Friday, 30 December 2016

Saying goodbye in 2016

Headnote: which is a bit like a Footnote, but comes at the beginning. I've been trying, and failing, to write this for the past few weeks. I keep thinking of a sentence here, or a thought there, but nothing that quite works. I'm still not sure that this version quite holds together, or says what I want to say, but since I wanted to finish it before the year ends, I think this is the version that you get.

There isn't an error in the title of this post. This isn't about seeing out the old year. This is about all the goodbyes of 2016. I'm not talking about David Bowie, or Prince, or Alan Rickman, or Terry Wogan, or Carrie Fisher, or Debbie Reynolds, or any of other celebrities that you've all heard about. It's not that I don't think it's sad when someone famous dies, but in truth, their deaths are, for me, a gentle regret that something creative and bright has been lost from the world, and not a great depth of grief.

The goodbyes that I've said this year have been closer, more personal and more painful. There are three losses in particular that have cut into my life and hurt.

First of all, I lost a friend. And I still rage at the injustice of it. That someone so good, so deserving, so kind, who was so needed and wanted and loved could be gone, so quickly.

The second loss is not truly mine, and is not my story to tell, and there is nothing I want to say, or can say, other than that it has left me numb and lost for words. I want to say the right thing, but I know there is no "right thing" to say. So, I'll just leave that here - a spark was lost from the world this year.

And now, I have lost my uncle.

Many years ago I lost my father, and the final days of both their lives were, medically speaking, very similar. I have found myself being forced to remember and re-live the time spent by my own father's bedside, and the final acknowledgement that there was nothing more that modern medicine could do, and the waiting for the end to come. I have seen and heard my cousins doing the same with their beloved father. And I've discovered that I've spent more than twenty years carefully not thinking about my own father, not remembering his decline and illness, not thinking of all the bad times and sad times. And only now, as I start to grieve for my uncle and for my cousins who have lost their Dad, am I finally looking back and remembering the little girl who loved her Daddy so ferociously. And missing him. And wishing things hadn't been the way they were. And wishing we'd had all the years with him that we had with my uncle.

And so I find myself grieving not only for my uncle, but, decades too late, for my Daddy too. And even so, I'm not entirely sure I'm ready to write about him, no matter how many years have passed.

Instead I'm going to write about Uncle P.  Because I want to tell the world how wonderful he was. I want to share him with everyone. I want other people to know that the world has lost something special. I want everyone to hear his softly spoken asides, his puns, his wit and his wisdom. I want my friends to bask in the undivided and devoted attention he would bestow upon those who spoke to him, the interest he would take in your interests, the huge depth of knowledge and experience he would bring to every conversation. I want more people to delight in his gentleness, kindness, warmth, and enormous capacity to love.

He was, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the great and the good. He spent more than three decades serving his country with the Foreign Office, and then, even in retirement, didn't just sit back and relax. Instead, he devoted huge amounts of time and effort to helping others, most obviously working for Habitat for Humanity. And that's probably what marks him out most clearly as a truly good man - his immense generosity. And I don't just mean the easy generosity of giving money or material goods to others. No, I mean the deeper generosity of spirit that meant always placing others before himself. Always looking for, and finding, the best in others. Always giving his time, thought, love and hard work to make the world a better, brighter, warmer place. Even when in pain in hospital, when the pastor visited he didn't ask for prayers for himself, but for the confused, sick, elderly man in the opposite bed who had no visitors. He welcomed everyone into his home, with good cheer and kindness. More than that, he drew those who were alone, or bereft, or hurting into our family and made them part of us, extending the idea of family into much more than simply a matter of blood.

He's almost sounding too good to be true now, but he wasn't. He was simply a good man, in a world where there are far too few good men. He was a father, a son, a husband, a grandfather, an uncle and a friend. And he was bloody good at all of them, and he will be missed more than I have even begun to describe. There is a P-shaped hole in the world now, and though we may tug and pull to stitch the edges together, and patch up the hole, we will always know the place that should still be occupied by one of the best of men.

Goodbye Uncle P.

I loved you.

Friday, 23 December 2016

Like mother like son

We have stumbled, finally, agonisingly, exhaustedly to the end of LittleBear's first term at school. And, despite all my worst fears, he is not starving at lunchtimes, he is not standing alone and friendless at the edge of school life, he is not dreading every day. Far from it - he comes home with a bounce and a thumbs up, telling me he's had a lovely day. And, aside from the occasion when he wasn't allowed to play in the playground as he was in danger of losing his precariously-clinging, re-inserted tooth, he's never objected to going to school. And he is almost inseparable from at least one best friend, with a whole string of others who he seems delighted to play with.

