Over Time

 

It’s March. I’ve been back at work full time for 2 months, Samson turned one and we are house hunting. Our current flat is a tip. The dust has dust and the garden looks like a vacant lot. Never before have I felt the need for another hour in the day or day in the week. Shit just does not get done. And being the A type, ENTJ type, or control freak if you must, not getting shit done is not  an option.

Except it has to be.

I caught up with a friend at work who has also just returned from mat leave and she asked me what was ‘still standing’.

‘You know what I mean’ she said counting off on her fingers, ‘out of Baby, Work, Marriage, House, Friends… what’s still standing, because you sure as hell won’t have all five’

Most of us can’t have all five, well certainly not all running on optimum all of the time. Right now I can say we have Work and Baby firing on all cylinders. Samson is learning to climb, walk, talk and cause havoc so he is more than fine. I haven’t fallen asleep at my desk at work or absentmindedly replied all with an emoji so we’ll call that a victory.

As for the rest? I have seen a handful of my friends, but chances are if you don’t work in my office or live next door I probably haven’t seen you since October. I rely far too heavily on social media to keep in touch which really doesn’t cut it.

As for my long suffering husband who is getting his head round the daily grind of full time childcare – he’s a marvel, but a marvel I see for about 45 mins every week day and a few hours on the weekend. When I drag him around London looking at dreadful flats we can’t afford.

We tell each other its not forever. It will get easier. Its just a phase, and I really am sure that all of that is true. Thanks to my sleep shy son we all learned to function on 4 hours’ sleep so surely anything is possible right?

What I am a little more concerned about is the silent number 6 in all of this. The self care bit. Finding time to recharge when there are a million other demands that need to be met. I’ve always been good at prioritising, but in this area I am appalling. I can’t seem to justify the yoga class at lunch when there are meeting to be prepped for, or the run on the weekend when the dog needs vaccinating.

There is always something. And everything needs to be negotiated.  The run on the weekend in return for the other half’s lie in, the week night dinner for picking up the dry cleaning, the midnight trip to 24 hour tesco for.. hell anything you want if I don’t have to go. Every moment counted and weighed and bartered to keep the balance right and resentment to a minimum. Never has there been a more misused phrase than that of ‘free time’. What are you doing with your ‘free time’? No. Such. Thing.

I suspect too that it will all get a whole lot easier when I stop obsessing over the dust on the bookshelves or the weeds taking over the patio. Because ultimately everyone is fed, clothed and not too grubby so I am taking that as a win.

The Bounce Back Myth

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Credit Little Kin Photography

Two things happened this week that made me re-evaluate my new normal. The first was an article I read on goop (DO NOT JUDGE ME) about post-natal depletion. Which if you think sounds like some kind of horrible hormonal hangover you’d be almost right.

The second was a swimsuit I bought. But more on that later.

Back to post natal depletion-  a perfect shit storm of exhaustion; lack of societal, emotional, and physical support; poor nutrition, and limited self care.  Dr. Oscar Serrallach describes it as follows:

There is often a feeling of isolation, vulnerability, and of not feeling “good enough.” It is experienced by many mothers, and is an understandable and at times predictable outcome associated with the extremely demanding task of being a mother from the perspective of both childbearing and child raising.

 And here’s the kicker – it can be evident for up to TEN YEARS after the birth (or births) of your children.

If you’ve had a child within the last decade, you might still be suffering some consequences—lethargy, memory disturbances, and poor energy levels, among other symptoms’

TEN YEARS.

Yet we’re sold this idea that with the right control underwear and touche eclat we can be ‘back to normal’ after just a few short months.

This message is everywhere. Its sold to us in the paltry paid maternity allowance many companies offer (disclaimer: I am one of the lucky few who was able to take a year, and I love my job, but I am often the exception and not the rule), the pressure to ‘get our bodies back’ evident in every glossy mag and instagram feed, and we are then expected to bolt on the additional, and epic responsibility of motherhood, without disrupting the work/life balance.

Its fed to us through parenting guides that convince us that we’re doing a terrible job – our babies somehow ‘misbehaving’ if they’re not falling in line and sleeping through by 8 weeks. If we’re breastfeeding we’re expected to wean our babies quickly and with little fuss. We bounce back to our pre-baby selves, no visible evidence of motherhood. By all means please have your baby, disappear for as short a time as possible and come back looking rested and restored. See? Procreation is easy ! You don’t need additional support from your government, employer, partner, community. Do you? No? Good.

