What is your familial inheritance? Mine includes my dad’s high forehead, my mum’s rounded chin, and my maternal grandmother’s slim ankles. And when it comes to everyday practicalities I have inherited my dad’s love of nature, my mum’s love of reading and my paternal grandmother’s love of cooking… 🙂
‘Why does everyone have to take a selfie these days – whats wrong with an old-fashioned taken-by-someone-elsie?’
My eldest daughter takes selfies all the time; pretty and pouty and always very carefully staged. My youngest daughter, however, just doesn’t understand the attraction (see above quote), and so where necessary prefers a more traditional approach to photographic portraiture 🙂
I’ve had a very uneasy relationship with the forced fake frivolity of Christmas celebrations for most of my adult life.
This year will be my 55th Christmas on this earth and I think it’s probably time I sorted it all out for myself psychologically once and for all. Basically the generally recognised concept of a traditional family Christmas represents for me an extravaganza of heartache, not happiness. The main issue seems to be that in my head I long ago internalised a highly idealised, fixed-focus view of how Christmas should be that is truly troublesome for me; a view I dispute and disagree with fundamentally and that has never been my personal desired reality anyway.
My extrovert mum loves (and has always loved) all the surface trappings and trimmings of a traditional family Christmas – the bigger the better. She puts up several different-sized Christmas trees over the entire house, creates Christmas dioramas, adds copious amounts of Christmas decorations all over, and really goes to town with a flurry of festive present-planning and seasonal socialising. Her vision has always been that everyone joins in harmoniously and ‘does their bit’ to help her create and fulfil her ideal dream of a wonderfully happy family life – the more the merrier in all things Christmassy.
However anyone who doesn’t share her overly-enthusiastic view – and ‘anyone’ here historically means her introvert depressive daughter, in other words, me – rather than being left alone in peace to do their own thing is accused of deliberately ‘spoiling Christmas for everyone else’. Yet another nit-picking nail added to my life-long ‘not good enough’ coffin. So it has aways felt to me that my birth family’s one-size-fits-all, over-the-top approach to Christmas celebrations was created as an added challenge to force people-pleasing me yet again to consider others’ desires while ignoring my own personal preferences.
Over the years, as my own children grew up and created their own scattered versions of Christmas after their father and I divorced, it gradually became far easier for me simply to say ‘I don’t do Christmas’ and to withdraw from it all wholesale than to stand up and say to my parents ‘I won’t continue to be party to the painful pretence of perfection that requires the aggressive application of emotional blackmail and behavioural manipulation channeled in my direction in order to create an illusion of familial festive fun for the rest of you at the cost of my personal sense of worth’. Because after all, why spoil things for everyone else…
But surely by now and at my age there should be ample room in my head for many different, equally legitimate ways to spend Christmas? Why in my mind’s eye does it still have to be an extrovert extravaganza or nothing? Why isn’t the offer of peace and goodwill to all men a two-way street in my brain, why should I continue to feel I should always be the one expected to sacrifice my peace and offer my goodwill all the time to make others feel better? What’s wrong with me as a depressive introvert preferring to spend Christmas quietly, intimately, differently, and not necessarily alone – but still being allowed to celebrate Christmas in my own way? And the answer, of course, is ‘nothing’.
I’ve been working so hard this year to try to finally lay that old ‘not good enough’ coffin to rest, and part of that ongoing exercise is to re-evaulate my difficult and decidedly dysfunctional relationship with all things Christmas. So this year I’m going to try to resist the resistance and actively embrace the concept of Christmas with compassion and consideration for my own happiness, and see where my newborn confidence takes me… ❤
I’ve been thinking a lot about my dad today. He’s still in hospital recovering from a recent series of small but troublesome strokes, and it may be a while before he gets home again. Always assuming he doesn’t have yet another stroke, of course – and at 81, with his health having been noticably deteriorating over the last few months, sadly nothing is certain any more. He is getting old, and the realities of age are causing him to fail almost in front of our eyes: A diagnosis of vascular dementia is adding a cognitive element to his physical limitations.
I’m thinking about the last time I saw him at home, not even a month ago, standing watching out the kitchen window and waving at my train as it passed the house. The thing is, the train to London from Inverness doesn’t usually pass by that way, but on that particular occasion due to engineering works we were diverted via Aberdeen, which meant travelling along the railway line next to my mum and dad’s house.
