Connectivity

When I was 20 I went to live in Peru as part of my undergraduate degree. I chose to do this; my friends on my course - few as they were at that point - mainly opted to visit Spain in groups through the Erasmus programme. Sometimes I think that my life would have been a lot easier if I had done the same.

I wanted to revisit Peru. I had lived in Lima until I was four years old and my mother had been raised there, having emigrated there when she was one. She lived there until she was 19. I thought living in Peru would be fun. I thought I would get the chance to travel as well as work and envisioned myself living in a beach side apartment, learning to surf and losing all the weight I had put on at uni. I thought that it might help me to understand my mother more.
Parts were fun. But parts were also really, really hard. I learned things about myself, about other people, that weren’t very nice at all. Initially, I felt alone and depressed a lot of the time.

I was in a great place before I went. My second year of university had been incredible. I lived with or around the corner from my closest friends, I was in love with a sweet boy who loved me back, I had become really interested in my course and started to actually study and so was averaging a First in a lot of my classes (not, crucially, in Spanish however!)
In Peru however I was working as a receptionist in a travel agency. I had got the job because the alcoholic decrepit old man that ran the place used to work with my aunt when she was in her twenties and I’m pretty sure he had had a massive crush on her then. He used to call me into his office, which stank of sweat and whiskey, heave his enormous frame into his chair and ask me questions about her. I never knew what he was talking about and used to just make up the answers.
I spent my days writing a book on my laptop about a group of friends at university which so closely resembled my own it made me ache with homesickness.

A few things happened to help ease this ache however.

I made friends with this incredible, funny, spirited and beautiful girl Mily, who worked at the travel agency. She lived in this beautiful apartment with her mother, Carmen. It was set in rooms around a courtyard and we would sit in the sun and gossip and smoke cigarettes. I’ll never forget the kindness that Carmen showed me and the bond that grew between Mily and I. We became a team of two, occasionally joined by her hip and hilarious neighbour Gonzalo. This friendship saved me in so many ways.

A lot happened to me that year.

I think about my time in Peru often and I wonder how it actually shaped me and whether I would have made the choices I have since if I hadn’t gone. I think about how I would explain this time, one of my darkest times, to my daughter.
I don’t want to hide who I am. I certainly don’t want to hide this from her as I’ve nothing to be ashamed of. I am strong now because I’ve known what it is to be weak and I am kind now because I know what it is to receive kindness. And I think that by acknowledging weakness as being part of normal life she would be more likely to ask for help- something I still struggle with.

So why bring all this up now? Well, I’ve  been thinking a lot about connectivity recently. About how you can connect with somebody for a short space of time and they can leave an imprint on your life, one that maybe you’re not even aware of but that is there all the same. But these encounters can shape and maybe change decisions you make thereon in.  The kindness shown to me by Mily and her mother - may she rest in peace - by my aunt’s friend Ingrid, by my aunt Isa and my cousins in Canada, by countless others during what was a difficult time has not ever left me and I think has affected how I treat people who may look a little lost.

I’ve been thinking about these connections because I spent some time with my brother and his wife and my husband and we all got to talking about how each respective couple met and it was all chance encounters. And now our lives are irrevocably changed. My brother lives in America now and fixes drones! And I, I found myself crying at the rugby. Of course these are not swift fleeting encounters but instead are people living a shared life and growing together.
So it’s not quite the butterfly effect, but more a musing on how I will work to be open and honest and ready with Nives and accepting that she will have hard times and I will (try to) focus on how these experiences  will shape her for the better instead of trying to control them, I suppose.

At the end of the day we are all evolving, all learning, all working together to try and be better for our kin. This sounds SO cheesy but I’m only really realising now that life is a journey and that each little bit of it is as important as the big stuff.

Don't pity me

Writing this note makes me sad. It makes me sad because there’s no reason why I should feel like I need to write this. This, what I am about to write, should be implicitly understood and respected. But it is not. And so here I write - here I scream from the bloody rafters, if you will: being a mother is the best bloody thing I have ever done.
Do not pity me, do not think your life is better than mine because you can still fit into your size ten jeans and you go to sleep each night without mashed banana in your hair. It is not.
Do not assume I want to go on girlie holidays and now am sad I cannot. I can, by the way, but I do not want to. I want to go on holidays with my girl. I want to hold her hands while she feels the sea run over her chubby feet. I want to blow soft raspberries on her pudgy belly under a sun umbrella, hold her close to me in a swimming pool as she flaps with delight. I want to fall asleep in the middle of the day next to her and wake to her beautiful face next to mine, babbling. I’ll take the nappies, the shrieks, the lack of sleep. I’ll take it all fifty times over to have these moments with my girl.
I do not want to go to clubbing. I am 35 and clubbing makes me feel old. Although it’s not an age thing. I haven’t wanted to go clubbing for years. I want to lie in the still night and listen to my girl breathe and snort. I want to feed her in the half light of the moon. You like clubbing, I do not. But it is not as a consequence of being a mother.
Do not assume that my life is easy, do not assume it is hard. It is both. Loving her is easy and, luckily for me, natural. Parenting is hard, harder than anything I have ever done and infinitely more rewarding.
Do ask after her. She exists. Do ask how she is, what is she doing. You’ll see a light come on behind my eyes as I tell you. If you love me, you must love her.
Do continue to ask me out for drinks, meals, plays. Our friendship has not altered and I want to know what is going on in your life. I love you, but don’t pity me.

