Spent a night and a day with a dear friend who has two delightful children of seven months and two years in age. Staying with her reminded me of how much work is involved looking after little ones, I had forgotten. Maternal Amnesia. Why do we forget? Why have I forgotten this intensive stage of mothering, wiped it out? Is this what Bracha Ettinger means….is this the trauma…The trauma of knowing has now become unknown? Need to read more Ettinger at least try to get to grips with the theory.
…..changing nappies not one but two, dressing, hugging, breast feeding, spoon, feeding, face wiping, floor picking up-ING, laughing, saying no no no and play with me, don’t throw, giggle, read a book, roll over, make food, drinks, reading, sleeping, pushing a prwn one of top the other under, smiles and talking, reassuring, making, pretend cardboard box car riding, daisy chains, rain falling, grey clouds, stopping, cup of tea, cup of tea, snuggles and love, skin soft, plastic fantastic beeping…..
London Overground, Clapham Junction…….
We met at the pub. We drank, we talked, we caught up with each others life, love, work, children……so nice to be out with just her on my own….my friends first night out since her baby was born….a joy that I could share this special time with her…..
There are phone conversations home….a drama…Syd rearranging rearrangements, stressful to deal with when so far away. Pushing pushing out with his independence, having fun, the teenage parties have begun…..trepidation…in the end it all was ok he came home safe in the car with my friend….
On the train a male couple talking knees brushing together…tight.denim jeans..slowly moving along the train tracks…the men are well spoken, almost whispering…
Grey clouds…perhaps my silk top wardrobe for the sunny south was too hopeful…
Man opens box of mints…..
On way to see another dear friend, her children are older a boy and a girl…..they are making art to pass the time…..
Past Battersea Power Station…the South Bank ahead in the distance…Wandsworth Road….
Another couple male female laughing man wearing large black baseball hat with white writing …
Graffiti Bracken Buddlia Trees chasing the edge of the lines…
Next station Denmark Hill must get off and change.
..panic which platform…four just made change
Train….pram…next to suitcase…baby gurgling…
AHHHHHHH says the baby
I speak to.Naoise…he.has fallen on his scooter and scrapped his nose and knee….he sounds so little on the phone..a sweet squeaky high pitched voice…
Motherhood does not always feel like shit brown or poo brown, as I politely referred to it the other day much to the hilarity of Naoise when my mum was visiting. There is nothing more pleasing than a child with an infectious laugh, I was ordered to repeat the joke three times over.
Patrick is sleeping in the attic bedroom with Naoise, although its the smallest room in the house, a bed and a bookcase fits under the roof eaves and a wardrobe that was constructed in the room itself provides storage, It is a squash and a squeeze. Here though you probably get the best nights sleep, because it is at the back of the house you don’t hear the noise of the cars passing on the main road, just the sound of the river flowing at the back.
Cars zoom past. Today is a spring day, its warm and the sun is shining. I put on a thermal vest and a light silk top, I am still in the North of England where you have to cover all weather eventualities.
A cough. Its Patrick. Phew.
All this creeping and getting up early to try and write in-between the caring. The buzzer on the oven sounds telling me that my allowed fifteen minutes of reflective time is up….I will give myself another five.
Patrick comes downstairs and tells me he is going to nip to the shop to buy toilet roll and toothpaste and coffee……
I sometimes wonder if all this mothering isn’t particularly healthy for me, I really do struggle, especially when I have to look after the children full-time. Looking after the children pulls me towards the bottle of wine and the chocolate treats, it pulls me towards the food of comfort.
Oracle bones …..if I had an oracle bone, what would it look like, what future would it tell in-between the cracks ? Did I ever imagine this, me with two boys fathered by two different men, me as a mother? I think I did imagine mothering but I don’t think I got further than what a baby in my belly would feel like, how could I imagine this?
Syd returns this morning, I will catch just a couple of hours with him before getting on the train to London of my mothers conference retreat.
Its a wet, rainy day. Had hopes of going out with Naoise, but my head is sore from drinking cider and the weather is making me rethink any plans. Its hard just getting Naoise to leave the house. Yesterday eventually got out at 3pm, he is such a home boy. I hate being stuck in the house it makes me feel claustrophobic and depressed. There is only so much IN that I can manage.
I haven’t the energy for writing this today. Last night me and Patrick went out for an evening, such a rare treat. We walked up onto the hills, said hello to some pigs and sheep with their lambs then went for a Vegi Tai Meal. Oh what a joy it is to get some adult time alone together. My mum kindly babysat, we got home just before twelve.
Went to give Naoise a cuddle, he asked if I would get back into bed with him, probably should have instead of tinkering with screens and images.
Started sunny, now cloudy, overcast, grey and cold, and its almost the end of May. I wish for sunshine and warmth. I am writing this sat on the sofa with a blanket on my knew.
Naoise is watching Twirlywoo’s …he is happy, I can hear him giggling in the upstairs bedroom. Finally I have completed the presentation, its been impossibly challenging to select words and pictures from six months worth of production. It has been impossibly challenging to even get the work done. It probably needs more editing, more refining, but I cannot give it any more time now. Need some fun, some rest. Need to put away the screens. Cannot live life behind a glass screen, I am skin and bone and flesh and so is my beloved Naoise.
