Last year I turned 40, an event that was partially eclipsed by Wren’s impending birth, which meant that I missed out (opted out) on the whole turning-forty-birthday-bash thing. To be fair, I’m not a shindig kind of girl, but because I didn’t mark the event with some kind of massive celebration, I sometimes forget that I actually am… 40. That is, was 40. Yesterday I turned 41, so now I’m technically, properly, unequivocally, in my forties.
I thought I would mark this birthday with a list, because a girl’s gotta have something to strive for, right? Last time I did one of these I was 38 and only managed to check a handful of things off the list. Many of these unchecked items have been transferred to this new list; others have simply lost their luster.
So here we go. A fresh year. In the next 365 days, I hope to accomplish the following:
Swim in the Mediterranean sea
- Switch back to an 80 percent vegetarian diet
- Start each day with fresh turmeric tea
- Read 25 books by the end of 2016 (
912 down, 1613 to go)
- Start baking again, without refined sugar
- Apply for my Canadian passport
- Make Sundays digital detox days (excluding blog posts)
- Start a happiness project
- Run a marathon
- De-clutter my phone: compile footage into monthly videos and organise/delete photos
- Find a fulfilling job
- Take Wren to a music festival
- Write more letters
- Create a personal coffee table book of our travels
- Go camping and hiking at least once
- Start a daily meditation practice
- Develop a roll of film every month
- Buy a fire extinguisher
- Start a private blog for Wren
- Go to a car boot sale in search of old mismatched picture frames, make a photo wall
- Take a driving lesson in London
- Make elderflower cordial
- Write a book (Ok. Let’s be realistic. Write the outline of a book and the first chapter)
- Buy a new bike or fix my old bike, get a seat for Wren and start cycling again
Read a Jane Austen novel (I know, shocking that I haven’t already)
- Grow a garden
- Get an article published on Huffington Post
- See the northern lights
Watch Casablanca Go strawberry picking
- Finish the baby blanket I started knitting before Wren was born
- Go away for a weekend with my husband sans kid
- Learn to speak basic Italian for our Tuscany trip this September
- Go to a taping of the Graham Norton show
Cook an Italian meal with fresh market produce in Italy
- Keep blogging once a week and write a post that gets 5,000 hits (hey, why not?)
- Write a letter to my 50-year-old self to open on 11 June 2025
- Donate blood
- Take a Guardian masterclass
- Learn to Salsa dance with Joe
- Go to bed earlier, get more sleep
I recognise that this is a SUPER ambitious list, especially with an infant, but this past year has been completely focused on motherhood and although I suspect the next two decades of my life will also be centred around my kid, it’s important that I keep growing as a person and that I do things for myself so that I can be the best mom possible. Hell, I’ll be chuffed if I even manage to knock ten things off this list. As Norman Vincent Peale said: “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”
Yesterday you turned 11 months old. This means that you’re a month shy from turning one, a milestone that I’m not quite ready for you to reach. I don’t know why it gives me such a pang. Is it selfish that I want to keep you small forever?
The weather in England has been particularly lovely lately. It reminds me of this time last year when my work contract ended and we moved house and I spent weeks packing and unpacking and painting bookshelves, standing at the top of ladders with my massive belly, everyone telling me that I ought to be relaxing but I couldn’t, you see, because I was so hell-bent on creating a cozy home for your arrival. Also, I knew that once you came into this world, not much else would get done. Case in point, the stairs remain unpainted, the bathroom floor too. And lots of other bits and bobs around the house remind me of just how busy this past year has been. Recently I took on the task of making a coat rack out of a few cast iron hooks and one of the old floorboards that I kept when the house was gutted. Drilling in the presence of a curious and crawling baby is no easy feat. Once you got over your fear of the drill, you were fascinated by it and wanted to get your hands on it AT ANY COST. Needless to say, I’m glad I got as much done as I did before you were born.
So much these days remind me of those first few months. The light in the house, for instance. The way it comes in dappled on the landing wall and how the shadows dance whenever the wind blows through the sycamore tree outside our window. The wisteria and lilacs are already fading. It seems they were just beginning to blossom yesterday and already they are gone. The cherry petals are now the colour of buttered popcorn, gathered in the creases between the sidewalks and the streets. The elderflower tree at the end of the road is releasing its summery scent. The roses are starting to bloom, just in time for June, your birth month. And mine too.
You’ve recently traded in your favourite word “cat” for “dog”, or something that kind of sounds like dog. You basically point and say “dat” at everything you see. Perhaps you are saying “that” or maybe you are saying a million things that sound like dat. The other day you said “dada” just as your dad was coming up the stairs and I thought you’d finally made the connection but then you proceeded to call everything and everyone dada, even me. I said “mama”, you replied “dada”. It’s an exercise in futility.