To really hammer it home we’re sucked into another lie – the Super Mum (or The Woman Who Has it All plus a Sprog).  A construct that I think is more damaging than empowering. And yes women are marvellous. Being fantastic multitaskers, and doing it all on 3 hours sleep with one hand, makes us pretty Super sure,  but this does not mean we don’t want or need help. We need that village. Branding us as ‘Super’ implies we don’t need assistance, that it’s innate in our abilities as women (another problematic notion) and that we should be taking on more than the average person. We can take it. Well turns out, a good percentage of us are feeling the strain. DEPLETED even

Society’s view goes as far to suggest that the negative physical and emotional impact of bearing and birthing babies should not be seen, and definitely not heard. A factor hugely evident in the prevalence of post natal depression, there is a veil of silence around how hard parenting can be, whether its the hazy early days or negotiating with a tiny dictator overthrowing your household.

While the rise of the insta-mums is definitely counteracting this (Hurrah for Gin, Too Much Mothering Information, Don’t Buy Her Flowers, Not So Smug Now amongst my favourites) – social media is a double edged sword, and while it can be vital in connecting us, the temptation to compare and despair is all too easy to succumb to. Venture with caution, the feed is not reality and normal for you is chaos for someone else

So with all this rage swirling in my postnatally depleted brain, I went swimsuit shopping. Obviously.

I am now the proud owner of a full piece with a tummy control panel. FML

I had a small and pretty pathetic cry and then pulled myself together. Why had I been sucked into the crazy competitive bounce back faster, thinner, smarter bullshit? I don’t need to bounce back. Back to what? I am not the person I was this time last year, frankly I am not the person I was last month. Having a small person means I am on one of the steepest learning curves imaginable and I’ve assimilated more information in the past 28 days (albeit specifically about one small human) than I have over years.

There is no bouncing back. There is no going back at all. This is the new normal. It features tummy control panels, and extra sets of clothes in every bag, sticky orange puree stains (always orange), over caffeinated anxiety wobbles, ruthless efficiency and a new rock solid confidence to bolt onto the old. If I was feisty before now I am fierce.

As for back to normal? I am making peace with with a new brand of normal. Finding my own shade of it and guarding it ferociously. Many many people will tell me I’m getting it wrong along the way I’m sure, but if the past year has taught me anything its that none of us have a clue what we are doing at the best of times, and the best we can do is guess, have a go and cross our fingers. In our own time, and our own pace.

And with all the structured underwear we can get our hands on.

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Credit Little Kin Photography

 

Longer Out Than In

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I am still putting cutlery in the fridge. Or rather it was cheese in the sink today. I have realised that just as I think the fog has lifted, a different kind of fog descends. Thicker, trickier, more foggy fog or something equally dense. Maybe treacle. Or mud. Stuff that makes your brain slow and your bones feel tired. That stuff.

Samson is now nearly 9 months old, 40 weeks to be precise, the magical number that marks him ‘longer out than in’. His personality is beginning to shine through. He laughs at the dog snoring and the word ‘no’. He deliberately, and with great tenacity, pursues the very thing he knows is out of bounds, he loves cuddles and bath time, he thinks coughs are terrifying and he hates the hair dryer. His favourite book is Buster’s Farm and he claps whenever he sees an animal whether at the park or on telly. He is obsessed with my teeth (odd ball kid) and his Dad’s glasses. And a million other moments day to day that point to this unique little person figuring out how to be a human. Brilliant, spectacular, exhausting moments

And while he is thriving, I am still forgetting the words for particular items of clothing (I forgot ‘jacket’ the other day) and not managing a few basic self care particulars. Like dinner. I had chocolate biscuits last night, which was forgivable in the early days where I couldn’t tell the difference between night and day. Now it just feels slack. Or lazy. Or just crap at time management which I am usually very good at.

