Daughter

Flung together into the ocean,

some found safety,

some disappeared from sight

and some stayed alongside her

as she clung, disrobed and

white-knuckled, to debris.

The future shrank to terror, of

salt-eyed thrashing through

mountainous waves and needle-sharp rain.

Darkness tore her to unearthly spheres,

ravening lions, bulls of Bashan,

starless, infinite stretching of night.

Hands beneath, above, around, she

gasped at raw morning air and

saw the faint, tangerine-tinged horizon.

Sixty smiles for my favourite sixty year old

  1. I always feel that I am Tim’s little sister, I’m sure annoying at times; hopefully I have given him some proud moments as well, but one thing for sure I love having two big brothers.  Sarah Seymour
  2. He is the only person I know of who covered the seat of his Harley Davidson motorbike with a real tiger skin – one that was brought back from India by our grandfather, complete with bullet hole.  Gavin Lishman
  3. Lots of great memories from being my bodyguard in tricky situations, and protector on the rugby pitch. I remember us both watching ‘The Life of Brian’ in a cinema in Austria, completely dubbed in German and no subtitles, and we knew every line and were a step ahead of the audience! Martin Beecham
  4. Tim gave very thoughtful birthday presents, particularly when we were growing up and he was endeavouring to guide our taste in music and keep up on the right track with a succession of interesting CDs. ‘The Strangers’ was the one I particular remember, and particularly enjoyed. Always something I appreciated. James Lishman
  5. I first met Tim when I interviewed him for a place at Lincoln College of Art and Design.  I remember being impressed by his rugby achievements and his ability to maintain his beloved Harley Davidson.  Gordon Broadhurst
  6. I love Tim’s generous (Spaldonian) nature and that he always has emergency condiments to hand. Faith Horne
  7. I remember our drives to rugby training.  It would take half an hour usually and we’d talk about films for a lot of it; never anything particularly insightful or any powerful critiques – just idle chat about films.  There was never any pressure or expectation; it just came easily to both of us.  Tom Lishman
  8. One thing that has always stood out is his love of the simple things in life: a picnic, music, enjoying time with friends and family. Kas Tinkler
  9. I always smiled when Tim would close his eyes and (properly) listen to a song he liked that was playing, often tapping his fingers or moving his hand to the rhythm.  Matthew Lishman
  10. I love that you know literally everything about musicians and actors from your younger days and can recite factoids about their musical history, personal relationships and prison sentences, but still know nothing about Kim Kardashian (‘who?’).  Ruth
  11. He is very generous, and very thoughtful, remembering little things about people’s lives and always asking how things are going.  Will Stevely
  12. Tim said he always had two Big Macs because he never thought one was enough, and Christmas dinner twice at the same sitting.  Jeremy Lishman
  13. I love the email essays you get from him.  I love the easy going nature (99% of the time).  Colin and Karen
  14. I always think of Tim as someone who takes houses apart and puts them back together again, and the eating competitions at Christmas with multiple Christmas dinners. Carol Lishman
  15. His sense of humour.  Joan Mountstevens
  16. I like Tim’s taste in music as I like most of what he does.  Luke Winn
  17. Tim has many qualities but two of the most memorable have to be Sunday Lunch eating competitions at ‘The Washdyke’ and designing and constructing the biggest and best playhouse in Hertfordshire!  Janice and Peter Seymour
  18. Our tutorials often involved tasting sessions of the latest home brew.  His brilliant skills and creativity earned him a place at Kingston on Thames where he achieved a 1st class honours.  I felt very proud of him.  Gordon Broadhurst
  19. Some of Tim’s best qualities are his kindness and generosity, and his dad jokes aren’t bad either.  Abi Stevely
  20. When we were on holiday in Norfolk, I think it was Tim, myself and Dad were working up the courage to go into the sea, which was very cold.  Tim was involved in a lot of sport in those days and doing weight lifting to build himself up, so he was quite a fit looking young man.  A short distance away, two similar aged girls were heading in the same direction and were looking our way.  Dad kept prodding Tim to go and say hello and whatever else Dad thought he should say.  We were both very shy of doing such things and Tim wasn’t budging, so Dad went over to them to try and arrange an introduction…as you can imagine, Tim was mortified.  This was not unusual behaviour for Dad and the effect was always the same.  Jeremy Lishman
  21. We will always be known as ‘The Hobbits’ to Uncle Tim; we promise you there are no hairy toes in our socks.  Nuala and Orla
  22. You make the best breakfasts in bed with lots of coffee.  You are spread.  Ruth
  23. From his MASSIVE yearly erection which he always took pleasure in showing me to his huge cucumber in the summer months was always a delight to witness.  Sheila Willerton
  24. His handwriting is cool and he always sends a card (or present) on special occasions even if sometimes late, but more importantly he always comes across as himself in the cards and writes nice messages.  Matt Lishman
  25. Love the way you give big cuddles when we come to see you all.  Feen Seymour
  26. I remember a few years later sitting on one of his beautiful benches at Heathrow airport that he designed at OMK Designs.  Gordon Broadhurst