A few days ago, you stood on your own for a full five seconds. And then did the same the very next day. And every day since. You are getting very strong and confident on your own two feet but I reckon we have at least another month before you take your first step. That’s fine by me as I fear that you will skip walking and go straight to running. You are, after all, a little canon ball.
Lately, when you nurse, you’ve taken to reaching behind my waist and pinching and twisting my back fat like a lug nut. This is not my favourite thing. And we’ve also reached a point where I can’t carry both you and a bowl of Whole O’s, say, or a jar of peanut butter at the same time. You go fishing and dipping your fingers into EVERYTHING. Glasses of water are your favourite; swishing your hand in and out of the cup and then sucking on your fingertips rocks your world.
You crawled onto the terrace for the very first time last week. You’d never done it before, choosing instead to crawl to the edge of the door and flinging things onto the terrace – spoons, spice jars, shoes. But one rainy morning, there you were. You simply couldn’t resist the puddles and the water gushing out of the rainwater pipe. Before I knew it, the knees of your sleepsuit were drenched in water, your hands up the pipe, your fingers freezing and you were as happy as could be. I tried to snap a photo of you but I keep running out of space on my phone for that very reason – I take waaaaay too many photos and videos of you. Can you blame me?
Your two top lateral incisors sprouted this month so that you now look like an otter whenever you smile or laugh. You also curl your top lip up all the time, presumably because those teeth feel really weird — I call this your Mick Jagger phase. Although it looks like a sign of aggression, I assure everyone that this is your playful face… I think.
On Thursday, I introduced you to watermelon. I stripped you down to your nappy and plonked you on the terrace and presented you with a massive juicy slice. It was a thoroughly enjoyable and messy affair. You went to town, chomping at it with your otter teeth, juice dripping down your chest like a pink waterfall. I think maybe it’s your new favourite food, even more so than peas. And that says a lot — wherever there is a pea in your meal, you find it. You’re like an archeologist, digging for these little green gems with great accuracy and a delicateness that you rarely show for anything us.
I’m sad to say that you’ve outgrown your playmat. Instead, you want us to get down on all fours and chase you around the livingroom. You burst into an infection fit of laughter, curling into a ball like a potato bug protecting its abdomen each time we get close to you. All this tomfoolery does come with a price though. We placed you in the clothes basket the other day thinking “great fun”, until you tumbled out and hit the floor with your face, which resulted in your first proper fat lip (see above). Sorry about that. I’ll tell you one thing though, you’re a tough cookie. You took it like Ali.
You attended your first funeral last week, that of your great-uncle Charlie’s. You were such a ray of light, Wren, bringing hope and happiness to an otherwise sad affair. I think every single person who met you was rather smitten and grateful for the beautiful reminder of the cycle of life. This is what you do for us everyday. You remind us of all that is good and wonderful in this world. So many little joys. Thank you for opening our eyes.
You are so very loved.
“Motherfucking cocksucker motherfucking shit fucker what am I doing? What am I doing? I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m doing the best that I can. I know that’s all I can ask of myself. Is that good enough? Is my work doing any good? Is anybody paying attention? Is it hopeless to try to change things? The African guy is a sign, right? Because if he isn’t, then nothing in this world makes any sense to me. I’m fucked! Maybe I should quit. Don’t quit! Maybe I should just fucking quit. Don’t fucking quit! I don’t know what the fuck I’m supposed to fucking do anymore! Fucker! Fuck shit!”
Some days I feel like Jason Schwartzman in I Heart Huckabees. What does it all mean? What is everyone doing? Why are we here? Why do we die and where do we go and why can’t we make collect calls to heaven and ask for advice about life from the dead — it’s short, they would say — and where the hell is heaven anyways, if anywhere?
Ever since the day Wren was born, I’ve carried this low-grade anxiety with me. A primal survival instinct kicked in that morning, something telling me that I must stay alive at all costs, for as long as possible. Whereas before the idea of dying was rather inconvenient, now there’s downright no room for death in the calendar. Sorry death, I’m terribly busy raising this child, she needs me more than anything and you can’t really expect me to drop everything for you, can you? Go find someone else to play with until our scheduled meeting in 2075.
Joe’s uncle passed away suddenly last Tuesday. His death was unexpected, but perhaps unsurprising given his lifestyle. He was far too young, 62. My first feeling, after the initial sadness, was anger. I was angry at him for not taking better care of himself. Angry that he won’t be around to walk his girls down the aisle. Angry that his kids’ kids won’t have a grand-father. I realise now that most of my anger was misdirected. That this event triggered old resentment towards my own father for leaving us too soon. It hurts every day that he never has and never will meet Wren, not on this physical plane anyways. And now that I am a mother, it raises the question, wouldn’t you do anything in your power to stay as healthy and as full of life as possible for your children? Wouldn’t your love for them trump any addiction? Wouldn’t you quit smoking, lose that extra weight, go to therapy, eat your vegetables… anything to be the best version of yourself you could possibly be? Or is that just self-righteous thinking? And maybe even selfish?