Had a really interesting conversation with Naoise this morning before breakfast:
Naoise: Mummy when are you going to stop working ?
Me: I know its boring isn’t it, I am fed up with it too, soon….
Naoise: What is it that you are doing Mummy? Is that where you are putting all the breakfast photographs?
Me: Yes, not just the breakfast photographs, there are lots of you on the blog, I write about me and you everyday, thats partly why I am going to London, to talk about what I have been doing.
Me: Look do you want to see?
Ok…though I think he probably is not that interested. I pause at an image that I have taken of him having a tantrum. I can see his face wincing at the photograph of him clutching tight of the chair rails on the ground, and yelling with upset and anger.
Naoise: Delete it mummy.
Me: Why do you feel I should delete it Naoise ?
Naoise: Because it is embarrassing.
Me: Mmmm I can understand that, I can see why you would feel that way, but shall I read what I have written ? See its not meant to be hurtful or shameful, I just want to show life as it is. Tantrums are very very commonplace. I can see him thinking. I really love you Naoise, I love you even when you get angry and frustrated and have Tantrums.
Naoise: Not sure if I have convinced him that this situation, of me using this image of him is ok.
Maybe I am not being as respectful as I could be of him and his needs. Maybe I will regret what I have done when I look back at all of this. Is this really worth it ? Is it bringing us together or pushing us all apart. If it was someone else turning the camera on me, photographing me in a rage, I wouldn’t be happy I think I would be embarrassed too. Maybe I would be more than embarrassed, I would feel betrayed.
Have I betrayed my family in my desire to tell life just as it is ?
I think I have but I keep on…..I keep on….
I can see why there are sensitivities around artists photographing their children and it is something to do with permission, and choice. Children have rights too…..but this is all done out of love I mean no harm to anyone. I am trying to push forward find a new, make observations. The art making really is nothing at all about nurture and everything to do with arranging pictorial space, capturing a moment, sharing it with others, finding a deeper understanding…of my own life and that of others.
Sweat on my skin. Red cheeks. Cars beeping on the road, a man waving back in response. Neighbour in high visibility yellow jacket walking up the road to work. Back from the run. Naoise woke me at 5.30am, he had fallen out of the bed and had managed to stop his fall by holding his arms up in a bridge between the bed and the floor. I couldn’t fall back to sleep, seemed little point of lying and stewing in negative thoughts, so took the opportunity and ran with it.
(after running- Naoise asleep 6.45am)
There is some blue between the overcast of the morning.
The retired man who lives in the canal lock house is out fishing with his rod. It always seems wrong to me to fish in the dirty murky still depths of the canal, surely the flow and the wild of the river would better. Still he smiles and I do too and I am surprised at how many people are up before six. I cross the little foot bridge over the canal and walk up the Pexwood Road.
The bluebells are beginning to shrivel and die. The apple blossom has dropped. Everything so fleeting.
Thought I might see some interesting wild life at this time in the morning but nothing, just the usual ravens and crows. The lambs are growing very big and fat. I pass one who is knelt forward balanced on her front knees, chewing the breakfast grass.
The fields are full of sheep shit, you cannot avoid it with your step.
On the table a tray full of plaster dust where last night Naoise was digging out a dinosaur. I don’t have much time to write this, Patrick is out the shower and I can hear him getting dressed, he will want to talk to me before leaving for work.
The house is a scene of plastic toy devastation, monopoly here, spy glasses there, knex plastic littering the floor, books, notes, drawings, scissors, box of pencils, a tea towel…..even crumbs between the keys of my laptop. A tray piled high of broken lego models to my left. I need to clean up this mess. Not now though. Not now. Next week when the children are back at school.
I need to mound up the potatoes, repot the courgette plants that have outgrown the old ones.
Syd’s second day of cycling the coast to coast route. I have had messages from him. Yesterday he saw owls and weasles as he rode across the top of Cumbria. So pleased of his appreciation of nature. I miss his presence at home. All is still.
Mind empty, just the sound of the birds between the zoom of the cars. Patricks footsteps heavy on the floor boards above.
Beep beep beep beep the buzzer on the oven clock sounds.
Really I should have gone back to sleep seeing as I was up in the night between 1.30am and 2.15am and again as dawn was breaking around 4am when Naoise was hungry and thirsty. I fetched a cup of water and banana for him to eat. We were up again around 6.45am as Naoise wet his onesy. Its been a while since he had a wee accident. I got him up and put him in the shower. He didn’t want to get out to let his dad in. He doesn’t like being hurried along especially when enjoying the warmth of water trickling on his little body.
The washing machine is reaching the crescendo of its cycle and now the sound of the drum slowing down which is like an aeroplane landing.
I have been up packing sandwiches for a day trip to a park with mum and dad. I will meet them around midday. Its good to get out of the valley cradle , Calderdale can feel suffocating if you spend too much time comforted by it. We will see the flat agriculturally rich planes of Cheshire today. We will walk and talk and laugh.