Dad had said beforehand that he would watch out for the train and wave, so I was looking out for him. Even in the dark and after all these years living elsewhere I still remember the area like the back of my hand so I knew we would go through a short deep cutting, pass under a road bridge, and immediately after we would rush past four houses in a row, with mum and dad’s house being the last to see.
I know it takes only a few precious seconds for the train to pass and it was dark outside, so I decided not to try to take a photograph of the house as we rattled by but just to see how much I could see at that time of the evening. I just didn’t want to risk missing anything by concentrating too hard on my camera instead of looking out and maybe not even getting a shot in focus, so I left my camera off.
As it happened, it was actually the darkness that helped me see him so clearly, a solid dark figure reassuringly framed squarely in the centre of the brightly lit window, waving slowly and steadily with both arms, a familiar gesture I’d seen a million times before. Every time we had visitors I remember dad standing in the road waving them off in just the same way, keeping waving until the car had disappeared over the top of the hill.
So I simply kept watching for as long as I could, tears blurring my vision, as dad and the window grew smaller, flickered, and in an instant vanished from sight. I felt overwhelmed with love and longing for those happy family memories, and a sudden flash of fear that I might not ever see him stand there again. Five days later, he had the stroke that took him off to hospital and has kept him there so far. It seems that train diversion was meant to be.
I do have a photograph I took a bare month ago of my dad sitting in his front porch, snoozing in his usual armchair in his well-worn jeans, old navy blue heavy-knit jumper and workboots – his everyday garb for being at home and messing about outdoors. He had come in supposedly to read the paper, but after only a page or two had dropped off – having forty winks, as he would often say, although forty minutes was more usual these days. I snapped him snoozing from through the grubby rain-spotted window so as not to disturb him, and the ordinariness of that candid shot touches my heart.
I also have a photograph of him in hospital, only a week or so later, taken on the ward with my not-so-great phone camera. He had just had his hair trimmed by a nurse so was looking very smart, and in that moment he looked directly at me and smiled just as I clicked the silent shutter button. In contrast to the previous photo there is nothing ordinary about that image, a clean-shaven spruced-up dad sitting in a dress shirt (well, his version of a dress shirt) in a high-backed hospital chair, but somehow in that split second he looks more like dad than he has in months.
His brilliant blue eyes are sparkling and bright, with no hint of the dull bewildered confusion that has been plaguing him on and off since these little vascular incidents have been challenging his brain. That lucid look of complete clarity didn’t last long, but I’m so pleased I managed to capture it while it was there…
Love you, Dad, I wish you could get well soon… ❤
When my three kids were small, they had small-kid-sized problems that I could either solve for them, or easily help them solve for themselves, and they were happy. And then the day came during their early teenage years when one of them asked for my advice on something I didn’t have any experience of, and I admitted that I didn’t know – I remember the shock on their faces as they said ‘What do you mean, you don’t know? You’re mum – you know everything, don’t you?’ But I’ve never seen the point of pretending – I’m not an expert in all of life’s issues, no parent ever is…
And now here they all are in their mid-thirties, my beautiful babies, and although they no longer immediately look to me to help solve their problems I still feel their hurt from afar, and give advice to the best of my ability when requested but try to keep my opinions to myself when my input is clearly not required. Often, they just need a neutral sounding-board to explore their options out loud; usually they are looking for moral support and reassurance that they’re on the right track. Occasionally they do ask for my advice and then don’t like what I tell them, but I’ll give it anyway, because that’s my job…
Without doubt the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to try to give reassurance over was when my youngest daughter had two miscarriages in a row. She had already had her first baby, and was so delighted to be pregnant again. Not long after she let us know her second baby was on the way, I took a call from her while I was on my lunch-break at work. She was in floods of tears, on her hands and knees in pain half-curled up in a ball on the floor, cramping profusely and bleeding her baby out.
I remember the anguish and sheer helplessness I felt at not not being there in person, not being able to ease her physical pain her or comfort her emotionally, not even being able to tell her that everything would be alright. All I could do was be there on the end of a phone, 600 miles away, trying to keep calm for her while inside I felt as if a piece of me was dying too. So I simply listened, and soothed, and waited until she was ready to hang up. And then I cried too.