Turns out that skill hasn’t left me, I’ve just been channelling all of it into The Boy’s timetable, needs and day to day care. So while his routine is rock solid, mine has slipped irrevocably. And perhaps while he’s learning the words for things, I forget them. While he eats a nutrional meal (ish… or the dog does) 3 times a day, its a gamble as to whether I’ll just eat the leftovers of his lunch or then just have toast for dinner. Maybe that’s just the trade off for now? Not too problematic seeing as the only really big decisions I need to make day to day are whether I need to puree more pears or stock up on Ella’s Kitchen pouches. But these hazy maternity days are numbered, and the count down to work begins

I’ll state for the record that I am really looking forward to getting back to work. I am lucky that I genuinely love what I do, the industry I work in and the people I work with. I have worked in publishing for nearly 10 years and if anything I feel more passionate it about it now that I have a child. So no, I am not mourning the end of maternity leave looming ahead of me. I’m getting excited about getting stuck back into my career.

I am also excited about having hot cups of tea, adult conversation that last for more than 2 minutes at a time, and to hopefully, defogging (a word?) my brain. I am looking forward to lunch breaks that don’t involve two spoons (one for distraction purposes) and wearing clothes that are most definitely not breast-feeding friendly (I have tonnes. I have not worn them for over a year).

In a nutshell, I am looking forward to having to make myself a priority again, because the hard truth is that I really have not managed that this year at all. Time and energy is limited, and when averaging 3 hours’ sleep a night there’s only so much to go around.

I haven’t been great at carving time out for myself. Our situation means we don’t have heaps of support directly available to help on the day to day – and that’s not a whinge or a moan, it just is what it is and we are well aware that many many families cope on a hell of a lot less. But it does mean that afternoons ‘off’ involve catching up on life admin and general daily trivia that needs sorting. Or lying still in a dark room looking at twitter and catching up on ‘news’ because its makes me feel connected.  And that is rather than going for that run, or that massage etc. Not the healthiest choice I know. But when you’re so tired you can feel it in the back of your eyeballs, sometimes only twitter will do.

I have another 10 weeks or so left of my leave. A good chunk of that will be in South Africa where we will be visiting family, and I am looking forward to having a plethora of grandparents and family who will be more than happy to lend a helping hand and I am already researching spa retreats, brunch spots by the sea and mountain view dinners.  I’m cashing in all those self care chips that I have not spent all year in a bid to greet 2017 feeling refreshed rather than frazzled

And hopefully not putting bin bags in the oven

 

 

 

Future Proof

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Summer solstice came and went in a blur of thunderstorms both electric and political, the heavens roared as the votes were counted and the UK declared itself OUT of the EU. General chaos ensues. BUT THIS IS NOT A POST ABOUT BREXIT (too soon, I’m still incandescent with rage and I cannot face another blog piece on it, and I’m sure neither can you)

In a week where we are all looking to the future with trepidation, on a much smaller scale it struck me that I’m now half way through my maternity leave, which has gone by in a blur of coffee, baby wipes, instagram posts and baby yoga classes. Lack of sleep definitely makes this all seem catastrophic, and with Samson having just hit the 5 month milestone  I’m desperately trying to catch up with myself. Where has the time gone?  What have I been doing all day? Why haven’t I rallied a revolution together for more tube access for push chairs, or launched a maternity clothing line?

I had unreal expectations of what I could achieve on mat leave. ‘I need a project’ I remember saying to a colleague and friend. ‘I can’t be sitting at home all day with the baby and singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Effing Star, I need something to keep my brain working’. I had done my homework,  I had grand plans to relaunch the blog, write more, learn to cook properly (I am AWFUL) and to revolutionise fitness wear for pregnant women (borne out of my frustration that nothing fit, and if it did it was extortionately expensive and DULL). Oh and yes, parent my baby. That too.

None of this has came to fruition (inbetween googling rashes and washing muslins I learned this, yes this, was in fact parenting). Instead, over the past 22 weeks I have learned to do a million things I had no idea I needed to know. From mastering every conceivable task for which you require two hands, with just THE ONE, (while the other cleans, holds, googles, feeds, catches) to negotiating public transport with my child in full meltdown mode (with THE ONE HAND) on an average of 3 hours sleep. And I still have another few million things to figure out. Like introducing solids. And figuring out how to turn my brain on again ahead of my return to work in January next year.

I’ve been spending most of my time careening from day to day in a blur of bibs and sudocream, without so much as a thought for what the grown ups were doing (erm,  sending the country up shit creek… clearly we’re all winging it).