  27. His healthy appetite and excellent time keeping always make us smile.  But we love him.  Helen and Steve Czornyj
  28. He was never put off when I invited him to pop over for a beer in the summer house and observe my neatly trimmed bush and the chance to have a look at my huge melons.  Size really did matter to Timothy and I in our world.  Sheila Willerton
  29. Tim or Dim is a lively dependable chap with the best sense of humour and in his teens the worst sense of dress (Judas Priest cap and leathers smelling of patchouli). Martin Beecham
  30. I love how Tim makes my samples in no time at all.  Tom Riddle
  31. I love how Tim can never walk past the biscuit tin without grabbing himself a bite.  Ellie Wainwright
  32. I always enjoy his conversation around the table at family gatherings and dinners.  He has a great sense of humour.  Matt Lishman
  33. The same bike also featured in a lucky escape for Tim who did a bit of dyke driving on it, managed to just miss hitting a fallen tree but stripped all the branches off as he slid down the trunk.  Lucky for him that his big brother was on hand to help retrieve the bike and bring it home in Mum’s car, without her knowing!  Gavin Lishman
  34. My life has a huge hole since he dumped me for a younger woman but every now and then I smile when I’m busy in the garden thinking of him popping his head out of the bedroom window to comment on me hoovering the garden.  Apparently, ‘normal people don’t do that!’ and the constant silly comments that went back and forth.  Sheila Willerton
  35. I love his various accents when asking a question.  Correne Bratley.
  36. (See above)  How they change half way through the conversation, hahaha.  Ellie Wainwright
  37. Tim, you’re a dude.  When I first met you I thought, ‘Yes, this is the man for my sister’, and you certainly are.  You have been a rock for her and my nephew and nieces and I love you for it.  Plus you give a great man hug.  Happy birthday, proud to have you as a brother.  Paul Mountstevens
  38. His Daddy God prayer was the stuff of legend.  Marvellous humour.  Will Stevely
  39. I love the level of optimism that makes you think you can do 59 things in two hours.  Ruth
  40. He is a very good hugger of elderly mothers ie me, or Mummsy, which makes me smile.  Diana Lishman
  41. The first time daughter met him when she was about three and he dozed off like Uncle Pig in a Peppa episode and she thought it was hilarious and called him ‘Uncle Pig’ for the whole time.  Jonathan and Liz Mountstevens
  42. Dad has always been supportive.  In more recent years he’s been key in my pursuit of more eccentric life choices.  A steady reassurance in the face of an unusual career path.  Tom Lishman
  43. Brevity, a concept Tim struggled to grasp…..Mark Langston
  44. I love the way that you have transformed old places into beautiful spaces.  Ruth
  45. We always enjoyed his great enthusiasm for Christmas and particularly his magnificent Christmas trees that he takes so much care to decorate.  Chris and Liz Dickinson
  46. I love that we can be completely open and honest with each other and that talking to you feels effortless.  I am immeasurably grateful for that connection and the role you have in my life because of it.  Jess Lishman
  47. He gives a great bear hug when greeting or saying goodbye.  Matt Lishman
  48. I love your music obsession, the live music we’ve seen together and the way there’s always loud music somewhere, especially when I’m working or when you listen to my lectures about how the lyrics are really sexist.  Ruth
  49. I love the way he types – very unique and he makes me look quick!  Andrew West
  50.  My favourite memory of Tim is his Daddy God prayer and my favourite thing about Tim is that he is reliable and kind. Kirstin Stevely
  51. He is a big, kind, gentle bear who treats Ruth like gold. Rohin added a big ginger bear. I remember how uncomfortable he was to lay on, and I might have to clarify that memory by adding he was the bottom layer of a human stack with Ruth, Devon and then Rohin on top of me. I’m more amazed that the couch survived than Tim. Peter, Raj and Rohin Mountstevens
  52. Uncle Tim is such a kind, caring person and also slightly mad (in a good way).  As a child I loved the playhouse that he built us in the garden.  Kirsty Seymour
  53. I loved spending time with Tim at the wedding; it was such a lovely week.  I particularly remember hanging out on the beach and archery.  Abi Stevely
  54. I love how you sing tunelessly with enthusiasm and joy, and I love your very positive and funny atheism.  Ruth
  55. His sense of humour and likeness to Lewis Hamilton behind the wheel.  Gary Brant
  56. Aside from his creative talents, he has a fantastic, irreverent sense of humour.  When I was his tutor he preferred to call me Mr ‘Broadthirst’, Mr ‘Bratwurst’ or Mr ‘Cloudburst’.  He was a cheeky, loveable and very talented lad.  Gordon Broadhurst
  57. Apart from all this he is a very sensible man who is a pleasure to be with.  Timothy, we hope now that you are 60 you will behave appropriately at all times and if you get to the end of this year and haven’t achieved it, GOOD NEWS!………………….you don’t have to!   Sheila Willerton
  58. We have had such lovely times with you Tim.  From camping to walks on the beach in the rain, I am so pleased to call you my brother in law.  You are kind, thoughtful, fun and sincere.  You and Ruth are so good together and the best thing is you make her laugh and make her happy.  Love you so very much brov.  Helen Mountstevens
  59. A funny memory of Tim is wondering exactly how big the Christmas tree will be each year.. Sarah and Peter Hommel
  60. PS Marcus quite likes you too.  Sheila Willerton

