Wednesday, 19 June 2013

In the palm of her hand

 I don't know how many of you folk pray, in any kind of way. I'm not sure if this counts, but I do sometimes get very clear and consciously set an intention. I did it the other day. And I did it out loud, which always makes it worse.

I've had more than a year to find my new centre of gravity after Thomas's death (So, what? I'm over it? I shock myself sometimes.) and was feeling frustrated that my work - my writing and artwork - didn't feel like it was going anywhere. Pickle's in the most lovely nursery two afternoons a week (which is a bit of a stretch for me, but she's asking for more), so I have a little more time and it felt right to, as I so foolishly said, 'move up a gear'. Enough languishing and moping! More thriving and achieving!
Pickle with her first ever packed lunch

Like all answered prayers, this soon felt like an error. A big one. I started driving lessons (locals, please contact me for times you need to stay at home), resumed this blogging lark, even wrote some poetry and generally got excited and inspired. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Pickle has taken to waking at 5, then needing a consistent input of attention and affection all day to avoid dissolution into tears and/or fury. We've not made it through the whole day without incident for quite a while. Also, I have an appointment for a consultation about a brca1 test. For those of you who (wisely, I'd say) don't read the smallprint in the papers, this is the gene which ramps up your chances of breast and ovarian cancer and is most famously carried by Angelina Jolie. Now, if I could choose one of Angelina Jolie's genes, I can assure you it would not be that one. (Nor, if I could choose one thing to share with Julia Roberts, would it be ITP - an autoimmune disease which thins your blood.) But I missed the choosing bit, so my valiant mum has brca1 and that means there is a 50/50 chance I (and my sister and my brother) do too. Do I feel lucky, punks?*
 *Of course! Look where I live :o).
I thought I was doing quite a good job of coping with all this, but then I think a lot of things and they're frequently on the smudgier side of accurate. It turns out, every time I get a letter from the hospital, or think about all the grim options if I have this gene, I go into a kind of meltdown, which unfortunately mostly manifests as insomnia (abating shortly before Pickle wakes at 5) and  an inability to give Pickle all she needs to have a wonderful day despite her tiredness. In short, I am a less good mother, which is the last thing (other than dead) I want to be.

And it's recently been Thomas's birthday. The run-up to it was painful and stressful, but the day itself was not so bad. Pickle and I climbed the hill to sit on the Dada lump and talk about him. I finally accepted what everyone's told me all along - that Pickle no longer has conscious memories of him. Another loss for her. We took flowers from our garden which he loved and picked some also to lay on the mound which holds our friend Fay, who recently died, on the moor, as she wished.
And then it was Fathers' Day. Pickle came home from nursery with cake 'for me' in a 'Happy Fathers' Day' bag. Luckily for her, I couldn't eat it (because I'm coeliac - I no doubt share that with a rich and beautiful woman, too), so she happily gobbled it up. It was a tough day for me, but lightened by my gratitude for all the great men Pickle knows. Some of them are fathers and some not, but the important thing is she sees men being, well, men; heartful partners, loyal friends, tender parents. I think a large part of my ability to co-create the relationship I had with Thomas comes from seeing my parents' solid and openly loving relationship. I'm sorry I can't offer Pickle that, but at least she'll know a good man when she finds one.

Pickle is now wearing this T-shirt as a nightie

One consequence of talking about Thomas more has been that she is now asking some of the questions I knew would come one day. 'I won't die, will I?' 'Are we going to die on Tuesday or Sunday?' 'How old will X be when they die?' 'And Y?' 'And Z?' It's relentless some days, but what can I do, except be as honest as I can explain to her? I've said we will all die - everything dies - but we will be very, very old (older even than her great grandparents) when we die. The sharpest pang comes when she asks, 'Do mummies die?' I tell her she will be an old woman when I die and every cell sings out a prayer that I am telling her the truth, but then this gene test, which can't come soon enough, will tell me how likely that is. If you have a song in your cells, please sing my prayer. I'm far from perfect, but I'm the best this girl's got and I want to be around and healthy for a loooong time to witness her development into an amazing woman.
All that means that, rather than flourishing as planned, I'm actually struggling through a low time. But all things are relative. I'm still Mama to this wonderful girl:

I have access to the most beautiful land in excellent company (here with Suzi of Dartmoor Drums)

and for every mood there is a place where that feels just right.

