on sliding doors

do you ever wonder what might have happened if you had made difference decisions?  If one day you had chosen another path, or if life had not offered you the glimpse of what could be on offer?

I used to wonder that, in a very abstract way, the way you might chat after watching a film, or on reading a book, then sometimes I would think about how my life may have been.

This December, at the end of an absolutely dreadful year, my Advent has to reflect some of the positives, not only from this year, but from across the years, those sliding doors, and where they have taken, sometimes me, or my family or indeed others across the world.

I am going to think of it as a, ‘what happened next’ series of events, those when one decision impacted and changed everything in subtle and not so subtle ways.  I think it happens all the time.  We don’t actually ever just find ourselves in places, jobs, relationships, without us having had some input into the situation.  It is a rare person who glides through life, with little change, and for whom everything stays as it was.

This year the daily blog, counting down to Christmas, will hopefully be full of cheer and some humour too.  Together we can visit the consequences of walking through the sliding doors of life.

2020 the year that no one understands, will be ending soon, and in this last month I want to raise a smile where I can, and remind us all that we are in charge of what happens to us.  We all have chosen our own sliding doors.

So, a quick one to get us started.  I am in my late teens, and recently enrolled in college, having given up a ‘safe’ job to do something more interesting.  However I hadn’t quite grasped that the absence of boring work also led to the absence of a salary, so by the end of the first term I am cashless at Christmas.  I decide I need a holiday job, and apply successfully to be an usherette at the city centre cinema.  This job was quite the worse ever.  I had to wear a uniform, purple polyester blouse, complete with unattractive tie around the neck, and a boring skirt.  I had to check tickets, wait in the dark, watching the same films over and over again, and then the horror that was the ice cream sales, everything about this job was dreadful.

After the first week, and pay day, I was getting used to it. Watching pensioners shuffle it every lunchtime to sit in the warm for a while, together with the drunk people who needed to fill the time between the pubs closing at 3pm and reopening again at 5pm.  Evening brought the first daters, the old couples and the holidays brought the kids.  All of human life was there.  By New Years Eve, I had had enough.  Together with a fellow temp we led the audience in a conga line into the film, singing, and laughing, whether they liked it or not.  Those who moaned were told in no uncertain terms to shut up and join in, as they were boring enough to be in the cinema at New Year!!  We didn’t care as this was our last day.

So that choice, prompted by another, to leave a steady job, set in motion the rest of my life.  Literally.  If I hadn’t left the job, I wouldn’t have worked in the cinema, and I would never have met the boy with long dark hair, who chatted to me at the back of the auditorium.  Two weeks later I would meet him again, this time in a pub, and eventually he would become my husband and father to my boys, and almost forty years on, no longer my husband, but still one of my best friends.

Siding doors, he could have chosen a different film, I might have stayed in the safe job, we may never have met, and our gorgeous boys would not be in the world.

 

my friend

I wish you could have met my friend, she was funny and bright and brave and sometimes got she us both into trouble.  I don’t remember meeting her, we knew each other as babies, she was always there.

As kids we played crazy games, her Mum would let us take all the cushions off the sofa to make dens, and she never minded us making a mess.  She didn’t even shout at us when we smashed her display cabinet in a particularly energetic game of twizzing on a rainy day.  We laughed all day long, my friend and I.

We started to grow up and still remained friends.  Teen years were full of pop music, she only loved Elvis, and fashion.  My friend would never wear a skirt because she thought she had knobbly knees and her legs were too skinny!  Back in the day that was actually a thing, being too skinny.  We met boys, often spending time in couples, and again her sense of humour and practical jokes made for a fun time.

Later we grew up, she went away to work in Europe, I stayed home, I had babies, she never did.  She married, in her  typical style her wedding had little planning, it was a ‘just let’s do it next week’ kind of wedding, which saw our Mums, her sisters and I baking and cooking up a storm days before the reception.

She was happy.  I was happy.  We saw each other less frequently.  I visited her Mum often, she had helped me with my babies, and the grief of losing my own Mum.  The world moved on and so did we.

Then one day my friend was not here anymore.  Gone long before her time, and suddenly, it took us all by surprise. Her Mum, who by now had lost three children, remained brave and kind. Her sisters, nieces and nephews, and her husband, all family to me, well we all managed.

I wish you had known my friend, and then you would understand how she is still in my thoughts, years after losing her, and why on every 4th November I wish her a Happy Birthday.

a lifetime of missing you

on the anniversary of the day we lost our Dad, I usually write about how much I miss his wisdom and how his values inform my life every day.  All of that still stands, our Dad was a proud, working class man for whom family was everything.  A quietly spoken man, who we seldom saw angry, he  made our lives as easy as he could.

