Before October rolls into November, I thought I’d share my roll of film from September. Rather, three rolls of film, each snapped during our ten-day holiday in Italy, which feels like a million years ago.
There’s an October chill in the air, and when the rain falls, a taste of winter to come, so those ten days in September with a toddler and two grannies are all a blur now, but I’ll try my best to recapture the sun, the heat, the beauty. I should mention that the reason we went to Italy in the first place was to celebrate the end of mom’s chemo treatments (a sort of “fuck cancer” hurrah) and also her 60th birthday, which is next year, but if there’s one thing cancer has taught me it’s that it waits for no one and bucket list items are meant to be ticked off. The timing felt right. Italy has been on mom’s bucket list for over a decade and Joe and I wanted to help her tick “the big one” off, that thing you think is just a dream and might never happen. It’s a lot of pressure to help turn someone’s dream into reality (is reality ever as good as the dream? a discussion for another day) but Italy took care of itself. I mean, it’s Italy. You’d have to try really hard to screw it up. Pizza, gelato, sunshine, amazing architecture, art, rolling hills of vineyards and olive groves and cyprus trees pointing, finger-like, towards the Gods.
We landed in Naples late and had pizza at the airport, which was better than most slices you’d find in most restaurants back home. We then drove straight to our hotel and into our beds, Wren slumped over my shoulder, dead to the world (“You’re in Italy, little one,” I whispered). The next day, Pompei. I’d been there before but my mother, husband and mother-in-law hadn’t and it was at the top of mom’s list. Pushing a pram down roads that were built a squillion years ago was an interesting experience in and of itself. It’s amazing that you can stand in the exact spot as someone who once watched in horror while Vesuvius popped her top in 79 AD, burying the city under six metres of ash. How do you take that in? How do you take anything ancient in? They once were and now no longer are. Someday the same will be said of our civilisation.
That afternoon we drove up and up and up, then down and down and down winding roads to Ravello on the Amalfi coast. From Pompei’s beating sun to the coast’s chilly wear-a-raincoat kind of weather. We ended up sat, all four of us, at a table for one, sheltered from the rain under an awning, eating sweet cakes, sipping cappuccinos (to warm up) and wine because: Italy.
I think perhaps it’s time to pull a Tim Curry. You know that scene in Clue when he rattles off all the ways in which the suspects killed their victims? Yvette, the maid, with boobs spilling out of her French maid outfit two sizes too small, stabbed the cook in the kitchen and then Mr. Boddy with the candlestick in the study only to be strangled by Ms. Scarlett in the billiard room with the rope, who also killed the cop in the library with the lead pipe and shot the singing telegraph at the front door. If I don’t condense this post, I may be here forever and forever I do not have. I’m lucky if I have 30 minutes before the little one wakes up.
That night, cheese and lemon ravioli and fireworks and chilled red wine (which you might think, as I did, “Chilled red wine, surely not” and to that I would say yes, very much yes, especially when it comes out of its own oak barrel at the front of the restaurant). Next morning, a swim in the Mediterranean then a very long drive up to Florence with a quick stop for a flock of sheep crossing the road and a pit stop at a secluded waterfall so that my polar bear of a husband could swim. We sang Old MacDonald to Wren a good chunk of the way, using every single animal sound on the planet. Did you know that there were whales on Old MacDonald’s farm? We got lost late that night, which was all a bit stressful, but eventually, we found our lovely villa down a dusty winding road.
The rest of the trip was spent either by the pool or in the pool, sipping Negroni or white wine or G&Ts, everyone sprawled around the farm in lawn chairs and hammocks. Each morning we woke and said hello to the hens and the goats and the baby goats and the grey cat and then we’d decide what to do with our day. On one of the hottest days we visited an ancient amphitheatre in Fiesole where we not only had one cone with two scoops of gelato, but two cones. Yasssss!
In Florence: the Duomo and Ponte Vecchio and lunch at a lovely trattoria in Piazza Santo Spirito and limoncello and a stroll through Boboli Gardens to take a photo of mom by a sculpture of Bacchus, the God of Wine (four generations of Lambert’s have now had their picture taken in front of that jolly naked fat man) and gelato (of course) in Piazza della Passera, followed by an early evening swim to cool down from the city’s sweltering heat.
