THE END OF A BLESSING (Blessing Jar Week 19)

Twenty-two years, almost to the day, I went on maternity leave from my job ready for the birth of my first son. I never went back fulltime again. Until now.

For the last two decades, I have either worked part time or been a fulltime stay at home mum. But as of this week, I have a new contract and I’m back to working a five day week.

I’m nervous. It feels like a big change.

The reasons for the change are complex. I’ve been explaining them frequently for the past month or so since the offer and decision were made – to colleagues, to family, to friends, perhaps most of all to myself. Don’t get me wrong, I am sure this is the right decision to make, for financial as well as emotional reasons, and the opportunity has arisen just as my daily family responsibilities are declining so I’m pretty sure this is God’s timing. I’ve been in this post for the past thirteen years, with the hours gradually increasing since the start so this seems like the natural next step, both for me and the job.

But it still feels like a big change.

So I’m taking this moment to look back with gratitude on the two career breaks and all the part time jobs I’ve held since 1995.

Not all women have that same chance. I’m blessed that I have such a supportive husband, who earns good money, that gave us the choice for me to be at home more with our boys as they grew and then to be available to care for both parents as ill health overtook them. It gave me the time to get involved with Boys’ Brigade and host children from Belarus on respite holidays.

I’ve also been blessed to have jobs, particularly the current and last one, where there was flexibility to my hours. So when our youngest broke his leg and was in plaster for three months, I was able to swap three long days for four shorter ones in order to ferry him to school late and pick him up early. I’ve worked different days so I could take my parents to hospital appointments. Hairdressers, dental appointments, coffee with the girls have all been easy fit in. It’s been a mutual arrangement – I’ve also swapped days to come in for special meetings or training. But, again, not everyone has the blessing of such flexibility.

Now there are no more school runs to do, no more holiday childcare to find, and no more hands on care of my parents. Somehow, I still need to find new time for my voluntary work in Boys’ Brigade, my writing, and all those personal appointments. But, other people fit these in around fulltime work and I used to (well, most of it) before I had children. I’m just going to have to be more organised and disciplined with my free time.

And I am hoping that working fulltime will take off some of the pressure that comes from part time – less of a need to stay late to finish something off because it’s Wednesday and it can’t wait for when I’m next in on Monday. I’m hoping fulltime will let me pace myself a bit better, timekeep a bit better, and even stay on top of my waiting list and To Do List a bit better. Well, a girl can hope!

We’ll have to learn new routines together, my beloved and I. My change in hours will impact him too, mostly for the positive (there I go, hoping again!), but also in little ways, like I won’t be able to pick up his prescriptions or do errands for him in town. Perhaps we’ll go back to some of the routines we had when first married, things like whoever gets home first cooks dinner. Maybe we’ll have more evening dates so neither of us has to cook!

This long weekend stands at the end of one routine and the beginning of a new one like a river marking a county boundary. I’ve gazed back at the country I’ve crossed, the distance I’ve come, grateful for the peaks and troughs along the way. Time now to take a breath, cross the bridge and look ahead into the misty morning for the challenges and blessings to come.

Advertisements

MY DAD, THE TIME LORD (Five Minute Friday VISIT)

As I turn the corner and peep round, there he is, in his usual spot fast asleep. I crouch down in front of his comfy chair, place my hand gently on his knee and say:

“Hello Pops”.

His eye light up immediately on opening. He’s always so pleased to see a visitor.

The rest of our time together varies. Visits are frequently limited to no more than an hour as he struggles to battle ongoing fatigue. His Alzheimer’s makes it difficult for him to remember what he wanted to ask or think of things to say so the emphasis on finding things to talk about is on me. But pick the right topic, often questions about his past, and he can speak with fluidity and clarity, just like he used to.

His sense of time, especially how much of his timeline I was involved in, isn’t fixed. It’s a bit like stepping into a Tardis when I visit, with him as the Doctor and me as his Companion, as we travel back together to his childhood, his adolescence, his National Service, his early days of marriage.

Sometimes he thinks I was there, expects me to remember the old friends he grew up with, his mother (who died when I was a baby). But that doesn’t matter. Rather than remind him of the blank patches in his memory, I blame my own recall and ask him to remind me of them. Because his memory of his early days is clearer, it’s even been a chance to learn more about my unknown grandparents; I feel like I’ve had a chance to get to know them at last.

Yesterday he told me about the lettuces, runner beans, and radishes they used to grow – small details that add up over time to a richer picture – and it led to a conversation about the vegetables my husband and I are growing now, as well as the tomatoes Dad used to grow when I was a child, and an idea that we might plant up some pots together for his care home’s garden.

And so our Tardis takes sweeps us off on another journey back and forth through time. How many people find out their father is a Time Lord?