Lately in lockdown I have been researching our family tree, and in doing so am seeing all my ancestors in a different light.  Dad had a sister who died.  We all knew the story, a difficult labour, no money for doctors and both Mother and baby lost forever.  We had always assumed she was younger than Dad, but I now know she was the eldest of the four children.  Married twice before her death at just twenty six, I think she was a strong woman.  This then led me to the other women in the family.  I find a maternal great grandmother who had followed her heart and left her home to marry. This couple somehow ended up living many miles away from their families, and made a new life beside the sea.  Dad’s Mum, juggled living through two world wars, with very little money, while feeding and caring for a family of six. Rumour has it Dad was her favourite child, spoiled with love, as there was very little else.

I think these women had a massive effect on Dad.  He became a man who respected women, who loved completely and sincerely and despite incredibly poor beginnings he grew into the strongest man I have ever known.  His wicked sense of humour was legendary, and his passion for justice and fairness in the world was proven in his trade union work.

My sister and I are the results of all that went before.  A mixture of our parents and all their ancestors, we have grown into adults without the guidance of our Mum and Dad, I think we have done alright.  Our children are happy and healthy and each of them is now adult and making their own paths through this world.

So, in the thirty five years without you Dad, I have tried to keep to your values.  I have learned more about you than you ever told me.  I understand where your passion for equality came from, how your childhood days with no shoes and little food grew into pride in standing on your own two feet.  The love you learned, and shared is still a part of me.  Despite your absence, you have held me close through life’s troubles. The idea of you became the central part of me and with that I have done my best, in tricky times and happy days, you have never been far away.

 

on lockdown learning

usually when you work in a school there are patterns to the day.  Bells ring, pupils move around corridors, lunch time arrives and people gather, kids in the dining hall, adults in staff rooms, in safe spaces, each to touch base with friends and colleagues and have a break.  It is relentless.  When I first worked in a High School, the bells drove me slowly mad.  I have missed those bells this half term.

Everything is different.  We look at each other across our face masks, transferring feelings with eyes only.  I have seen stress, sadness, anger, hope and humour in the eyes of my colleagues this past five weeks.  Pupils, en masse, the life blood of this school are seldom seen.  They are safely ensconced in bubbles, staying in one classroom, while staff move between.  Staff rooms remain empty, people hurry in to fill a kettle and then move to their classroom, everyone is scared.

We are all learning.  Learning new ways to do things, learning about our own fears and how we react to this new world.  I suspect some of us will never be the same again.  For some this will be a change for the better, for others not so much.

I have learned a lot.  I have learned that I am more fragile than I have ever admitted before.  I have learned that I need people, I need to hug and to live entirely in the world. Sadly a garden, a good book and sunshine are not enough.

I have learned to be vulnerable, to find the words to explain the feelings.  I have learned to let go of my cheerfulness and at times to succumb to tears and fear, that it is ok to not be ok.  I don’t like this much.

I am learning to be kinder, to take a minute before replying to others. I have learned to step away from things that I cannot influence or fix.

So, we get to the end of this half term, and find ourselves in lockdown number two. Five days in, I have begun to write again.  For so long the words refused to come, they would stay in that spot between my thoughts and the keyboard, and steadfastly refuse to move through my fingers and onto a page.

Encouraged by friends who want to read my thoughts, I tried again and this time I know there is much to say. I have so many ideas and am thankful that I have remembered to begin with a word, then write another, and let the stories flow.

From thoughts in my head that move through my fingertips and onto a page, the words will speak for themselves.

 

 

 

on those who went before

tomorrow is my daughter’s birthday, it really is a quarter of a century since she arrived, peacefully and without any fuss into a home full of boys.  It meant the world to have a baby girl, I understood her, having also been a baby girl, and a teenager girl, and a new adult finding my feet in the world, girl.  Every step has been familiar to me, each milestone bringing my own memories flooding back.  She has never disappointed, she is a beautiful human being.

Tonight, looking through photographs, taken over the last twenty five years, I have come across other photographs, of women from our family, all now dead, they have left us with their history, a shared belonging and lives lived across centuries, each connected to us.

There is a very old picture of a stern looking woman in a hat.  She has the look of someone you would not want to argue with.  I think she is my Great Grandmother, and she lived over a hundred and fifty years ago.  Family legend says she fell in love with a boy and together they ran away.  No one knows why, but it seems they married and her baby girl grew to be my Grandmother.  Dad’s Mum lived in poverty, too many children, not enough food, shoes were unheard of and yet those children grew to have strong families, a good sense of self and of fairness in the world.