With all the uncertainty around the UK’s future in the global arena, its hard not to start dusting off the old Plan B’s that we had filed away for a rainy day. I’m a keen planner and organiser, probably annoyingly so, it will come as no surprise to many that I have a fair few tucked away (with excel scenarios and pie-charts). I like to have my ducks in a row. This also translates into being  worrier, the rationale being if I’ve thought about the worst case scenario, then I can plan for it. This way madness lies if you are a new parent. I was almost  paralysed with anxiety as a result, and would not welcome my worst enemy into my head on days when I was running the catastrophe films on a loop in my head.

In order to actually set foot outside my house I had to let go of some of that control (or illusion of control), and so paradoxically having a baby has chilled me out just a tad. I cannot predict explosive nappies, major meltdowns or when teething will strike.Excel cannot pivot the nap schedule, I tried a few tracking apps and ended up throwing them from the proverbial window. Nothing screams madness like trying to find patterns in the beautiful unpredictability of a baby. There is no algorithm that would make it easier. Instead it’s inherited wisdom from other parents, coffee and a collection of perfect moments in the chaos that make it all tick forward.

Having a child has forced me to go with the flow, but prepare for any eventuality.

And that’s not a bad lesson to take into all areas of my new life stage. I heard a saying years ago, which resonated even with hardened atheist in me ‘Trust in God, but tether your horse’. No one is guaranteed safety, health or happiness, but equally chaos doesn’t consume us every day (other than post teething episodes, then all bets are off). Don’t think a plan will save you, but to not have one is equally foolish. Know where the exits are. Have that ‘Fuck Off Fund‘ already set up.

Or in my current life, Pack An Extra Nappy (and then check the Boy can get Irish citizenship, just in case)

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Wheels on Fire: Riding The 2015 Argus

The year did not start well. Having Shingles and suffering a self-imposed quarantine when I was supposed to be training for 3 half marathons, two 10ks, a 100km bike race, seeing all the people in London and prepare for starting a new role was not ideal. I was furious about being ill. I thought I had really been looking after myself, obsessively it would appear, and that’s never any good.

But it was exactly what I needed. A kick up the backside to evaluate what was important – so I gleefully handed out race packs like a belated running Santa, cancelled all my social plans and decided to focus on the cycling and getting my head around a new job.

(Also can we talk about how marvellous it is just to say no? ‘No I can’t come out, because I am sitting in my pants watching Law & Order SVU and eating endless rice cakes. Basically winning’. Saving that for another post)

February saw me hitting Boom Cycle 3-4 times a week to keep up the fitness and also saw the advent of our annual work conference. By the time Feb 26th rolled around I hit Heathrow feeling exhausted and excited. A holiday, a few days catch up with the teams in SA and THE bike race. No biggy.

Now, to be honest, I was under-trained. My fitness levels were good, but I am nervous as all hell. I just hadn’t logged the long miles. But I also knew that the nerves could be a good thing, that additional hit of adrenalin that carries you through and drives you over the tough hills. I know these nerves well. I get them before every running race (even the fun ones), every time I get up on stage to present even though I have been doing it for well over 10 years, and every time I have to have those difficult, but essential conversations. Where there is risk I feel it. Every single time.

There is a school of thought that maintains the body can’t tell the difference between anxiety and excitement on a biological level (you science nerd please feel free to refute this!). Apparently, you release the same chemicals, the same heightened awareness, same surge of energy. It’s how your mind then interprets the feeling that makes it positive or negative. Hit of fear plus rush of endorphins is a pretty powerful cocktail. I have learned that pushing through the fear is essential to making life more open, interesting, full. Without it it’s small and claustrophobic and dull.

But I have also learned I need support to just go ahead and do it. On my own I’m no good. My mind is very frequently not my friend. It’s risk adverse, and lazy and prone to catastrophic thinking. I need people to point out the mad, destructive nonsense I tell myself and remind me its all good. And that if it goes wrong, that’s OK too.

Then this popped up in an article I was reading enroute to Cape Town. Pussy Riot hits the nail on the head. Given this is in relation to being arrested for political activism, and my cycling is hardly revolutionary, but the sentiment is bang on.

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So its a good job I don’t listen to my head. Because a week after I find myself in South Africa, Mother Nature decides to set fire to the entire Southern Peninsula, and that is no exaggeration. My catastrophic thinking is having a field day. Headlines like, ‘Hellfire Rages in the Cape’ adorn every lamppost in Jo’burg while I’m psyching myself up for my first ever bike race. People are being evacuated, dams are near empty, rock falls are a serious risk given the plant life helps stabilise the mountain side and is now no longer existent. Thankfully the Cape fire volunteers and fire servicemen and women put on the most heroic defence and curbed the blaze in 3 days.