To link up with the rest of the awesome Five Minute Friday community, please visit http://katemotaung.com/ (although from next week we’ll be using the dedicated website http://fiveminutefriday.com/)

(*For those wondering, the people in the photos are as follows: 1. My parents, me and my older brother outside my childhood home probably 1970; 2. My dad  in 1934; 3. My parents’ wedding in 1958 – you can just see their mothers each next to the aisle 2nd row back; 4. My mother, my dad’s mother, and me – shortly before my grandmother’s death; 5. My dad’s parents and younger sister in 1945 – he kept this photo while he was on National Service; 6. My dad in 1927)

 

The Blessing of Taking Stock (BLESSING JAR Week 19)

It’s been one of those weekends where, thanks to migraine and back pain, the best laid plans an’ all that…well, you can fill in the rest. So we’ve had to do something different and today it meant getting on with some more gardening instead of a trip to the coast.

But I’m not sorry.

We’ve got on with a host of jobs: mowing and edging lawns, tying in pea plants, thinning out radish seedlings, planting the last of summer bulbs, weeding, cutting back an over enthusiastic Rose of Sharon and self-seeded geranium, unwinding the broken fairy lights from the pergola. We’ve been busy.

There’s still a list of tasks to tackle – the hanging baskets are in sad need of attention, next door’s overhanging laurel needs cutting back, there are summer pots to plant up, seats to be painted and repaired, and new slate to concrete in around the pond – but not now, not today. Now is the time to sit and look, to appreciate and take stock, time to pause and simply enjoy.

The bed nearest the house is a mass of white and pink floating on a sea of green. A visitor might think the colour scheme was deliberately coordinated but it wasn’t. I hadn’t thought about the colour or the timing of these last of the spring bulbs and even the unintentional survivors from before we had the garden redesigned a few years ago harmonize. They draw the eye to Clematis Nelly Moser which has, as I’d hoped, but much faster than expected, scaled the entire trunk of the Rowan covering it with candy striped blooms. Its timing is perfect – Clematis Montana Elizabeth has just finished. It has spread so voluptuously that I wonder how much of the fence will be on view next year. Next to the first butterflies of French Lavender, the first rose, an ivory one, has opened.

Our vegetables are flourishing. The recent rain has resulted in daily growth. The broad beans have sprouted generous sized leaves on thick stalks not quite high enough to tie in yet. Peas, on the other hand, are growing in almost every direction, hence the need to tether them to their supports now. Radishes in a line, needles of green showing the beginnings of spring onions, recognisable mixed salad leaves, with rocket and lettuces close behind in the growing race. The blossom on our only recently planted miniature apple trees has finished but one already has what look like green rose hips – the initial stage of actual fruit.

The pond is full from rainwater. If I wanted to, I could turn on the pump and listen to the gentle flow of the small cascade but I prefer birdsong for now. The rose behind it, which I planted in my mother’s memory, has greenfly but one brave bud despite its inauspicious positioning. The tropical- like marginals have developed new, more luminous growth.

In the long bed, some shrubs are thriving and other surviving, a few just taking their time to establish and spread. On one silver leaved bush, I notice a single convolvulus shaped flower for the first time – I wish I could remember the plant’s name. The Californian Lilac I planted two weeks ago is already showing signs of blossom, small bobbles of blue that look more purple against the lemony variegated leaves. My fern corner is prospering, taking over from the fading Bellis flowers around them. And the coiling wisteria has reached the top of its post, ready to colonise the crossbeams of the pergola.

A garden’s never finished, never complete. There’s always more to do, another season to prepare for. However, there are these times to stop and examine exactly what’s happening in it, to see what’s been achieved and what promises lie ahead. These moments – or hours – are precious, a hiatus in time, mindful and saturated. In taking the time to take stock I have found a new blessing. I wonder if I should try to apply the practise to my life too?

Postscript: I just thought I’d share the progress of the Amaryllis from last week’s Blessing post – so you can see what a blessing it continues to be. And yes, it turned out to be three blooms!

What is TRUTH? (FIVE MINUTE FRIDAY)

I found myself echoing Pilate’s question when I saw this week’s prompt. It’s one of those words that I know I use all the time but what does it actually mean? I know it’s about facts and reality but surely it has much more depth than that? What I initially thought of as simple, solid, and graspable seems more amorphous than at first glance. I wanted to pin it down so I went back to my usual habit of investigating the word’s definition and etymology.

It turns out that there is more than one origin to the word. The English word comes from a shared root with ideas of fidelity and loyalty – hence the word ‘troth’. ‘True’ may even share a common root with ‘tree’ (please forgive the pun!) because it has this sense of ‘steadfast as an oak’. It links with the Latin words, ‘veritas’ and ‘verus’, meaning sincerity and agreement with facts. But there’s also a Greek word for truth, ‘aletheia’, which means revealing or bringing something that was hidden into the open.