My head is thumping, probably lack of sleep and too much time staring at electronic screens. I enjoyed the peace of the studio yesterday and being able to think straight, though the time flew past and I never get as much done as I would hope.
Have been having a good look at this project and what I have made so far. Its helpful to have a pause, an evaluation. To try and get a grasp of what the subject of this project is. It is a many faceted, complex project. The mundane, observations of the everyday, mothering and domestic work collide with creativity and art making. References to artists, articles about parenting, mothering, feminism.
There are the changing of the seasons, winter through to spring. There are the places that I inhabit, my home, my family, the institution of motherhood. The school, the playground, the institution of education. The fields, the sheep,the lambs, the farm, the meat industry, dry stone walls, the wind, the sun, the rain, the cold, the ice, the hail, the storm, the lightening. There are wild animals, owls, hawks, weasels, rabbits, toads mating. There are dead things lambs, rabbits, toads, hedgehogs….
There are pictures of children sleeping, showering, eating, playing, walking, relaxing. There are images of plastic and clutter and mess and laundry being done. There are images of cooking and baking. There are glimpses of me, a shadow, a family portrait obscured by a child’s hands, a hand dropping a piece of clothing. There are empty prams waiting in a doctors surgery. There are images of my skin and body. There are bars and gates and fences and walls. There are films of black clothes pegs swinging in the wind. A woman meditating in the landscape, her eyes closed, feeling the full force of the winter weather wrap around her face. A bare foot walk in the snow. A child wriggling under a blanket, sitting at the breakfast table picking out and separating raisins from cereal, a primal scream and a homemade earthquake.
Washing machine cycle at an end, beep beep beep
What does it all mean ? There is sadness and love and loss and longing. There are indications of a faltering relationship, of the vulnerabilities of a mother, of her children. A woman trying to keep her family together and in order. There are lists and descriptions of difficult and challenging situations with her children, mainly describing tantrums, and angry outbursts, refusals to go to school. The arguments, conflicts and disputes with her partner are listed but mainly glossed over, she cannot always be honest. She needs to protect herself from emotional harm. This project is not always easy, you cannot write about everything that is happening now, sometimes the dust needs to settle.
There are records and observations. There are lists of things that are being done or have to be done. There is an attempt at honesty. An attempt to describe life just as it is. To tell an ‘other’ story of mothering. Of how a mother maintains her family and her sanity.
There is an awareness of the passing of time. Of cycles. There are circular motifs. There are descriptions of weight loss and the pursuit of wellbeing and “happiness”. There is the sadness of middle age, of a mother that will bare no more children and her attempts at coming to terms with this. There are observations of the wonder of nature, of watching her children grow and learn. There are regrets lists of should’s and could’s and why I did not. There are struggles with sleep deprivation. There is a tension between freedom, entrapment, dependency and the strive for independence, of being together and wanting to be alone. There is an unpicking of what work is, paid work, unpaid work, care work, creative work, domestic work. There is a very unkempt house and a letting go of control……a realisation that failure is the only way forward.
Phone ringing:speak to mum and make arrangements of where to meet her and dad.
The buzzer sounds on the oven as I am speaking to my mum.
Bank Holiday Monday. All is very quiet. The day seems brighter and warmer. Woke up to hear Patrick going to the bathroom. One pigeon resting on the ridge of the mill roof. Naoise breathing gently. Slept alright but was awake at three Patrick woke me, he had come home from working in the office. Always interruptions,never a full nights sleep. I feel tired, my eyes are still adjusting to the light as I stare at this screen. A few cars on the road. Naoise breathing gently.
The two of us watched two BBC documentaries about Sharks. We fell asleep watching the programme about Sharks. Naoise is still fully clothed. I never realised that there were so many species of Sharks. The strangest was the Green Land Shark, which was slowly blinded by a parasite that lived in its eye and fed on the cornea. Swimming blind searching for food in sub zero temperatures with only smell as its guide. I thought that all Sharks laid eggs, but his is not true. The lemon shark grows her cubs in her womb each has a little placenta, umbilical cord, and after birth a belly button.
Blinded. I have become blinded.
Naoise made a film, called tickle, tickle. The beginning of the film shows him coming into my bedroom I am sat in bed writing this. He tries to get my attention but I am staring at a screen writing this, and ignore him. Watching his film back I realised how sad it was that the screen won and he lost. He was being so beautiful and playful. I need to get a balance on this project. Naoise is more important than this writing.
Naoise breathing gently.
We cooked together. I am determined to help my children to be independent and self reliant. I am a child from a family of four, mostly ignored, happily mostly ignored. I grew to be very independent, got myself to school and back alone. Caught buses or walked to friends houses. Played wild in the woods. Roamed free. Could bake a cake by the time I was eight. By nine I was able to take a tube train to central London on my own.
We made a rhubarb crumble together with the fruit I pulled from mum and dad’s garden. Naoise is good with a knife. I watch him and try not to intervene. He is careful and precise. He likes the responsibility. He does not want to rub the butter into the flour to make the crumble. This is the best bit, shame, I enjoy it instead of him. Baking is simple and satisfying.We sprinkle the almonds on top, rest the pot on the oven top ready to bake.
