toe because she’d stubbed it so badly, ‘you won’t be able to wear flipflops’ jokes her dad and suddenly my single ambition for my daughter is that she will always be able to wear flip flops. Alot of people talk about celllulitis. I talk to specialists at a big city hospital, to understand the best drug regime to contain this mounting infection.

But I don’t consult the internet. I don’t want to know how bad this could have been. How bad it may still become. I focus on Amelia. I watch her nurses like hawks. I photograph her foot and her toe endlessly, scrutinizing the images for signs of change, I gaze at her pale face as she sleeps, her long dark hair fanned out and I cannot think about what might have happened had we not been with her in the water.

And I lie and stare at the nicotine yellow that is cast by the security lights outside the hospital and I feel the knot of tension and worry that has wound itself up from my shoulders and into the base of my skull and I can’t get comfortable so I get up again and I place a palm on her brow and will the infection to subside.

And suddenly, quite suddenly, the heat in her foot dissipates, her colour returns to normal, her complexion no longer bears the sheen of fever. And we are home, back on the beach.

She is a long way off being well. She is weak and sore and she still can’t walk. Her toe is hard and blackening and swollen. The doctors have warned recovery could take weeks. But I can breathe again. Slowly I feel it is safe to tell a story, this story. With this ending. I can dip into the ether – my nosy default position as journalist – to take a peek at how much worse this could have been: she could have been stung on a more vulnerable part of her body – higher up could have implicated more organs, created respiratory problems, cardiac arrest even.

She could have been alone in that rising tide.

It is rising now, as I write, the distant rumble of surf crashes closer. I stand from where I am curled on the verandah in the dark and tiptoe into my room. My daughter is fast asleep in the double bed I have insisted we share for now, so that I can have her close, so that I reach out in the dark and place my palm on her brow and reassure myself that she is cool and that the infection is being held at bay.

So that I can reassure myself that she is here.

melie

Departures

January 2, 2017

ben2

Ben is already swimming when I wake. I can see him – almost on the reef.  A lean shape sharply drawing against a rising sun. I swim out to join him. I always imagine I will surprise my children by suddenly appearing in the sea beside them; they say they hear me coming from meters away, the jangle of an armful of silver bangles. They say the sound is reassuring and alarming in equal measure; as younger children it warned of my approach when they were up to no good. Hat told me she once heard a similar sound at boarding school and thought I had come to get her. It wasn’t me. Just a stranger with a similarly adorned arm.

It is Ben’s last day. This evening he will begin his journey back to London and work. When I started writing this blog he was a 15 year old schoolboy. He’s 25 now, pays rent and taxes. It’s true what they say: no matter how old your children are, you never stop worrying about them. Never stop longing for them to come home. Never, ever stop dreading their going. When I was at boarding school, the term’s start was heralded by a heavy sense of gloom, I’d wake with a tangible pit in my tummy weight.  I am beset with the same palpable sadness today.

So we swim, the two of us, the only people in the ocean, the only ones up even, no evidence of anybody else on the beach. And then we drink tea and have breakfast, a last breakfast, we save Ben the biggest portion of bacon. Lunch will be his favourite fish and chips. Little offerings to make this last day as easy, as memorable, as satisfying as we can. Before we bundle into a cab, take the ferry north to the city, weave our way through chaotic traffic, tuktuks, disorganised road works, pedestrians who dash kamikaze through lines of vehicles, we won’t feel the sticky heat of late afternoon, the aircon will buzz cooly. We won’t talk much. We will watch the world and think deeply.

And we will get to the airport and I will cluck about calling me when he gets there and does he have everything and can I give him money for a drink and Ben will hug me and he will smile.

And I will cry. Because I always do. Whether my kids are 10 or 15 or 25, I never stop worrying about them. Never stop longing for them to come home. Never, ever stop dreading their going.

And I always cry when they do.

364

Resolutions

January 1, 2017

 

resolutions

The tide rose high last night. High. So that the necklace of seaweed that strung the beach yesterday is pushed further up the white throat of sand this morning. Amber. The weed is beaded with small seeds that burst with a satisfying pop between fingers when pressed. We spent hours as kids, popping those bubbles.

And the high water has wiped the beach clean of all our footsteps. A new slate. No longer evidence of midnight cricket balls bowled or paths trodden to where the low, low tide tenderly stroked the sand, no weaving routes to the sea to tell meandering tell tales of too much wine drunk. Not even the tiniest tip toe of the ghost craps that rushed hither and thither, scuttling sideways between newly dug homes.

