Get Me Out of Here!

Notes from Sunday 29 March:

I’ve been away from the internet since 7am this morning; the last time I scrolled through my notifications, checked over the control panel of my blog. I’ve been in class, learning in real time. My hands haven’t touched my keyboard. I’ve been making notes in my notebook, like, with a PEN. It feels, frankly, weird.

Being in a learning environment with all those other souls feels different, too. In a strange but familiar way.  I’m in the first retreat block of the Leadership Programme I am part of. It’s day one, two more to go. I quickly get a bit peopled out, but I console myself with the idea that soon, I’ll have some one on one time with my laptop.
Being off the internet feels weird.

So when I get to my room, (Yes!  Sudima Hotel has free wifi!), I instantly seek out my old friend. There’s a sigh of contentment as I lift my laptop over onto my lap.  Hello sweetheart.  Let’s go exploring…

Except a pop-up window keeps telling me that my usual pages are all, ‘untrusted connections’. It won’t let me validate the security certificates.  Just one option is available on my screen. ‘Get Me Out Of Here’.

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But I don’t want to get out of here! I’ve been getting twitchy withdrawal feelings from my internet; my friend.  I miss it. I miss what it shows me, where it takes me, who it connects me with. I keep trying, like a drug seeker after that familiar hit. I’m no quitter.

Then my roomie starts conversing with me. And the conversation captures me!  Before I know it, my laptop is sliding sideways onto the bed. I’m listening. We’re talking, laughing, covering the deep stuff.  Travelling the world and traversing through time.  Connecting like old friends.  That feels nicely weird, too; we are talking about things it would usually take established friends some time to reach!   I close the lid and turn to laugh at something she just said.  We giggle and adjust our volume so we don’t wake up the people in the neighbouring room.

Connecting with real people in real time is exhausting for me. I like respite.  Alone time. It helps me to recharge when I have some solitary time.  So I am surprised that I have spent an entire day, deeply immersed in the learning.  Engaging with all the individual souls in my programme.  Talking, listening, talking, talking… and then come to my room and talk some more. We talk until midnight gives us pause.  My brain is whirring somewhere high above my sleepy self.

A little thought skips through my mind as I close my eyes. How interesting that my ‘untrusted connection’ warning on the internet has left me open to a real and trusting connection in real life.  Kismet. Coincidence.  Connection in a dis-connected, digitally connected world.  I like it when life gives me gifts like that conversation.  To be present is the present.

Goodnight.
And internet? I’ll see you when I get out of here, my old friend. Til then I’ll be immersed in some other kinds of connection …and you won’t miss me at all!

Life Lessons from Lulu

It’s been a week since Lulu came into our family.  She is a horse.  She is the horse I said we would never own, the horse that was way out of our budget, the horse that was a dream only and very unlikely to ever come true.  Until the phone call came saying that she existed, she was available.  Our daughter’s riding coach, Alex urged us to just do it.

But I’m not well enough to help!   I thought.
“She’s a beautiful pony with an excellent background”, said Alex. “She’d be great for Bee”.  I figure when an experienced horsewoman tells you that, it is good to listen.

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We agonised for half a day.  Thinking about our budget, our girl, how hard she has been working towards her goals as a rider.  How hard she has been working in general.  When finally, the budget was worked out and a decision was made, I called Alex.  “YES!” I squealed, barely understanding the magnitude of that one small word.   She called back with what I felt sure would be confirmation that Lulu was ours.  But the news was far more devastating.

“She was sold half an hour before we called them back”, Alex groaned.  The bottom dropped out of the cloud of happiness I was perched on. I decided it mustn’t be the right thing.  Decided the timing must be wrong.  Decided it was a sign we should have said, no.  Who are we, anyway, to even think we could be part of the horsey world?  Our daughter, maybe, but us?  We’re clueless!  My insecurities herded all my hopes back up into a tight little knot and locked them away again.

