Tag Archives: children

Home Sweet Home

Another neighbor moved away yesterday. I watched her and her husband clean the place, haul their personal things to their car and watched the moving van drive up to take care of the rest.

(You must think I spend all my time spying on my neighbors. Well I do, actually. In between typing a word or two…)

Anyway, I brought her over a cutting from our jade plant which had grown from a cutting an old neighbor gave to me when we last moved.

“I hope it brings you good luck in your new home,” I said.

She was so moved she couldn’t speak.

“You’re having a hard time with this?”

She nodded vigorously.

When she finally found her voice she said, “I don’t know why–it’s just a house.”

But of course we both knew it wasn’t just a house.

Even though it looked like every other house on the block, the ubiquitous London terraced house built along a ubiquitous North London road, her daughters, now grown, had run up and down its stairs, had hid in its rooms, had gathered around the dining room table in its kitchen, had practiced their violin in its living room, had fought and laughed in its every room.

They had become who they were surrounded by its four strong walls.

Later when they left, she and her husband gave the house–the red brick, the white trim, the very smart dark green they had chosen for the door–one last look before they drove off.

An hour later a new moving van pulled up, along with a younger couple and a small child.

Inside, their home awaited, the kitchen, the living room, the bedrooms, and its walls still ringing with the laughter of two little girls, now grown.

photo by Alissa Osumi

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Frankly, words fail me.

My daughter turned 12 this month. And I’ve been struck hard with the realization of how little time I have left with her. Six years until she goes to university. Which is tomorrow. Because yesterday she was six years old.

I was sitting having coffee the other day with a young mother whose three year old was hilarious in her attempts to derail our conversation and naturally bring it round to her. She first demanded food, then started chucking things out of the fridge, until she finally sauntered into the kitchen naked with a towel over her head.

Her mother slid back and forth between laughter and exasperation.

I said She will be your companion in a couple of years. This little girl who quacks for snacks. She will suddenly blossom over night into a being who not only mesmerizes and entrances you but who can offer advice and solace. Who will steal your best clothes and reflect back your parental mistakes and successes.

And you will be the one wondering how to get her attention.

You will see that far off look in her eye and know that she is floating on another plane.

You will see her turn from you to zero in on another’s conversation.

You will be the one to hold on just a little bit longer in your hugs.

It is an extraordinary feeling, and frankly words fail me.

And then, like my sister this past summer, you will possibly watch her walk away down the aisle with another. Or at the very least, you will wave from your doorstep as she steps out on her own into this vast, vast world.

I try to remind myself of this when I’m itching with irritation, Have you done your homework?? And wondering for the zillionth time, Where is my leather jacket??

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Zen and the Art of Doing Handstands in the Pool

I took my son to his swimming lesson today and afterwards, instead of rushing away to complete a long list of errands, I let him play in the pool.

For the next half hour I watched him splash and make shapes in the water. He made circles and question marks, even triangles with his sleek body. He swam and dove and thought of nothing but the wet water and its silky feel against his skin.

I watched him in his funny little swim cap and his blue goggles which gave him the air of an elfin super hero. His smooth body encased in regulation blue swim trunks. His little pink toes sticking out every which way as he yet again flicked his body over and dove for the bottom. Where, as anyone knows, lies the power and silence of an aqua universe.

Around him swam an assortment of people, executing frog kicks and breast strokes–even a half decent free style. The winter light outside darkened and the huge window on the side of the building became a mirror, doubling my moment of zen. I listened to the whaa whaa of the pool acoustics. And watched the worms of white light wiggling on the sparking blue water.

My wristwatch ticked at me impatiently but I decided to do nothing but look and listen and be in the moment.  I remembered my son as a baby and pictured him as the young man he so soon will be. And I thought how much I wish upon him a life time of these moments when nothing is accomplished except for bliss.

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Children and holidays do not a novelist make.

It is the last week of summer and though I do pine for the departed sun and growl at the chill in the air, I am craving the solitude of school term.

My daughter, three days back from camp, is already off again. But my eight year old son, my constant little companion of summer 2010, is still here.

We have had a wonderful time. We’ve played card games, word games, and lots of Top Trump Star Wars. Oh, yes we have: Han Solo, height: 1.8m, Dark Side: 6, Jedi powers: 4, Battle skills: 50, irritation factor: 1000.

Our love and devotion are wearing thin.

I’m now fighting with him, trying to convince him that he really does want to go to the map exhibition at the British Library.

Funny, he just doesn’t agree.

I have reached the making deals point. “You go with me to this, I take you to zoo on Thursday…”

He is underneath his bed covers at this point, having exhausted himself with a terminal bout of computer. He is still in his pj’s—yes, it’s noon–and driving a hard bargain. Basically not giving an inch. While I try to come up with ever more appealing treats.

“Another hour of computer when we get back.”

“Blockbusters, any dvd.”