It was a bitty, boring day. I made lunch, cleared up, put washing in and out of the machine. Played a game of cranium with Naoise. I took his old shoes back to the shop and got the new ones. I walked around a pound shop gazing at stuff, I picked up some hair slides and bands then put them back. I like the idea of wearing plats. I looked around another shop, caressed clothes on racks, admired a pale blue teapot and again left with nothing. Happy that I had not succumbed to consumerism, desire, shopping therapy.
We reach the rocks. Each of us swings on the three rope swings then lies down and looks at the blue and the green. Ravens nest in the cliff top. Naoise reads the graffiti on the rock face Charley loves Rob. Back home and a cup or tea and a biscuit.
Naoise breathing gently.
Work today at the studio, complete the presentation that I was unable to concentrate on last week. Ironic that I failed at writing a presentation about failure. I shall try not to get stressed and anxious as it clouds my head and I cannot make or do or think or anything.
Naoise breathing gently, more cars on the road.
Naoise wakes up I think I have poo in my pants mum.
Slept much better no awake in the middle of the night to see the sun rise and fight my head and negative thoughts back to sleep..Saturday was a retreat. Saturday was a visit to see my mum. I slept better last night as I had had a good day. A quiet calm peaceful day alone with my parents. I cannot recall the last time that I spent such a long period of time with them both on my own without the children.
It was hard to get away from home. I was turning laundry on the radiator. Placating tantrums. Poor little Naoise had got it into his head that he wanted a new toy and the answer was no. He has so many toys and there are only so many bits of plastic one little boy needs. He kept crying I am bored of all my toys. I haven’t seen him play with any of his toys for a long time. School sucks so much life out of him and he would rather run with a stick in the willow scrub than tinker with toys at home.
There has been too much screen time too. The whole family gets sucked behind screens. It is sad. I see Patrick standing on the step outside having a smoke and staring at his smart phone. I remove iPads from Syd’s pillow as he has fallen asleep watching programmes. Naoise demands television as soon as he enters the house. I try and restrict the viewing but sometimes the digital babysitter is the only way that the tea gets cooked and the clothes get washed and the home ticks on. Me, I have been spending too much time writing this and reading articles and staring at Facebook. I stare at Facebook too much often out of loneliness and a need to feel heard and wanted. I need to restrict my time on social media.
The tantrum was horrid. Its heart breaking seeing your child distressed. He hates it when I ignore him, but its the only thing I have found that works. I have said No. No means No. During his tantrum I am hit, I have my hair pulled and he threatens to snap my little courgette plants that I have been carefully nurturing. I raise my voice once and only when he threatens to kill my plants. Tears are rolling down his face. He is angry and he cannot understand what to do with his anger. All this tantrum takes place in the yard outside. I live in a terrace house, all the neighbours know the ins and outs of my life. They know if my children misbehave or if I raise my voice they can see exactly what I do and say. Its all in the open. I do sometimes worry what they think, but they don’t know, they probably do judge, think me a terrible parent, but they don’t know.
Eventually after what seems like a very very long time Naoise does calm down. He has a cuddle with me. I wipe away the tears, hold him close, feel his heart beat. I say to him that I understand why he was angry, that its hard when we cannot get what we want, that it makes me feel angry and frustrated too when i cannot get what I want. There is empathy. I talk to him about how its perfectly normal and reasonable to feel angry and frustrated and upset but that it is not ok to hurt mummy to pull my hair to hit me to threaten to murder my plants. He listens intently. I apologise for shouting, he apologises for hurting me. It is over. We draw together on the table. We draw circles with a protractor and these become coal mines with little miners in them climbing ladders to get out of holes. He began drawing coal miners after watching Poldark with me!
I leave just after two to see mum and dad. Patrick takes Naoise on the tag a long bike to the swimming pool. Naoise loves to sit on the back of his dads bike. I am so glad to be driving out of the valley. Its good to get a change of perspective. Sitting in the car listening to music. Its the Vaccines singing live on Radio One. As I listen the music reminds me of Syd. If he were in the car now we would be enjoying the music together. There is little traffic on the road. The journey is easy. The M62 skirts around the outside of Manchester and then I join the East Lancs road on the fringes of Salford. The East Lancs road joins Manchester with Liverpool. I am heading towards Liverpool my parents live in-between each city just off of this road. The road is mostly made of concrete there are frequent stops at traffic lights and a cycle way runs all along it. The journey is so familiar.
I turn at the junction to my parents home and park the car at a little cul de sac a five minute stroll from their home. I left this house when I was 19, so thats 24 years ago now. There is a private hedge and fields on one side of the road and houses on the other. Houses with drives and cars sitting on them. One man is outside sweeping sand between the cracks in his driveway, in a zen type activity. Along the way I kick something beneath my feet, it is a dead hedgehog, completely decomposed and dried out, a brush of bristles. I reach their home, the lilac bush is out in full bloom and I stop to smell its before walking around the back of the house. I can hear that the sound of the chain saw, they are having the Sycamore tree cut down as it is rotten all the way through the middle.