So the race is still on. I am now officially bricking it. However, the Argus distance is cut from 109km to 47km. It’s just not safe to release 35,000 cyclists onto the route that will then cut off all of the southern suburbs in the wake of the most devastating fires in recent memory. Of course I’m gutted, but also ever so slightly relieved, in this scenario I get to test my riding legs on shorter distance. Until I remember it’s with exactly the same amount of people. 35,000 cyclists.

And the panic sets in.

The major difference I have found between cycling and running for me is the logistics. You can’t just chuck your shoes in your bag and head out on the road wherever you are. There’s the BIKE. There’s the helmet, the shoes, the kit you need for the bike for punctures and general maintenance. For this race I rented a bike in CT. Already breaking my cardinal rule of racing – GO WITH WHAT YOU KNOW. And crucially I don’t know this bike. I also don’t know if the bike is even going to show up, as the correspondence I’ve had with the company renting it to me has been patchy. Everyone is more laid back in the Cape. They aren’t all obsessively checking emails every 3 minutes. And swearing about lack of wifi.

Thankfully I get to tell my head to pipe down as the bike does show up and discover it’s ever so slightly too big. I panic again. So much so this time that I draw a complete blank and forget how to get on the damn thing. It takes a good 10minutes for me to get over this sheer terror, but once I do the bike is fine. It’s in hand. I haven’t forgotten how to ride. But how on earth am I going to do this with 35,000 other people?

My head creates these visions on a loop for my viewing pleasure, while trying to sleep: Causing a huge crash because I can’t stop quickly enough, the brakes failing, the wind blowing me off the road and into the sea, the wind blows me into other riders, etc etc and they escalate and get more horrific the less sleep I get. You don’t worry about this stuff when you run. You just stop. You don’t crash. You very rarely get blown off your feet. This whole endeavour begins to feel like a huge mistake that I am wholly unprepared for.

Until my dad, a seasoned veteran of the race and elite cyclist, decides he’s going to give up his elite start time, seeing as the shortened distance won’t count towards his seeding. He’ll cycle with me instead. It will be fun. He says. I think he could see just how panicked I was. ‘Just stick to the left, don’t look behind you and raise your hand high if you need to pull over’ he says when explaining cycle race etiquette. ‘Hold your line, and if someone clips your back wheel just keep going, he’ll fall but you probably won’t’. This talk of wheel clipping is terrifying when you’re in your holding pen with little more than elbow room with other cyclists, all looking like they ride professionally, with jerseys from Dubai and Hong Kong and Italy. And me with my flat pedals, no clips and ashen face, a big ZERO on my race number where is shows completed tours.

We shuffle our bikes forward and hug the left, they start counting down the minutes to start and I find myself feeling a mixture of gratitude that I have made it this far, and fear that I may vomit on the French woman in front of me, ruining her 13th tour. According to the bib. But I am here, in Cape Town, riding the (mini) Argus with my Dad. Something that has been on my bucket list for years. Something I thought would probably stay firmly inked on a list and not manifest itself like this. Me, terrified on a bike that’s too big, surrounded by cyclists and my Dad, having a laugh at my expense, but also there just like he was when he took off the training wheels some 30 years ago.

Of course it we have a total blast. I manage to get on the damn thing for a start. I don’t crash into anyone, no one crashes into me. I hit the hills, test the gears and find myself over taking people. There is some power in the legs after all. We hit the downhills and I slowly relax and take my fingers off the brakes. It really is pretty close to flying. I find some speed on the flats. The wind does not blow me off, in fact it blows me home once we turn around and head back for the finish line. And just like that it’s over.

We finish in 2 hours and 12 minutes, and I feel pretty confident we could have done it in just over 2 if I’d relaxed on the down hills more. I have no idea how that tallies, but gives me a rough idea that I could probably do a sub 4:30 Argus with loads more training and a bike that I am comfortable with. So that’s the next goal (nowhere near my Dad’s best of 2:58… but there’s still time).

I have been well and truly bitten by the biking bug, and with Spring just around the corner back in London, I really have no excuse to get back on the bike there too. Out of my comfort zone. Where all the good stuff happens.