#catlove 😻

Last night was the first time in six years that we spent time in our home without our cats. They’ve been taken to stay with a friend, ahead of work beginning on our floors.
I can only try to describe how odd and still the house felt without them. I was able to sit in the yellow chair without being miaowed at to move. Able to put fresh laundry down and know that no animal would use the piles as a new bed or plaything. We could have slept with the bedroom door open even, but we didn’t out of habit.
I woke up at about five to feed Nives and listened for the scratching at the door. One of my cats, Jango, always seems to sense when we wake and starts scratching to be let in at that time. I listened, but nothing came. It was at this moment that I realised how much these two animals contribute to our family. Everything just felt different without them.
I got Jango six years ago from a friend from work. I initially wanted a tom, which is why she has a boy’s name. I met her when she was only a few weeks old. She climbed onto my lap, along with her other brothers and sisters, but didn’t stick around. She climbed down and made a sort of shuffle for the open door. An adventurer, I thought.
How wrong I was. Yes, she is brave - she’s chased a fox through the park when she was only six months old - but she is more likely to be found napping than adventuring these days. We’ve had to force her out of the house at times, in the hope she will regain her love for leaping around and lose some weight, but she just sits on the windowsill staring accusingly at us until we let her back in.
Knolly came a year after Jango. I was worried about her weight gain and foolishly put it down to loneliness. We got him from a mad old French woman who lived in Streatham. She already had seven cats and one had unexpectedly had a litter. She greeted me wearing a kaftan and showed me her cats and their little purpose-built shed cat houses in her garden. I bought Danny with me a second time. I said “it’s just to look”, as he was not keen on a second cat.
But then Knolly played with his shoelace and he fell in love. At eight weeks old we took this lovable kitten to our home and subjected him to a lifetime of bullying from Jango. He seems oblivious to it, only wanting to play and cuddle constantly. Five years on and we still think of him as a kitten.
Our relationship with our pets is a funny one isn’t it? They give us so much love, their whole lifetime of love, and often it is only when they are gone that we realise how much richer our lives were because of them.
They can also show you sides of people that you were previously unaware of. My nono loved his ginger cat so much that they became a gang of two. When he died, the cat looked for him everywhere, breaking our hearts all over again. When Jutko, the ginger cat, died we felt the loss of my nono as well as of our wonderful feline friend.
Our relationship with our cats has changed as we incorporated Nives into our unit. She has practised stroking them and Jango will come and nap beside her (supervised). Knolly is still keeping his distance, but I know that as she grows older these three will be the closest of friends.

Friends

People always, always, ask me how my nights are now that I am a new mum. They ask me if my daughter is a ‘good baby’. “Does she sleep through?” They ask, to which the answer is yes, she is a good baby, because all babies are good babies you moron. No baby is bad. And no, of course she doesn’t sleep through. Because she’s a baby for Christ’s sake.
Anyway, in the still early hours, in the half light of our shared room - this room which for now holds my whole new family - I get to thinking. And I’ve been thinking a lot about friendships and love and counting the ways I am grateful for my friends and how different each of my friends are and feeling generally blessed to have all this love in my life to share with this little person.
And this is especially important because the majority of the people I am thinking about and feeling grateful about are women. And I have to say that if I respected the women in my life and the way our friendships formed and were part of my life before, then motherhood has sort of injected a gazillion love hearts into that sentiment, because now I think of my friends and I as a tribe powered by love for each other.
There are friendships that have lain dormant for years but now there is something wonderful which binds us again. These women who send a text or a random bobbly t shirt in the post for no reason other than to be helpful and kind. friendships that have stood the test of years - of former lives and loves and times - and which have had to change form, but have done so.
There are new friends, new mothers like me, who listen past the tears of frustration when my baby’s dictatorial sleep regime grinds me down to a pulp. Who don’t judge but say things like “we’re all in the trenches together”. God, if it wasn’t for these friends my journey so far would be very different indeed.
I want more than anything for my daughter to have these strong friendships too. I want her to be part of a tribe, want her to realise the importance of other women and of caring. This is undoubtedly one of the important lessons I can teach her. I hope.
Teaching her anything of substance however seems a long way off. I’ve taught her how to stroke the cat GENTLY, I think. And to giggle when the teddybear stops walking around the garden and tickles her (why is he walking around the garden?! Why should we walk around the garden LIKE a teddybear? They don’t walk!). She knows she is loved and she trusts me. And it is this, I think, which will be the starting point for all else.

Grab it and hold on

Just over a year ago I waved goodbye to my little brother as he slung a pack on his back and disappeared with his friend Martin (Stretch) to South East Asia.

 I said at the time that I thought the trip would help him grow, would open his eyes to the world. And, frankly, it did. My little brother fell in love.