I knock at the back door, no answer. I knock at the front, no answer. I guess that they cannot hear a thing due to the chain saw. I go back to the back door again, and meet mum who greets me with a hug and a smile. We drink coffee and chatter. I think its me mainly talking at her, and I think it is like that all day. I need her. I need a listener. Get it all off my chest. She is a good sounding board. The sun is so warm and bright in the sky it is a most perfect May day. I go to the bathroom up the swirling flowery patterned carpet stairs. The carpet is so thin, in places there are holes and loose threads. Its all worn out.
We leave after our instant coffee drinks in mugs. We leave for a walk to the moss. Its strange tracing the tracks and paths that I made as a child. The playground that we pass through has changed little, its still naff, the swings are exactly the same, just one new climbing frame. We meet no one. We are the only ones walking. Sometimes the pavement comes to nothing and we have to walk on the main road with cars zooming close by to our bodies, and you cannot hear to talk.
First field ploughed on one side with potatoes. The soil is rich and fertile. Second field full of rape seed, its smell is vile and intoxicating but the yellow is stunning. I feel happy looking at the yellow. We hear a bird, the whoops of an oyster catcher. We cross the railway. Trains travel through on this line at high speed from Manchester to London. We look and look again at the main crossing. Mum is slow on her feet, I have to help her over stiles. She struggle to lift her legs over. She had a stroke many years back and it has affected her movement. Still here we are walking, walking together. Walking and Talking. We walk through the little oak wood then out on to the moss. The towers of Bickershaw Colliery are long gone. I miss the way that they used to frame the landscape a grey monolith, a vertical amidst all this horizontal flat.
A patch of gorse bushes has been burnt to a cinder. The branches are all black, drawing lines of charcoal. Amidst the bushes an empty nest balances. So sad, we hope that the little birds flew before the burning.
On the way back we admire the pink and the white of the hawthorn bush flowers. Mum says that this is called May. We stop for a coffee at a pub that I used to work in as a teenager. Nothing on the inside has changed. I recognise the barley brown flower patterns of the 80’s tiles in the toilets, the carpet the bar nothing different. I recognise none of the faces, a sea of strangers. We sit in the sun of the pub garden. Mum talks about her voluntary work at pensioners link about older people being neglected, checked out of hospital too early. Her stories worry me, I can see why she continues with the work that she does. I can see what its important for her to use her knowledge to help others. She talks about Andy Burnham the local Labour MP.
I can hear that Naoise is awake. I didn’t cuddle him last night. I can hear Patrick talking to Naoise in the attic. When I got in last night I went upstairs and gave him a kiss on the cheek, tucked him into the duvet. He smelt of poo but he was sleeping so I left him to sleep.
Naoise sitting beside me. He ran and jumped onto the bed. He does’nt smell of poo. He smells sweet and cuddly and he is pleased to see me back home and he tells me that he did a poo yesterday at the toilets at the swimming pool.
The washing machine cycle has ended and is beep beep beeping.
Half an hour before Syd goes. Patrick in the front room fixing bike lights to his frame. He woke me at 7.25am so that I could spend some time with him before he departs. He was out last night at the fair with friends so I saw little of him. I was in bed falling asleep when he got home.
I think I should give up writing this now. Need to concentrate on Syd. Had hoped to complete it whilst Syd was getting dressed, but he is back downstairs now and this is impossible. Patrick is listing off instructions to Syd about lights and how to charge them and complaining that I have taken all the chargers. Ahhhhh I will just make coffee. This is not the right time. When is?
Syd is visibly nervous and anxious waiting for his dad to arrive to collect him. He stands at the window with his bag on his back. I try to encourage him to relax to sit down take his bag off his bag, but he won’t listen. He stands looking. He is twitchy. He cannot sit, only stand.
I rush upstairs to find a pair of tracksuit bottoms for him, that I have washed and folded and placed in his wardrobe. I come back down with the tracksuit bottoms and a festering glass of milk that is beyond off it has turned to cheese. YAK. Bad mum=Bad milk.
I show him a little time lapse film of honey bees developing in the hive. He is still twitchy and cannot really concentrate on what I am showing him. Thats fine, I was just trying the age old distraction trick, it does’nt always work. Parting filled with anticipation and sadness and excitement. I am so pleased that his dad had taken out some time to spend just with Syd, they are cycling the coast to coast road from cumbria to northumberland along Hadrians Wall. He will be cycling an average of fifty miles a day. Such a great rite of passage. He has been training for weeks, going to the gym and cycling up and down Cragg Vale which is the longest steepest incline in the area. Its the one that formed a part of the Tour De France route.
Syds dad arrives. Time passes quickly. Cant stop it. Must grab hold of it. My son. My eldest son. Now taller that me. A young man. When he was born I said to his dad, think one day he will have a beard, that day draws shockingly close. Must make the most of each day, each moment. Syd makes trips too and from the car, bags, a bike helmut, bike trainers….the front door is slightly a jar and I can see his dad loading the bike into the back of his estate car. Can I have a kiss goodbye ? I ask Syd, and he smiles back at me and says just a minute mum. I worry that he will forget to come back in and give me my parting kiss, but he does not. He opens the door. I stand up to say goodbye and he lifts me into the air. My son can pick me up. My son is taller and bigger than me. My son almost a man. I adore him. I love his playfulness. My son so small a baby thrust out into the world between my legs now picking me off my feet launching me into the air, holding my body with my legs dangling. My son is strong. I am proud. I feel like a bronze Louise Bourgeois sculpture. See if I can find which one. The one I saw at Mima, its black, hanging, suspended, two bodies.