Two weeks later, Alex texted.
“Lulu might still be ours, I’ll keep you posted”.  And then, all of a sudden, she was.  Her new owner sold her to us.  Alex had called and made a case; the new owners must have had a soft spot, because they agreed to let us have her. She was ours. The money changed hands.  The pony was on her way. The plans for the big surprise were underway.  Somewhere deep inside of me, my own little girl heart swelled up with joy.  Lulu was already wound tightly with my heartstrings.  My buried hopes began to creep out of their hiding place.

When my daughter met her pony for the first time, she was rendered speechless.  Not a sound came out.  She walked over to her, took hold of the lead rope and gazed up into that beautiful pony’s big brown eyes.  She didn’t even ask her name, just stood in quiet awe, looking at that big grey girl.  Her own horse. When she had gathered herself.  She croaked out ‘thank you’s, to Alex and to us.  It would be half an hour before she could tear herself away and wrap her arms around us.  Snuggled into her Dad’s chest, all she could breathe was “I have my own PONY”.  We let our tears gather across her warm blonde head.  Her dreams, our dreams; so closely entwined.

Photographed by Beverley Couper

Lulu is cared for by Alex at her stables.  Bee heads out there three times a week to exercise, wash, groom and feed her.  I was so worried that my illness would make supporting Bee with her pony, impossible. But it isn’t. It’s just like anything else.  I have to pace, I have to prepare. And then, when we are there together, I have to push through. But the payback from that beautiful pony!  It’s worth every effort.  She is the relief of joy when it all seems too bleak.  She is a velvety muzzle and a kind eye. A warm reassuring flank.  A wise girl, teaching my girl, and I, lessons we will never forget.   She brings much more than she takes. We did the right thing. Here is what she taught me today, our first day out with her on our own.

Hold On
Lulu is a big pony. I am a big girl, and my girl Bee is all wiry muscle.  But the strength of one horse outflanks both of us easily.  In her paddock, Lulu was accompanied by four really big sporthorses. Tall, elegant horses with lots of muscle.  After Bee slipped the lead rope through the ring on Lulu’s collar, they came galloping up towards us in a show of frightening intimidation. They all converged on the gate, and Lulu, at once.  The horses began to circle and agitate, Lulu was feeling spooked as they pushed her into the corner.  My mother-vision saw trouble (you know, that fast forward reel of all the things that could go wrong? Those horrifying action shots all mothers watch in their mind’s eye?) ….  Bee let the lead rope out, but held it firm, taking quietly to Lulu.  The horses thought better of staying, turned and took off again.  Lulu remained. If Bee hadn’t held on, she’d have been running the length of that paddock playing chasey.  Hold on.  That’s what I learned from Lulu in that moment.  It might seem like the circumstances are stacked against you. It might seem like nothing is going to turn out right. Like the scary dangers, way bigger than your knowledge of things, might all come to fruition.  But hold on.  Hold on to your hopes for wellness, hold on to your hope for treatment, for answers, for more medical research.  Then, when the scary stuff abates, you’ll be hitched to your dream and ready to ride.

Photographed by Beverley Couper

Look where you want to go.
We were bringing Lulu up from a lush grassy paddock where she had been holidaying with her horse buddy Spiderwings.  She didn’t want to leave all that delicious grass behind, certainly not without any of the others.  I guess if I was a horse, I would have preferred to stay there with my buddy, too!  Leading a reluctant horse along a country path is impossible if her will is stronger than yours.  Bee and I, together, struggled to take her along the path. She turned five times, pushing us away so she could head back. Eventually, Bee took hold of her lead rope with steely determination. “This. Way.” she said firmly to Lulu.  Then she lifted her gaze to where  she wanted to take her, and began to lead. Lulu followed, just like that.  Whenever Bee’s gaze wandered, Lulu would try to go back. But when she kept her eyes on her destination, Lulu let her lead.  So it got me thinking.  I know my purpose, but I can’t fulfil my purpose if I don’t have my eye on my destination. Thanks Lulu, for showing me something about how to move forward.  I’ve been floundering a bit lately, wondering if I truly do have something useful to say here on my blog. I think I do.  But I’ve been looking down, sinking in my doubts.  The only way forward is that I must lead myself, eyes up, one step in front of another, heading to where I want to be.