I think of clean pages when I look at the beach. Clean pages flattened with the palm of a hand as I ponder what to write and suck the end of my virtual pen. Clean pages and new leaves.

Over dinner the children (can I still call them that, for my little Hat is taller than I and almost twenty?) ask what was best about 2016 and what of aspirations and resolutions for 2017.

I will write a little every day, I say, that will be my resolution for the New Year I tell them. For it is easy to forget how to craft words unless you do it often: writing is like tennis. Practice improves. And logging the days seems important. Promising myself to pin them to a page in the ether daily means I will observe a discipline that I lose when writing a diary by hand; my 2016 paper journal is illegible towards the end of the y ear, green or blue or black or red biro (whatever it was I could find to hand) scrawls untidily, as if a spider whose lost a leg or two and gained a bottle of gin were has been let loose to scribble her thoughts. A spider who desperately tries to claw the memories of the 8th of the month on the 25th.

So a blog makes for a discipline and helpful legibility so that come this day in 2018 I can cast my eyes and mind back and know whether we kept those resolutions, attained accomplishments we’d promised ourselves we would.

And so I flatten this virtual sheet and type the date, 1st January 2017 and I wonder what the year will bring.

365

Know When You’re Lucky

June 27, 2016

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So a friend asked me, ‘The outpost?! Why on earth are you going back to the outpost?’

She’s right to ask; I wasn’t always very gracious about outpost living (though a little older now, it’s lost some of its teeth).

It’s a long story.

When we left, first time around, it was in a bid to follow a dream, which had sustained us latterly in the Outpost as we’d plotted and planned late into the night over too much wine, but which was hastily and rudely unpicked. By family.  Relations beyond repair, it rendered a situation so untenable we were forced to look for another job. We were invited to start a project in Zambia. That sounded like an exciting distraction after the sadness wrought of broken dreams. But the project in Zambia that we moved to (two truckloads, two dogs, one cat) didn’t manifest.   That happens in Africa. Projects, even the best intentioned,  even the best laid plans, often don’t come to fruition.  So we were on the hunt for an income and a home again.

One year after leaving the Outpost, we tracked back north from Zambia to Kenya, two trucks, two dogs (one getting frail and old) and a cat (frail and old) to start another project.  In every sense it sounded ideal: bush living in a familiar part of the country with the beach and a town where we could enjoy Pizza and cappuccinos just an hour’s drive away. Easy-peasy. Except that as we crossed the Tanzanian border into Kenya, having driven through Zambia and Malawi, we received a telephone call. ‘The funding is looking precarious’. It was becoming farcical.  The project failed before we even arrived.

For five months we had no income and three children in full time education in the UK. A friend lent us a home.  Ant was losing confidence. I lost a stone. Those were the darkest hours in a long night.  I remember sinking to the floor in the supermarket one day, overwhelmed, exhausted. Ant was offered a short term consultancy in the furthest, deepest southern reaches of Tanzania. He took it. No choice. Bills to pay. I stayed on in the borrowed home, living on Xanax and adrenaline and scouring the internet for hours each day for jobs. We saw each other for two weeks in four months.  We spent time deliberating our future in the hotel where Ant was living when I visited briefly. I cried a lot.

It was a relief, after two years as nomads, to secure a position on a remote tea farm in the mist. It was lonely. But we were together, at home, able to pay bills, take stock. Our children were able to return to the same house for consecutive holidays. But there was much about the position, on every level, that didn’t work for us. We took it because we were desperate, and a position of desperation does not lend an even playing field for big decision-making. I felt isolated in the mist, hated the drawing in of fog bound days which isolated me further, I was almost an hour’s drive from my nearest neighbour, three hours from a supermarket. I walked a lot. The old dog died, the old cat followed suit soon after.

So when, a  year ago, employers from old Outpost days came calling and asked if we’d be prepared to return, we knew we would. The Outpost wasn’t, isn’t, an easy place to live. But nor was it an alien entity, the option seemed to present a case of ‘better the devil you know’.

And so we came back. And it’s busier and noisier and it’s less dislocated than it was – the roads in and out are tarred now, there are regular commercial flights four days a week – there weren’t in my day.   If I thought the Outpost was tough first time around, the hiatus between leaving and returning was much, much tougher.  I never want to feel so adrift again. Ever.

I learned a lot during those bleak years of moving and then moving on, I learned that laying blame wasn’t sustainable or useful, I learned, in case I hadn’t already been aware, the importance of ‘home’. Especially in Africa where, as Brits and despite a century old history here, our residency is a precarious thing, dependent on work permits.  I learned how to make lampshades. I learned to design fabric. I learned, and this is the really important bit, to know when you’re lucky.