Patrick leaves for a walk so I can concentrate. I am glad that he understands that I cannot write with constant chatter and interruptions. Naoise is asleep. He so needs to rest. Sweet thing woke this morning and said to me mummy its Saturday its the weekend. I told him to rest to go back to sleep. He is so beautiful hair all messed up fluffy duckling boy. The light streams in on his peach skin. Always a pleasure to watch his beauty. Always joyous to wake with my youngest child beside me. So comforting to hear his deep breathing.
The buzzer is on, I set it at twenty minutes. The washing machine tumble dryer is doing its stuff. I have managed to work on completing some of the mountain of washing. There is always a mountain. I have realised that I cannot defeat it, that there will always be washing and washing up and dust and clutter, and when the children grow older and leave home I will live in a tidy neat house and I will miss the mess and the lego and the piles of this and that all thrown together in a crazy heap.
What to do to day? To visit my mum. Mum always comes here so I will go there alone. I need some time out. I need to see mum, feel some comfort. Be content in her presence. We plan to walk a walk that we used to make with the dog when I was younger. To the moss. Its flat, flat, flat, where they live. There are fields with barbed wire boundaries instead of stone. There are fresian cows and fields of rape seed, strawberry fields and potatoes growing.
Beep beep, take out the dry duvet cover from the dryer put in another sheet, close door.
Naoise wakes up and shouts Mum, I have got poo in my pants. So this is the stop. This is the full stop. The phone rings, its mum. This is the other full stop.
How did it get to this time? I am sitting in bed writing. Feeling very unwell. Not sleeping. Negative thoughts going around and around in my head. Am I paranoid. Perhaps I am. The cycle of non sleep I know is destructive and it does not make for clarity of thought. Maybe I am ill. Is this depression. Probably. Feelings of inadequacy. Nervousness. Hands shaking. Yesterday sadness when I broke a plate that Sydney had painted. A pan fell onto it. The pan came crashing down on the birthday cake that I had made for Patrick and the beautiful plate that Syd had made. I can mend the plate with super glue. I can mend it like Yoko Ono. I can mend the plate, I try to mend my head and I try to make the world a better place. Through small actions perhaps we can mend the world ? (High Concept, Yoko Ono discusses her work, John Robinson, The Guardian, April 23rd 2005) I am not able to concentrate. I am not able to get through a list of things to do. Bloody bad timing black dog, Black dog always comes out when you least expect.
House a mess, but I don’t feel guilty. I know it will get done when it gets done. The caring of humans is more important. Looking after me so I can look after them. Keeping sane. Keeping up with the creativity. Keeping playing in the now. Being kind to my children, trying not to get impatient and frustrated and angry. I know when I am swinging from totally calm patient mummy to shouty mummy that I haven’t got a handle on things. It will pass. All bad things pass. Least I am aware of my mistakes of the triggers and the anxiety and how to cope, how to make do.
I was impatient with Naoise in the bath when he needed his hair washing and was pretending that his head of dry hair had been washed. Its sweet looking back at it now but at the time I just felt angry and annoyed with him for being clever and devious and cheeky. I did wash his hair but it was a splashy scrappy throwing water affair. It could have been so different. Should have calmed him down, could have left the washing of hair, Naoise is right hair does not have to be washed everyday. I should have listened to him. I just had this idea in my head that as it was assembly today at school and all the parents would be there that it should be washed. See I was thinking of stupid things. I was thinking of pride, I was thinking of me and not of him. How silly of me. I am not perfect though. Just let it go Helen. These things are probably forgotten. Children do need to comply sometimes. I am done with dissent and stubbornness and sleepiness in the morning. Thank goodness it is the holiday today. I need one Naoise needs one. We need lie ins. We need to rest and to play and to have fun.
Naoise went back to bed three times this morning. We just made it in time. The class were lining up for assembly when I dropped Naoise into the class. Oh the looks of judgement, oh the looks of annoyance. Its hard. I don’t expect understanding or sympathy from them. I no longer care what they think. I care about my child and I am done with conflict. I did well to get him in when I did.
I moved a chair to the front row and sat with my friend. Last assembly I had to make do with peering through gaps in heads and basically could’nt see a thing. It is lovely to watch your child in an assembly. So sweet. His face looking at mine for recognition. His eyes meeting mine. His smile. My smile. He loves singing the song. He sang it to me in the bath the other night. A song about beans and peas and barley. This sounds very sentimental. Its ok. Its ok to hang on to the love. Its ok to talk about the joy. I have to cling to the joy, to the moments of pride. To the love of his little hand leading mine down to his classroom to show me his work. The pride of my child as he kindly stands against the door to keep it open for everyone else. He is a kind, thoughtful, sensitive child.