Photographed by Beverley Couper

Work Hard
There is much that goes into a short horse ride. There’s retrieving the horse from the paddock. Easy peasy, (huh)! There’s actually getting her from there to the stables.  Then there is tacking up.  My nine year old heaved the saddle across to the arena fence with a grin on her face.  Saddle blanket, saddle, girth strap, stirrups, bridle, reins. Check, check again. Finally, satisfied that it was all on correctly, Bee climbed up onto the mounting block and swung her leg over Lulu.  They exercised in the dusty arena, in full sun, for an hour. I watched them with wonder from the cool comfort of the car. They are new to each other, but there is something good happening between them. There is trust.  Security.  They’re taking it slow, feeling each other out.  Getting it right. Bee holds herself with greater poise, she leans in more often to murmur lovely things to her girl, Lulu. Then, when it is all over and most kids would collapse into a chair and gulp down some water, asking for food; Bee takes Lulu to the wash bay.  Can you imagine what a big job it is for a kid to wash a pony?  She does it. I ask if she wants a hand, “No mum.  I’ll do it”.  After washing, there is spongeing, taking off the excess water, making up the feed, feeding, packing up, putting the summer blanket back on, and leading back to the paddock. She eventually climbs back into the car.  She’s tired.  But her face is glowing.  I ask her how she feels, “Satisfied,” she says, “I’ve seen my girl, I’ve had a ride, she’s all tucked up.  It’s feels good”.  And I see it.  Hard work feels good.  I think about how the type of work I do has changed.  I work at words now. I smile at the thought of how satisfying that is.  Lulu, you remind me.
If I want to feel better, I need to work hard, in whatever ways I can.

Connect
Over the years, I’ve met lots of horses.  Since Bee first dragged me into the world of pony obsession, we’ve watched her infatuation with many, and I have harboured a few pony-love-flames of my own. I’ve spent time snuggling with all manner of horse personalities.  Nick, Star, Jonte, Candy, Dougall, Scooter, Mellow, EightBall, Billie, Pretty, Brio, Ace, Beau and now, Lulu. Each one of them has given me gifts when I connect with them. Solace, empathy, compassion, peace, inspiration, kindness, warmth, love.  Horses are so generous with the clueless parents of their riders.  I have been greeted with such grace and always I come away with wonder. Today, as I quietly freaked out at wilful Lulu on the country path, it occurred to me that I hadn’t even said hello to her before we wrenched her from her buddies to follow us. I hadn’t taken the time to connect.  Bee had, though. And it was Bee she followed.  Half my size and twice as compelling. I took this lesson from that moment: Take the time to connect with the people (and animals!) in your world.  You will be surprised by the gifts their presence will bring, and the things you may learn from them in the connecting.

Photographed by Beverley Couper

What a day.  What beautiful lessons to be learned.
Thanks Lulu, thanks Bee for letting me learn from your pony.

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Have you been feeling overwhelmed and afraid about the circumstances you face?
Hold on.
Have you been feeling like you will never make it to where you want to be?
Look in the direction you are going.  And lead.
Have you been floundering about how to achieve your dreams?
Work hard.
Have you been missing the beauty life holds, right there, just out of reach?
Connect.

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All the photographs in this piece, except for the first, were taken by our friend Be Couper.  You can find her work, on a range of subjects, here.

Something Always Sings

 

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This: words we thought were lost.