Joe and I had a date night midweek, once Wren finally settled into her surroundings. We’d chosen a restaurant in Fiesole and as we neared it, we were diverted by the polizia and ended up all the way in Florence, circled back, finally got to the restaurant (by now nearing 9pm) only to find that it was CLOSED on Wednesdays. So we drove around Fiesole and nearly got diverted again but the police officer took pity on us poor, lost foreigners and that, my friends, is how we ended up driving right through the finish line of a late-night bicycle race, hundreds of Italians looking at us, wondering who the hell we were and what the hell we were doing there. Lucky for us, we found a parking spot as well as a little restaurant that we’d spotted a day earlier, with a courtyard and checkered table cloths. By the time we sat down, we were starving! We placed our order and then saw the waiter bring a T-bone the size of Jupiter to a nearby table. Our jaws dropped, there was drool, we called him over, cancelled our order and said we want THAT instead. My friend Cinzia had told us about the bistecca alla fiorentina and boy, to this day, that might have been one of the best steaks and I’ve ever had.
Our best day trip had to be Lucca. I’d been before, years and years ago, another lifetime ago, before the husband and the move to England and the baby. But at the time, it was one of the last places I’d visited on my six-week trip and I’d seen so many other Italian towns that they were all starting to merge into one. This time, what I noticed most, were the bicycles (I have this thing for bicycles). People of all walks of life on bicycles — men carrying tins of paint and long-reach paint rollers and women in power suits and heels and old men with shopping bags, people cycling with umbrellas and dogs in baskets. It pissed rain for about an hour so we split up and each did our own thing (mom spent the entire hour in a ceramic shop; I do believe it was the best hour of her life) and by the time we met up again the sun had come out and we all felt like we were standing under a broiler, which meant…. you guessed it, more gelato. Before lunch! And then more swimming and more hammock time at the villa and more wine and more Negroni and more cooking from Italian cookbooks using Google Translate and more al fresco dining by candlelight.
On the last day, a long drive through rain and national forests to the airport in Bologna. By this time, my daughter who’d been such a trooper of a traveller, was done. Done with travelling. Done with gelato and pizza and, dare I say it, cheese. She fell asleep on the plane. The sky turned pink then orange then deep purple. It was dark and cold by the time we landed in England and though I knew I’d miss waking up to the hint of sfumato in the hills outside our villa (from the Italian language, derived from “fumo” (smoke, fume), translated into English means soft, vague or blurred, the way tones and colours shade gradually into one another), we were so happy to lay our heads on our own pillows that night… with that amazing feeling that comes from checking something off a bucket list, even if that bucket list is not your own.
I’ll tell you one thing, if you’ve been dreaming of visiting Italy and you finally get a chance to do it and you’re overwhelmed by all the things you want to see and don’t quite know where to start and maybe you want to get off the beaten path and away from the tourists a bit, then boy, do I ever have the solution for you. My dear friend Cinzia creates customised, one-of-a-kind Italian travel guides that are full of amazing information and suggestions and I’m sure we would have gotten a dozen parking tickets if it hadn’t been for her advice and may have skipped Lucca altogether (which would have been an error) and I never would have ordered the best steak of my life or eaten the most amazing gelato and probably wouldn’t have ventured into Piazza Santo Spirito, which would have been a shame. I wholeheartedly recommend her guides. I’m sure this has happened to you before: you’re travelling, you suddenly get hungry, you start looking at menus outside of restaurants, you can’t make up your mind, you get hungrier (and crankier) and you end up choosing something at random, usually a touristy spot, only to feel disappointed. If you don’t want that to happen to you (I don’t want that to happen to you, lovely people), get in touch with Cinzia. She’ll give you the local scoop. Everyone loves a good local scoop.
Wren waking. Signing out. Arrivederci amici.