He is neither ungrateful or rude as the teaching assistant described him last week. He is neither of these things, I will never forget his little tears and sadness from last week. I will try to learn that what you say to a small child really can cut deep and hurt. Don’t get me wrong he can be very rude and very cheeky and very nasty and very cruel but rude is not a word to describe his character and neither is he ungrateful.
I am babbling. Try not to babble I had thought that I was going to write about the dream that I had this morning. A dream. I actually dreamt something. I dreamt of a luscious green pasture and watching two tawny owls, two otters and two red squirrels. I woke up with two boys in my bed. A small boy and a big boy.
I slept very badly last night. I was up in the night with Naoise, as he had an accident so he needed a shower. This bowel problem is really getting to me. I am going to have to go back to the lactolose. Poor Naoise and his painful swollen belly and his poo accidents. Poor me having to help him out in the early hours. Not surprising he is tired, not surprising I am tired. We are caught. We are caught by his digestive system not working properly. Around and around. I could jump inside the washing machine too, spin dry my brain, wash out the crap. Some good days then many bad days. This cannot be normal. He is simply not growing out of the bowel problem as the GP said he would.
Syd is going away tomorrow for a whole week. I hate it when I know that I will not be seeing him. It makes me sad and anxious. Always pressure to make do with the time with have, to make it special, to make it full and happy and exciting. Lack of time, of feeling time falling away quickly, panicking. I still feel that he is being stollen. It does not get any easier the older he gets. It is still a parting. It is still a parting that I do not choose. Its a parting that is everything to do with Syd and his Dad and nothing to do with me. There is a total disconnect between Syd’s dad and me and this is a painful, difficult situation.
Me and Syd are wrapped up in each others love and company. I adore my eldest son. He is the loveliest of teenagers even when we do have disagreements about washing up and chores and boring stuff that just has to be done.
…….it is hard, he is lovely but he is typically moody and argumentative and difficult. I confess, I did loose the plot with him last night when he simply walked off when I asked for help with the washing up. I did shout when he tried to slop off another four times from completing th drying up. I will not have a son that cannot do domestic work. I will persevere. I want him to grow up to be a good man who can cook and clean and bake and care for others. He needs to have these life skills. I struggle to understand why he hates helping me so much. I loved helping my mum, mainly because it meant I got her attention and could have a chat with her. I have fond memories of being at the sink with my mum and my dad too.
If we are really to have an equal society I need to stop mothering so much. I need to stop picking up the pieces. I need to stop shouting, stop behaving like a victim and get them all to muck in. I am not an ideal mum, I am bad mum. I am happy to be bad mum.
My family needs to muck in with the mess. This mess is not a mothers mess.
Mess is not mothering. Mess is not gendered. Mess is mess. Care is not just a mothers care. Care is not gendered, but it is still mainly women that care, mainly women that mother, we need men to mother too.
And sometimes, sometimes all of this seems trite and silly and that none of it matters. Who am I. Why am I writing this. It can seem petty and silly lacking in substance. But this is my reality. This is where I am. I have thumping headache and I am exhausted and it hurts but not that much. I need to get a grip. Its not good to get depressed, no good for anyone. I need to be strong and angry and vocal and creative.
Lack. Gain. Family. Home. Health. Here. Now. Its good to remember how lucky I am. I am ok. My children are well and happy and healthy and I have a home and friends and love.
An article that I read the other day about a migrant boat is haunting me, an image of a man who had been beaten up, he had deep scars from a hammer that had hit his back, this man, this victim, spoke of a family an entire family mother, father, son or daughter I cannot remember which had been killed and thrown overboard. Despicably cruel way. An entire family thrown away at sea. This is a cruel world indeed. What to do next ?
Find the article. Post it. Confront the haunting. Learn.
The washing machine cycle has just come to a chugging stop. Kettle on to make strong coffee. Buzzer for fifteen minutes set on oven.
Back from hairdressers. Hair feels much better, less tangled. A straight line at the back of my head, first time its been cut in six months. I’ve found a good cheap hairdressers now. I have given up on french bobs and high maintenance cuts. Long hair just needs trimming from time to time and you can put it up or let it down. I have children I am skint, I have neither the money or the time to bother with beauty.
The hairdresser talked about television programmes, cute animals, hair products, the news reporting on Radio 1, the town carnival, her dad and Facebook. She had beautiful pink hair and a lovely smile. I enjoyed listening to her. I was glad that she didn’t want to know anything much about me.
Its Patricks birthday, I need to do something for him. A card, beer, make him dinner. A large orange lorry emblazoned with the slogan LOGISTICS THE RIGHT WAY is parked on the main road, blocking my view of the hill. It seems an age since I spent any time at home. I have been retreating from here to the studio because of the building work next door, thankfully that seems to have come to an end. The skip has gone and its been quieter. But the dog is barking constantly.