Death walks with us every day. It doesn’t only knock on the doors of little old ladies. It is indiscriminate. There’s not always, almost never, time to say good-bye. It seems cruel and unfair and far too risky not to be your best self. We are on this planet for such a short time, a blip really. We have a mere moment to unapologetically embrace who we are, to share our own individual gifts with the world, to dream big, to check things off that bucket list, to fly our freak flags, to shine our light. To do otherwise seems disrespectful to whoever created us (our parents, for starters) and to the dead, who constantly remind us from the ashes on the mantel piece and the gravestones in the cemeteries that life is finite. All those names engraved in stone of people who no longer walk among us, how strange to think that our names will someday join theirs. There is no truer truth.
So maybe I don’t smoke a pack of cigarettes every day, but I do have my own bad habits — I’m quick to anger, it doesn’t take much for me to press the panic button and expect the worst, my fears are so big sometimes that they swallow me whole, I place far too much worth on what other people think of me and I spend a lot of time moaning about shit that just doesn’t matter.
I want to be stubbornly glad and fearless and fully alive. I say this with all the woowoo-but-true realisation that comes with the loss of someone. A realisation that is all too often temporary and then we get on with our lives. We carry on because we must, but we don’t have to forget the lesson. And it’s such an important lesson: death is ironic in that it shows us what it means to be alive.
I am typing this post with one hand. Wren has a cold and is sleeping in the crook of my right arm. Her hair is covered in pesto from today’s lunch. Her cheeks are the colour of crab apples in October. She sounds like a piglet with her stuffy nose. Someday, when she tells me that she wants to be a singer in a punk rock band or an astrophysicist or a circus clown or a horse whisperer, I’ll tell her that she can be whoever she wants to be, that she can do anything. I want her to always feel safe expressing who she is, to have a positive outlook, to create a life with purpose and meaning, whatever that means to her… but telling her these things won’t matter if I don’t embody these values myself.
This week, when we lower Charlie into the ground and pay our respects to a man who brought so much joy to everyone with his cheeky smile and kind ways, I want to honour him by honouring life and trying my best to kick my own bad habits.
So long Charlie, until we meet again. Heaven just became a whole lot more fun with you up there. Say hi to my dad for me, will you?
For the first time in twelve years, I was living on my own, in a new apartment. I arrived at Casgrain Avenue with very few possessions — one bowl, a couple of plates, some cooking essentials, a kitchen table and chair, a small dresser, a few boxes filled with books and a Sia CD that played on repeat the better part of those first few months. The two-bedroom apartment echoed in its emptiness, a constant reminder of the “fresh start” that I hadn’t asked for. I hit the yard sales hard every weekend that summer, driven as much by necessity as a need to keep busy. In short order, I scavenged vintage yellow glasses, a cast iron skillet, mismatched silverware, a bookshelf, a bed and a Poang chair.
All that was missing was a couch.
I’m not picky. How hard can it be to find a couch? After scouring flyers and furniture stores, my search for a couch began to seem like an endless, circling odyssey. If it wasn’t too leathery, it was too beige, too small, or too L-shaped. It was too plain, too patterned, too poofy, too rigid, too soft, too flowery, too shiny, too upholstered, too IKEA, too fancy, too cheap, too something my family had in the 80s, too someone else’s basement. In short, either I was more discerning (read: picky) than I thought, or finding a great couch was something of a Holy Grail hunt.
Turns out I simply had something specific in mind because the moment I laid eyes on the green velvet couch, I knew we were meant to be.
How to describe the sofa that stole my heart? Massive, for starters. And characterful in a retro meets chic kind of way, meaning that it could have just as easily fit into a pot-smoking hippy’s shack as in Marie-Antoinette’s parlour. Born in Montreal, sometime in the late 1960s, this funky Chesterfield was covered in bright velour, the colour of unripe olives. It was perfect — and if you can believe it, free.
Its current owners were moving back to Germany and they couldn’t afford to ship it home, plus at seven feet long, it was too much of a challenge for anyone less than an intrepid soul. I may be picky, but back down from a few logistical obstacles? Never.
Fortunately for me, the two movers who blithely replied, “No problem,” when I told them of the size of the sofa, were not quitters either because if finding the couch had been an odyssey, getting it home into my new apartment was positively epic.
It took the movers forty minutes and knocking on three tenants’ doors to gain access to a few feet of space just to get the couch down four flights of stairs and out onto the street. Traveling the three kilometres between apartments was the easy part; getting this baby into her new digs, however, was another hour-long feat. Sixty minutes filled with blood, sweat, scratches, bruises, one broken light bulb, some wall damage and no shortage of French curses and piss-takes, one mover going so far as calling the other a tilapia fish, which to this day remains the strangest insult I’ve ever heard. But, by 10 pm that Saturday night, the movers were gone and I blissfully sank into the velvet queen’s plush cushions.