The good enough parent

Perfectionism and modern day parenting

As a special needs teacher, I work with families every day, going into their homes and helping young people with learning difficulties or social and emotional health problems to make progress academically. This role often involves listening to stressed out parents. As a teacher in school, I also spent time making calls home or holding meetings for chats with parents. As a friend to others with children, I see people trying to raise children in a world that is more complex already than the one in which I raised mine. It’s a minefield of social media, online bullying, distance learning, and increasingly pressuring expectations for them to go to university and get a degree.

When my parents raised my siblings and me, I do not think for one second that they often stopped to wonder if they were doing it right. In conversations now, mum might reflect whether she made mistakes, but this is 30 years later! At the time, they seemed pretty certain that what they were doing was correct. I don’t remember receiving apologies from either of them, or hearing them ruminating over a perceived failure!

And yet nowadays, I hear so many comments like: ‘I just feel as though I’m letting them down all the time’. ‘I don’t feel as though I’m good enough as a mum’. ‘I feel so guilty’. ‘I have terrible mum guilt’. ‘I worry all the time that they will become unwell’. ‘I worry that I’m going to mess them up’. ‘What if they never forgive me for mistakes that I make?’ ‘I feel awful because I didn’t (insert some type of caretaking gesture that might have been pleasant but definitely wasn’t necessary)’.

I remember feeling guilty when I had to leave Will with a childminder whom he did not like. He used to complain bitterly about going once a week for two hours at a time. A wise friend told me to stop feeling guilty because I wasn’t neglecting him, the childminder was a lovely kind person, and Will was miserable only because he wanted mummy and actually being with somebody else for a couple of hours was not doing him any harm at all. He has subsequently grown up without any longstanding resentment about this trauma!

In other respects, I did let my kids down. I had poor mental health, for a start, for years, and didn’t know it. I knew that there was something wrong with me, because I’d fly into a rage about minor things after being as patient as the proverbial saint for weeks on end, and I was an awful mum at times, saying and doing things in an explosive temper that I then grovelled about afterwards. I thought it was just a case of learning to control myself and become a better person. I felt shame about it. And yet, now, my children love me and accept me despite these failures. We have an open dialogue about it, and they can see and respect that I have grown loads as a person and have worked on my mental health.

And yet, I hear younger parents than me striving continually to be perfect. They worry about losing their patience, missing a symptom of illness for a couple of days or failing to check everything in the child’s school bag one morning. They feel shame and guilt over really minor things. They feel responsible for everything that the child experiences every day. They want to wrap the child in cotton wool and ensure that their lives are always happy and always positive.