We have a photograph in the dining room of my Nina, Mum’s Mum, named for her Welsh roots, and she was a huge figure in my life.  She was the first born daughter of a young wife, who was widowed within three months of becoming a Mother.  They moved from Wales, with her new husband, and over time three other siblings joined the family.  One of these was my Aunt Sally, who I have fond memories of.  She worked in a Children’s Home, when I was a child,  and for all the talk had a tricky marriage, and no babies of her own.  None of that mattered to me.  She was LaLa, and hearing her come into the kitchen,the world suddenly became a better place.  It would be years after her death that I found out her story.  She was the first woman Trade Union representative in a large factory, I have a photo of her, taken in her twenties, probably a hundred years ago  she was fighting for workers rights and standing up to be counted.  It makes me proud.

More recent strong women, include my Mum, and my Aunties, who all found their way in a world that was built for men.  The did things together these women.  One learned to drive, they all learned to drive.  They worked in unison, they were a unit that wrapped all us cousins up in love.  Holidays together, in tiny caravans, gas lights and learning to play cards for halfpennies, drinking hot chocolate and laughing until we cried.  My Mum had the biggest handbag in the world, she needed it, for in that bag, was everything you would ever need.  A sewing set, plasters, scissors, paper and pen, string, you name it Mum had it.  She was perpetually prepared for life’s eventualities.

So by the time my girl arrived, I was well schooled in what a woman could be.  I knew my place, and it was never going to be the place people expected me to be.  I understood the importance of a big handbag, although in truth I have never actually been ‘that woman’.  Instead I made my own path, walking on the side of the street I liked the best and probably gave all my relatives quite a challenge.  Over the years, the family gave up expecting me to conform, and instead, took pride in my difference.  I also had fixed ideas how to bring up my girl.  From day one she knew who she was, and alongside the pink, and the ballet dresses, we also had the discussions on history and the importance of being herself.

She is exactly that my girl.  The sum of all the women that have gone before her, she is from good stock.  She moves around the world, using friendship, fairness and fun to navigate every situation.  She makes me proud every day.

Having your twenty fifth birthday in lock down, some people would be feeling sad, not my girl.  She is beyond excited, at all the packages that have been arriving for her, cards and gifts from those who love her, the inventive ways people have been in touch.  She will have an amazing day, and as she laughs her way through these tricky times, I am sure the women who have gone before are standing at her side, as they have been always at mine.

 

 

IsoIation Day 20 – when things start to get real

We have been getting used to this new way of living, staying at home, washing our hands and hoping for the best.  It is not too bad really, we have a lovely garden and plenty to keep us busy.

Yesterday I was browsing online, and came across a post, in it the son is urging everyone to obey the rules, to take care of each other and stay home.  Seems his Mum succumbed to the virus and lost her life.  He was understandably upset, talking of how she would miss her Grandchildren growing, her life cut short.  It was very sad.  The last line introduced her to us with a photograph, a smiling lady, my sort of age, healthy and happy.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.

You see this lady was my friend.  When we lived on the hill, and before when caravan days were for fun and freedom, this lady and her husband were our neighbours, who quickly became our friends.  Together we enjoyed care free days in the sunshine, gathering in the garden or on their deck, we would eat, drink and tell stories of lives lived.

I will ever remember the laughter.  One afternoon it began to rain, undeterred we moved under a gazebo, squashing together as the heavens opened to a proper, full on, rainstorm. The men quickly retreated indoors, there was football on the television, but we stayed outside, laughing.  Friends you can laugh with in the rain are precious indeed.  A friend who then demonstrates her line dancing skills while we sing along, in the rain, well that is someone who loved life.

It pulled us up short, suddenly the hundreds of deaths on the news became personal, suddenly this threat is real.  What do we do?  Well once we had telephoned those who may not know, we carried on living, pottering in the garden, reading books, our normal life.  Then at four o’clock, we stopped, poured ourselves a drink, we sat on the patio and raised our glass to our friend, her family and to happy days.  Soon the tears fell, then gradually turned to laughter and then to gratitude as we recognise how fortunate we are with the people we have in our lives.

This quarantine, this self isolation, well maybe it has given us all time to think.  I feel that I always knew my priorities in life, family, friendship and the fight for fairness in the world, but maybe above everything, it will be the small stuff that we will value most in our post pandemic life.

The chat over a coffee, the warmth of a smile, the power of a hug, these things will magnify in our priorities.  I am so sad to have lost a friend, but equally glad to have known her.  For ever after when we are caught in the rain I will think of the laughter, line dancing and love of friendship.