Hello & Goodbye

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A week ago today I was booking flights, manically comparing car rental prices and juggling whatsapp, email and facebook to organise the logistics of attending our beloved Granny’s funeral in Johannesburg. Her passing was not unexpected, but as with any loss, it was a huge shock. Surrounding yourself with endless admin is actually a welcome distraction.

When my Grandpa died 3 years ago, her husband of over 60 years, we thought she may be close behind, they were each other’s everything, they came as a pair. But in fact we had another few years to enjoy her company, and although the last time I saw her she was beginning to get a little confused, she could still reel off the names of all of her great-great nieces and nephews at an alarming rate.

For her tribute at the funeral, we all remembered how much our Gran loved children and luckily for her (and for us) our Granny Hazel was blessed with thirteen grandchildren (and six great-grandkids), a fantastic motley crew of sorts. We’re split over 3 continents (Africa, Europe and SE Asia) and there’s twenty years between the eldest  to the youngest so we are all at very different stages in our lives – becoming  parents, building careers, organising weddings or planning university, high school exams or world travel. But we all shared memories of a very happy childhood populated by Gran’s knitted jumpers, lots of hiking and boggle.

I remember one of the first signs of summer was Granny unveiling the annual ‘Betty’s Bay’ haircut that meant business. The silver perm was replaced with a very short almost pixie like cut. No fussing, short and sweet and ready for swimming, hiking and summer. She taught me to stop being self-conscious, to be daring and brave and just jump in feet first. That life would scuff you up, that was the point.  And insisting that it wasn’t a proper hike unless you come back a bit bloodied and bruised.

Going back to Johannesburg last week, being surrounded by family, some of whom we haven’t seen for years was like going back in time. Spring had arrived with the full force of summer, 30 degree heat and spectacular high veld sunsets amplified by the dust left behind from winter. Catching up with cousins, swapping stories, remembering forgotten jokes and going through my Gran’s endless photo albums that documented almost every year of each of our lives, my life in London felt very far away.

My accent softens, my casual South African slang creeps back in, (I’m taking a right at the robots, ya?) and I’m repeating words for impact (are you sure sure?) but it’s like pulling on a long lost favourite pair of jeans. Comfortable, easy. It feels like home, because it is. From the way the water from the taps smells like fresh earth, and not loaded with lime and chemicals to the weaver nests hanging in the tree branches to the smell of cobra polish on the wooden floors. Its driving a little too fast down wide roads with the Coca-Cola sign blinking behind you from Ponte.

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Its the landscape of my childhood. I can drive past the places where I learned to swim, ride a bike, skinned my knees, fell out of trees. Its the backdrop to my teen years, although all of the old clubs have moved or been turned into expensive housing complexes, the high schools are still there. The hole in the wall we could climb through, the shops that would sell us sweets and single B&H cigarettes and the pool halls that wouldn’t ask us for ID. University steps, lilac jacaranda trees in full bloom warning of impending exams (if the city had turned purple and you hadn’t started studying, that was cue that you had left it too late)

photo credit http://www.thejacarandas.co.za/

Ultimately though its the people. The family and friends and shared decades of experiences with the same cultural references and probably the same name. Having been away for coming up on twelve years, I can note the contrast between what has changed, but that often isn’t as astonishing as what has stayed the same. And this week, where we said goodbye to our very beloved Gran, it was amazing to see how much we’re still so connected, even as the new generations spring up and the age gaps between us all widen – it seems to bring us all closer together.

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The Blind Spot

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Today a woman lost her daughter in the park. It was a sunny Sunday, about 3pm, loads of kids kicking about a football or three, many a dog walker like ourselves and a few cyclists stripped down to their lycra shorts and soaking up the last of the summer sun.

We were throwing a stick for the dog, and drinking coffee, sitting under one of the big oaks that lines the make shift football pitches, watching a guy trying to fly a kite without any wind. This is not a remarkable day. I have done two loads of washing, put off the vacumming and berated myself for not sorting through the bathroom cabinet. A standard day. Nothing special, but a pleasant day. No rain, and it’s warm for late August. We left our jackets at home and I’m kicking myself for wearing jeans, but pleased we’ve made it out the house. The dog needs exercising and who knows how long we’ll have this weather for. Its September tomorrow after all. 