And, as it's the end of term, and teachers don't already have enough to do, he's come home with his "Learning Journey", complete with mini-report from his teacher (with whom I am still slightly in love, because she's basically the most perfect primary teacher I've ever seen). And I read his little report, and thought to myself "yep, that's me, and that's him too".

First up... what does LittleBear need to work on?

He needs to learn to manage his emotions in different situations. Mmmmm. He certainly does. But then, so do I. I'm the one who has been known to burst into tears at work. Outside the school gates. At the doctor's surgery. At toddler group. On the shoulder of the carers at nursery. I'm the one who rants and swears about work on an almost daily basis. To anyone who'll listen. Managing my emotions is not my strong point. And I try, I really do try, to help LittleBear find ways to express his feelings without letting them overwhelm him, but given I don't know how to manage it yet, I feel I'm facing a losing battle attempting to show him how to do so. We'll keep struggling on together though, and maybe along the way I'll learn a few things too.

And what it LittleBear really good at?

He loves to learn and he has a deep understanding of mathematics. Bless him, he really does love both learning and maths. This is the LittleBear who piped up from the back seat, "Mummy, are there fifteen 50s in 750?" When probed, it turned out he'd known there were two 50s in one hundred, and that there are seven 100s in 700, so there were fourteen 50s in 700 (because 2 sevens are 14) and one more to make 750. And why had he been working this out in his head? Because he likes doing it. And the thing is, that doesn't seem odd to me. It's what I do. I like playing around with numbers in my head, for no reason other than that they're there and I can. I used to love our old style of number plates in this country, they had much more scope for playing number games in my head than the new ones. Let me explain...

We used  to have letter, letter, letter, number, number, number, letter (or the opposite). So, when I was a child we had OHO 770 T and RPJ 675 L and XOU 868 J. And having three numbers in a row meant I could spot my favourite patterns, like 238 (2 to the power 3 is 8) or 329 (3 squared is 9). Now we only have two numbers, and they're from a very small subset representing the year the car was registered. Boring.

And that previous paragraph reveals something else to me about myself as a child, and my LittleBear now. I had an extraordinary memory. I used to find it intensely bewildering and frustrating that my parents didn't seem to be able to recall with minute detail every event that had occurred, every book that we'd read, every program that we'd seen. (They, equally, seemed to find my tedious pedantry on such matters equally bewildering and frustrating). Now, however, despite being able to reel off the number plates of the cars of my childhood (a Ford Capri, a Ford Escort and a Mini Clubman, all of them white, since you ask) I am unable to tell you the number plate of BigBear's car, despite having seen it every day for the past 8 or so years. I am unable to recall where or how the obnoxious stretchy toy lizard entered our lives. There are at least half a dozen things I fail to remember to do every day. And yet LittleBear is able to read or hear a piece of information once, and he can recount it to you many weeks or months later. He described almost every detail of the day on which we acquired the aforementioned obnoxious stretchy lizard, including why we went to the shop we went to, and which shop we didn't go to instead. He has taken over my role of Pedant In Chief, complete with frustration and bewilderment that his incompetent mother is unable to keep up with remembering the blindingly obvious.

I suppose I had it coming really.

But I'm still happy he loves playing with numbers in his head.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Too much and not enough

I have too much to do.

Too much Christmas.

Too much work.

Too much small boy.

I have too little time.

Too little sleep.

Too little organisation.

Too little energy.

Mostly, I am totally and massively overwhelmed at work. I am drowning under a large project without enough help. A year ago, one of my colleagues left, and we didn't exactly replace him. We employed two extra people, but neither of them were to take over any of the design or more complex debug that said colleague used to share with me. So, for the past year, despite only working part-time, I've been doing my own job plus a large chunk of his job. And now another of my colleagues is attempting to inch his way into retirement and has decided to gently shuffle some of his work onto my plate as well.

So, come evening, I am as likely to find myself sitting at my laptop trying to do all the bits of work that I don't have time to do whilst actually at work. When I'm physically present, I work non-stop on making new pieces of scientific equipment work. New designs, documentation, test protocols, quotes for new work, revisions, or anything else that involves sitting at a computer? No time for that while at work, so I do it at home instead. And that leaves me with little time and energy for anything else.

On top of the absolute volume of work to complete, I'm also facing a horribly stressful situation at work that is keeping me awake at night. Every now and then I think I see a chink of light at the end of the tunnel, but it always turns out to be an oncoming train.