 

Of late, there’s been a good deal of Spring Cleaning going on around here.  We’re finishing off a little reno, so tidying all that up has spurned some sorting.   Yesterday I sat in a chair in the sun (quiet duties for me, so soon after getting out of hospital) while my hubster photographed things for an auction site. We’re culling. It feels good.
It’s our first real clear out since we moved here six years ago.  It’s good to let go.  Even better to find treasures you didn’t know were even there.

In the garage, he found a box.
“Honey, can you check out this box?  It needs to be sorted; is it a keeper?”.
The box is lurid seventies green.  I remember Mum kept her sewing patterns in boxes like that.  Surely they’re not still in there?  When I open the box, I see that it is only about a quarter full.  No patterns.  I see the kodak imprint on the back of some snapshots, a packet of lace coasters, a journal, a folio clad with swirls of purple, orange and green vinyl. It seems familiar, yet not my own.  Where have I seen that stuff before?

I reach for the photos first.  Pictures of me that my Mum used to have. I see myself at various ages.  It’s confronting, seeing that vital girl.  The sophisticated graduate. And comparing those selves to the sick me I now am.  I put the photos down.

My school reports.  A smattering of them from across the years.  “Rachel is an excellent student with a mature attitude to learning” (aged 8) alongside “Rachel is easily distracted and would do well to focus on the matter at hand. Aim higher” (aged 15).

This must be a box of things Dad gave me after Mum passed away.  Things my Mum left.  I remember vaguely, putting the box he gave me out of sight.  It was too hard, back then.

The kids and I laugh at my school report that shows a string of As and one D. 
“What does Grade: D Effort: 3, mean, Mum?”

“Experiencing Difficulties and Attitude needs Improvement”
“Mu-uum!  What was that for?”
“Physical Education”
My daughter looks at me with a grin on her face.  Her own frustrations on the sports field suddenly making sense, “Oh!”

The box contained some of the cards I had made Mum over time.  Even a letter I sent her from Germany when I was working there as an Au Pair. I didn’t know she had kept these things.

The journal was her own. A journey through her life during the times she lived in Hong Kong, Guangzhou and Beijing.  Then some sad entries about the time back in New Zealand before it all picked up for them again.  I looked at the loops of her handwriting, so similar to my own. I tried to hear her voice talking the words. I could only see her eyes, crinkling up into a smile. I was holding another fragment of her life, like her cup, both so absurdly present even though she can’t be. And yet, there she is, a breath away.  Her perfume in the air and her remembrances in my hands.

I reach for that folio.

Long after my Grandma passed away, Mum would speak of a folio, a special folder that carried the things my Grandma held dear.  Snippets from newspapers, poems and scriptures.  Little things she found or noticed that spoke to her.  My Grandma was a soulful person who carried a deep faith.  My Mum shared the same faith and often spoke sadly about the missing binder that held so many of the writings that inspired her own Mother.  After Grandma passed, my Mum thought her sister had the folder.  She urged me to find it. After her sister passed too, I did ask after it. But her daughter hadn’t seen it anywhere.  It was a mystery.  It seemed to be lost, like that whole generation of girls.

Until yesterday, when it was found, in our own garage, tucked away in a green box.

I wish I could give it to Mum.  She must have had it all along and not realised she did.  I wish I could travel back through time and show her.  I think of my sister and my cousins, I must tell them it is here.

I turned the pages carefully. Looking at the things that helped my Grandma through her most difficult days.  I could see a familiar interest in finding the words to carry you.  I do the same in my search for quotes and excerpts that say important things; in striving to find my own words.  This deep connection with words must be part of my Grandma’s legacy.

I thought again, about handwriting.  About the words we make, the words we keep.  The way my Grandma, my Mum and I stored words for inspiration.  Used words to make sense of life.  Wrote words to excise the pain.  I thought about how Grandma’s collected words could still speak to me, long after she is gone.  Even though I never really knew her.  It made me feel better about my own.  My own legacy.  Maybe my Grand-daughter will read these words one day and understand that I love her, even though I haven’t met her yet. That she is me, carried forward, just as I am the women before me, carrying on.