This collective obsession with perfectionism is driving people insane! Our younger generation have worse mental health than ever. The wrapping them up in cotton wool isn’t achieving anything. When parents are anxious and worried, the kids then become anxious and worried about the parents’ anxiety and worry. It becomes a vicious cycle of doom, with kids not opening up to parents for fear of triggering an anxiety and guilt response.

I have had to learn the hard way that my anxiety and perfectionism isn’t my kids’ problem. When they have suffered with health problems both physical and mental, I have had to learn to deal separately with my emotional reaction. The worst things a parent can say are: ‘I am so worried about you’, and ‘I can’t stand it when you are suffering’. By saying those things, we make their suffering about us. One of my children took the time to tell me so and I am forever grateful for that honesty. I am grateful because, faced with my own anxiety, guilt and shame, and unable to share it with her, I sought therapy and grew as a result of that.

If I were able to talk to my younger self as a parent, I would tell her that she doesn’t have to be perfect. She just has to show up every day and do her best. Many her kids experience is out of her control. They will go to school and get treated unfairly by a teacher, bullied by some hideous friend, excluded from a party, put in detention for forgetting their pencil, dumped by a boyfriend or girlfriend and suffer with physical of mental illnesses that we cannot protect them from or prevent. From a parent, they need consistency and self-care. We have to take care of ourselves so that they can see how it’s done. They need us to be mentally robust and to have strategies for peace and calm internally and externally. They also need us to be able to get it wrong and to then take accountability for that and, when needed, to apologise and to learn from it.

There is a term coined by a child psychologist, Bowlby I believe, that the ‘good enough’ parent really is good enough. Perfectionism and unrealistic expectation has no place in family life. We muddle through and mess it up, and then get up and try again. And again. The most important thing to do is to love: both the kids and ourselves! I am close to my adult kids now, despite being a hopeless twat a lot of the time, because I loved them, I tried my best with what I had at the time, and if that’s good enough for them, then it’s good enough for me!

Locus of Evaluation: who makes your decisions?

There is a spectrum when it comes to decision making:  at one end is using an internal locus of evaluation and at the other is using an external one.  A person lucky enough to have an internal locus of evaluation, my oldest daughter, for example, makes decisions by consulting herself.  She always has!  I joke that she raised me and not the other way around, except that it isn’t a joke.  When Abi was 6, she decided that animal consumption was immoral and cruel, and in my maternal ‘wisdom’, informed by mainstream thought about meat, protein and growing children, I persuaded and cajoled her to continue.  Sorry, Abi!  But by the time she was 9, she pointblank refused, and I realised that she really was going to exist on potatoes, pasta, vegetables, baked beans and toast unless I intervened.  So I joined her in the meatless way of life but persuaded her to continue eating fish and dairy and eggs, for protein and Omega 3.

Abi continued to consult herself on these matters, doing research and ordering informative leaflets from a range of animal welfare organisations, and made it increasingly clear that she considered fish eating also immoral and bad for the planet, as well as dairy and eggs.  She presented me with information that corroborated her internal suspicions, and she educated me about the reality of the egg industry (which involves shredding up male chicks) and the dairy industry (which involves shipping unwanted males off for veal or just shooting them in the head at birth or a few weeks old).  By the time she was 12 we were vegan.  I couldn’t unknow the facts that she had presented me, and we have been vegan ever since – her more successfully than me as I have had the occasional unvegan day. 

My point is this: up to the age of 30 something, I had believed all the nutritional advice that I’d been taught, never questioned it, did the same as everybody else and didn’t question the status quo.  Having a prophet in the family – somebody who is prepared to stand on the hill and speak truth loudly and clearly – somebody who is prepared to question the status quo and ask:  ‘Is this right?  Does this sit right with who I am on the inside?’ isn’t always convenient but I am deeply grateful for her.  She has brought me to a more ethical life and one that is better for the planet.  Without her, I would undoubtedly not have made those choices all those years ago.  She has also brought most of the family to her way of thinking and made a significant difference to our carbon footprint as a result.  All because she has an internal locus of evaluation.

I have always had a largely external locus of evaluation.  This isn’t to say that I haven’t followed the light of inner knowledge, because I have.  I managed to get a degree, train as a teacher, leave a bad relationship and become a better partner as a result of that, learn as a parent and choose a career path that suits me and my needs.  But there’s still a hell of a lot of worry about what people think of me.  I ask my husband:  ‘Do YOU think this is OK?  Was that BAD?  Should I have said that?  Do you think I upset him/her?’  I sometimes spend bloody hours after a conversation analysing what I said or didn’t say, and worry that the person will think less of me or not want to see me again, regardless of how much or how little of a role they actually play in my life.  I also spent years of life hyper focused on my appearance, which was always, always about how others perceived me because I honestly do not care how I look to myself in the mirror.  I really don’t.    I was always looking at myself through the lens of imaginary other people.