A couple of weeks ago, you turned 15 months old. It’s taken me a while to write this post because, truth be told, it’s been a bit of a rough month. Teething (on your part) and illness (on daddy’s part) has meant that I’ve only had a handful of sleep-filled nights over the past four weeks and although I hate to moan about sleep-deprivation, there is something to be said for sleep. I mean, I’m pretty sure it exists for a reason.
But it hasn’t been all doom and gloom. Whatever pain you put us through in the middle of the night, you made up for tenfold during the day.
You’ve grown leaps and bounds this month. Your vocabulary keeps evolving, though most of your words still start with D. This is particularly funny when you spot a fly and say douche for the French mouche. Having said that, you do now say nanana for banana. So, progress.
Our big adventure this month was a trip to Italy. You charmed the pants off every single Italian you met, men and women alike falling to their knees calling you bellissima, bella, carina, felice. They particularly got a kick out of the Italian translation for your name, Scricciolo, which is rather onomatopoeic for how screechy you’ve become lately. You’ve certainly found your voice and I’m afraid to say that you sound less like a wren and more like something prehistoric. Your favourite thing about Italy was playing in the pool at the villa, tasting gelato for the first time, being pushed around on the tricycle and having both granny and grand-ma at your beck and call. Your least favourite part was sleeping. Surprise, surprise. So daddy and I would sit in the hammock with you as the sun set and as the lights started to twinkle over Florence, one at a time, a thousand city constellations, you’d eventually fall asleep to the sound of us talking. This was my favourite part. A little family time on a warm indian summer’s eve. We rarely get those hot nights in London so it was a special treat.
You are learning at a rate of knots. Just the other morning I showed you how to polish an apple on your shirt and that afternoon you did it for your dad. You now say bye-bye cat (rather, dye-dye dat) whenever you say goodbye to a cat or a train or the bath water, or anyone for that matter. You also come up to me and wave your hands in front of your nose to let me know that you’ve done a stinky poo. I generally smell you before you tell me but you’ve surprised me on occasion. You also shrug your shoulders and say ah-ah, as in “oh well” when something doesn’t quite work out. For example, if I tell you there’s no more cheese (lie) or the volume on your toy pig is broken (another lie) or we can’t go outside because we’ve lost your shoes (a-hem), I just say oh well, and you shrug your shoulders and say ah-ah and walk away… until you find your shoes and I’m busted.
You still refuse to drink milk unless it’s in cereal. But you have no problems dipping your fingers into the ground cumin and coriander in the little bowl on the counter. And you can’t get enough of fried mushrooms with garlic. And you never miss an occasion to drink my cold Rooibos or peppermint tea, or to dip your fingers in the kilo tub of peanut butter.
Your laugh. You love a good laugh and I love to hear you laugh. If everyone in a room is laughing, you chime in with great exaggeration like it’s the funniest thing you’ve ever heard even though you haven’t a clue what we’re talking about. You’ve also somehow figured out how to be cute — by turning your head slightly to the side, ear to shoulder, squinting your eyes, and flashing of one of your irresistible smiles. Sometimes, however, your enthusiasm turns your face into a grimace, like a dog smiling, which still somehow manages to be cute.
What else? You’ve sprouted a record number of teeth this month (five), which accounts for the sleepless nights. That’s been super fun. This last molar though. Ouch! I felt for you, my little dumpling, I really did.
You’ve become quite the train spotter. Every time we hear a train, I have to rush you to the tracks and prop you up so that you can wave at it. Bye-bye train.
You’re also a serial dental floss unraveller. Woe is the dental floss that falls into your hands. You unravel it within an inch of its 50-metre-long life in a matter of seconds.
Last month, I rescued two small yellow chairs that were about to be binned at the local children’s centre. Perfect Wren-sized wooden chairs. And I’m so happy that I found them because you LOVE them. Whenever you have a little collation or a cup of water, you plop yourself in your chair and snack away. You also love the small ledge that leads to the terrace. Any kind of stoop, really, any place where you can contemplate life’s great mysteries, or indulge on a piece of cheese.
You’re very much into doing things the adult way these days. Using my spoon or fork. Drinking out of a big person’s glass. And you’re so helpful, my little scricciolo, whether it be hanging clothes or wiping messes or emptying the dishwasher. You love to give me one utensil at a time, each time yelling ta-da as if you’re a magician pulling spoons and knives and forks out of your hat.