 

...on the first page of Grandma's folio.   In her own handwriting, these words that reached across two generations.  Thanks Grandma. X
…on the first page of Grandma’s folio. In her own handwriting; these words that reached across three generations. Thanks Grandma. X

Hand Writing

I’m aimlessly flicking through internet pages.  Feeling disatisfied.  I don’t even know what I am looking for, but I know there is something I need.  What is it?

My eye drops down my screen to my keyboard.

Ah.  That’s it.

I want to write.  Like an itch that wants a scratch.  Writing scratches the itch, but have I lost something in the switch to typing?  Is it the same for the reader?  Things written by hand make you feel so much closer to the writer, don’t you think?

It has always helped me, to write, whichever way I achieve it.  I used to keep journals.  One of which I considered, at 16,  to hold such sensitive material that I triple bagged it and buried it in the garden at my friend Anna’s house.  It didn’t. In retrospect.  It makes me smile that I was so anxious not to have documentary evidence… but still couldn’t destroy it! I have almost all of the rest of them. I even have a journal that I wrote to when mum passed away.  I couldn’t bear that she couldn’t hear me anymore, so I wrote words to her, just in case she might be able to read them from wherever she had evaporated to.

It worked for a while.  And then one day I just knew she wasn’t reading.  I stopped writing to her.
Well, not quite. “When I half turn to go, yet turning, stay…” (Christina Rosetti).
I still write in that book once a year.  On the anniversary of her leaving.  I take it to the place where her plaque is; pull weeds, leave flowers, write words and think about how preposterous it is that I have managed another year without her. The words are usually smudged by the time I am finished telling her what has happened in my year, but they’re out.  Sent on their way to find her, if they can.

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I don’t keep journals anymore.  I blog.  Which has a bit more direction, a purpose beyond the navel gazing emotional torrents of my adolescent angst.  It keeps me distracted from the ills of being ill; for the most part.  Which is interesting because I am generally blogging about being ill! I really love having a place to write, and people who read it.  It does my heart good.

But I wonder, will we leave behind any non-digital documents for future generations to find?  A sad thought whispers across my mind. Probably not.  How will our children find files of our writing if they don’t know where they are stored? If the passwords are gone with the time since they were used?  If the technology is obsolete? What will they extrapolate of our personalities from the fonts we chose?  Will they see us through the mass produced glyphs on the page?

Writing (and a love of beautiful penmanship) must be hereditary.  We’ve been sorting things out in a bit of a Spring thing around here.  The hubster hired a skip to dispose of the construction rubbish and then we thought we should do a cull.  Nothing like some time pressure to make you ruthless!  Getting rid of things is only possible for me if I get to hang on to some things too.  Happily, I found just the sort sentimental bits and pieces that rose above the rubble into ‘keeper’ land.  My grandmother’s school essay folio was there.  Some of my Mum’s old exercise books.  Those journals of mine.

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I rarely write by hand anymore.  Typing is almost a direct conduit from my brain, so it is easier.  But I have recently joined a ‘Snail Mail’ collective.  Like a group of pen pals who send each other real letters!  Astonishing.  So I’ve been actually hand writing a bit more lately.  Seeing the handwriting of my Grandmother and mother again, makes me think about the importance of writing by hand.  About the personality contained in unique letter formation. It’s an art.  Individual and special.

When did you last write a letter or a journal entry?   Do you think handwriting matters? Do you write like your mother or grandmother?  Do you keep cards and written mementoes?  Am I a sentimental old fool?

Kissing Frogs

 

my prince by Anita Jeram for TWO BAD MICE
Art by Anita Jeram for Two Bad Mice

 

I remember when I was younger, my Mum would tell me what sort of man I should choose to be my husband one day.  Some of her advice was outstanding. I didn’t listen to it.