When we have this external locus of evaluation, we become performers for the benefit of others.  We have performative sex instead of loving fun together with our partners.  When we light candles so our partners won’t see the wobbly bits, who are we in this except bodies to be looked at?  A person with an internal locus of evaluation would ask:  ‘How does this feel?  What do I want to do right now in this moment?’  Not, ‘What do I look like?’

And when it comes to food and eating, this has to be the biggest personal one for me.  If we’re counting calories, following a plan, using a food log, tracking fat, macros or carbs, doing the 5/2, intermittent fasting or any other form of rule based eating, what has happened to our inner knowledge?  Our awareness of who we even are?  We were born with an instinct to eat until we were satisfied and then stop and rest and then eat again until satisfied.  As children, we chose an apple sometimes and a piece of cake at other times.  I used to give my kids a plate that they called a picnic, with bits of sandwich, cubes of cheese, little chocolate buttons, a few crisps, some raisins, some slices of apple and a few iced gems.  Sometimes they didn’t even touch the chocolate buttons!  They were using their internal locuses of evaluation – before being whipped into obedience by external expectations about their bodies, their choices and their autonomy.

Our gendered behaviours and expectations are also external.  I didn’t care about being slim, toned and sexy when I was charging around the park like a feral chimpanzee aged 10.  I was fit, strong, happy and full of energy, free of all that expectation.  That all came later and I forgot my identity in a confusing whirlwind of trying to be whatever a girl was supposed to be back in the 80s.  I recall that having a ‘good body’ was a part of that but heaven forbid actually enjoying said body because we weren’t supposed to be a ‘slag’ and I don’t think much of that has changed, sadly, for our teenage girls today.

I just want to be free of all of it now.  I want to be able to look inside and ask myself: ‘What do I want to eat?  How much of it do I want?’  I want to go out without any makeup and not give a crap what anyone else thinks of my face.  It’s a 51 year old face: sometimes its tired and sometimes its pale, and nobody suggests that my husband hide his eye bags or spend time making himself more agreeable for others to look at and I’m damned if I’m going to suggest that to myself.  I have no issue with people wearing makeup, high heels, glamorous styles, nail varnish and fake eyelashes.  I have no issue with people having botox, face lifts, breast implants, tummy tucks or acrylic nails.  Your body, your choice.  Do it if it makes you happy and makes you feel good.  Do it for yourself.  Do it because it makes your heart smile.  Don’t do it for anybody else or for some societal expectations about how a person ‘should look’.

So, where is your locus of evaluation?  Most people are going to consult others and care somewhat about their opinions.  None of us live in a vacuum.  We do need to consider our loved ones and perhaps our colleagues.  Using deodorant and refraining from unlawful behaviour are pretty useful external expectations that help us all.  But for most of us there is a vast amount of material going on in our minds that we really could shed.  In the words of Gestalt therapist Fritz Perls:  ‘Lose your mind and come to your senses’. 

When your loved ones think you are going to Hell.

This. Is. Tricky.

I have a close bond with my mum. Despite my breaking away from the way she raised me, tightly bound by fundamentalist doctrines and lifestyle, we have a deep and abiding love for one another.

I care for her as she has cared for me. This is a human love, born from the nurture that she gave me: the bedtime stories, the cuddles, the walks in the woods and the warming heart-to-heart cuppas around the table in my teens.

She was a good mum – the sort who you feel goodness emanating from like sunlight. Her love was tangible and it got me through the abandonment in my first marriage, the stress and anxiety of a child’s mental illness and even my own mental illness in the form of an eating disorder. Knowing that she had my back was enough, at times, to keep putting one foot in front of the other. She didn’t approve of my divorce, but she approved of me, and that was enough.

Mum has supported me through re-marriage, which she disagrees with. She is always on the other end of the phone to chat things through with. We are close.

As for me, I strive to be there for her as she cares for my dad, who has dementia. Her role is a tough one as every day he loses a little more of himself. She needs equipment to get him through each day and carry out his little routines of washing, toileting, eating and getting back into bed for the whole, boring, unremarkable process to start again. Anyone who knows or is a carer will know how it is.