You continue to dance to all manners of sounds: onions being chopped, a train passing by, the dishwasher starting, the little jingle the washing machine makes when a cycle has ended. But you block your ears every single time you hear a siren. Sometimes I think you are doing it for fun and then I stretch my hearing as far as it can go and sure enough… the faint sound of a siren twenty miles away.
When I say I love you, you reply with mm-hmm. I’m not sure if that means I know or I love you too or yes, mom, you already told me ten times today.
You run away whenever I tell you it’s time for a nappy change and when I catch you, you giggle and giggle and curl up like a beetle or a little hedgehog so that it’s nearly impossible to pick you up.
Your walk has turned into a confident march. We walk ev-e-ry-where! And it takes fooooorever. Because, of course, you must open and close each gate you encounter and, these days, attempt to pop every single crab apple you find along the sidewalk, into your mouth. I’m teaching you how to look both ways before crossing the street and you are learning to wave to motorists to thank them for stopping at cross walks.
I especially love that you know the way home. You know exactly how to get there and where our walkway is. You guide me home. Everyday, even when I’m lost in the throes of motherhood, you help me find my way back home. Back to you. Back to now, where nothing else matters. Ok. Maybe not at 2am. At 2am, I have visions of putting you up for adoption. But most hours of most days, you make me blissfully happy.
Every morning, at 6:30am, I pick you up out of your cot and take you into bed with us for a ten-minute snuggle and then we come down the stairs and you use all the strength in your pudgy fingers to turn the light on, which blinds us both. And when our eyes adjust and the sleepy fog lifts, I look at you and I swear you look different from the night before. Every single morning. How is that possible? I’m still amazed by the miracle that is you. How is it that not that long you didn’t even exist and now here you are? A star among us, shining bright. Today, at Stay and Play, a woman remarked on how you smile with your whole face. I can’t imagine a better compliment for a parent. You light up this world, you do. And I’m so proud and grateful to be your mama.
Is it possible to lose your creativity? Like a set of keys. Misplaced in the fridge, accidentally kicked under the sofa, deep in the pockets of the jeans you wore yesterday? I’ve retraced my steps but no matter how hard I try, I can’t remember when I felt it last.
Maybe it’s stress and worry and lack of sleep conspiring against creativity. I haven’t done my morning pages in months, haven’t been in the mood to pick up my camera. Christ! The last time I posted anything on Instagram was nearly two weeks ago. I haven’t even felt like looking at Instagram. For someone who’s posted almost daily and fairly consistently for the past few years… I just don’t have the oomph. Perhaps muses take sabbaticals like the rest of us? Maybe mine is sipping a Mai Tai on some beach in Bali.
Elizabeth Gilbert says that “The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.” Well, either the universe skipped me altogether or I’m blind. I can’t even get a job interview for fuck’s sake (self-deprecation, always super helpful!) In all honesty though, my self-esteem is at an all-time low. I’ve been changing nappies and teaching someone to say ba-na-na and singing the wheels on the bus go round and round and round for the past year. I look like I’m about 98 years old. And we’re moving into a flat that we can’t afford at the end of next month and our heating doesn’t work and I have to find a nursery for Wren and I’m just paralysed with fear. Scared shitless of every little thing. I am so deep down in this funk, you guys. Does this ever happen to you? Where every little thing just feels like one little thing too much. Too much? Too many? Ah! Fuck it! Who gives a shite. And is there anything worse than feeling unhappy when you know that really, there’s nothing to be unhappy about? Like in a at-least-I-don’t-have-to-walk-15-miles-to-get-a-glass-of-water-from-the-village-well kind of unhappy.
So this is a pretty depressing post, isn’t it? And as you can see, I’m not even trying to pull myself up by my bootstraps. I’m just running deeper down the rabbit hole. But I figured it was that or no post at all and I did promise to write. So there. It’s been a tough month. I’m having a moan. Tomorrow’s another day. Maybe my muse will come back. Or maybe I’ll eat a whole bag of potato chips for lunch.