 He fell in love immediately. It was New Years Eve, he was hanging off the back of a taxi - the details are fuzzy - but this is how she met him. My crazy, daredevil (and frankly, idiotic) brother. According to her he repeated his name over and over again so she could find him on Facebook. I mean, it was almost dawn; he’s hanging off a cab. I’m guessing he didn’t have a pen on him.

 My brother was blessed and cursed with the fact he grew up in an almost exclusively female household. My stepfather often travelled for work and wasn’t really around until Danny was in his early teens. Our parents divorced when he was six. This was a blessing because, obvs, me and my mum are awesome. But a curse as we constantly meddled. Poor Danny, then, as soon as he had a passing interest in a girl would hear opinions and questions and - I’m ashamed to say it - constant teasing on his crush. This, by the way, when he was only about eight years old. So when he did grow up and start dating - we were often, unsurprisingly, the last to know.

 Not so this time. My brother having met this girl almost immediately contacted me to tell me about her. He encouraged – encouraged (!) - me to look at a picture he uploaded onto Facebook of the two of them. And then, if that wasn’t enough, he sent me a picture. I have to say this excited me a lot. A great deal. 

 Now I am a sucker for romance. I believe in love. Of course I do. I just got married to my soulmate and smile all the way home every night knowing I am going back to his sweet embrace after a crappy day at work. I know that when you meet that person that makes everywhere you go feel like home, you hang on for dear life and you don’t let go. Much like riding on the back of an open cab at dawn. And, lookie, looks like my brother knows it too.

 So while I am sad that he’s going to be on another continent to me with this sweet girl, I am happier that he found his soulmate and is hanging on. And I am so excited for the adventure that their life together will be.

Goodbye single me

Goodbye unfinished and then deleted text message.

Goodbye peeling labels off beer bottles and looking for an in.

Goodbye Sundays hopelessly waiting for a text.

Goodbye obsessive Facebook stalking.

Goodbye mistaking loneliness for love.

Goodbye drunken fumblings (and bitter disappointment).

Goodbye physcoanalytics over coffee.

Goodbye pretending to read a paper while waiting for food.

Goodbye learning about the following (despite having no interest): Aussie Rules, baseball, Romans, football, fitness, (some) art, whiskey, Cocktails (I just wanna drink them, not learn the history), food (ditto).

Goodbye explaining where I’m from.

Goodbye painful invites for one.

But also:

Goodbye slinging a pack on my back and going wherever I please.

Goodbye first date excitement.

Goodbye learning new pockets of life.

Goodbye being part of a really cool pack and hello living with conformity.

Goodbye coming home and watching One Tree Hill reruns, because no one will stop me.

Goodbye three hour conversations with friends analysing each others’ horrific love life.

But hello new life. I’ve been waiting for you.

Love - as if I dare

I’ve been thinking a lot about love lately, and the different forms it takes.Obviously this is because I am getting married. And so love, in all forms, is up for dissection.

I’ve been looking at the world around me and I’ve seen love everywhere. It is hard - I live in London; but it is here everyday.

It is here when I sit on the way home and see a woman absent-mindedly trace her finger across her boyfriend’s palm when he is not looking. It is there when I see a mother speaking into a pram enthusiastically (despite the fact it is 8am on a Saturday) it is seeing a grandmother squat down and explain something to a petulant raised-with-too-much-shit child.

I see love in everything. I see love in my dad’s new art club, in my mum test trialling my wedding, in my brother texting me with his travelling updates. With Danny.

Danny:- I could write reams about the curl in his arm when he holds me. About his heart. About what I would be without him. I could; but I won’t.

I see love everywhere, and it is all because of him.

If I could reach younger me.

If I had to write a letter to my younger self I would tell her that everything was going to be ok. That all the people in your life that make you feel crap will be replaced by people who love you, who make the effort for you. Who want you in their lives so freakin much they travel across oceans to see you.

I would say that you can now look in a mirror and see something that is beautiful, and growing. Something that maybe isn’t perfect, but beauty never is. It’s something that is clever, and hard working and yeah, pretty.

I would say ‘don’t worry about your mum’.

I would say – guess what! You have two cats! And you will work for a magazine! When you speak, people will listen! Someone wants to marry you! And you’ve travelled to so many countries that people come to you for travel advice.

I’d give her a massive hug. I’d give that poor, broken, girl a massive hug. And I would say “you know what, kid, it doesn’t get easier to cope with the shit people throw at you. It’s always going to be really really rubbish when someone you love lets you down, or goes out of their way to dig their claws deep into you and rip out your heart, but you will be stronger and you will be able to cope with it.”

I would tell her that it’s ok to cry yourself to sleep, but it’s better to find a shoulder to lean on – those people are out there, and they do love you!

And I would say, kid, the best thing that’s happened to you is that you haven’t let this blackness shut your heart out. When you grow up you let people in. And yeah, sometimes they stamp on your heart. And yeah, it does hurt. But most of the time it feels amazing to have these people in your life. And the rest of them? You walk away from.

I would say, I love you kid.

pencil drawing by Morgan Ann LaRue