As I lay there, replaying the last two harrowing hours in my head, I started to think about all the other stories woven into this couch. I couldn’t help but wonder who else had struggled to bring it into their home? What other adventures in narrow staircases had this wild child survived? What kinds of conversations had it been privy to? Was it witness to kisses? What dreams were dreamed on it? Did it see many cocktail parties; was it wiped clean of spilled martinis? How many coins and remote controls and socks had it swallowed?
I felt this irresistible urge to know. I started my research the very next day.
I began with Eric Bodden, the German doctoral student who had posted it on Craigslist. When he and his girlfriend moved into the apartment on Durocher in the summer of 2008, there was a hole in the hallway ceiling and a giant green couch in the living room. Inbal, the previous owner, had donated the couch to them, very much aware of the logistics of moving the beast.
“At first,” Eric said, “We didn’t really like the couch. It was green! What a dreadful colour!” But as the months passed, they grew quite fond of its cozy cushions, so perfect for snuggling and watching movies on long winter nights.
With Eric’s help, I was able to find Inbal Itzhak, who moved to Montreal from Israel in the summer of 2005 to start a PhD program at McGill. Inbal inherited the couch through an organisation that helps to connect newcomers with people who wish to give away old furniture. When she and a mover came to pick it up from a young family in the city’s West End, Inbal recalls: “It was very difficult to load it onto the truck. It was even harder to get it up to the fourth floor apartment.” The mover paid a toothless homeless man to help him cart the couch upstairs, a slow and painstaking affair. To get it into the apartment, they had to disassemble the door, and the couch ended up making a gaping hole in the vestibule ceiling. “It was never fixed during the three years I lived there,” said Inbal.
Of the couch, Inbal says: “As magical as this couch was, it wasn’t the coziest. My boyfriend and I always laughed that it was made to prevent people from being naughty because it was simply not comfortable for making out. But I really loved this couch. Everyone who saw it loved it, it was special and had character and a funky colour. I used to tell people as a joke that I got it from Buckingham place.”
When asked if she remembered who the previous owners were, Inbal was able to find a faded name and phone number on an old calendar and from there, it wasn’t difficult to track down Mike Deutsh. “My wife and I got the couch as a gift from her great-aunt Sylvia, who was the original owner,” he said. “Before we got it, it had been sitting her a basement in Cote-St-Luc, probably untouched for 40 years. The whole room was in a vintage state: wood paneling, thick carpet, matching 60’s coffee table (which we still have).”
“Eventually, the springs started to give out (I like to think it just hadn’t been used for so long, rather than my body being exceptionally dense). So my dad and I did one of our weekend special projects and added a layer of plywood or wood beams, you should be able to tell by looking underneath. I still have a jar full of the original tack nails that were holding the thing together.”
According to Deutsh, great-aunt Sylvia had the couch custom-made in the 1950s by an upholsterer on Park Avenue named Patak. It was their main living-room sofa for many years. When the kids moved out and she and her husband were able to afford it, they purchased a new cream-coloured couch, and the green one was moved to the basement. “It didn’t get much use down there, which explains why it seemed musty when I got it,” said Mike.
Now sitting on that same couch, years later, I started to look at the secondhand objects around my apartment with renewed curiosity. What secret lives had they lived before moving into my home? Have you ever picked up a mug at a yard sale and wondered where it came from? Did it make the long journey from Taiwan, did it ride the conveyor belt in a factory in Wisconsin or did a potter shape it in a studio by the sea? How many people enjoyed their morning coffee in that mug before you brought it home? How did it get chipped? What’s the story behind it?
That summer, I sold most of my belongings and boxed the rest and moved to London. The vintage yellow glasses — I chipped one of them one night when a friend came to visit from Vermont and we opened the whiskey and before I knew it the bottle was empty and she and I were having a dance party in my kitchen — the Poang chair, the mismatched silverware found new homes. The couch was the last thing to go.
I miss my giant green couch. It was good to me at a time when I needed goodness. Set against an aubergine and cream wall, it gave life to my living room. It took care of me in times of sickness and loneliness when all I could do was watch reruns of Grey’s Anatomy. It served as a scratching post for a friend’s cat on numerous occasions. It overheard some of my deepest secrets. I curled up and fell asleep on my love’s lap while he read The Wind in the Willows to me on that couch. I spent mornings lounging on it with friends, in pyjamas, drinking bottomless cups of coffee.