The thing is I’ve never had a miscarriage – I’ve only ever had three problem-free pregnancies that all went to full term, resulting in three live babies. I could only imagine what my daughter was going through, try to put myself in her shoes, offer empathy and understanding and hope that could be enough. We talked it through afterwards, discussed statistics, agreed that hopefully it was just one of those things and would be unlikely ever to happen again.
But a couple of months or so later, another early pregnancy ended in much the same way, another devastating blow. Since that difficult time, thankfully, she has had two further pregnancies resulting in two healthy babies, none the wiser as to why her two previous pregnancies ended as they did. Sadly her joy at being mum to her three beautiful babies will always be clouded by the knowledge that she has in fact been pregnant five times, not just three…
And now it is the turn of my eldest daughter to test my adult mothering skills to the maximum – she has suddenly decided her four-and-a-half year old marriage is over and she wants to separate from her husband. My difficulty here is that I do have personal experience of divorce, and I know it is never an easy option to take. Especially when children are involved – they have a two-and-a-half year old together, and my daughter’s not-quite-sixteen-year old from a previous relationship also lives with them.
My daughter, however, is simply adamant that she is unhappy and no longer wants to be married, and that’s an end to it – no discussion necessary. I’m worried that she seems to be completely unrealistic about her future options as a single parent, and I have tried to broach the potential reality of her situation with her but my unwelcome observations have fallen on decidedly deaf ears. My advice is neither asked for nor appreciated, and so she has chosen not to speak to me about whatever her immediate plans may be.
Unfortunately she isn’t talking to her siblings about it either, or even her husband for that matter, who is as in the dark as we are at the moment about how this potential separation might work. I feel completely torn – I know I’m her mother, but she’s a grown woman with a mind of her own and I have to respect her right to make her own choices in life. The trouble is, I also know that she may be a 34 year old mother of two herself, but she has never supported herself in her life before and financially has lived a really sheltered, protected life to date.
Of course as a mother I want to support my adult child in her life choices, whatever they may be, but I also don’t want to encourage her to take such a momentous step without her being entirely sure of the consequences of her actions. I’m struggling with knowing how best to handle such a complex issue, how to strike an appropriate balance between acknowledging her right to decide for herself, yet ensuring she is aware of the seriousness of that decision and the inevitable difficulties that will follow.
Situations like this cause me such heartache and grief, because there are no easy answers, no simple solutions. Nothing I can say to my youngest daughter can take away her pain. And if I insist on saying my piece to my eldest daughter about her marriage, I’m interfering. If I say nothing, I’m uncaring. Either way I’m in the wrong, stuck between a rock and a hard place. It feels like parenting never stops as such, it just changes shape and size over the years. But does it get easier? Not a snowball’s chance in Hell…
I’m quite a practical person at heart – I do feel things intensely but in a crisis tend to hold my emotions in check while I get my functional coping mechanism into gear and get on quietly in the background with whatever is needed to deal with any particular situation with minimal fuss and bother. And only once things are dealt with to the best of my ability and the crisis point has passed do I feel safe to withdraw and allow myself precious time for my own personal falling apart and crying in private.
Sadly for me, some female members of my immediate family prefer to take the overtly dramatic approach to crisis management – the kind of oh-woe-is-me, hand-wringing, over-the-top sob-stuff that revolves more around their own internal centrifugal certainties than any external peripheral-to-them realities. They tend to measure alleged levels of caring and concern only against their own suitably inflated yardstick of public suffering and pseudo-self-flagellation, as if nothing else could possibly count.
Although in some ways family crises can bring us closer together, they can also serve to further highlight those distances and differences that have marked me out as decidedly deficient and difficult to understand over the years. I’m a troubled, troubling introvert in a gossiping family of attention-seeking drama-queens, and however much I tell myself I don’t ever have to apologise for simply being myself, even now in my fifties I still feel keenly the familiar disappointment of my constant failure to fit in…
Life has been a bit tumultuous for my family lately, but thankfully the urgency of my concern last weekend (with a badly scalded daughter having to attend A&E on the Thursday after an accident at home, and then both parents being admitted to hospital in the same ambulance on the Friday – dad with a mini-stroke, mum with an asthma attack) has settled down a bit. However I’m just so glad I decided to go back up to Inverness when I did – it may only have been five short days away but it certainly made a huge difference to me to be where I most needed to be at that time.
