Looking Beyond …

thoughts and deliberations .. a theme is too restrictive


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No ordinary Mum

There is no ordinary Mum

I want you to know, that you are my wonderful mother. It is strange that when I reflect back over my childhood years, it is the ordinary yet to me, extraordinary occasions that spring to mind. The little things that demonstrate just how naturally and extravagantly you take up your parenting role.

Like the time when the three of us siblings excitedly clubbed together to buy you the first ever gift from us at Christmas, with Dad’s help. It was boots hand cream in a large tall bottle. I can picture it now. You were delighted. It was the same hand cream that you regularly bought for yourself all year round – everyday, economy, in keeping with the good housekeeping and careful spending regime that was part of our family life. You remained delighted, when from one year to the next on Christmas day, the same gift was proudly presented, unwrapped and appreciated. Mum, you never showed any disappointment in our efforts to please. The ordinary, was made extraordinary.

Like the time when we were all racing up and down the path that ran next to our house and Simon hurled headfirst from his trike onto a concrete pillar. We brought him into the kitchen all three of us screaming and frightened. You showed no fear or panic. We knew that you knew what to do, and it was sorted. And his brain didn’t fall out of the hole in his head. And you provided comfort for all. We knew nothing of your own tears or fears on that day. Mum, you were always there to comfort and wipe away the tears. The ordinary, was simply extraordinary.

Like the times when your friends and their children would come to tea. They would come in eager anticipation of the spread which they knew you would provide, of your meringues and cakes, your pies and trifles, your macaroons and scotch pancakes – warm and fresh from your own mother’s blackened griddle pan. These were accompanied by endless cups of tea and delivered with perfect hospitality and care, without any loss of attention to the animated conversation that pervaded the atmosphere. Mum, you were always content, providing feasts for the hungry and keeping faces full and happy. The ordinary, was something extraordinary.

Like the time when you took me to the village shop that sold ladybird clothes and bought me a lilac nightdress because I had to go into hospital to have my tonsils out. I was so proud to have that ladybird label, so disappointed when that nightdress became too small for me to wear. And I fondly remember those special 3-biscuit packets of bourbons at the hospital café and the squash in the plastic cups which we stopped to indulge in whenever I had my eye tests; and the cut up apple outrageously sprinkled with sugar, taken as a treat in your bedroom when I was starting to recover after being off school unwell.   Mum, you created special moments of comfort out of wearisome times. The ordinary, became extraordinary.

 

As a mother, you have always been warm, approachable, loving, generous and constantly ready to serve the needs of our family. These qualities extend way beyond your own family and I know this because there are so many friends and relatives that speak so kindly and lovingly of you. There have been so many good deeds, sacrifices and acts of compassion that you and Dad quietly undertook without any blow of trumpets or call for attention.

 

And yet, Mum, you have strength of character and a fighting spirit that might easily be missed by someone who doesn’t know you well. What people first see in you is your kindness, your care and concern for other people’s needs, and your desire to see others happy.   Only in these years of my adulthood, have I taken note of the tales of your younger days, have I reflected on the parts of you that are less Mum, and more Neville – attractive, vibrant, determined, adventurous, bright and independent.

I love that knowing look in your eye that conveys defiance, acceptance and humour all at the same time.

I love your ability to remain positive and make the most of every situation. Recent times have tested this, but you keep bouncing back strong and full of determination.

I love the things you say which come from the depth of your heart – like the other week when talking about marrying Dad 58 years ago you said, that it was the best thing you ever did!

I love the way that you led your life without so much as a hint of using your physical difficulties as an excuse to expect less, achieve less, or be less.

I love the way that you refuse to fall-in to the expected way of thinking and in your own quiet way, challenge the norm.

I love the way that you have always appreciated people for their kindness, effort and attitude and not just their achievement.

I love you Mum and still enjoy sharing precious times with you.