My chapter in this couch’s story may have come to a close, but its story isn’t finished yet. It now sits in my friend’s yoga studio in Montreal’s Old Port. I often wonder how it is doing in these new incense and Om-filled surroundings. I hope it provides comfort and inspiration to new visitors every day. I hope it beckons animated conversations. My old couch is ageing, entering its 60th year, but it still has a good 40 years left and many more chapters to fill and I’m curious to see where it goes next.
They say one man’s junk is another man’s treasure. What distinguishes rubbish from gold depends, partly, on personal taste. But when an object also comes with a great story, it becomes imbued with emotional significance and therein lies the treasure. So don’t be afraid to ask questions next time you hit the yard sales. Invested with meaning, the objects you buy may be worth more than you bargained for.
I’ve written this post in small chunks over the past thirty days, a sentence here and there, in the quiet moments, few and far between. I’ve written it, fingers frozen, on park benches while you slept in the pram; in cafes, surrounded by strangers; on my phone, one-handed, while you nursed; dictated on the fly on the way to the corner store; handwritten in a notebook, with the door to the dishwasher conveniently left wide open — all knives removed — giving you free rein to the cutlery tray in exchange for five uninterrupted minutes.
Hence why this post is disjointed, like a patchwork, with the only thread tying it all together being your cheerfulness, which continues to cast a spell on everyone you meet.
You turned 10 months old on Wednesday, which begs the question, “Am I stuck in some sort of time warp?” Wasn’t it just last week that my waters broke on the way down the stairs and your dad had to run up to the bedroom to get me some fresh pants while the taxi driver waited to rush us to the birthing centre and we got stuck in traffic on a Friday night at the height of a heat wave and I was crouched down in the foot well, 9cm dilated, making feral noises with every contraction and your dad was afraid that I might give birth right there and then?
Whoever said the days are long but the years are short was right.
This month you figured out how to climb the stairs. You had absolutely no interest in them until you saw another little girl climb them. You watched her tackle those stairs like a boss and thought, “Oh! Is that how you do it?” and up you went. I can already see a bit of a competitive streak in you.
You recently started to say cat. Except that you don’t say cat. You say Ca…Ta, with a pause between the Ca and the Ta. I give you ten thousand points for enunciation. The reason you say cat is because your dad has been stubbornly trying to teach you the word even though you have zero frame of reference for it, except for Owlcat, your species-confused stuffed animal (it has the eyes and ears of an owl with the tail of a cat, hence its name). You now call every animal in every book and in every field Ca…Ta. I want to correct you except that, first of all, you’re far too young for grammar lessons and secondly, I see your reasoning: it’s furry, it has four legs, it must be a cat.
Some of your favourite things to do lately include: opening and closing cupboard doors, swimming at the local pool on Saturday mornings with your dad (i.e. hurling yourself off the edge of the pool into the water a foot below), and taking cards out of my wallet. You pull a card out, examine it closely, chuck it on the floor, and then proceed to do the same with every single card. And when you are done, I place all the cards back in the wallet and you start over again. This is a great trick when I want to carry on a conversation with a friend but eventually you get bored and I become one of those moms who can’t actually carry on a conversation. Apologies to all child-free friends, we mothers know that we have crappy listening skills and we feel awful about it.
I’ve started taking you to Stay and Play dates every Friday. As soon as I set you on the floor, you are off like a flash, approaching everything and everyone with complete fearlessness. I’m fairly certain I could step away and you wouldn’t even notice. Someone said the other day that you had a very confident face. I think there’s no better compliment for a mother, especially one who hasn’t had the best track record for high self-esteem. I hope you’ll always remember that you are made of stars, that you are unique, that you can do anything you set your mind to. I hope I’ll be there to remind you every step of the way, while also teaching you a thing or two about humility because there’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance and you don’t want to be the latter. Nobody likes a twat.
What else have you been up to? Teething. You’re getting ready to sprout a massive tooth and you’re not happy about it. And if you’re not happy, nobody is happy. You need extra cuddles to fall and stay asleep and I’m reminded this past week of the early days, when I survived on only a few hours of sleep every night. How in hell did I manage that? I’d give you something for pain relief but Calpol might as well be baby crack for the way you suddenly spring to life like Tigger, in the middle of the night, your batteries charged to one thousand percent. So, cuddles it is for now.
Teething is giving you a whole new face. Your cheeks are pink with fine capillaries on the surface and weathered like your great-grandma Lambert’s and you keep curling your lips back, like you forgot to put your dentures in. We’ve been calling you granny Wren all week.
You’re all about imitating lately. If someone coughs at the table next to us, you cough right back. If your dad toots, you make a tooting sound with your mouth. Your parroting skills are pretty impressive, which means that we might soon have to start rethinking a few of the unsavoury words we use around the house… or at least, start replacing them with French equivalents.
I love the little freckle over your left ear. Has it always been there? And the way your hair is starting to curl at the back and grow over your ears. You look a bit like Darryl from The Walking Dead. Your dad and I think it’s funny so we’re just going to let it grow and see where it goes. We get our kicks where we can.