Now those words of Jesus (where I realise I’ve always skimmed over the middle one in the list) make sense:

‘I am the way, the truth, and the life.’

It’s not just a matter of His existence being an historical fact but this statement tells us of His faithfulness and dependability. It echoes with His other saying of being the Light of the World – for bringing light to dark places is how the hidden is revealed.

Truth is the way He lived His life. And He calls us to be and do the same.

 

AN AMARYLLIS BLESSING (Blessing Jar Week 18)

I’m not very good with house plants. I have an uncanny knack of killing them off, sooner or later. Only a small cactus and an (unflowering) orchid have survived my care.

So when I collected the large white pot with its papery desiccated bulb in long dried out compost from my dad’s flat, I’m not sure why I took it home rather than threw it in the bin.

My parents were keen gardeners and my mother had inherited my grandmother’s love of house plants. The latter’s room in the house I grew up in had every surface covered in spider plants and African Violets that she propagated herself. My mother filled the window sills of their little flat with similar and masses of indoor bulbs.

But after she died, my father’s increasing dementia stopped him remembering to water any of the pots. Poor mobility reduced his number of trips to the kitchen anyway and his carers’ duties didn’t include plant care. Over the three years since her death, all my mother’s house plants died.

This pot was the last. With little hope, I gave the earth a good soak and left it by the bathroom window. I would allow it a month or two and then throw it out, planning to recycle the pot outdoors in the garden.

Then a small miracle began to happen.

The tiniest of triangles, only a millimetre or two high, of lime green appeared near the apex of the bulb. Lifting the pot carefully to the sink tap to water it regularly now, whenever the compost felt dry, I watched it increase in size until the triangle became an actual shoot. It seemed to grow daily, a stalk thicker than my thumb. Each day, the top reaches towards the frosted light from outside, so each day, I turn the pot 180 degrees to keep the plant straight. It’s taller than the main window pane now, over 2 feet high, stretching up as if trying to escape through the ventilator.

A pregnant bud has formed and is gradually pulling apart to reveal what’s inside. At first it seemed to be in two parts, today it’s three. I wonder if that’s three different parts of the flower or three different blooms. Please don’t tell me if you know – I want to be surprised.

I could have waited for the flower to appear before I wrote this but that would have been a post about a different blessing.

What excites me about this plant isn’t just the gratitude that I haven’t killed it. There’s something about it that speaks to me of promise, of hope, of growth, that are valuable, essential even, in themselves.

My Enneagram personality type is a perfectionist. That can be a good thing in terms of striving towards high ideals but it too easily leads to inflexibility and judgementalism. It’s more helpful for me to think and define things in terms of growth than black or white, right or wrong. The recent Resilience training I did similarly advocated an approach of considering development instead of absolutes.

This plant reminds me of these truths. It is a sign of hope for my own growth and development. In this Easter season, it’s a sign of resurrection. And it’s a reminder of my mother and the legacy she has left me.

You see, this year will be the first time it’s bloomed since she died.
 

THE BLESSING OF FREEDOM (Blessing Jar Week 17)

So far, I haven’t written about political issues in this blog but politics is some of ‘the stuff life is made of’, informing and influencing much of the other ‘stuff’ in all our lives, so for this post I’m stepping out into the arena.

I’ve been thinking increasingly this week about democracy. We’ve a General Election coming up in a month’s time and this week we had local elections for our county councils. The large function hall which is my polling station was very quiet when I walked in after work, giving me time to chat to the clerk, who is an old colleague of mine. The total turnout in our area was just 40% but in Tees Valley it was as low as 21%.

I’m shocked by that. I know there are reasons for it: people are disillusioned with politicians’ integrity; there was a lack of ready information and engagement from the various parties in our town; and recent boundary changes caught many people out (including me) so the names on the ballot paper were not those we were expecting to vote for, turning a considered decision into a more off the cuff one.

But seriously? Only one or two people in every five bothered to vote?

It seems to me that our country is in danger of taking democracy (whatever your opinion of our First Past the Post system may be), that freedom to vote and make choices that will influence our own and others’ lives, for granted.

On Radio 4 this week, I listened to a report about Nepal, where the now illegal practise of separating menstruating women from the rest of the community still goes on. In one village, this means leaving the family home for the duration of their period to stay in a darkened communal room, accessed by a doorway so small the women have to crawl into it. Brand new community toilets have been built next door but women having their period are not allowed to use them; they have to go out into the fields instead, with all the potential dangers.

Can you imagine such restrictions happening here?

It seems so far away, so foreign. Yet legal limitations on making choices about our day to day lives for some of us are not as well established as we like to think. It’s only during my grandmother’s lifetime that women in the UK were given the vote in General Elections. And initially, that wasn’t in line with men’s suffrage as there were age and status limits for women. In fact, it’s only within my father’s lifetime that equal voting rights were granted.