My youngest daughter’s burns to her face, neck and chest are now healing nicely and she no longer needs outpatient treatment to change the dressings. Thanks to her own quick thinking in standing under a cold shower for 45 minutes to reduce the risk of deep burns she has no infected tissue and it seems the doctors are happy that no skin grafts will be necessary – from now on she will just need careful skin management and lots of gloopy moisturiser until everything is fully repaired. What a relief!
My mum’s respiratory attack has cleared up reasonably quickly this time – she thinks it was as much caused by panic at dad having another ‘funny turn’ as anything – and she finally got home from hospital on Friday, one week after admission, but will need to take it easy for a while. My 81 year-old dad, however, is still in hospital for now. He’s doing OK but has had another couple of mini-stroke ‘episodes’ while he’s been there, so still has a slight weakness in his right arm and leg (improving daily) and has been experiencing some (hopefully temporary) cognitive impairment.
But overall from having three family members to worry myself silly about last weekend, I figure that when it comes to my loved ones being well on the way to recovery, in the cirumstances having two out of three safely on the mend ain’t bad… 🙂
I know I only got back a week ago, but later tonight I’m off on my travels back to Scotland again…
On Thursday afternoon my youngest daughter was badly scalded on the face and chest (an unfortunate accident at home), so I’m going back up to give her lots of mummy hugs as well as a bit of practical support with her three children as she will no doubt be attending multiple appointments for dressing changes and check-ups next week.
And then on Friday night my mum called to say my dad had just had another stroke and the ambulance had just arrived to take him to hospital. However, as mum has chronic respiratory problems herself, the panic of dad having another stroke caused her to struggle to breathe again and so for now both parents are in hospital, no idea for how long.
Will be back with you all next weekend, hopefully, family health permitting…
This week’s Song from the Past is a real blast from my very long ago past! Hugh has asked us what song would be top of our Halloween play list, but to be honest I’m not really into Halloween, or any other kind of celebratory parties for that matter.
But what did come to mind was the spontaneous impromptu family get-togethers of my childhood, where friends and neighbours all simply got together in someone’s house bringing a bottle (or two!) and a bite to eat to share and we all made our own entertainment for the evening.
Mum played the accordian, so would usually play a medley of whatever was requested with everyone else singing along, and as the festivities flowed along with the whisky Dad would put on his favourite Jimmy Shand Scottish Country Dance music, or Andy Stewart singing traditional songs from the North East coast of Scotland.
One of my favourite sing-along bothy ballads of that time has to be ‘Barnyards O’ Delgaty’, so that’s my song from the past for this week. It’s sung in the Doric dialect, so don’t worry if you can’t follow it, but with bothy ballads the tunes are always easy to pick up and have a simple repetitive chorus. The theme is always farm-related, and the lyrics usually quite tongue in cheek 🙂
This is the Graveyard, my old haunt, set into one corner of an agricultural field, alone and exposed yet contained and comfortable in its position, settled silently and solidly into the landscape with peaceful purpose. It does have a proper name – Bracklich (or Breachlich, or other variant spellings) Cemetery – but for my lifetime it has been known locally simply as the Graveyard.
All traces of the old church to which the graveyard was originally attached has long gone, with the church building itself going out of use in the late 17th Century due to the merger of this parish with a neighbouring parish, and whatever remained being in ruins by the late 18th Century. The current visible gravestones are dated from the mid 18th C to the late 20th C, but this has been a traditional burial place for centuries before that.
This is the view looking up across the field from my mum and dad’s front gate – we always used to joke about having really quiet neighbours. The trees have grown and been cut down and have grown again countless times, but their silhouetted outline softening the regular headstone shapes remain a constant presence against the night sky, and I can’t imagine any of it not being there.
Walking up the quiet single-track graveyard road and into the walled cemetery itself has been a fun adventure for three generations of my family – my brother and sister and I loved exploring and playing there when we were young, as did our children and now our grandchildren in turn. The mossy grass is so springy and soft underfoot, a safe surface for toddlers to practice walking outside and getting a feel for the naturally uneven ground beneath their feet.
Below is the view of the local landscape from inside the graveyard, looking down towards the village of Ardersier and out across the water to the Black Isle in the distance. This is a beautifully peaceful spot from which to watch the sun set over the undulating horizon in the summer months.