schools out forever

Today is the last day of term and as I am writing this I am watching a stream of parents holding hands with little ones as they rush from the school gate across the park. Soon there will be older children running across the grass and later still the teenagers will gather, cheap cider and high jinx celebrating their emacipation from the rigors of the classroom. 

How I remember that feeling of freedom.  As a child, school was never my favourite place, I was often bored, felt confined and generally discontented, so the start of the summer holidays was the best time ever.  I can still feel the tickling inside my tummy the excitement building, no homework, no early nights, no getting ready to school, no school dinners, just weeks and weeks of fun and freedom, sunshine and happy days.  And they were.  

My childhood was all about the beach, the waves and the open air swimming pools, we had two in our town, each sat close to the shore and where we spent all our holiday days.  As a child with Mum and extended family, sometimes six of us all in and on my Uncles motorbike and sidecar, heading for the sand with blankets, deckchairs, picnic hampers and changes of bathing suits, Whole days spend puddling in the rock pools, building sandcastles and swimming in the sea.

Later, older I would be with friends and we would strut our stuff at the lido, bikinis and sunglasses, long hair streaming behind as we swam.  Watching the boys, who were watching us. Some were brave enough to climb the highest diving board and jump into the pool below, everyone would stop to watch, will they or won’t they jump? Some had to make the climb of shame back down the ladder, the height being far too high to consider the jump.  In truth these boys were the sensible ones, the ones that didn’t take risks, sadly they were never the popular boys with us girls, danger was an attraction for us.

Summer nights spent in gardens, parks and on benches overlooking the sea, there was always so much to say, so much to think about. The future was a place we were preparing for, not ready to grasp it just yet, but we could feel it, just around the corner.  I was going to travel, to be a journalist, to write for a living and to find stories.  I was going to change the world, wanted to encourage everyone to be friends.  This was the 1970’s and the soundtrack to our teens was that of Motown, and Bolan, of Glam Rock and Prog Rock, summer tunes that to this day put me right back in the lido on a sunny afternoon.  My friends had different ambitions, some wanted to get married, to have children, to work in an office, or the best job of all in the chocolate factory.  Some did all those things, some did none.  One started in the chocolate factory before joining the Navy and living her life around the world.  Some are still there, in the same town, now with Grandchildren and a lifetime of memories.

I am thinking of family, how cousins were my best friends, how together with Aunties and Uncles the whole family would come together for evening games of cricket on the grass beside the sea, how the Mums would chat while supposedly fielding and the Dads would do their best to bat a six or catch each other out at mid field.  Later, at home we would go into the bath, sometimes three at a time to be cleansed of the salt and sand, and in our pj’s would be sent to bed, to awaken early for another sunny day of fun and laughter.

I am wondering if my parents were still here would they remember it as I do, would those halycon days be full of happy memories or did they hide all their worries and cares that they surely had from us children.  It is true there was never much money around, we didn’t have cupboards full of food, but I never remember being hungry.  Mum would shop each day, cooking from fresh and there was a routine to the meals.  During summer we had lots of picnics, carried to the beach on the pram or each of us would have a bag to hold. For the first time I am wondering what they were chatting about as we played endlessly.

I will never know, they are not here to ask, so I can make it be as I want it to be.  I know Mum and Dad were happy together, they had a relationship that withstood many trials and troubles.  I know that Dad worked so hard to provide for us and he took great delight and pride in all our achievements.  They tackled life with humour, a sense of what was right and gave us, their daughters ambition and confidence.

So as the evening is drawing on, the park is giving way to the teenagers, celebrating the first night of the holidays, they are just as we were.  They have more technology for sure, but it is still the boys watching the girls and the girls watching the boys. Thankfully today the boys also feel able to watch boys and girls, girls, this generation is far more aware than we ever were. They are also considering the future, wondering what life will hold, exploring friendships and relationships and testing each other.  The brave boys are on the ramps, boarding and biking, taking risks and jumping impossible jumps. The girls are sitting on the grass in the sunshine, nonchalantly tossing their straightened hair from their eyes and lazily chatting.  Six weeks of freedom, such a long, long time ahead, with nothing to worry about and fun to be had.