I know I am. Now.

Africa Expat Wives Club

..

 

This Incongruous Life

June 22, 2016

So much seems incongruous. Not least that I am back in the Outpost. Is life really a circle? Or a game of Snakes and Ladders? You made a reckless mistake that you need to learn from: back to square one you go. And so we are here. Back. It’s a different place this time around. The Outpost. Bigger. Busier. Noisier; the soundtrack to my day the persistent agitated buzz of bodabodas as they go to and from, up and down the road where I live, touting for business or relaying the business they already have from one end of this dusty little town to the other.

I’m in a different house. Two doors down. Another home to create, another garden to grow. And all of that is a very good thing for I am back here, victim to the Outpost’s unrelenting glare without the protective shield of my Hat and all the distracting guises came in. When we first arrived she was ten and tiny with a head of tousled titian curls. Now she is willowy tall and twenty. And far away at university.

In the troubled hiatus between leaving the Outpost and returning, I tried myriad ways to keep busy, to retain a focus but every time I got my feet under the table, wherever the table had most recently been relocated and unpacked to, I found myself moving again. I lost as much of myself as I did possessions that were shed across four countries, nine homes, countless moves …

But this desk where I sit now has been here long enough to gather a reassuring film of dust beneath it. So there has been time to breath deep and take stock. There has been time to gather about me the things that sustain in the sometime face of loneliness. The perennial gap gouged of children leaving home even though you had insisted all along that you were a stayathomemum. As if the insistence might keep them loyally at your side?

I am putting roots down. A task that, this morning, the gardener is assisting with as we create a rockery. He thinks I am as absurd as I imagine my life to be. He especially thinks that because I am urging him to move stones from one end of the garden to the other, to bury them in topsoil in order that succulents can take hold. He does not question my madness. He patiently accepts the explanation that I need to ‘make a little hill’ in the garden and then plant a large rock squarely upon it.

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Hat sent me this picture yesterday and I am flung toward memories.

Sometimes the gap between nurturing your children so that they might fly, and the point at which they are big enough to unfurl their wings presents itself with such suddenness that you are at once tripped up and winded.

It is important, then, I have found, to be able to reach out a hand and grab onto something to steady yourself. It is nine years since I bought my heels as I tried to buy back time.

At last I think I have found a crutch to steady myself.

On Being a Mum: what we did right, what we did wrong

April 23, 2016

I’d love your input, and your friends’ input and your husbands’ and partners’ input and your kids’ input. Especially your kids’ input.

I’m working on a big writing project to which end I’m asking the question, ‘What did you (or your mum, to all those kids) do right? And – and this is just as important – what did she do wrong?’

As a mum to three – big now – kids, I’ve done – do – lots wrong. I nag. I stress. I sweat the small stuff. My nagging meant my son unfriended me on Facebook.

His status that day read something like, ‘Holy crap, in trouble with university accommodation officer for jumping out of first floor window, may be evicted’. I ought to have ignored it. He was 21 at the time. I did not. I called him. He in London. I in Africa. I called and he curtly told me he was busy. I called back. Again and again and again and finally he conceded to converse with me. Our conversation went something like this.

Ben, why are you in trouble with the accommodation officer?

Because I jumped out of a first floor window

How did you get caught?

On CCTV

Why did you jump?

Because it seemed like a good idea at the time (in tones beginning to sweat sarcasm that suggest I am beginning to push my luck)

Were you sober?

What do you think mum?!

I drone on and on about the importance of responsible drinking, not incurring the wrath of accommodation officer, how much his father and I fork out for him to be at uni and then I condescendingly ask, ‘So, Ben, did you learn anything from the experience?’.

Yes Mum

I wait smugly, expectantly, glad that my ticking off has paid off.

I learned that the next time I jump out of the first floor window, I must wear a balaclava.

I deserved that. And I deserved the unfriending.  It took three years for him to trust me not to nag via the ether again and nervously send a friend request. It took me precisely five minutes to realize I’d cocked up and how. I treat my son’s virtual friendship with silent respect now.

But – like all mums – I’ve done the odd thing right. It’s never about being the best. It’s only ever about doing the best you can. The speed bumps are inevitable.

Please write to me at mumproject2016@gmail.com. Your voices and thoughts and anecdotes are important. Anonymity guaranteed.

Please share this with your friends, your friends’ friends and your kids and their friends.

Thank you x