It seems to me that freedom isn’t something to take for granted after all.

It’s a long way from last summer when, for the first time (only a few weeks after my youngest’s 18th birthday), our whole family marched into a busy polling station with great pride to cast our votes in the EU Referendum. We didn’t all vote the same way – but that’s not the point. What matters is that we remembered our right to vote is in fact a freedom and a privilege, that we could not have exercised as a whole family only 100 years ago.

I suppose that freedom means we also have the right not to exercise our vote (although if we don’t like the choice of candidates on the polling card, what’s to stop us standing ourselves?). But if we forget our freedoms or take them for granted, I think we disrespect those who fought to gain them for us and perhaps belittle those who don’t have the same freedoms as us.

So next time I read an article bemoaning the state of British politics or the poor quality of information or parties standing, I’m going to take a breath before I get cross or disheartened, and remember what a blessing it is to have such freedom of choice in the first place.

 

 

SHOULD (Five Minute Friday)

As I join this week’s Five Minute Friday link up, I’m cheating a bit by sharing a poem I wrote a few years ago but it immediately came to mind because this word was so key to it. More info about this great writing community can be found here http://katemotaung.com/five-minute-friday/.

 

NEW YEAR’S EVE

I dreaded New Year’s Eve.

Although I danced

My mind stood motionless

In the middle of the dancefloor,

Mesmerised by clock hands

Counting down the minutes,

Adding up the regrets.

Did no one else notice?

Did no one else look back

As the chimes hammered home

All the should have,

could have,

would have dones?

 

While others whirled,

Drunkenly drowning out the passing of time

With overloud music and cheering,

With raucous singing of familiar meaningless words,

And kissing of strangers,

I stood outside

Gazing at cold stars,

Searching for perspective

To hide my sadness in.

 

Now New Year’s Eves are quieter, warmer,

Less strained with painful contrast.

I still look back and wonder

Was my year well used?

But now I have my perspective

For one New Year’s Eve

Brought me you.

 

A Surprise Blessing or the Blessing of a Surprise (BLESSING JAR Week 16)

This post was going to have a different title. My husband took me away for the weekend for my birthday and yesterday we decided to avoid the crowds by ordering breakfast on room service. So this was going to be The Blessing of Breakfast in Bed. I planned to write this post later in the afternoon while he watched Tottenham play (and beat) Arsenal but instead I dosed off, feet full of miles and head full of happiness.

The evening changed my writing plans.

We were in York, city with a pub for every day of the week and my college home. My husband had booked a table at a restaurant but had decided he wanted us to go for a drink beforehand. I was feeling relaxed and content to go along with any of his plans. He was particularly keen to try the York Tap, next to the railway station and closely located for our meal; he told me he’d seen it had some good reviews on Trip Advisor.

We made our way into a noisy bar with nothing to distinguish it but a few elements of apparently original Victorian architecture. Perhaps it had some good craft beers that had attracted those reviews, which my other half would certainly appreciate. It wouldn’t have been my choice but if he was happy, I was happy.

I sat a table while he went to the bar and smiled to myself as he chatted animatedly with couple next to him in the queue. Years ago, he would have been too shy to do that; now, he brought back happy memories of my mother’s easy way of making friends with strangers. All around was constant noise and movement, people coming and going between entrance, bar and seats like tides.

Suddenly a bunch of multi coloured tulips wrapped in brown paper and cellophane were placed on the table in front of me. There was a split second in which I was ready to challenge whoever was invading our space but before I could do so, came the duet of words:

“Happy Birthday Mum!”

And there stood my sons, who were supposed to be in Lincoln or Sheffield, with unison grins mirroring their father’s, who then said to them, ‘’Here’s your room keys.” They weren’t just joining us for the evening meal, they were staying the night at our hotel so I could have their company for a whole, unexpected twenty four hours.

It turns out that I live in a family of plotters and liars.

My beloved is usually more spontaneous than forward thinking but he had brought all his work management skills to the fore over the past few weeks. The three of them had set so many false trails in conversations about Skype chats on my birthday, promised cards and present in the post, justifications for not stopping by as we passed the Sheffield turn off on the motorway, and ‘just a little something’ so I had something to unwrap on the day (that turned out to be another hotel stay and tickets in the summer for all of us to see Billy Ocean in concert, another surprise).

Plotters and liars the lot of them.

But how can I object? I’ve taken exactly the same delight in organising similar surprises for my husband. And having all my men with me on my birthday made me so breathlessly, heart-stoppingly happy.

The lengths and  trouble they went to were an indication of their love for me. I don’t doubt their love for a minute but I feel I can never take it for granted so I was surprised by such evidence of the depth of it. I remember telling them that love isn’t just a feeling, it’s a doing word – they sure proved it me this birthday – and that’s the real blessing.