“A big chocolate muffin.”

“Boring,” he wails.

Still, I’m not one of those who bemoans the pram in the hallway. Or in my case, the Wii in the living room.

I do feel that if it hadn’t been for my children, I probably wouldn’t be a published novelist today. When they came into my life, I suddenly got it. Got what made the world go round, the passions that fuel many a character. That mad crazy love combined with that equally mad crazy rage that accompanies the birth of children.

And it is that anger which races to my vocal cords and prompts me to bellow:

“Get your a** down here, pal, before I chew it off!”

And yup, that little pitter-patter of steps running down the stairs, really does make my heart sing….

photo by madamepsychosis (flickr)

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The Dying Art of Letter Writing

My daughter is at camp for two weeks. She’s deep in the forest, surrounded by wood nymphs and tree elves, eating gruel and getting rained on.

When I packed her I clung to the camp’s list: tent, wellies, rainwear, hiking boots, cutlery, sleeping bag, sweaters…it went on and on. And then I noticed at the end it gave me an address to which I could write.

Write? A letter?

It took me aback. I can’t remember the last time I wrote a letter. Emails, cards, Facebook missives, sure. But a real life bonafide letter? That languid chat on paper detailing life? Where you try to make your presence felt to the one you’re writing to?

I didn’t know how to begin. What could I write that would be of interest. I haven’t done anything terribly interesting these last two weeks. I’ve cleaned the house, worked on my novel, taxied her brother here and there, fed the neighbor’s cat, checked my emails a zillion times….

I stared at the bright white paper I bought to write with and yes, was suddenly struck down with writer’s block.

I was still staring woefully when the post man slipped a small white envelope through our mail slot. It was from my daughter.

“It’s really cool here,” she wrote. “We’re surrounded by hills, trees and streams. I am at the top of the hill sitting on one of the logs in our meeting circle….”

I could feel her laughter pouring out, the wind swirling her hair, and yes, even the rain dripping down her nose. She ended it with the simple but oh, so effective “I love you and miss you.”

Well, as usual, the girl had something to teach her mom: write what you know, convey your love.

So I took up my pen and began…

photo by ben.bowen (flickr)

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Broken Britain

I read interesting article in The Economist about whether Britain is broken. It concluded that actually it was going to be OK. But that the media was whipping things up.

I know what it means.

I can’t click on Yahoo without some gruesome story popping up on the home page. It rattles me and adds to my view that life is going down the tubes, that everyone is horrible and that if we’re not constantly, exhaustively vigilant, horrible things will happen to us and our loved ones.

I have been railing for years now among my friends about the sensationalism of our local papers. They are propped up on boards in front of the local shops to scream the local horrors.

It’s insidious and I worry about the effect this has on children.

There is a sweet shop near the school my children attend. After school it is swarmed with little kids who are just beginning to read, buying their bag of sweets. (I know, I know, their teeth are going to fall out—but one crusade at a time.)

I have watched as both my children came of reading age and began deciphering the headlines. The shocked look as they worked their way through the line and the startled look on their faces. Then their turning towards me for an explanation. Unfortunately, I don’t have one.

So now if I see a particularly nasty one, I hurry them past, talking loudly about other things.

But I’m angry. I’ve often been tempted to take pictures of my kids licking their ice creams and standing on either side of one of these boards. Smiles on their little faces as they contemplate headlines like:

Body Found Hanged in Woods

Acid Rape of Local Girl

Girl, Sexually assaulted,  Snatched from the Street.

Last week it read, Mum of Four Found Beaten to Death.

I’d had enough. I walked into the shop and asked for the owner to take it down. “Children come in here. That’s terrifying.”

It’s in his contract with the local papers, he said, he has to put them up. But to his credit he understood the mother angle would be particularly distressing to young children. So he took this one down.

I felt good about myself for about two days until the next headline appeared:

Boy Drowns in Puddle

photo by Martin Deutsch (flickr)

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Pancake Day

My children asked me to make pancakes yesterday for Pancake Day and I made a hash out of it.

Because I used self-rising flour instead of regular flour. I didn’t know.

My husband said, “But you wrote How to Cook a Tart, a book all about a domestic goddess of a cook.”

“Yes,” I countered, “but she is not me.”

She is, in fact, my alter ego. The one I am not. She is a great cook. She is a patient person. She is nice. Oh, so much nicer than I.

Jasmine would have whipped up pancakes with a smile and then slathered them with fresh butter and sugar and lemon juice. And then lingered at the table while her children licked their plates clean and asked for more.

I plunked down leaden lumps of baked dough, shoved over the jam and barked, “Eat, get dressed and brush your teeth. I’ve got work to do!”

That is the secret of writing. You create characters who are not you.