Here’s a list of things you’ve put in your mouth recently: the oregano that you spilled all over the kitchen floor last Monday (your breath smelled like doobie for the rest of the day), toilet paper, a huge clump of soil, all sorts of leaves, grass, twigs, and shampoo. And here are things you very nearly ingested: a goat turd, metallic star confetti, little balls of Styrofoam and maca powder, which makes me wonder how the human species has survived this long. You generally give yourself away when you suddenly turn quiet. This is not your natural disposition so I always know that something is up when the da da da’ing stops.
What else? Oh! You poo standing up, which make sense, I guess, because… gravity. But it looks really weird. Just this morning, papa was brushing his teeth and you crawled over to him, hoisted yourself up, grabbed on to his pant leg and proceeded to take the biggest dump known to man, locking eyes with him, grunting, red in the face. I swear if you could talk you would have said, “Mind if I just stand here and take a poo? I’ll only be a couple of minutes.” Someday, you’re going to hate me for sharing this on the Internet but I do believe part of my role as a parent is to tease you, just a bit, so that you don’t grow up to take yourself too seriously. It’s good to be able to laugh at yourself.
You now understand how to put things together. You don’t quite have the coordination to stack things gracefully but you know that they are meant to go together and so you use brute force – like, Gladiator force — to get things to do what you want them to do. You can also be uncharacteristically gentle, like the way you took my hand the other morning and then took daddy’s hand and joined them together. It was the sweetest thing.
Vbc vcvds=^çè23as mnq1 W ZÙZA!!AA b muy06. This is a message you typed on the keyboard while I was trying to blog (precisely why I need quiet moments, ahem). You love the laptop, especially when sounds come out of it and if you press the right key, the music stops and then starts again LIKE MAGIC. I can’t see this laptop lasting much longer with you pressing every ounce of your 17-pound frame onto it.
Still, I like your coded message. I like to imagine that if I decipher it, I’ll discover the meaning of life, which I think I caught a glimpse of the other day when you were sitting by the window and the afternoon light hit you just right and you were completely fascinated by a sprig of parsley and I thought that’s it, that’s it right there. That’s what it’s all about. That complete sense of awe and wonder for the simple things. And my how we adults whizz by it all, so fast, so fast. The days are long but the years are short.
Thank you for being my little guru.
Write. Before you drive away and forget it all — the goats with their alien eyes and wizard-like beards, the three shy sheep and two blind pigs, the hens, the ducks in the pond, the rooster named John, which you assume was named after John Wayne for the way he walks legs wide apart, a broad swaggering gait, to stop his spurs from cutting into his shanks.
Write while the sun is still shining, while your croissant with the homemade jam is toasting on the wood stove, while your campfire coffee is still hot, while Wren is busy crawling in the tall grasses.
Write before you romanticise it all. While the idea of goats roaming around your shepherd’s hut is romantic, the reality isn’t so nice when you are desperately trying to get your baby to sleep and it’s nearly 9pm and they are scratching their horns on the underside of the hut and the dog is barking at the sunset and all you want to do is sip your cider under the stars — all I want is to drink a bottle of cider by the fire and eat a freaking sausage off a fork, is that too much to ask? — because you refuse to believe that you can’t simply do things the way you used to before you had a baby.
Write, quickly, while you have a few minutes to spare because time is fleeting.
You foolishly thought you would have so much time — to finish that Virginia Woolf book and write a couple of blog posts and organise all your photos and shoot an entire roll of film and make a few videos for Instagram. Oh! How idealistic. In your magical musings of life in a shepherd’s hut, you hadn’t factored in the child, who clearly had her own agenda. Those two hours at night when you had planned to do all those lovely things? Vanished. Quickly eaten up by a hyperactive and over-tired kid who refused to go to sleep. And when she finally did fall asleep, you followed suit, exhausted from having all three been tucked into a twin bed the previous night, top and tail “sleeping”, plugging any air gaps with the duvet because the fire died down around midnight and the wind kept blowing through the cracks in the window sills.
You both used to love that shit. You still do. At least, you still desperately want to. But your bones aren’t those of a 20-year-old anymore and your hips need a bit more cushioning than they used to and all those small comforts are compromised when you have a little break dancer kicking your face in the night.
You can see, in that moment, how easy it would be to just stay at home all the time rather than packing what feels like the entire contents of your house into one car for a mini-break, which, by the way, is a misnomer when you have kids.
No, you certainly don’t do it because it’s easy or relaxing. You do it for something else now. You do it because if you don’t, you risk becoming lazy. You do it to share new experiences with her. You do it to watch her pet the goat in this weird state of fear and fascination, a quick yank of the ear that surprises both her and the poor goat. You do it so that she will, hopefully, grow up to appreciate nature and be adventurous too. You lead by example. You do it precisely because you are forty, dammit. And because you don’t want to be an old parent (on the inside, at least). And because if you are curious and open enough, she can be your doorway to wonder.