 


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To friendships – long and strong

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A thank you note to a special friend:

Four couples embarking on a new journey of parenthood sit on scattered cushions around the front room of a National Childbirth Trust enthusiast and teacher. They are wondering just what on earth they have signed up for. As the first group exercise unfurls and the earthy, left leaning tuition in all things maternal begins, they eye each other up suspiciously.   Right now, it isn’t parenthood they are worried about, as much as the unfolding nature of the forthcoming classes and instruction.

It is 23 years later, and we have lived to tell the tale. Having quickly identified each other’s reservations on that day, we dealt with them by meeting socially outside of the classes in order to assure ourselves that we hadn’t joined some kind of weird sect.   What some of us unknowingly had embarked on, was the beginning of a journey of lifelong friendship and support; the sharing of trials, tribulations and landmarks way beyond the birthing of those most special children that brought us together.

It was you, who sat at the helm of these developing friendships, bringing us together, spurring us on, challenging us and showing us over and over again with your energy, zest and enthusiasm that all situations in life are to be tackled head on and positively. With your generous nature, your optimism and perceptiveness, you were there at every turn and difficulty, as those of us new to parenthood stumbled our way through sleepless nights, weaning, teething and tantrums. You mopped up the tears, took our children off us for respite, gathered us together, and were constantly available. Even after we became separated as families geographically, you were the one that ensured that the friendships continued and thrived.

More than all of this, your friendship has been so special to me because you never once entertained the notion that my youngster, in his continual series of illizerof frames, hip spikas, plaster casts and splints, was anything other than one of the group, and you never once made me feel that our friendship through these times was an inconvenience. You gave this family total acceptance in our troubled journey and showed a generosity of heart beyond that of anyone else around us. I am not sure that you will ever know the significance of the times you took our two young lads to stay with you and give us a break, taking on the daily cleaning of wounds and medical care as if it were all part of the standard child-sitting duties. We will always be indebted to the love, acceptance and practical help that you gave to us during those years.

As the years went by, and our circumstances changed, it was you that fed our excitement at getting together for new year celebrations, and more latterly the infamous folk festival summer rendez-vous. Thank you. You ensured that we had many happy times together and we are still hopeful for many more.

Accompanying your generosity of spirit and your ability to organise and cajole, many other attributes – a sense of adventure, a continual striving to reach your full potential in life, to experience new and deeper things and to grow your identity – have brought many successes, adventures, joys and challenges along the way. When I look back to some of those conversations we had twenty years ago, who could possibly have imagined the journey on which your life has taken you since then? I am in awe of both what you have achieved and what you have survived.

Strong woman, not only have your nurturing, caring and loving characteristics ensured that each of your own children developed into wonderfully vibrant individuals who are able to offer and enjoy so much in their worlds, but you have enriched, inspired and encouraged other lives around you.

Long may you continue to give, and I pray that you will also receive abundantly, as you enter life’s next adventure.


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Just a few words, before absence makes the heart grow

By my side collage

We were running down the central reservation on Euston Road, attempting to make the last tube back to East Finchley, and awkwardly negotiating the crash barrier in the style of a school hurdles race on sports day. The evening out had been in celebration of the occasion of my 21st birthday – a trip to see ‘The German Sisters’. This film choice probably says everything about my sense of fun at the time – if you don’t know the film (and why should you?), here is an extract from the ‘Time Out’ review:

“Inspired by the cases of Gudrun Ensslin – the Baader-Meinhof terrorist and Stammheim ‘suicide’ – and her journalist sister, von Trotta once again takes up questions of the roots and potential paths of women’s resistance and revolt, creating a disturbing mosaic of personal and state histories around a sisterly relationship of intriguingly contradictory complexity.”

The party was composed of my closest university friends, my brother, and the sweetest young man I knew by the name of Michael. I was a bit unclear about how he came to be in our midst that evening – it may have been a set up – but confusion was no stranger to me in those days. Michael, however, knew perfectly well why he was there. That night was the night he was going to fix a date with me. Having understandably failed to find a suitably romantic moment during the evening, this was duly done whilst trying to cross Euston Road, and with my brother by his side.