AND Pickle and I have been to five parties in nine days! This is quite possibly a lifetime record.

Left, standing: Andy Letcher, sitting: David Wyatt, green jacket: Damien Hackney.

This party was a celebration of the return to Devon of Andy (above) and Nomi McLeod. That's a lot of links, but I recommend clicking on any or all of them. The talent round these parts is astonishing and increasing all the time.

So, good times and sad times all in a whirl. The most important thing for me is that, despite all her questions and having lost one of her most important people so very young, my girl can still hold death in the palm of her hand and think only of finding a soft place for a burial.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Just in case

Much has happened. Much has not happened and I am still thrumming with that loss. But much has happened and it has been good.

On the anniversary of Thomas's death, I climbed the hill behind our house, YakTrax gripping incredibly in the foot-deep snow, pack on my back and Pickle on my shoulders. It was a hard climb, but I needed to know I could still put one foot in front of the other. I needed to see myself look at an ascent too steep, too slippery, too high and feel myself too tired, too introverted, too laden. Then I needed to see myself get to the top. Because sometimes I have to make life very, very simple for myself and metaphor is so direct, as the first woman to feel her hide-skirt fill with heat from a fire would tell you.

At the top was a gathering of good souls, clustered around a fire, warming hands and faces and bellies with tea. It was so quiet in the snow that I paused at a distance, unwilling to join this little shuffling crowd. A friend from behind swept us in and there we were, Pickle now inside my coat (Thomas's coat once) and me in a swarm of words and love. We planted trees for Thomas, for all of us. Here's my dad helping Pickle plant an oak. I just can't stop myself thinking, Thomas would have loved this.

And as Pickle's birthday last year came so close on the diving heels of the funeral; so this year that juncture felt a squeeze, but not so tight I couldn't breathe.

Here's my threedom fighter delightedly receiving a Granny-knitted Gruffalo. The medicine in that smile could heal the world.

Spring came, a bit. It didn't stay long, but we had a quick dalliance with crocuses and tulips, and primroses like I have rarely seen sprouted from every crack and cranny. Pickle, ever with a stick (a genetic trait) and often with a grin, played the fey girl through the churchyard and made this day seem a little warmer than it truly was.

With spring; Easter. This is the first year I've allowed Pickle to eat all the chocolate she's been given and, of course, she loved it and has been asking ever since when it will be Easter again.

And then, when we had all given up hope and resigned ourselves to a dim and dismal year, the sun! Actual, hot, blazing, one-layer, outside, urge-to-run, bright, shit-it-burns sun! For weeks! Two weeks! I am thoroughly a better person for being shined upon so magnificently and it gave us something to do when we were in chicken pox quarantine. We're waiting for the peonies and roses, but the aquilegia and bluebells have, like the primroses, come up in storms after their long soak. Enough for lungfuls of scent. Enough to soothe this heart. And the dandelions... I have written before about the wild world of our garden. I had just got to the point, as I do each year, of feeling our dandelion lawn is really a bit of an embarrassment, a bit naughty, makes me look like I can't do it properly (do what? I don't quite know); when a flock of a dozen goldfinches and a greenfinch each landed on a stem, bending it only so slightly, and pecked at the dandelion seeds. Every day for a week they came, always with the one greenfinch, and, with apologies to those of my neighbours as keep an ordered, business-like garden, I'm now as likely to pull up those flowers as I am to pull the teeth from a lion.

I now have geek-chic braces on my teeth of which I am surprisingly fond. Pickle is delighted to have chosen the colour of my bands and I am delighted she has not chosen green. (They're a pale pink.) Every six weeks we travel by Gappy van to Torbay for The Tightening (yes - ow) and if it is a lovely day we pootle down to the sea. Pickle is still very wary of this wettest of moors and rightly unnerved by the crashing and sucking of waves, but we take a look and find small wonders for the corners of our home (which will soon be entirely spherical if we continue) and breathe the differently clear air of the ocean, and I send love back with the tide, because the girl who's read so many stories still wants him to be able to hear and can't stop saying it just in case.

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