“Choose someone who is good with their hands.  A practical man,” she said.
“Don’t marry for money; but don’t love where there is none”.
“Make sure your choice is a man of God”.
I ignored them all, but the last one in particular. I recognised that a man of God wouldn’t choose a girl like me.  I was well away from the church by then, and even if one of those hapless chaps had wanted me, choosing someone from the church felt like choosing to straightjacket myself for time immemorial.  And anyway,  some of the most “Christ-like” people I have ever met don’t have a religious affiliation, but they are warm, giving, loving people.  So I amended that bit of advice to: “Make sure your choice is a good man”.  All three requirements made for a tall order.  Speaking of which, I had also decided that my Mr Right had to be tall, like me. It was my only physical criteria.  It is really hard to find a good man who is practical with his hands and sensible with money, a good person and tall to boot!  Especially when that isn’t what you are really looking for.  See, what I was attracted to was rebellion, passion, poetry and emotional connection.  I wanted excitement and intellectual conversations.  I wanted challenge and heated arguments.  I wanted crazy good sex.  Lots of it.

But it took me a long time to realise the kind of person I actually should spend my life with.  It was a lot more like my Mum’s set of criteria. By the time I was 27, I had been divorced and back on the dating scene for four years.  I was afraid I would never find someone. But I was a proactive searcher! I went along with one of my friends to a desperate and dateless ball.  It was Valentine’s Day.  And as I gathered my nerves and walked in I recognised I was definitely desperate… to be anywhere else!  My heart sank.  I made a beeline for the bar.  The only man among the crowd that even tickled my attention was talking animatedly to a Morticia lookalike.  I thought ‘if that’s his taste in women, he won’t look twice at me in my LBD and french chignon’.  And proceeded to drown my sorrows.

After about five plastic cups of chateau cardboard, I returned to the bar for my sixth. And there he was, Morticia’s mate.  He smiled.  I sidled up to him and said hello.  He spoke back in the most delicious English accent;  “Where did you disappear to? I saw you at the start of the night but couldn’t find you again!” He followed me out to the steps and we sat there until the wee small hours, talking. Even when the couples were emerging from the hall like it was the ark, in two by twos; we were still talking.  We watched them stagger out and off into the night.  He told me about his ex, he learned about my History of Men.  We were both divorced.  Both of our exes had cheated on us.  We talked until even the organisers had filed out of the hall. And carried on talking all the way to another nightspot.  Then, when it looked like time to go, he called me a cab. I had hoped he was going to make other suggestions (!) and so, when he called me a cab, I felt sad. I wondered if he hadn’t felt the connection I had felt.  I was a bit taken back by the gentlemanly approach.  He told me he would call me the next day.  Yeah right, I thought. I didn’t believe him.

But he did.  He rang!  We went out for dinner together the very next night.  Our eyes locked, we talked about books we loved, we covered the contents of the whole universe! We talked about love and loss and the language of trust. We laughed and ate great food and somewhere in that memory of that night is a moment.  He is looking into my eyes and I am knowing.  Knowing that he belongs with me. He felt that moment too.  We return to that moment whenever we are alone together.  It was the beginning of something important. Even now, we sometimes talk about how easy it would have been to miss each other.  To be living in Auckland at the same time, but never crossing paths.  I am grateful for the desperate and dateless ball.  For the cheap wine.  For Morticia (who turned out to be his flatmate). For the aligning of stars and the convergence of fates. And I’m glad that I didn’t give up searching.

But I wasn’t the smartest girl when it comes to love. I second guessed myself, as any serial dater would: was he right for me?