P.S. Reading this post has helped immensely. Motherhood can sometimes be a lonely ride and it’s good to know we’re not alone.
Although we’ve crossed the threshold into autumn, I still miss you. Your time with us was far too short, but I’m so grateful for each of your 31 days, your dry, sunny weekends, for giving us Brits one small taste of summer after June and July’s failed attempts.
You were the month of seaside adventures and Negroni cocktails and a long-overdue date night; early morning yoga classes (back when the sun still poured in through the shutters at dawn), long walks in the countryside, a river swim (Wren’s first), iced coffees, rosy baby cheeks, lidos and water fountains and paddling pools, beers and BBQs on the terrace, corn on the cob, tomatoes that smelled like sunshine, a trip to Dreamland, a hazy kind of light, golden fields, wild flowers slowly drying on the stalk and sunflower heads drooping heavily.
I miss everything about you, August. It’s too bad you couldn’t stick around a little longer. Don’t tell the others, but you are by far my favourite month. Lucky for me, September and October vie for second place so it makes the goodbye slightly less painful. Here’s to apple crumbles and wood fires, soups and stews, Indian summer (fingers crossed), shadows getting longer and light slanting low, trick or treating, pumpkins, sweaters and scarves, leaves falling, whiskey, Neil Young’s Harvest album.
Until next year.
We’ve just returned from ten days in Tuscany, where the sun is honey-glazed and the grapes are warm and silver-leafed olive trees grow in golden groves; the land of fior di latte gelato and pizza Margherita, chirping crickets and clusters of cypresses and the best damned Chianti I’ve ever tasted.
I tried to write while I was there, in the hammock, glass of wine in hand, overlooking the Tuscan hills to Florence down below. I truly did. But the sun was so warm and the hammock so somnolent that, well, I just couldn’t bring myself to write about somewhere else when I was in a little slice of paradise. Can you blame me, really?
I’m back in London now. It’s grey and chilly and I’ve just dropped mom off at the airport and I’m feeling all the feelings that come with dropping loved ones off at the airport without knowing when you might see them next. I’ve got my wooly socks on and a steaming cup of Rooibos tea by my side and it seems like now is as good a time as any to catch up on the series that I started far too long ago. So, without further ado, the Nelson years.
Lower Bonnington Road, Nelson, British Columbia
Soundtrack: David Gray – Please Forgive Me
I felt as if I’d touched down somewhere over the rainbow, in a magical land of munchkins, that permanently smelled of citrus-pine weed and patchouli incense; where hippies mingled with intellectuals, artists, snowboarding enthusiasts, back-to-the-landers, expats, outdoor adventurers, people who didn’t fit in where they used to be, some living off the grid, many weary of the system, most flying their freak flags high and proud, in this small town nestled in the mountains of British Columbia. A bubble. The kind of place where people talk about energy a lot.
Nelson was good to us from the start, like a sweet old grand-ma having you over for tea, offering you the best biscuits in her cupboard. The energy I talked about earlier meant that there were no chance encounters, that everything led to something amazing*, and we discovered just how serendipitous things could be within a day of crossing the orange bridge that led into town.
We hadn’t been in Nelson for more than 24 hours when we decided to check the community board in the local co-op for places to rent. Within minutes of our arrival, and completely out of the blue, an ex-Deadhead from Colorado asked us if we were looking for a place to stay. Her name was Laurie and she needed farm hands to help with the five acres of land that she and her husband had recently purchased on the outskirts of town. That very night, we visited her organic farm, shared a bong hit and badaboom, badabing… rent sorted.
We lived all summer without electricity or running water in the rustic pioneer cabin that sat on the corner of her land. There was an outhouse up the hill, a cooler for a fridge and a camping stove for cooking. We fixed up the cabin, built greenhouses and a chicken coop, planted peas and potatoes, picked pears and plums and cherries and walnuts, canned tomatoes, froze raspberries and pressed apples for juice. Our days were spent with our hands in the earth, nights reading by candlelight. And afternoons, you could usually find us at our secret aqua-green swim hole ten minutes down the road.