I was going to keep blogging, but I lack the time, or the inspiration to write.

I was going to have a pre-Christmas party, but I at least had the self-awareness to scrap that plan at the beginning of December. I'm thinking of a February party at this rate.

I was going to send Christmas presents to my family in plenty of time. They went yesterday.

I was going to make more felt toys for LittleBear for Christmas.

I was going to hem the curtains rather than leaving them held up with pins.

I was going to do so much.

Instead I'm at breaking point. My Christmas holiday starts tomorrow, and I'm not ready for it. I'm trying to smile and be excited for and with LittleBear, while inside my mind is raging, weeping, screaming and battering itself. I want the world to stop, just stop, and let me breathe, let me sleep, let me cry, let me regroup, let me be ready to wallow in my beautiful boy's joy and excitement and wonder. I guess I'll have to settle for going to bed early instead. It's all I've got.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

The loveliness of new friends

I realise I've been a bit quiet here lately.

More than a bit quiet, I've been positively absent.

There's been Stuff Going On. Some of it's Family Stuff that I can't yet find the words to express, but keep thinking I'll write about. And then I don't manage to find more than the odd half sentence drifting through my mind in the shower, so never quite get round to writing anything. And since that's the next thing on my internal list to write about, and I am nothing if not list-bound, instead nothing gets written about anything.

So I'm forcing myself to abandon the list in my head and instead I'm going to make a minor digression of praise about some of the wonderful new friends I've made in the last few years. None of my "old" friends should take offense at this - you've all been my rocks and comfort for so long I'm not sure I could begin to find ways to thank you for all you've ever done and been for me. No, this isn't about you, this is about the random acts of kindness that I have been subject to of late.

Many of the budding new friendships I have are courtesy of C, who took pity on my self absorbed meanderings and instituted the monthly Pub Night in the village for mothers of small children to get together and bleat. It's not only been a great arena for bleating, but a good way to actually get to know people, instead of exchanging half sentences before our respective children demand attention. C has a quiet and understated ability to help and soothe. Thank you C.

Among those I've befriended (or who have befriended me, depending on how you see these things) is T, who is the saint who re-inserted LittleBear's tooth when he smashed his face into the pavement, and who counselled me with handy tips to identify shock afterwards. She also arranged to have his bicycle removed from the scene of the accident and then brought it to our house herself later that evening. And she leapt out of a cafe as a bloody and battered small boy and his fraught mother stumbled back to the car from the dentist and shepherded us in so that we could get cleaned up and calmed down.

It's also T who made sure LittleBear knew he could come early to T's daughter's birthday party so he wouldn't be overwhelmed by too may children and too much noise. And he loved the party. Thank you T.

Then there's L, who, without batting an eyelid, offered to take LittleBear after school if I needed to stay at work. In the end I didn't, but we did go round to L's house for a play date on the recent teacher training day and somehow ended up having the odd glass of Prosecco that afternoon. Friends who ply me with bubbly are friends I need. Thank you L.

And there's L2, who took pity on my bleating about LittleBear being sick and missing the school book sale that he'd been saving money for. She took advice on LittleBear's likes and dislikes and purchased a book on his behalf and delivered it to the house this afternoon, to the great joy of NotSickAnyMoreBear. Thank you L2.

There's also H, who nobly allowed herself to be chased by LittleBear around the lawn outside the church when I refused because I'd been wearing stupid court shoes to work all day and my feet were killing me. Admittedly her two small people joined the chase too, and most of the time it's muggins here being chased, but H saw the tears welling in LittleBear's eyes and stepped into the breach, despite her aversion to the running games I find myself playing with small people. Thank you H.

Never forgetting H2, who is always, always there with an ear to listen and a shoulder to cry on. Never mind how bad her own day has been, she always manages to offer support and empathy. And amusing text messages. And offers of wine. When I didn't know if I could manage to get LittleBear to school without the use of the Breakfast Club that he hated, H2 and C both immediately offered to shepherd him there any time I needed help. Thank you H2.

And, naturally, there are all the people who listen to me ranting at the pub once a month and don't tell me to shut up. And I've realised the trouble with this catalogue is the terrible fear that I may have missed somebody out. If I have forgotten an act of kindness or a demonstration of true friendship, then I shall blame the glass of gin by my side, and the lack of sleep in my life. I appreciate and treasure all the new friends who have come into my world since having LittleBear. My life is immeasurably improved by knowing you all.

Merry Christmas one and all.