After we had been going out for some time, an ex boyfriend of mine came back to Auckland.  This guy told me that he was certain we were supposed to be together.  It threw me into a tailspin.  I told my man about what was happening and how I didn’t know what to do.  Had I taken the correct path?  Was I on track for happiness, or poised for disaster?  He nodded his wise head and suggested that we should break up. I should take my time and go and work it out.  So, that is what I did.  My Mum was horrified.  “He won’t wait for you to work it out Rachel” she said, “You’ve lost a good man there”.  During the whole time that I was figuring things out, that good man would invite me out for coffee.  We’d talk. A ten am coffee date would turn into pre-dinner drinks.  But he never pushed beyond friendship. We just talked. As the months stretched out I began to wonder…

He was always kind, always available to me. He talked to me with respect and felt comfortable talking about his feelings. He was sensible, cautious, careful.  He was reserved, but when he laughed it boomed out of his six foot four frame and shook the ground.  His natural tendencies were the opposite of mine.  Where I was spontaneous, he was a planner, when I was loud, he was quiet.  Where money ran through my fingers like sand, he was fiscally responsible.  And his values were solid. He prized trust above all things.  He spoke my language.

The other guy, my ex, was exciting.  A bit reckless even.  He had a capacity for needing me that made me feel important, even essential, to his life.  He wrote poetry and could turn a phrase into a thing of beauty.  He was deep. World-minded. Political. Complex.  But somehow, I couldn’t rest with it.   It occurred to me that I had spent so much time falling in and out of love with men I was attracted to;  and I was attracted to the wrong sort.  I had to make a decision with my head, not my heart.

And that’s what I did.  I chose the hubster.  With all of my head. And you know what?  The heart followed swift behind.  This time I knew without reserve that I had made the right choice. I was so fortunate that he was prepared to wait for me, to give me the respect and freedom of time to choose.  He was a good choice for me for all the right reasons, and none of the old reasons.  He was the start of something entirely new for me.  A relationship on equal terms, spoken in the same language of trust, built on a solid foundation. A healthy relationship.

My Mum was happy too.  

I’m glad to know that she approved.  I’m glad I made that decision when she was still with us.
She was right you know.  It’s a good thing to be married to a man who is good with his hands, responsible with money and who carries good values.  I have been so cared for, so nurtured by his magnanimous heart.  I know I made the right choice.  By then, I had kissed more than enough frogs in my quest for my handsome prince.  And I found him, there on the steps of Hopetoun Alpha. My prince. My happily ever after.

I’d love to know your love story.  Even if your story is about finding a love you haven’t met yet.
I am a sucker for love stories and I love finding out what brought two people together.
How did you meet your main squeeze?
How do you hope to meet them?
How did you know?
What was the clincher for you?

Let’s talk about love.

And honey?  Here’s to you:

My Girl

The first moment she looked in my eyes my breath caught. I knew it in that moment of stark gravity. She was extraordinary.  Her newborn soul seemed so much bigger than mine and I admit, I was intimidated.  I looked back into her gaze and felt overwhelmed.  How could I do a good enough job for her?  How could I presume to be her mother?  I’d been talking to a growing baby girl in my tummy for nine months, but this baby wasn’t her.  She had been like a little animated doll in my mind, a sweet, quiet thing who jiggled to the music during school assemblies.  My class would look across and watch my tummy jumping, I would pat it and smile.  Settle, little one.  I felt like I knew her as she grew inside me.  And then she was born.  I don’t really know how to explain how enormous the reality of her unique self was to me.  She wasn’t the baby I’d been talking to, the longed for baby of my imagination.  She was entirely herself. Complete and shockingly present. She seemed to be prematurely wise, appraising her new mum.  Staring me down.  It wasn’t exactly as I imagined it would be.  I was terribly afraid.  I whispered her name, she opened her mouth
and wailed.

For the first six months of her life, Bee screamed.  My nappy bag was always packed full of anxious mummy remedies for every possible difficulty we might encounter.  But none of them stopped the crying.  She wanted to be upright, but she didn’t want to be held.  Her back would arch away from me and her mouth open in a pained, sustained scream. The only way we could comfort her was to perch her against one of us in a body sling and rock, rock, rock. Pat, pat, pat. Eventually, when we had exhausted all the possible parenting strategies and failed, we took her to a paediatrician and discovered she had something called silent reflux. I wish we had gone sooner.  Soothed by baby gaviscon, Bee began to sleep.  And so did we.  Our angry banshee became her true, sweet self.  And there she was, that baby I had imagined, a sweet, quiet wee girl. We set up a routine and everything started to calm down.  We exhaled. We began to get to know her. She began to smile.