I sometimes babysat the neighbour’s son for pocket-money. The father was an artist who was supposed to be making art while I babysat but he usually tinkered in his basement, moving junk from one side of the room to the other. He called this “cleaning the basement”. His wife wasn’t impressed.
At the weekends, I spent most of my pocket-money at my favourite coffee shop: Oso Negro. Oso Negro was the town hub, with the best organic espresso on Earth (I still believe this to be true); a place that displayed a sign that read: “We want this to be a comfortable space for everyone: customers, passersby, co-workers and neighbours. Blocking the stairs and sidewalk, smoking pot, drumming, playing loud music, letting dogs run loose and littering infringe on people’s space. Please help us maintain a friendly, cooperative environment for people of all ages and walks of life.” This, in my opinion, pretty much epitomises the essence of Nelson.
Laurie had two dogs, Melvin and Harpo. Kevin and I had wanted a dog for years but we were never in the right place, and it was never the right time. It usually isn’t when it comes to pets and babies. “We’ve wanted a dog for years,” we said to Laurie one day, probably while passing a joint (I smoked a lifetime’s worth of weed that summer… and part of the following decade). She said: “You guys should totally get a dog. What better place than a small farm out in the middle of nowhere?” Everything seems like a great idea after you’ve smoked a massive spliff. And so it is that only two weeks into our stay, we walked into Four Paws Only and walked out with a shy, grungy little dog that had been abandoned by his owners, chained to a fence in the backyard. The shelter manager had named him Shadow and although he was indeed our shadow his entire life, we changed his name to Dylan. And then we were three.
Latimer Street, Nelson, British Columbia
Soundtrack: Michael Franti – Stay Human (All the Freaky People); Gomez – Free to Run
Towards the end of the summer, Kevin met a lovely woman named Catherine while volunteering on an urban garden in the centre of town. She had a small one-bedroom apartment for rent on the ground floor of her house. Shortly after two planes flew into the Twin Towers, as the days grew shorter and the nights got colder, we moved out of the cabin and into Catherine’s place.
It was at about this time that I was hired as a receptionist at the Nelson Animal Hospital. Incidentally, I got the job because I had adopted Dylan from their animal shelter next door and the shelter’s manager, Keira, had put in a good word for me. Again… happenstance. I’m telling you, the energy, you guys!
Our spot on Latimer Street backed up on miles upon miles of hiking trails. Dylan and I spent a lot of time up there. I once met a cougar tracker on those trails. She had a massive Redbone Coonhound for a dog. He was always taking off and she was always worried that a cougar really got him this time. She was a strange woman. I suppose you’d have to be a bit strange to go off on your own into the woods for days on end tracking cougars. But everyone was a little strange on some level in Nelson. That was part of the town’s charm.
Kevin enrolled in a woodworking class and I took a creative writing course at KSA. I started boxing at the local gym at 6am a few days a week, went running by Sproule Creek, where I usually stopped halfway through to gorge on huckleberries (occasionally sharing a patch with a black bear), and when the snow started to fall (and did it ever fall), I learned to snowboard on Whitewater. And the festivals. Have I mentioned the music festivals? Starbelly Jam and Shambhala, where we danced the night away deep in the Kootenay mountain range until the sun came up.
In March, we were ready for our own space. Catherine’s spot was lovely but eventually we grew tired of washing our dishes in the shower and baking cookies in a toaster oven and we needed space to unpack all the boxes that we’d shipped from Montreal because we’d planned to settle down in this sleepy mountain town.
In the spring we moved into a small two-storey house with a huge back yard a short walk from town. We grew a garden. We drank lots of wine. We didn’t go out much any more. Kootenay Lake was at the end of our street and on hot summer nights, we sometimes walked down to the beach to cool down before bedtime. It was heavenly. That’s also the summer dad came to visit me.
We stayed on Kokanee Avenue until late September, when we decided to move back home. We spread all of our belongings out on the front lawn and sold them for pennies. For all the plans we’d made and all the love we had for Nelson, it was far too removed from both of our families. That year, in hindsight, was the beginning of the end of our relationship. Living in our own space had turned us into pot-smoking recluses and if it hadn’t been for our dog, Dylan, I think we would have split up long before we did (six years later).