Keep safe everyone, this too will pass.

 

Isolation Day 8 – behind closed doors

we are getting used to this new life.  I have the office set up in the back bedroom, work is work, home is home, all is well.  We are at times getting tetchy with each other, little things that are unimportant suddenly feel large.   Time without others focuses us on each other I guess.  We are still laughing though so all is well.

We have been spending time in the garden, potting seeds in preparation for planting, and planting up potato sacks, these acts give us faith that Summer will follow Spring, that, in the end, all will be well.

It is lonely though, and a bit odd, each morning I look out onto our street and see no one moving about.  Cars that are usually gone in daylight remain sat on driveways, this is good, people are doing what is needed, but everyone seems to be invisible.  Online life goes on, a few new groups to join, positive posts, music and friendship across the WiFi, but isolation is isolating, we do at times feel alone, the lost connection with others obvious in it’s absence.

Last night we settled, as most nights, to watch the updates from government, to see how this story is developing.  I am reminded of Mum telling us how the whole family would gather around the radio to hear the news from the front.  Is this a war?  It feels a little like it, here we all are, behind closed doors, keeping the germs at bay.

The news reader at seven o’clock is talking about a national clap and cheer for the front line warriors in this battle.  Our nurses and doctors, and all the helping services, fighting on the front line to help those who are poorly.  These are our troops, in this war of our time, the people who will make the biggest difference.  Stand in your garden, at your window or on your doorstep and cheer, he said.  Show our appreciation for the troops that heal not harm.  I wasn’t sure, hubby less so than me.  It won’t happen here, he said.  Thinking about the closed doors and the empty street I was inclined to agree.  But you never know.

At the appointed hour I duly opened the front door, ready to cheer or retreat, doing it alone would be weird, right?  I had no idea what was about to happen.  The noise came from all around, darkness meant the people were unseen, but the cheering and the whooping and the clapping, well it was just joyous.  Hubby joined me and together we clapped and whooped and made a noise, our noise joining with others making a magnificent sound, suddenly our street was not empty at all.  Instead the blank front doors and curtained windows were hiding people, just like us, and in a moment everything felt like it was going to be ok.  The emotion was extraordinary and unexpected.  Tears falling I found myself laughing and crying at the same time.

Later back in our living room we watched as the same experience was shared from across the country.  Dozens of messages, videos and posts showing the same emotions at the same time.  It really made me think.  This country of ours is divided as never before, families have struggled with each others views, nationally the fight for who we are and what we want has played out across the media until most of us are unsure which way is up.  Then here we are, all alone and actually all together.

No one knows how long this will last, but this morning when I looked out at the street, instead of feeling lonely I realised that behind each door is a family just like us, and maybe just maybe this shared experience will bring us closer together the longer we are apart.

Keep safe everyone, and wash those hands.

 

Isolation Day 6

Day Six dawns, sunny as yesterday, it is as if the world is showing off, telling us that despite mass pandemic fever amongst us humans, well nature has got this.  Seeds are sprouting, flowers are colourful, it feels like every other Spring, only perhaps a little brighter.

Meanwhile I am alternating between feeling sunny and joyful at this weather and the time at home to enjoy it, and totally losing the plot.  One minute I am completely convinced I have the virus, it is sitting dormant, waiting to explode and infect my lovely hubby, and the next I am playing old tunes and dancing around the kitchen as if I have not a care in the world.  There is no logic in this, it just is how it is, perhaps I shall get used to it.

Working from home, I am learning about conference calls; you need the right numbers or you end up in the wrong meeting. You have to pay careful attention to voices as you work out who is speaking, with none of the usual visual clues, and many co workers with the same accent, this is tricky, but doable.  I am learning about routines or more importantly the lack of them, about how the twenty minute commute to work was a time of preparation, when I would leave home behind me and focus on the day ahead. As my current commute involves coming downstairs and into the dining room there is less transition time!  I am up to date with all the daft tasks.  My inbox is ordered, tidy folders holding all the useful stuff and messages from two years ago finally deleted.  I am doing the important stuff too, but somehow without colleagues to chat to and share information, without regular brews and contact with young people, well it all feels very odd.

Hubby is doing ok,  yesterday he began mowing the lawn, the first cut of the year, and usually a time of great hope, summer is beckoning we are getting ready.  I checked on my seedlings and rearranged the patio chairs so they would catch the most sun.  It struck me that we only need two chairs, for I have no idea when we will once again fill our house with friends.  That feels a bit odd

Well, work won’t do itself, so I am off to fire up the technology and carry on, it is all we can do.  Except look after ourselves and each other, keep our spirits up and wash our hands.