In my turn, I am committed to being there for her as she is now in a weaker position and I love her with all my heart. She is an amazing carer with a determination to keep her man with her until she can no longer manage. He is the luckiest man alive when it comes to a wife, and I have her back as much as I can whilst still having to work to earn a crust.

Yesterday I had a shock as Mum received a card from a friend and couldn’t read the writing. ‘I’ll read it out’, I offered, only to read that the friend is praying for mum’s family members’ salvation. I read out the words as though they were the most natural thing in the world, trying to blank out what I was reading, knowing that it was deeply upsetting but putting my responses to one side. When I finished reading it, there was no comment. Mum looked a little embarrassed. We went about the rest of the day as usual.

It has bugged me ever since. How can we really be close to people who believe, deep down, that we are going to an eternal hell of perpetual flames and suffer forever?

From their perspective, the bible says this is true. ‘Should not perish’ suggests that unbelievers will ‘perish’ (‘perish’ isn’t really the same as burning forever but there we are). Jesus talked about Hell though. It’s clear that the evangelicals have put bits together and concluded that Hell is real and that anyone who is not a Christian is going there. For my Mum, this isn’t something that she relishes. I expect it causes her a great deal of anguish, hence the prayers. But, I wonder, if they REALLY believed that their children were going to bodily be tortured in a furnace forever, would they go about their days in a normal manner? Is there cognitive dissonance going on here?

I am trying to see it from her perspective. I know she wouldn’t want it to be true but is resigned to the ‘fact’ that it is. Perhaps I should have compassion for somebody with such an abhorrent and miserable belief.

But here is a thing. How can they be so happy and joyful about going to Heaven forever to be with the Lord, when most of the world around them are going to Hell forever to suffer torments? This is something that I would love to ask but probably never will.

It isn’t Mum’s fault that I read the card. She never talks to me about her beliefs in this respect. She didn’t know that I was going to read it. These are the sorts of rationalisations and defences that can sometimes calm me and enable me to move past things. But they’re not really working. The issue has got me riled up.

The card was a stark reminder that, despite it all, my own mother believes that I am doomed unless I become a different person. I will never be able to believe that Jesus is the only way. I have too much respect for Muslims, Hindus, Jews, atheists, agnostics and good people everywhere. I will never be able to believe that God, if She is real, has only space for one branch of faith. Is a faith in eternal torment for unbelievers even a faith? People need salvation from what? Their own God?

I have a love in my heart that is pure and good. I don’t need a label for it. It is just who I am and it’s good enough.

The card made me sad. It completely disrupted the feeling of harmony with my mother that I have enjoyed for years. I need time to recover from that. It was upsetting.

A lot of life is about muddling through and trying to be authentic and real despite the challenges of loved ones who differ. I cannot be other than who I am and, I suppose, neither can my mum. Therein lies the problem.

I expect that I, and anybody else in my situation, must find a way to box these matters, shelve them up, never open them, and focus on the commonality that they share with their loved ones. I have three brothers and we all cope with the cruelty of fundamentalism in different ways. My youngest brother knows the bible better than I do as he was raised to be a preacher, and he teaches A Level Religious Studies with academic rigour and theological understanding. He finds immense satisfaction in intellectual rejection of fundamentalism.Some anger, some forgiveness, a lot of goodwill and kindness; one has religious faith, the rest of us do not. For me, I suspect that we need to somehow find a way to focus on what we share: the memories, the laughter, the weird, bendy thumbs that we all have and the mutual support that we offer.

Finally, the family that we choose – our friends. I share this here because I know that there are so many who understand and are in this situation. I know how many people forge a path through their escape from nasty fundamentalist beliefs and how deep the hurt goes when confronted with those beliefs in the present day. We can find fellowship with each other and with friends who share our values. Friends are the family that we choose. For me, after this brush with something so painful that I don’t think I can raise it or discuss it with my mum, I need a break. I need my friends, my space, my husband and my own company to recalibrate and rejuvenate.

Billy

An unapologetically soppy poem by me as a young mum. I am still crazy about this boy and he is still a cuddly one, but he’s now known as Will, mostly keeps his clothes on and is slightly less obsessed with his Gameboy.