Little Bee showed us very early that she loved animals.  She adopted snails and worms and repatriated them to new garden homes, resplendent with flower petal decorations and twiggy installations.  Ebony cat was her most loved baby. She loved the sandpit, hated loud noises.  She ate anything we ever offered, but particularly loved the methodical joy of eating blueberries or peas, one by one, tweezered from her high chair tray between thumb and finger, each one popped into her mouth with perfect precision.  Eyes wide as they burst between her teeny pearly teeth.  She was an observer.  A cautious participant.  Quiet and solemn and curious. She loved story time with her Granny and sat, warm in her lap, reaching for the next book in the basket, “More?”  The answer was always yes.  She craved the small fluffy bunnies of the petting zoos and crooned to the white rhinos and the wild cats of the big zoo.  She met her first pony at a farm festival when she was four.  From that moment, she was smitten.

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Little Bee’s best friend was a sweet little fella called Ced. They made block towers, took naps and played dough together.  Went to the same creche, baby gym and preschool.  They held hands and pushed each other around in the pedal car, shared raisins between hot little hands.  We had season passes for the Zoo and that is where we often went, walking around and stopping for neatly arranged finger foods snacks (the first-time-mother-factor!) and brightly coloured drink bottles.  Here they are, having a side by side nap when we were on holidays together in Fiji.  Aw.

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I look at my Bee now, lying on her tummy in front of the fire.  She was always off the scale on the baby height charts and she still towers over most of her friends at the age of nine. Her long frame stretches across the carpet.  These days she’s all growing pains and making gains.  She organises herself and takes pride in being responsible.  She comes out with surprising one liners and spontaneous sweetnesses.  Horse obsessed, she’s taken it upon herself to educate us about every breed and colouring of the equine spectrum. And she rides like she was born for the saddle, flying over jumps that make my heart lurch. Falling onto the neck of Beau with unbridled affection at any opportunity.  Her muscles are strong and supple and her ponytail dances beneath her helmet and down her long back. She takes my breath away, my girl.

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But more than all these wonders about who she is, are the things she does that most girls her age wouldn’t have the heart to do.  Bee is an expert assessor; she gauges my need for a cup of tea like she has a sixth sense.  She offers to bring snacks and feeds the cat.  She does her jobs without ever complaining.  And just yesterday morning, as I hung my head over the toilet bowl and retched, her hand reached in with a hair tie.  “Here, Mum” she murmured “You can keep your hair back with this”.  Her hand, warm against my back.  Her heart reaching in to mine.  Then, a glass of water; my eyes filled.  “Thank you, sweet heart” I whispered to her.  How can I ever show her how much gratitude fills my thoughts?  Not just for all the small ways that she brings me comfort and support, or for the compassion she shows so far beyond her years.  For her willingness to help. But for loving me so unconditionally. All those years ago, she appraised me with those wise eyes, she saw my fear and my insecurities and accepted me as hers, anyway.  She reminds me every day that the best of who I am is invested in a shining beautiful person. A girl who makes me proud to be related to her, proud by association, touched by the wonder of being her Mum.

Love you, my girl.  

If your teenage years should temporarily kidnap your true self, I’ll pay the ransom.
I’ll wrap you up in my arms and even while you protest, I’ll tell you that I love you.
I’ll look you right in your young ancient eyes and remind you: you accepted me.  We made an agreement, you and me, the day you were born.
I’m here, I’m your Mum. And no matter what may come;
no matter where you are, no matter where I am, my heart is with your heart.

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