 

on Isolation – Day One

It is a beautiful day here in North Wales, the sun is streaming in through the windows, the trees in the garden are looking green again as the Spring growth is replacing Winter’s sleep.  It is Friday morning and normally I would be on the road by now, driving alongside the coast waiting for the moment I turn the corner and see Snowdonia lay in front of me.  I am sure this morning the sunlight will be bouncing from the peaks, perhaps a little of the snow is still on the top like frosting on a cake.  Sadly I will not be making that journey for some time.

A few weeks ago, self isolation, was used only in terms of those introverts amongst us, and I admit at times I do have these tendencies.  To stay home with a good book, what can be better?   Overnight our language has changed, panic buying, isolation, social distancing, this is now normal life.

Yesterday I did my last session in school, health concerns for me and my family mean I am to stay home in safety for many weeks.  Luckily I can work from home, the world is electronic, we can all communicate, just in different ways.  We have food enough in the kitchen, and a lovely house.  We have got this, it won’t be hard.

My first afternoon and I had the disinfectant out.  Manically scrubbing every surface, I want to wipe away the outside world, make all new and safe inside.  Hubby seems somewhat confused, it is not normal behaviour from me.  I have always subscribed to the the ‘good enough’ mode of housekeeping, but not any more.  The threat of a virus sitting on surfaces has sent me into meltdown. On waking this morning I was struck by how clean everywhere smells.  This is good thing.

The day progressed well enough, lots of work to be done, people to talk to, to reassure that even in this new world order, they won’t be forgotten.  Tonight we get the news that social places are to close, I am glad for that, the sooner everyone retreats into safe places, the sooner we will get a hold on this.

We have at least another twelve weeks of life apart together, keep safe everyone, keep washing your hands!!

 

 

for mothers everywhere

Today is the 36th year I have been a Mother on Mothers Day, and the 37th year I have not had a Mum myself to spoil on the day. Becoming a Mum within six months of losing a Mum was a difficult thing to deal with.  A first baby is as terrifying as it is amazing and to not have the one person who has shown you what a Mum can be beside you is a challenge.  Those first months of the ‘happy/sad’ moments, anniversaries without Mum, and firsts with darling son, all are jumbled and mixed in my memory. I got through it, made up as much of the Mothering I could, and eventually managed to raise four wonderful children into functioning and thoughtful adults.  This alone amazes me.  Today, on Mothers day we will be together apart, messages and phone calls will suffice.

One year my daughter sent me a card which read, ‘sometimes I need a Mum and sometimes I need a friend, thanks for always knowing which one I need you to be!’ This made me think about the value of a Mum who can also be a friend, and how this can be so.

When I became a Mum I was always clear that I did not want to own my children, that I did not want to control them, beyond the necessary controls to keep them safe and well.  I was influenced by The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran, who says, ‘your children are not your children, they are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself, they come through you but not from you, and though they are with you yet they belong not to you,.. you are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

This has always made sense to me, the thought that I can influence and inform, can care and comfort but the belief that I must let them be their own person.  This has proved challenging over the years.  Maybe I should have been firmer, I could, perhaps, have stopped them making some mistakes, but then they would also have missed the learning that surely follows each wrong choice.  I have been there to mop up tears, to celebrate success and in truth I wouldn’t change a thing.

My Mum’s mothering was very different to mine, and I understand totally her need to keeping us safe and instructing us in the ways of the world.  She did a great job.  Every time I am faced with a difficulty, which has been often over the years, I can hear Mum’s voice telling me to keep trying and to never give up.  When I have been challenged beyond my imagination, I have felt her beside me, calmly and patiently helping me through.  Memories of childhood are all about Mum and Nina, Mum’s mum who lived with us.  They had a tempestuous relationship, but between them they ensured that my sister and I had a real sense of how women can achieve and how we can be the people we want to be in the world. For this I thank you Mum, you gave me a great gift.

So this is being a Mother.  Sometimes you are a Mum, and sometimes you are a friend, Always you will be the one who loves unconditionally, who forgives and forgets, who supports and celebrates success.  You are also the one who spends hours thinking about your children, who pointlessly worries about each of them, for in thirty odd years I have learned that me worrying does not alter anything at all.

You are also the one who can stand in your kitchen surrounded by adults, all taller than you, and listen to the discussions, the laughter the friendship between those people who are your children, and you can feel the love in the room.

Happy Mothers Day to all the amazing Mothers out there.  It is a tough gig, being a Mum, but one that pays more than all the treasure in the world.