Thankfully, his choice of outing was considerably more appropriate than mine, and our relationship started under the starry night in Regent’s Park watching Shakespeare.  This was 34 years ago. Today, my husband was up with the dawn chorus to fly to Seattle for a week and today is the day that I want to tell the world how much I appreciate him. After all, they say absence makes the heart grow fonder.

He has never wavered; he has been faithful to me in everything and has seen me through all the many times when a sense of fun has been about as far off as another universe. His commitment and quiet determination have steered our lives together through thick and thin.

My husband is the best listener I have ever known. Always attentive, always interested and never diverting the conversation for his own purposes. That is certainly how he first gained my respect and admiration and has continued to do so over the years. Perhaps that is why he has also been so well respected and liked as a manager – never shying away from attending to personnel issues and always striving to ensure that those working around him have all the support they need to perform their best and be happy at work.

Despite his ability to empathise and understand another’s view point, my husband is no walk-over. He is not blown every which way by the wind, and where it matters, he knows firmly what he believes in. He will stand by his principles and these beliefs no matter what anyone else tries to persuade him of. I know this from bitter experience! You can be sure that I have put him to the test on this one.

Michael has always been a man of his word and someone who takes his responsibilities very seriously. His friends recognise this – he was best man to no less than three of his university pals; (and incidentally delivers an excellent speech on each such occasion).

And, he has never shirked duties….whilst the rest of us are busy reprioritising, to ensure that the uninspiring tasks remain firmly at the bottom of the to-do list, Michael is always to be found keeping on top of the washing pile, the ironing pile, the shoe cleaning, car checking, lawn mowing, light bulb changing and so on ad infinitum. He patiently wanders around shutting doors and drawers left carelessly ajar and restoring order after the chaos caused by others.

Restoring order from the chaos pretty much reflects why I would never want to be without him. I have, in Michael, a partner who puts me back together, time and time again, through the small consistent acts of understanding and care that define his very nature.


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No need to wait until it is too late…..

Pusing up the daisies

This week started with a thanksgiving service for the husband and father of friends of mine.  He died quite suddenly aged 70 whilst out in the garden.  I was struck by the poignancy of one of the things his wife said to me when we were chatting some days later – she only wished that he could have heard all the nice things that people were now saying about him, when he had been alive.   I certainly shed a tear at the thoughtful and moving reflections written by one of the daughters at the service on Monday.

I have since been pondering on how after a death, family and friends speak with great sincerity and affection, extoling the virtues and happy times spent with their loved ones. Tributes given always focus on the positive and the good and choose the truths that edify that person and show them in a good light.   And yet that same person will rarely have heard these carefully composed encouraging words and received such appreciation whilst they were living – not unless they have come into the public limelight for some reason and have found themselves on the right side of the media.

I wonder why we are so bad at recognising the value of relationships whilst we still have them?  It seems so easy to pull a person down in conversation, to focus on their faults and failings.  It happens all the time.  It happens in the public forum, and privately – most frequently in relationships that would benefit greatly from the same shift of focus that happens when someone has suddenly gone from our lives.

After pondering on what the effect would be if I were to write my tributaries for important people in my life and let them read them before it is too late, I came across the following challenge from Jeff Lucas, the very next day:

“Who are the people who have impacted us?  Paul (he is speaking of Paul the Jewish convert in the New Testament) let his friends know, loud and clear, that they were important to him: he was very willing to express his love freely, without hesitation.  We should go out of our way – before offering a tribute at a funeral – to do the same”

And so, my idea for a series of blog entries was cemented in my mind.  After all, eulogies are given in public.  I have no idea how difficult this is going to be -I suspect it could present a significant challenge – but I am up for giving it a go.

Watch this space ……..