I’m feeling a bit annoyed, inexplicably so, although probably because R took too long getting the coffee or spoke in an off tone to the dog. In reality, I’m probably annoyed as its Sunday afternoon and the weekend is winding down.  My annoyance is peaked as someone is shouting and cutting across the usual park buzz. It’s not the shout of a kid retrieving a ball, or someone calling their rogue dog. Its a distressed shout. And its repeating one word over and over.

I’m not really paying attention as this stage, so I can’t make out the word, but its reached that volume so that I have noticed. I’m walking up the small embankment to retrieve a better throwing stick for the dog and as I’m walking closer to the main path I catch the tail end of a conversation.

‘…she’s 4 and she’s on a scooter. She just went over the hill and I thought by the time I caught up I’d see her on the other side, but I can’t see her…’

A calm voice, but with enough of a tremor to betray the rising panic. I put two and two together, she was shouting a name.

‘..right, and you’ve looked by the swings and the cafe?’ The conversation continues with an elderly couple who have stopped to offer help. Although I’m not sure they’re elderly, I’m guessing by the tone as I’m not close enough to tell and there’s a few hedges and shrubs between us.

I’m still not really paying my full attention as the dog has now got into a tiff with a Maltese-cross and I’m telling her off. But a few more people have now congregated around this woman and someone says,

‘I think you should call the police’ 

But the sun is shining, and the park is tranquil and its Sunday. There aren’t even that many people around –  not enough to lose someone. And its a big open park. Scenes like this don’t play out now do they? I wander back down to the oak tree where we’ve plotted up and I mention what I have heard to R. He’s just has surprised as I am.

‘Here? Did you just pick all of that up from walking up the hill and back?’

I start to wonder if I day-dreamed it, but then I see the mother, walking very fast, talking on her mobile with another child trailing after her. She must be calling the police. I start to feel a bit queasy. 

I’m almost subconsciously now scanning for a lone child on a scooter. Hoping to see her coming out from around a tree, from behind the playground steps, may she was hiding?  I’m torn between running after the mother and asking if I can help to reminding myself she is calling the police and doesn’t know me from Adam, and that I’ve just earwigged the whole conversation and I’m not holding all the facts. 

We carry on throwing the stick for the dog. Continue with our conversation. Finish our coffee. Walk a bit further around the park. I tell myself the professionals will be on the scene soon, and that she’ll be found queuing up for ice-cream with no knowledge of the drama that unfolded. But I’m scanning the park regardless. 

Sometime later, with the dog suitably exhausted we meander back past the oak, along the main track where I had overheard the conversation. I can’t see the mother, or any sign of the police. The man is still trying to fly his kite. Kids are still kicking about a ball. There’s a healthy queue for the ice-cream van. No sign of anything untoward. We must have missed the reunion. The relief. Probably some tears and then reprimanding the child for wandering off. But lots of hugs, That’s what’s happened. Otherwise we’d see some kind of gathering with men in high vis, and questioning. I tell myself its all worked out. Perhaps that child I saw with the mother while she was on the phone was the original lost child after all.

We make our way home. But it hit me again how the extraordinary things happen on ordinary days. We don’t get the luxury of ominous theme music to alert us to something coming down the road, no heads up, no warning. We do not get the chance to prepare ourselves. We cannot possibly know what will happen on a Sunday afternoon at the end of August. When throwing a stick for the dog.

We know this, of course, on an academic level, but we still think we can prepare for every eventuality, that we have no blind spots. If we save enough money, or take enough care, do all of our research, have all of the control. Or that we have the luxury of waiting for the right time. For the stars to align, for the perfect conditions. And it both scenarios there is no such thing. We are not in control. There are no perfect conditions. Most importantly, we have no guarantee that we have the luxury of time, and that it is a huge luxury.

Maybe it’s that I am hurtling head first into my mid-thirties, or that its already September, which basically means its Christmas, or that I am seeing time pass so much quicker as our friend’s kids grow up (and speak! go to school!). That many of my contemporaries are now experiencing age-related illness with parents, and we were in our teens over 20 years ago. Even though it really only felt like the other day we were scaling the walls to go clubbing past our curfews.

Unsettling, uncomfortable and disquieting yes, but a good reminder to get on with the business of living, and stop putting off all the things that I want to do ‘when I have time’ and just do them. Even if it is just a quiet Sunday Afternoon.