Today is the beginning of Lent. It is funny that here in the UK my children learn from their state school what Lent is. My daughter came home discussing her options of self-sacrifice: chocolate, computer, complaining…

When I asked my eight-year old son what he planned to give up, he said, “That’s easy. I’m giving up smoking and alcohol.”

photo by melomane (flickr)

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Young Love

My 11-year old daughter waits like a sighing lover by the front door. She has invited her new friend for a playdate. But the girl is late. Well, we don’t know if she’s late because she said on our message machine that she’d arrive after lunch but it is now 2 pm and as far as we’re concerned it’s after lunch. But maybe it isn’t. My daughter is worried that her new friend might not come around again like yesterday when there was a bit of miscommunication and she waited all afternoon and the girl never showed up.

It is a delicate moment. My daughter is in the thralls of a new love. So she avoids making dates with her many other friends who call her and then finds herself at loose ends, waiting for her new friend to respond.

She slinks up the stairs and hovers by my office door.

“I don’t want to call again,” she says.

“Just call and tell her you got her message and ask what time she was thinking.”

“But I don’t want to be seen as…pushy.”

“You’re not pushy.”

“I’m not calling,” she says resolutely.

I look at the clock. I don’t want to wait another hour with my daughter drooping around the house like a sick dove. I want to get some work done.

“Just tell her you got the message and she can come over whenever and then maybe you’ll get a sense of when she will come over.”

You see, I know exactly what she’s going through. I’ve been here before.

“No.”

“Fine. But then stop bugging me.”

“Ok.” She huffs out. But is back within five minutes.

“Do you think I should call?”

“Please call.”

“I don’t know…”

“Look, just tell her I need to know what time she’s coming over. Because I have a life I’d like to get back to!”

I hear her voice on the phone in the kitchen. She then reappears to report. She is beaming. The clouds have passed.

“She’s coming in five minutes.”

“Halleluiah.”

When the girl finally arrives, they stand in the hallway, so busy giggling and talking, so completely on each others wavelength, that they forget to move into the living room. I hand my daughter a box of biscuits to sweeten the deal and leave them to it.

I then sit upstairs in my office and write, remembering my first loves as well.

photo by Eric in SF (flickr)

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Shoot Me

Well, they’re here. Our Christmas kittens.

I had been strenuously avoiding getting a cat or dog. Too much pet for me. All that caring, and feeding, and walking, and just worrying about.

As a writer I am always yearning for space and solitude and no responsibilities so that I can get something, anything down on paper.

So we’ve worked our way through a range of noncommittal pets: gold fish, hamsters, robot dogs, budgies in cages. Pets that are contained and do not require too much of my wildly divided attention.

But nothing satisfied our daughter.

She needed something to cuddle.

And she’s about to turn 11. Her childhood is passing before our very eyes.

Oh, the guilt!

So I finally broke down.

But I said to my husband, this is your thing. I’m already taking care of the damn budgies. This is your enchilada.

And so he made the calls and arranged everything.

This past weekend we didn’t tell the children where we were going. We told them they were being dragged to yet another art gallery by their mother. They were just thrilled.

Oh, the fabulous look on their faces when we walked into Cat Protection, the cat adoption place in Archway.

Naturally, we had just missed a huge selection and all that were left was a very noisy Siamese and a pair of young tabbies which couldn’t be separated.

Ah, well, I thought, relieved. Too bad. We’ll come back later (maybe in a couple of decades…) when the stock has been refilled.

Um, yes, we now have two tabbies.

Darwin and Snowflake.

They came home yesterday to stay. Got named. Nosed around the kitchen. Chased each other’s tails. Plunked themselves in our laps.

And I must say, for a flea-ridden set of more responsibility, they’re awfully cute…

photo by Merlijn Hoek (flickr)

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Run Run Run, it’s FUN!

fun run 2

This past weekend was the Crouch End Fun Run. It’s a wonderful yearly event where adults and children of all ages come out to compete in races.

Someone in our family, however, didn’t seem to understand the point. Which was to run really fast and beat everyone they could.

In fact when we hollered at our son to run faster. As in RUN FASTER!!–he looked at us curiously.

Why?

Because it’s a race! It’s what you do!

My tummy hurts.

Power through it!

Why?

Because it’s fun! RUN!!

Later we logged onto the results.

So. Let’s see how you did.

Why?

Well, just to get an idea.

Of what?

Of…hmmm, you’re not on the first page. Well, let’s go to second page shall we….hmmm, so and so ran faster than you. That’s surprising.

Why?

Well, he’s two years younger and a bit of a tub to be quite frank. Oh, found you. You’re…you’re…well, that’s not very good is it?

Why?

Well, because…I don’t know. Don’t you want to be closer to the top?

Why?

To make you feel better.

About what?

About… I don’t know. Tell you what. Next year why don’t you try a little harder, run a little faster.

Why?

To make Mommy feel a little better. And, please, don’t ask me why.

OK.

Good.

Can I play the computer?

Why not?

photo by Quo Vadis (out of towner) (flickr)

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