You do it even though there are no guarantees. No matter your best efforts she may still end up wearing the princess dress, begging for a Barbie, frightened of bugs, completely uninterested in mountains and rivers or anything to do with the out-of-doors. But you do it anyways because you believe that if you sow the seeds and fertilize them enough, she’ll make her way back there someday, even if only as an adult with fond memories and a willingness to do the same for her own children. You do it because if you wrap her in a fleece blanket and head into the sunset, the pink, the orange and the purple will swirl and dance around in her head and when she is older, watching the sun go down, wherever she is in the world, she’ll get a warm feeling inside and she won’t be able to pinpoint what it is but it will be love. And you keep doing this. You keep leading the way until she’s ready to forge her own path.
And the same goes for you. You’ll learn to pack less and MacGyver more — nothing like your period starting unexpectedly on a long walk in the middle of nowhere to transform a nappy into an emergency pad. You’ll learn that you can’t be rigid on holiday, you have to show a modicum of flexibility. And it’s not the end of the world if she eats cheese toasties made with cheap white bread or if she goes to bed hours after her bedtime. Sometimes you need to relinquish control. It gets easier each time you set off on a new adventure and harder the less you do it, like most things in life.
And in the end, it’s worth it just to catch a glimpse of the look on her face when she sees all the animals from her bedtime stories come to life. She now has a whole new set of experiences under her belt: she watched her dad build a fire, ate dinner with a massive pig grunting at her feet, heard ocean waves for the very first time, felt the salty air on her skin, tasted citrusy sorrel hearts, sat in a patch of bluebells, saw tadpoles swimming in a puddle, devoured her first pudding — Apple Charlotte — patted a dog named Red, heard cows moo, walked Cheddar Gorge. All those things in life that we take for granted are things that turn her eyes to the size of two-pound coins, inciting squeals of delight. Everything is SO AMAZING when you are nine months old.
We are heading home today a bit more tired than when we first arrived. But it’s the good kind of tired. It’s the kind of tired that comes from full days spent outside, camping, slow living — long walks, drowsy mornings, cold cheeks, warm hearts, little sleep, lots of tea. The smell of campfire still clings to our sweaters and our heads are filled with just enough romantic notions to plan the next mini-break.
You guys, I am writing this blog post in the worst possible conditions. The woman sat next to me is doused in perfume — I think maybe she was suspended over one of those dunk tanks at the fun fair except that the tank was filled with Exclamation! and the ball hit its target one too many times — and she’s tapping away on her Mac with her fake fingernails like a bloody triceratops. These are two of my least favourite things, things that make me want to hulk out.
Now, before you start to unfriend me on Facebook, let it be known that I don’t hate perfume. I hate bad perfume* and too much of it — less is definitely more in the world of fragrances. I’m always amazed at how people can walk around in a corrosive, eye-burning cumulus cloud of perfume, completely unaware that folk are dropping like flies all around them.
*Side note: cheap perfume reminds me of my days as a flea market sales assistant, when I was 16 and worked for a dirty old man who had a little stall in a massive warehouse and I had to get up at the butt crack of dawn every Saturday to make a few bucks. He sold generic Shalimar (the smell of Shalimar, to this day, makes me vomit in my mouth) and cheap plastic toys that made all sorts of annoying sounds and porn on VHS, which meant that I technically sold porn but I directed customers to him for payment so that made it okay (imagine the days when you had to rewind or fast forward porn to the good bits?… who has that kind of time?). The grilled cheese sandwiches at the canteen were good though and the hot chocolate kept my fingers warm. I make it sound more glamorous than it was. But that’s a story for another time.
Anyways… in case you hadn’t noticed, I’m one of those hypersensitive people. Sensitive to noise, sensitive to smells, sensitive to too much of anything. It’s very uncool, I know. However, I read somewhere that hypersensitive creatures are often highly creative so maybe it’s ok. I’ve always known this about myself but it became even more apparent when my sister, who is also averse to certain noises, visited us last week. The number of times our husbands exchanged knowing looks, shaking theirs heads as if to say “I feel your pain, bro”.
The truth is, I hate being so easily irritated by sounds. The noise is amplified in my brain to such a level that I can’t ignore it. “Sorry, you were saying?”, spoons clinking. “Yes, the situation in Syria is heartbreaking.” Who the fuck keeps banging their spoon? Is there a one-man band in here?
So, to make light of it – don’t they say you should put an arachnophobe in a room full of spiders? – a cathartic post about sounds that annoy me. I loathe the following noises with the single-minded devotion that Trump haters hate on Trump (with bloody good reason). You’ll notice a trend here: masticating, or any mouth noises in general, sets my hair on fire.
