Structure in sadness

Mental health

Right now, something that gives me sustenance is attempting to write Haiku. I don’t want to write long sentences with frippery and slippery language. I also want to escape what’s inside my head, and it is helpful to engage my brain with a strict 5-7-5 syllable format, even though in modern Haiku that is probably not cool anymore.

Here are some:

Rain on the windscreen/Calm wisdom of the still trees/As it seeps to their roots

Blush flower stands still/Petals fall one by one/Echo of its soul stays

Deer dotted in grass/Sun cracks in the autumn sky/Herd moves to winter

Old trees keeping watch/On dog souls and children’s souls/Milk of Mother Nature

Skeletal leaf forms/On the cloudy autumn sky/Summer dreams falling

Stardust falls to earth/Becomes part of who we are/We rise to the skies

Song thrushes jostling/On damp Dublin pavements/Early morning joy

Trees in autumn blaze/There is God in your stillness/Golden angel hues

Church bells ring out loud/City traffic hums and roars/Crisp blue autumn sky

Spiderweb spun cloud/Delicate as the rainfall/City starts its day

Happy cloud poodle/Bursting with life and hope/Bold winter beauty

Lightening against the sky/Nature’s own nucleus/Marvellous Maple

And here’s one that cracked my 7-year-old up when I read it out to him, putting things in perspective somewhat, and made me want to try to write more Haiku that would make him laugh:

Pencil case puppy/You lie on the windowsill/While I am crying

Finally, it’s not a Haiku, but rereading Ezra Pound’s In the Station of the Metro blew my mind a little:

The apparition of these faces in the crowd:

Petals on a wet, black bough.

Perfection in a little poem.

…and continual change preceding death

Life

I have morning despair a lot. This is when you wake up without bluebirds singing chirpily around your head, no sunbeam dancing on the floor ready to shine on you and no soundtrack like ‘oh what a beautiful morning I’ve got a beautiful feeling everything’s going my way’ or whatever.

On one such morning (okay, it was this morning) I asked Google (yep, yes I did – I asked Google) ‘What is the meaning of life?’ As I get older, I conclude that Google is as likely to have this answer as any other entity – as the stars, as the grass, as the moon, as the gurgle of a baby, the hug of someone you love or hot mozzarella dripping off a freshly baked pizza.

It gave me a nifty noun definition that culminated in the mighty tailwind of ‘…and continual change preceding death.’

I snapped my eyes open and jumped out of bed: yes, that’s it, I thought. That is what I’m struggling with all the time. It’s this business of continual change preceding death with no pause button indicated on the great manufacturer’s (aka the Wizard of Oz, or an amply bearded man with a generally benevolent disposition and foul temper, or a dancing twisted ladder of pure energy or – I don’t know) instructions.

So we must trot along, or be dragged along, or swim ahead, or grab on to something, or in our best moments, glide through with the awe-inspiring elegance of eagles, flying high and flapping our wings the least. When I think about how we are destined for continual change preceding death and that is life it becomes so obvious to me that my unhappiness at the moment is that I am simply refusing to believe it.

I won’t change, I won’t move, I won’t get older, things must stay the same, my babies must always say tut instead of put and lello or lero instead of yellow, I won’t let my hair go grey, I won’t dare cross – I am scared to cross – the vast land of middle-age because continual change preceding death is terrifying to me.

If I climb this mountain, what is on the other side, I’d like to know? If I start to embrace change instead of resisting it, what will happen?

What is this exquisite bittersweet time that we have been given here on earth? Why is such joy wrapped up in such merciless change? I circle back to: what is the point of it all?

I’d like to have the answer. I’d like to at least stop looking for the answer. I know, somehow, that the answer, as articulated through various poets and sages through time, is probably here, now and yet – there – it’s gone. Again.

The Great Escape

Life, Motherhood

He leans nonchalantly against the lamppost, hands stuffed in his pockets, one eye slightly squinting as he surveys the scene around him.

‘How are you feeling?’ I say to my son. A slight shrug of the shoulder, one hand runs through his recently cut hair. ‘Actually…’ he looks around again, the crowds of children returning from their summer holidays, the parents chattering, the new little ones starting school.