Bare feet thudding across landing, slow scuffle-drag of wooden door on carpet;

he glides spectrally towards me, perfectly, unabashedly bare,

and confidently scrabbles into the darkness,

where he snuggles dazedly into sleep-laden arms until

the alarm shatters the body-warm bed nest, and my finger tips

tickle his sturdy, satin back while he squirms and chortles,

then turns around and unfailingly takes my breath away with

a long-lashed milk chocolate gaze.

We walk into the freshly-laundered morning;

his wind-chilled hand homes into mine until an aeroplane,

a cloud, a cat or a lorry demand his body’s focus;

words and images squeezing and

bubbling from an internal picture-store through

an unsatisfactory vocabulary and sometimes a

stutter and another squeeze of the hand as he

galumphs in rhythm with the need to tell.

After school he has a happy sticker, he did not

roar at story-time or dive joyously into mud.

He stands proud, stomach protruding and

knock-knees unashamedly together, splayed feet;

the innocence of bodily ignorance.

He earned his game boy and he sits,

milk-moustached, after his bath,

pink tongue lolling and a slight

frown as he tackles real monsters;

with spring-loaded tension

he directs frantically jabbing fingers.

Night time, and he is a graceless rag-doll,

a discarded duvet twisted lumpishly

in one corner of its football-themed cover.

His bluey-white skin wears

a slight flush and the musk-mint breath

is almost imperceptible; parted lips

display outgrown crazy-paving

teeth and his sun-bleached cow’s lick

invites my palm.

On the wedding of an ex

The weirdness of a second marriage

I was four happy years into my second marriage when my first husband, to whom I was married for 21 years, got married again. I could get bogged down into a hundred and one reasons why this shouldn’t be an issue (I’m happy now, I left him, we were not close any more, our marriage was a disaster area) but it was an issue. I felt apprehensive as the day approached and it bugged me immensely that it was on my mind so much. I sent him a Whatsapp saying that I hoped he’d have an amazing day, and that I was excited for him, and that was true. But it was still an issue.

A happy day on my second wedding

I’ve had counselling to help me to work through my turbulent emotions, several times over, and I’ve got better at it, but it’s so hard sometimes to know quite what the emotion is. About his wedding, I felt uneasy. Troubled. When he first met his partner, a few years back, and it became very apparent that she was ‘the one’, I was angry to the point of fury that he had changed. Without going into boring, pointless details, I had wanted more from him for years and had tried a gazillion ways to make it happen, some of which were downright damaging for all concerned, but it didn’t happen.

And now he has changed. When I occasionally see him at the children’s birthdays and hear him talking about her, I can see it, hear it and feel it. This made me spitting, hopping mad. But the anger turned to sadness when, one day, I acknowledged to a wise woman that he hurt me very badly and I cried uncontrollably for hours. When I blinked away those tears of grief and loss I realised that I’m free of all that rage, now, and it was not anger that consumed me when he re-married. So what was it?

Here’s what it was. It was the irreparable, far-reaching rupture of the family. It was not about him and me; it was about a community of people that I am separated from. Our three children dressing up and going to a wedding where they would see their grandparents, their aunties and uncles, cousins and old friends. I knew, when we broke up, that this would hurt, and it does. His brother came over from Canada, the brother that lived with us for one summer when he worked for the post office in his twenties and we chatted, every day, in the kitchen, as I cooked for the kids and he helped with the washing up. We got to know each other well and since the split I have not seen him or his lovely family. He called once to say he wished he’d done more to support, when things were tough and we were living separately through the week. There was nothing he could have done. He was a great brother in law and I miss him.

I loved my ex’s parents, too. His mum has had a heart attack and I wished I could have seen her but distance has grown between us. I miss his sister. We were good friends. She is wonderful and her kids are adorable. I still think of them as my nieces. I never saw his other two siblings as often but always loved catching up with them and had such a laugh with his youngest sister.

So we move on. I’ve met lots of other people through Tim and now have a whole other extended family, a lovely mum-in-law, brothers and their wives and partners and good friends. But these first people, my children’s grandparents, Aunties and Uncles – these still feel like family. I love them and miss them. When we break up with a person, we break up with all of the people who come with them, whether we intend to or not. Sides are taken, sympathies are shown. The break up sometimes feels like the amputation of a limb that, although I’ve learned to live without it, still aches at times.

When an ex re-marries, it might mean nothing and that’s fine, but if it hurts, for whatever the reason, I really think that’s normal. What’s the answer? I think it’s to acknowledge the pain, live with it a while, know that it will pass, keep in touch with the people who matter enough, and be kind to yourself.

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