I certainly let my freak flag fly in Nelson though, came home with dreadlocks and a lip ring, I did. Perhaps it wasn’t the most flattering look (there was no shortage of comments made about my appearance in my small hometown), but it was an experiment in exploring choices that weren’t mainstream.
In 2003, I wrote this about my time in Nelson: “I can’t thank this town enough for all the life lessons. It taught me what I didn’t want out of life. I was on the fast track towards yuppie ville and I’m so glad I stepped on the breaks and reversed. I now know that a simple life, love and nature are all I need.” Who is that woman? And how did I change so much in the past 15 years? The cynical side of me can’t help but think “Oh, what a load of flower-child crap.” But the truth is I do often long, especially since I’ve had Wren, for a more simple life. I sometimes feel like I’m disconnected from what’s real and important… too busy rushing around in the big city. I wonder if maybe I had it more figured out back then than I do now? But then again, I was stoned all the damn time. Of course life is grand when you’re snowboarding in the winter and skinny dipping in the summer and getting high every day. And I don’t want to get high every day. So maybe I just need to pluck a few of the old lessons and apply them to my life today. I think I’ll start with a garden.
*Seven years after leaving Nelson, I met a British guy named Joe and shortly after meeting, we realised that we’d both lived in Nelson at the exact same time. We like to imagine that we were both walking down Baker Street and I dropped my keys just as he was walking by, or maybe he crouched down to tie his shoelaces, and we were within touching distance of each other but I never saw him and he never saw me and Cupid, cheeky little Cupid, shot one of his arrows so that when we did cross paths again… we would instantly know. And we did.
This past weekend you turned 14 months old. We spent the Bank holiday at your grand-papa Stewart’s. He lives at the end of a very long driveway in a magical garden at the top of the highest hill in all of Hampshire. Your dad and I love it there and it seems you do too. It was so wonderful to be able to leave the doors wide open and let you wander in and out as you pleased, far from traffic and noise and pollution, without the worry of you eating cigarette butts or sticking your fingers in dog poo or cutting yourself on shards of glass or getting hit by a car. I can’t tell you how relaxing this was to the mother of a toddler.
We spent most of the weekend out-of-doors. You had your very first swim in a river on Friday. The water was glacial and took the breath out of your little lungs and the rocks beneath your feet rather shifty and sometimes sharp but you took it in your stride. You especially enjoyed watching dad and I dive under the water and float down the river. This, for some reason, you found to be hilarious.
On Saturday, we went for a four-hour walk. We thought at one point that we’d have to turn around because you neither wanted to walk nor be in the child carrier but then we veered off the farm path and into the woods and stumbled on horses and sheep and cows and for the rest of the journey, you sat quietly, taking in the sights. I can’t tell you how proud we are of you. You’re such a little trooper.
If I’m being honest though, we’ve had been a bit of a challenging week. Not only have you cut your first molar and are on your way to cutting a second (which means tsunamis of saliva), you also seem to have contracted hand, foot and mouth disease, which, although quite common is still pretty vial. You look like you have the plague, with blisters on your hands and feet and canker sores in your mouth and a foul mood to go with it (I can’t blame you, I’d be pissed off too). It’s been a looooong week of sleepless nights but yesterday, the fog lifted and you finally slept through. Mostly, that is. By 3am, your room had turned chilly (it’s an old house) and so I took you into our warm bed and you spent the next four hours windmilling between dad and I. Still, I’ll take that any day over the dozen times you’ve been waking up in tears over the past seven nights.
We have to talk about a couple of things. Firstly, the pram. You’ve suddenly taken a dislike to it. I’ve tried to reassure you that it’s not some whale that’s going to swallow you whole but I think, really, your annoyance coincides with learning to walk. These days, you’d much rather push the pram than to sit in it. Which is fine, often times. But sometimes we have places to be, my little crumpet, and we’d never get there at your albeit-rather-quick-for-such-small-legs pace.