‘…I’m pretty bored. Yeh.’

‘You are bored?’

‘Yeh. I’m pretty bored.’ He glances around slowly again, hands moving deeper into his pockets. Steve McQueen has nothing on him. If he weren’t five, I’d expect him to take a pack of cigarettes from his rolled-up T-shirt sleeve and light up.

That lump in your throat you get when it strikes you how big your children are getting was already present, stuck there since the seven-year-old had ushered me away from the school entrance, not even allowing a hug, no backward glance. The nine-year-old, at least, tolerated a kiss on the cheek, taking it with a good-natured smile and thumbs up.

The youngest and me had struck up a deal. When we got to the school gates, I would immediately leave. I would pretend he was on his own, and I wouldn’t even say goodbye. Ok, I had said. You might change your mind when you get to the gates.

So here we are. As I stand back, making moves to go, I watch him, this pretty bored small boy. How he has so many enormous feelings going back to school, how excited he is to see his friends, how scared he is to go in the gates by himself, how tired he is from a sleepless, hectic summer. How full of hope and curiosity he is. He is replete with it, a fat pod of potential percolating, ready to pour himself into his world.

This is all too much for someone so young. He has to say he is bored. It is the only non-threatening, almost-neutral adjective he can pluck out of the air to describe his overwhelm.

I know this, and I hover close by.

‘Mum!’ he shouts. ‘It’s alright if you stay.’

He slips his hand into mine and buries his face briefly into the top of my leg, and Steve McQueen retreats from sight as he strolls into another year.

It’s me, hi, I’m the problem, it’s me

Mental health, Motherhood

Why do I love this line from Taylor Swift’s song so much? Why do I want to play Anti-Hero on repeat?

Am I a Tween, filled with so much hope and hormones, hoping that one day I will be just like the powerhouse Taylor, who writes songs and writes off men with equal panache?

No. I love it because – whatever the song is truly about – it makes me just stop and go: Hang on. You’ve tumbled back again, taken twenty leaps backward after those moves forward you made to better your life, eat well, exercise, make a constructive plan for the future, get your finances in order, stop scrolling, become a suddenly beatifically patient person, insert here the thing you need to do to improve yourself.

Is the song about taking responsibility, or is it about taking blame? Now I am trying to navigate the difference between the elegance of personal responsibility and the brutality of blaming myself for all the stuff that is going on in my life. I like the song on a visceral level. It’s me, hi, I’m the problem, it’s me. It allows me to think on to ruminate on what I should do about this problem that is me.

Is there freedom in saying It’s me, hi, I’m the problem, it’s me? I think so. Because any other way of thinking is a set up for despair. But, you know, not too much It’s me, hi, I’m the problem, it’s me, because that, too, is a set up for despair.

I read this morning that your children are like a mirror back to you, their brilliance at mirroring your foibles as piercing and as shattering as that reflector would be if it broke into spikes and pierced you right through the heart. Oh I’ve heard this so many times: your children are reflecting back to you what you are, or they are mirroring back to you whatever stress, worry, anger, joy, content and resilience you may be feeling.

I believe this to be true to a certain extent but of course they are a bundle of cells themselves with searing souls and starving hearts of their own – and their feelings are theirs and not yours. It’s hard for me to separate the two, it really is. It’s hard for me to separate myself from anything, in fact.

Yet It’s me, hi, I’m the problem, it’s me. Loving this line is a separation in itself. Thinking you are the problem is separation too, a nearly futile trip of the ego that sets you as powerful enough to be able to control any given situation.

We only have control over a few very basic and predictable things, I think. The rest is about letting go, surrendering, jumping in the raft and holding on as tight as you can as it flows, flies, flips and floats down the raging rapids of life.

And today is the texture of mud

Mental health

At the weekend I read Laura Dockrill’s compelling memoir What Have I Done? which has been sitting on my bookshelf since its publication in 2020. I knew I was going to read it, but felt dread every time I looked at the rest of its title: Motherhood, Mental Illness and Me. There’s another one I feel the same way about at the moment: probably brilliant, I will read it, it will be a painful read, that’s just how it has to be: Alice Kinsella’s Milk (subtitle On Motherhood and Madness, I’m sure we can all spot the theme here).