Naoise was rather difficult this morning. I couldn’t find his red coat and he was refusing to put on the yellow sailing coat or the blue coat with motorbikes. Naoise said each coat was too small. He asked if he could wear his brothers old coat. Its stashed under his bed in the attic. I rush upstairs and find the coat. To find the coat I have to lift up the heavy mattress that fills the entire bedroom floor space. I find the coat. Put it on him. The coat is too big. Naoise takes it off. We are back to square one.
I pack him into the car with the motorbike coat and his protestations. He is cold. The weather is dismal. He has already refused to wear a vest, and now no jumper, no coat. We just got to school in time. Just. The doors are still open. On the way down to the classroom Naoise is sad as he had wanted to be the register monitor but its too late, I consol him.
I worked late last night delivering the life drawing class at Artsmill. It was a great session lots of quick poses exploring movement. The class are getting more confident and its great to see the progression in their work. We laughed a lot together. The life model was really brilliant, she swept the floor with a broom, stepped up and off a platform continuously, moved with grace, pushed an empty pram around the room.
I bought a pram. A pram for a piece of artwork. A pram from the grey hound charity shop. A pram for an imaginary baby. Its not a pram that I think I even like. Its green with a checkered decoration and a matching nappy bag with a changing mat that looks completely unused. No rain cover which is a shame as it rains a lot here. Plenty of room underneath to put the shopping. It looks dated, probably from the 1990’s. Cost me £10. Its good enough for what I need it for.
The buzzer on the oven is sounding. Best to stop. I could write more, but rules can help. I need to work on other things as well as this. Trying to get a balance on art work and domestic work, the house is a bomb site.
In the studio. A muggy day. Warmer. The sun trying to push through. Slept well but feel totally exhausted. Needed the rest but feeling I could sleep for a thousand years.
There are so many stories that go untold for fear of causing harm to others and some will remain under the blanket forever silenced. Time is the healer of all ills. Sometimes I peak below it think can I talk then decide no. Best to leave untouched and safe.. There are stories that I will tell when the dust has settled.
Listening to Antony and the Johnstones, Cripple and the Starfish and these lyrics from are loud in my mind as I write this:
it’s true i always wanted love to be hurtful and it’s true i always wanted love to be filled with pain and bruises
Motherhood is painful. Relationships with adults are painful. There can be no love without the pain. Excepting this helps me to move on. You can be happy within pain. To live is to suffer. To live a full life, to feel, to touch, to breath, to be open, to give birth, to hold a child close and yet help them to be independent, all these contradictions, best to embrace them, to be willing to take risks, to except failure, to know that I can be both home and comfort and love but I have the potential to cause suffering, to be aware of my power, not to abuse this position, inevitably there will be hurt. When Naoise says please no more photographs. I should listen. I should stop. I should respect the needs and wants of my subjects. It can not all be take.
I have deliberately protected my eldest son from this space. He is a young boy becoming a man he has a say in what I publish here. I have the upmost respect for him. Last night he showed great maturity and kindness by looking after Naoise for half an hour so that I could attend a group meeting at the local pub Amazing Lefty Women making things better in Calder Valley.
The lefty women were truly amazing. I have to thank my friend for literally taking me. Her actions helped me to act. I hope that our words and passion and skills will become action. The woman running the local food bank said that she felt totally overwhelmed. Good will come of this. It has too. We have no other choice than to work together. Least there is hope. It is no good to get depressed, no good for anyone.
Driving the car to the studio I was dreaming about this project, how to make sense of it, how to begin to talk about it. Its a project about love and loss and longing. About holding on and struggling to let go. Its about saying goodbye to fertility. Its about middle life and watching my children grow, realising that I cannot hold them back. Its about walking and finding and accepting change. Its about knowing that I will not have anymore children and trying to come to terms with tis decision.
Its about loosing weight, I didn’t tell you I have now lost fifteen percent of my body weight. Thats a success. Sometimes I think that these words are not helping, that everything is about failure but perhaps they are a balm, a way of making sense of my life of finding focus and love. Perhaps this has bought me closer to excepting who I am and of finding value in my work and my role in society. Speaking out, expressing my inner thoughts and feelings, refusing to be silenced, recording and documenting confessing my vulnerabilities my imperfections. Seeing through. Through my words hopefully speaking for others finding connections.
Images of the playground, nature and the changing seasons, empty prams, fluffy baby animals, sleeping, my sons drawings, duality, locality, identity, observations, snippets of conversations, conflicts that I don’t understand, how conflicts are resolved or those that fester, anger, feelings of frustration, meditations and reflections, my children growing, developing, my own development as an artist and a mother/artist, ambivalence towards mothering and towards the making of this project, documenting the work and the writing of others that have influenced my practice, transparency, trying to be honest, asking questions not necessarily knowing what the answer is, sharing information, muddling through, pushing forward, doing what I can in the time I have, an urgency to make, time slipping away, making the most of what I have, a DIY approach, new beginnings, ideas, ways of seeing, developing photographic practice, developing autobiographical writing, an auto ethnographic approach, maintaining me, my family and my arts practice, distinguishing actions of care from domestic work and cleaning !
What next…..my mum asked me Are you writing a book ?
Article on Mary Kelly. Sad to discover that she is no longer speaking at The Motherhood and Creative Practices conference.