Also, the biting and scratching. Not cool. Especially not cool? You laughing at me when I use my stern voice and say no about the biting and scratching. I do not find this funny at all. I’m at a loss. Part of me is grateful that you generally only bite and scratch me. But most of me wishes you didn’t do it at all. I’m starting to look like one of those zombies in the Walking Dead. I think it’s just a phase. It’s just a phase, right? You’re not going to turn into some psycho agro child, are you? Dear Lord, please let it be a phase.
You’ve added a few new words to your repertoire this past month. You can now say duddles (for bubbles) and dodage (for fromage) and duck (for duck). Essentially, all of your words start with a D and anything you don’t know how to say is dada or a variation of dada, much to your actual dada’s dismay. Dada for thank you. Dada for blueberries. Dada for mama. Everything else is “that”, including your bunny. I keep calling him Monsieur Lapin but you insist on calling him “that”. This is very confusing. You’ve also been practicing your T’s lately. Some days you walk around stuttering ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta for minutes on end.
You now say uh-oh whenever you drop something. You haven’t quite caught on that uh-oh is typically reserved for accidents, not for when you purposefully drop something. You also like to make a satisfied Hhhhaaaa! sound after drinking, like you’ve just taken a sip of an ice-cold beer at the end of a long day doing manual labour under a harsh sun.
You love to dance and not only to music, to sounds in general. You sway to the sound of a ticking clock and a growling lawn mower and a whirling salad spinner, equally. You love anything with a beat.
To say that you have a mild addiction to duddles is a gross understatement. I’m not sure whether it’s the bubbles themselves that you love or the taste of the soap on your fingers after you’ve popped them. Either way, there isn’t a day (read: hour) that goes by without you asking for duddles.
You’ve learned to sip through a straw and you’re obsessed with balls and you love to point at planes in the sky and play peekaboo with your books and you can identify the duck and the cat and the dog in Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? You also bring our shoes when we ask for them, and even when we don’t, your not-so-subtle hint that you want to go play outside.
You’re now really weird about having things stuck on your hands and feet. Anytime there’s a strand of hair or a wet leaf or a blade of grass or a pebble you look at me, slightly worried and make this long whining sound until I’ve removed the offending object. I’ve taught you to wipe your hands together, which has brought some relief, but this whole thing is terribly perplexing to you. Again, dear Lord, please let this be a phase.
You are a daredevil, especially when we’re hanging out on the bed. You love to go right up to the edge, turn slightly towards me, give me a cheeky smile knowing that I’ll catch you (often by the pant leg) as you try to kamikaze off. I suffer at least one heart attack a day. You’re going to send me to an early grave with all these antics but I’d much rather you be adventurous and take risks, a veritable Pippi Longstocking, than be afraid of everything.
One of your favourite games is when we play hide and seek with bunny. You say “that?” and I say “Où est Mr. Lapin?” and you raise your shoulders to your ears and your hands to your shoulders in a gesture that means you haven’t a clue. And then we go around the house. Is bunny in the cupboard? Is he under daddy’s hat? Is he in my pocket? Is bunny in the rubbish bin? Is he under the sofa? Eventually, we find him right where we left him (usually on the floor). We then have a little giggle and you throw him back on the ground and we start all over again. And again. And again.
But my favourite favourite thing this month happened last week. Daddy came home after a spectacularly crap day and I said” “Tu veux donner un câlin à papa?” (translation: I think your daddy could use a hug), something I’d never said before. And you walked up to him, wrapped your arms around his legs, snuggled right into him and said “Awwwwww”. It was the sweetest thing, one of those many heart-warming moments that make being a parent worthwhile. The kind that makes you think “Ok, maybe I won’t put her up for adoption… yet.”
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. You are pure magic. And this journey with you just keeps on getting better.
Thank you for being such a little comedian, for making us smile and laugh every single day.
Is it just me or is summer the only season that can make you feel like you’ve gone back in time, to a more innocent time? Thousands of diamonds sparkling on water, the sound of the ice cream truck, the smell of tomatoes on the vine and fields of clover, the way the wind plays with the clothes on the line, impromptu picnics in the park, grasshoppers and cicadas. Is there anything better than a midsummer’s day?