I don’t know, some mothers really are the proverbial ducks to water when it comes to tending to their offspring. So many seem to breeze through it, ‘getting on with it’, no intense ripples or shocks to the system that last for years afterward. I truly envy them, and even their children, who get the immediate benefits of an emotionally stable mother from the get-go. I acknowledge that some of these breezy mothers are likely hiding pain also, and my view of these super-human capable mothers is skewed. Still, these vibrant beings exist in my head, something impossible to measure up to, as that will never be me.

I struggle. When I’m sad, and I am today, I have to lean back on a few clichés to get a post going: so here’s one: it is one step forward and it is two steps back. It is green smoothies and mulberries, then salt and vinegar crisps and a mountain of chocolate. It is signing up to all of the exercises classes and online too so there’s no excuses, and laying mute in bed, ruminating over all my past mistakes. It is a gloriously pretty dress, make-up on, or pyjamas stuffed under trousers because I can’t be bothered to get dressed properly. It is trying – always trying – to wipe off the stifling mood mud that threatens to engulf me, and then falling back into its suffocating gloop.

That’s moods, isn’t it? They do pass, but it doesn’t feel like that when you have to live them. Laura Dockrill’s memoir was so truthful and exactly conveyed the insanity that can happen post-natally; for her it tipped over into post-partum psychosis. I was close to that after my first-born, and waited far too long to get help with my shameful, horrid, tortuous thoughts (I feel for my self of 10 years ago, trying to plough through that with a sweet screaming newborn).

Anyway now I have a madness of another sort. It is denial of getting older. It is a shock of suddenly no longer having babies. This is another thing, to my eyes, that so many mothers move though gracefully – their babies growing up. Not me! Nope, this was my ‘purpose’ for so many years, following tiny ones around to check they didn’t die, feeding them, cuddling them, rocking them. Now I’m back working some nights, but rattling around the house in the mornings putting a lot of pressure on myself to ‘finally write that book’ or ‘get a highly paid high-powered job’ or ‘become suddenly extremely buff and fit’, and it’s all no good.

I get it, it’s a transition period, just like early motherhood. But do you know what? It actually sucks.

Morning song

Motherhood

In the quiet of the morning, sometimes I wonder at all the young eyes staring at me. Their expectant gaze is matched by a padding of little feet – those of the puppy loping down the stairs, of the toddler, the five-year-old and the seven-year-old. There is a sweet sliver in this glaring early hour in which the eyes all look at me in tandem. They wait, suspended in time.

Usually, I am in the kitchen putting coffee on and I lean back to observe the stairwell: there they are, the eyes. Four pairs, including the puppy’s green offerings, are studying me, this woman who cuddles them and feeds them in that order, every morning, without fail. The rest of the day is frenetic, almost frantic. There is a race to dress them, feed them again (and again), play with them, take them somewhere and mostly, referee them as they live deep in the trenches of sibling rivalry, flinging mud at each other in a never-ending bid to win. The prize, of course, always changes and they are never even sure what it was in the first place. Each of them just wants to win.

The slice of the day afforded to these wondering eyes and soft feet is so short (the fighting kicks in soon enough) but I think about it afterwards. The puppy sets me off. He takes the staring and commits to it fully, from the moment I wake to when I curl into bed to seek refuge in sleep. He tails me incessantly and there is no place too lowly for him. The three-year-old is always in tow, both in tacit agreement that this woman should be followed everywhere at all costs. To the shower. To the toilet. Upstairs when I put away laundry, downstairs when I get more laundry to put away. Up again, down again. To the garden when I am putting rubbish out. Back in again, to the kitchen. To the front door when I open it. Back up to the toilet. All day long.

The eyes are relentless but not unwelcome. They are so innocent; they love me. They need to be with me, no matter how menial the task on display. It must be observed. It must be witnessed. There might, too, be something in it for them. For the puppy, well, there might be a tidbit of real human fare or a tickle behind the ear. For the three-year-old, anything could happen but what he lives for mostly is that I will down the dreary tools of domesticity and play a game of headless Lego minifigures with him. I try to avoid this mystifying game because I don’t like it but a few times a day a thought will slap me awake: do I like trudging up and down stairs to put laundry away or constantly sweeping the kitchen floor more than playing with my small son?