- Hearing people’s music through their headphones. You’d think I’d prefer to hear Kanye West somewhat muted and muffled through a big set of cans but the truth is, I don’t want to hear Kanye at all. I would not like to hear him here or there. I would not like to hear him anywhere.
- The crunch of crisps (chips in America). I don’t care if it’s Lay’s or Doritos or if they’re hand cooked in organic olive oil. They all sound the same to me. Crunch, crunch, crunch. And no, eating one crisp at a time doesn’t make the pain go away. You are only irritating me for longer. I’m not saying that all crisps should be banned. I’m just saying they should come with a warning label: eat at your own risk around people with misophonia.
- Chewing anything while talking on the phone. You might as well pull out a megaphone then hit me over the head with a hammer for good measure.
- When someone is talking and they obviously need to clear their throat and all their words reach my ears through a layer of phlegm like static on the radio. And don’t even get me started on loogie hocking.
- My husband’s Star Wars ring tones – Chewbacca for text messages, Darth Vader for incoming phone calls, R2-D2 for new emails. It’s like we’re living on the fucking Death Star over here. (I love you, baby)
- People who talk during movies at the cinema are probably the same people who fart on airplanes**. No respect. Hell hath no fury.
- When Wren has a spectacularly shit day and whines incessantly. I love my child more than anything else on this planet but her all-day-whining is the aural equivalent of a mosquito buzzing in my ear.
- Noisy next-door neighbours. Last year we lived in a first floor flat, which is like being the cheese in a noise sandwich. That doesn’t even make sense. But you get the idea. Downstairs lived three children who clearly had lead feet and jumped, every single morning at 7am without fail, from one end of the house to the other (back and forth, and back and forth). And upstairs lived a couple who wore their shoes (clogs, I’m convinced) at all hours of the day. And I’ll never forget the neighbour who blasted Unbreak my Heart by Toni Braxton 32 times in a row one Sunday morning in 1997. She’s now buried in the back yard of that apartment complex.
- Really piercing laughs. I love laughing. I believe laughing is God’s gift to mortals. But the kind of laugh that makes you jump out your seat, a machine-gun burst, an explosive howl that leaves your ears ringing? Not my super favourite thing.
- Spoons clanking against bowls, forks scraping on plates.
- Loud electronica – the kind of music that escalates until it hits the highest frequency on the sound spectrum – when I’m eating. Eating is not a sport. I don’t need to get pumped up to eat, nor do I want to.
- Open-mouthed gum chewing. Are you a camel? No. So why are you chewing your gum in a figure-8 pattern?
- Slurping. Makes me want to yank my cochlea out with a fork, like a mussel from its shell.
- Loud motorcycle mufflers… that wake my kid up from her nap. RAGE.
- People talking loudly on their mobile phones on public transport. I don’t need to hear your halfalogue. “Ok, but like, what did she even mean? No, but like, did you tell her what I said because it’s, like, super important? Can you hear me? Can you hear me now? OMG! Shut up! She did not say that?” If I wanted to listen to a bunch of dim-witted valley girls, I’d watch Gossip Girls.
If I sound annoyed it’s because I am. I’m so sorry you guys. This woman’s loud tapping is making me feel the opposite of zen. My coffee tastes of her perfume. I literally want to high-five her in the face. I was aiming for funny but I think maybe I’ve only given you the urge to punch something. So to soften the blow, here are some sounds that I love, sounds that make my ears feel like they are being wrapped in a big bear hug.
Thunderstorms, spring peepers, crickets, cicadas, red-winged black birds (all of these remind me of Canada on a hot summer’s day), steel drums, ocean waves, crackling fires, the styrofoam-like crunch of snow underfoot, church bells, coffee brewing in the morning, toast popping, Joe’s heartbeat, rain drops on my bedroom window (especially in the middle of the night when I’m cozy under the duvet and there are many hours to go before dawn), seagulls, foghorns, whale songs, the scratch of old vinyl, the sing-song of a Jamaican accent, overhearing kids talking (just now on the tube: “nobody wants to hear your diarrhea songs, Jesse”), Morgan Freeman’s voice, symphony orchestras, the warbling song of the wren, leaves rustling in the wind, train whistles, the shutter on my Pentax K1000, synthesizers, lawn mowers strangely (reminds me of being a kid), Tibetan chanting, silence (does silence have a sound?), brass bands, the sound of om at the end of a really good yoga session, music, music, and music. And Wren’s giggle, which is just about the most heart-warming sound I have ever heard. I’ll never need earplugs for that… unless it turns into one of those annoying explosive laughs.
**Full disclosure: I’ve totally farted on an airplane, maybe even more than once. I didn’t mean to, you guys. Cabin pressure is a bitch.