I hope the sun continues to shine, I hope they have the best of times and I know that they are making memories and growing personalities which will inform all of their futures.


on changing times and difficult days

It would be fair to say that the last three months have been something of a roller coaster of emotions.  I just 12 weeks I have moved house, left full time work forever and dealt with two incredibly sad and unexpected deaths in our family.

When the police rang to say they needed to come and see my daughter, it never occurred to me for one second that they were bringing her the worse news of all.  The death of a parent rocks you. This I know, because sadly I also experienced this at a young age. Although sad, my losses were not unexpected, each following a long illness, and accompanied with a hope that at last loved ones are no longer suffering.  When it is sudden and unexplained it takes time to realise just what we are being told, and what has happened.

The days following pass in a whirl of emotion.  If I live to be a hundred I will never forget the image of my baby girl, proud and strong, walking in to say a final goodbye to her Dad, being supported physically and emotionally by her three brothers, each standing within a hairs breath of her and walking in step with her. Tears for loss fell swiftly, the invisible connection of love between the four of them threatened to block the whole of the world out. Later in the car on the way to the pub there would be smiles and remembering, lots of remembering.  Guinness was drunk, toasts were made and stories told.  Grandma and Aunties left for home and still in the pub, surrounded by the best friends and family my little girl was wrapped up.  I was overcome by the power of my children, their love for each other and the understanding between them.  Can this be the same siblings who would argue about anything and everything?  Of course it is.   I understand how important my daughter is to our family.  Born later, with a different Dad from her brothers, she unites us all.

In the moment I realise how amazing it has been to raise these adults, for a while the hard times are vanishing and I know I was right to have four children.
So now we get on with living. Everyone but me is back at work, the sun is shining and things are gradually returning to normal. She has college to finish, catching up on days lost in grief, and then plans for the summer, for the rest of her life. People ask, kindly, how is my daughter doing? I answer she is doing as well as she can. Things will never be the same, but she will learn to live with it, become used to having only one parent, and being her, she will get on with her life.

on being busy doing nothing

Summer has finally arrived in my home town and the days are full of sunshine, green trees are blowing gently in the breeze and the garden is full of colour. .

In previous summers I have been juggling working, managing the house and found it difficult to find the time to sit in the sunshine.  Being outside is my favourite thing to do.  Even when it is not sunny I can be found pottering about in the fresh air.

My life has changed dramatically.  I no longer work full time and I can spend my days as I choose to. This has meant that this summer, the first since 1995 when I was on maternity leave, I can be outside as much as I like with no guilt at all, there is nowhere I should be, nothing I should be doing and no one to please but myself.

I have devised a routine, involving early morning in the back of the house catching the first warmth of the sun, by mid morning the sun is strong at the front and back of the house, so I sit at the front, watching the world go by, reading, and drinking coffee.  Later in the afternoon I move back to the back to make the most of the bright light.  In the evening with the laptop in the front again, warm nights and the scent of the flowers make this an ideal spot to potter on the internet, write and catch up with friends across the world.

I feel no shame.  I am doing chores, I am sorting a mountain of paperwork out, gradually, I am chiving daughter to attend to the last of her studies, I am shopping when I need to, and cooking when I remember. I am visiting family and spending time with friends. This summer I am intent on just being.  That’s all, just being.

Once Autumn is here and as the weather changes the opportunities for sitting in the sunshine will be less, so I am making the most of it now.

I am also spending time thinking and this is very valuable.  To have time to consider life is a luxury that would have been impossible when my days were spent dashing from one place to another, my head filled with a thousand things to do, trying not to forget anything and fitting it all in, there was little time to think. I have learned that by thinking I am finding out what is important to me, I am working out just who I am and who I want to be.  It is powerful stuff.

I have learned the art of living in the moment, of savouring this moment in time and in doing so I am becoming content.  I have spent the best part of 40 years working, caring for family and being busy, I have spent time waiting for things to happen, I have spent precious moments worrying about things I can no longer remember.  I have cried for problems now solved and spent sleepless nights which did not actually change anything at all.  

Now is all we have, yesterday has gone, we can learn from it and take good memories forward to today, tomorrow is a promise of what might be.  I am spending my now in the sunshine, thinking thoughts. I am not actually busy doing nothing, I am busy being me.