At this point, a tiny but ever-present part of me screams inside: ‘No, I don’t like ANY of it!’ but then the urge to bolt is always superceded by love. Alright, if I’m being honest – guilt too. I drop the unpaired socks in a basket where they will stay, sink to the floor and make my decapitated Ninja fly through the air to the delight of my baby. ‘Love you too Mama,’ he says, without any declaration from me. The older two look on scornfully and declare, ‘That’s not even a real game,’ and soon the youngest turns away from me.

I go back to the kitchen and empty the dishwasher, the puppy with his grassy eyes following me devotedly across the tiles, just in case.

Caretaker

Uncategorised

After tying myself up in knots about failing to make a writing deadline and informing an interested party about said non-development I realised something. (Preemptive note: most of my sudden realisations are painfully obvious.)

So here it is. Nobody can really care what you do or intend to do except you. Therefore if you have something that needs done, you’d better start caring about it quick-smart. We all need to learn how to deeply care for ourselves and this must fan marvellously out to all areas of our lives, bestowing its benevolence on stuff that must get done. Growth is when you have learned how to take care of all your needs first, so then your cup floweth over.

Now how the fuck do we do this? I’m clambering up my learning curve at the minute but I expect it to take years. Yes, I’m a pessimist. (You don’t say?)

You are the boss of your brain

Uncategorised

I’ve been having an interesting ongoing conversation with my boys recently about who is the boss of their brains.

My middle son is always telling me ‘my brain told me to do it,’ often in relation to things like nicking chocolate from the cupboard, scribbling on the walls, filling up the toilet bowl with mountains of toilet paper and, post-tantrum analysis, brain gets the blame. His brain told him to do it.

You are the boss of your brain, I say to him, and not the other way around. As if I haven’t been entirely at the mercy of my brain for the last 40 odd years. Only recent information into my consciousness has led me to understand experientially that if I do a bit of mental weight-lifting, I can claw back some control and try to take charge of this brain situation.

Mum, mummy, mother, time

Motherhood

A lot of confusion recently from my two oldest sons on this whole mummy business and how it’s going to pan out. My six-year-old wants to know if I will still be young when he is a grown-up, and my four-year-old has got the wrong end of the stick completely. He is sure that in order for him to be a dad in the future, he will have ‘to find a new mummy’ altogether, and I will be out of a job. Which in a way is true I guess.

The four-year-old is also adamant that I do not become ‘a lady’ by which he means do not become an old lady.

Sometimes, I wish I could stay young so I could meet them at some sweet juncture where our ages cross, and we could transverse adulthood for a happy while together. Wouldn’t that be something? Meeting your 25-year-old child when you were 25. Or when you were both 40. I’d love to get to know them in that way, but short of time travel becoming a thing, I won’t.

The bending and folding of time never stops shocking me. How can I be dreaming about having children in my 20s, fretting for them in my 30s, surrounded by them in my early 40s all so – all so close together? And sometimes I look in my boys’ eyes now and fancy I see the adults they will become. I stumble into the future blindly but I imagine I see it there in the distance, too. Now is always now and we are so complacent about how this ‘now’ disappears at warp speed. (And yet, so much time with very small children feels glacial, snail-like; somnambulant drips of minutes stretching like glue through the day.) I think about when I’ll definitely be dead and that’s it, that’s my journey with these souls over, and I’ll never get to see them or the men they will become at 60, 70 and 80.

It’s our nature to surf on that wave of the next thing, the new thing, even when it’s just 10 minutes into the future. It’s kind of the carrot and stick method of living, it’s how we are built as humans. To bathe in the now just feels unnatural, unless you really set your mind to it and yes, get all mindful.

I don’t know if I’ve been doing that or not these last few weeks; I haven’t sat down to meditate, or reflect, or take deep breaths or any of those tools I found so useful a short while ago. There’s an other-wordly, precious quality to these lock-down days that ticks along beside the intense suffering of so many as the pandemic rips up lives and economies across the world.

I’m aware of it. How precious the days are. How lucky I am.