Sunday, July 29, 2007

In the midst of life.

After delving into the past on Friday, I spent Saturday with the future. My daughter was working, so I looked after my grandson for the day. It was all go. First, we invaded my next door neighbours, who were having a garden sale. Grandson decided to join in, and tried out all the old toys he could lay hands on. He's just 3, so everything is a toy to him.

Then we walked down to the sea to go to the paddling pool.
And on the way we saw an enormously tall crane - irresistible to a boy who loves anything with wheels and an engine. It was hoisting a large cage carrying willing victims up to take part in a charity bungee-jumping event. In aid of the local childrens' hospital, it was doing a fantastic trade. I'd never be able to jump, I'm a complete coward about that sort of thing, but my grandson was very keen, and had to be discouraged from climbing over the safety barrier. We watched for a while, and I tried to imagine how I would tell my daughter about her small son bungee-jumping. While we were there, we got into conversation with a very smart set of grandparents who were also watching, with twin grand-daughters. They (the little ones) were very nervous - not of the bungee-jumping, but of my grandson! He's not scary, and was about the same age as them, but apparently they are frightened of just about everything. In the space of a five minute chat I learned not only this, but that the mother of the twins was also very nervous, had been left on her own to bring them up, and had suffered depression. Who says that the English are a reticent nation?

As we walked on, I wondered about what it is that makes us all so different. My daughter was also left with my grandson, when she was 22 and he was only four months old, and she was in a terrible state for a while. But she is obviously made of strong stuff; true they came to live with me for a bit, while recovering from the shock mostly, but in a really short space of time she was ready to get on with her life again. And grandson has always been a delight. He's happy, healthy, funny and bright. She has turned out to be a brilliant mother, and at 25 is enjoying her life again. So far, so good.

This morning, while dropping off my daughter and grandson at a childrens' party on the beach, we drove past an accident that had obviously just happened. It looked horrific. A motor bike had slammed into the side of a car, and the casualties were lying in the road. An ambulance was just arriving, but it didn't look good. Suddenly, in the middle of a mild argument with my daughter, about absolutely nothing, I was reminded just how fragile life is. Two minutes either way, and we could have been involved. That poor young man (of course it was a young man on the motorbike) had been full of the joys of a sunny Sunday morning in Brighton. He's someone's son - and someone's grandson. I hope he wasn't as badly hurt as it seemed. We are so lucky to be alive.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Terrible news.

Oh God, I really am a bad mother. The news this morning about smoking cannabis and its possible link to psychotic illness, puts me firmly in the wrong.

I never smoked the stuff, though I remember going to a party in Balham many years ago and being given something wacky to smoke, which I didn't like. I took one puff and felt very odd, so didn't ever fancy doing it again. I don't like being out of control, so that was it for me. (Though I did smoke normal cigarettes then, like a chimney.)
But my son and most of his friends! That's a different story. They all smoked the stuff from a fairly early age. Some of them smoked more, or less, than others. And I'm mortified to admit that they smoked it in our garage.(This sounds funny, but it was used as a kind of den, not for putting the car away, but for hanging out, playing music etc.)

This was not with my consent - I made it clear that I didn't approve, but seriously what options did I have? I could have told them all to clear off, smoke and play their music somewhere else. But where? Would they have been on the streets and
getting into serious trouble? Or having accidents because they were completely out of it? Probably. At least in the garage I knew where they were; I could make sure they were safe. I didn't feel comfortable with it, but there it was.

A few months ago, my son looked at some photographs from those days and said "I don't know why you didn't put me into rehab, Mum." Maybe it was a semi-joke, but how did that make me feel? Awful. I froze inside when he said it. What was the matter with me? Why didn't I do just that? Because I scurried from day to day, keeping my head down? No, but if I knew what was happening, shouldn't I have done something? I worried all the time. I tried to keep an eye on him. It sounds completely feeble I know, and maybe if his father had been around it would have been different. (Of course it was about then that his father moved to the other side of the world - which is probably the worst thing that could happen to a young man who's just feeling his way into manhood.) With hindsight, that wonderful thing, I can see this all too clearly. O.K. I was coping on my own with two teenagers. But that's no excuse. My only conclusion is that I was in the wrong. I should have done something more positive.

All this peering at the past isn't healthy. The past is something we can do nothing about! So I took myself off for a windy walk along the seafront, to blow the cobwebs away. It didn't remove the guilt, or even make it more palatable. I walked listening to my ipod; the one given to me two years ago by Son. Not only did he buy me an iPod nano, but he also spent hours putting my favourite music on it. So now I can walk and listen to 10cc singing "I'm not in Love"; The Beach Boys singing "Good Vibrations"; "Fur Elise", "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring"; Queen singing "We are the Champions", and two hundred odd other wonderful tunes that he chose, knowing how I love them. This makes me cry.

"Oh God", I want to wail at the moon, "Why wasn't I a better Mother?" But my mother always said that I was a drama queen. She may have been right.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Funny, but here's that rainy day..

Another day of rain and gloom for most of the country, though here in Hove it's relatively dry compared with some places, and the sea is wonderful; there are white-capped waves whipped up by the wind - very invigorating. My trusty radio this morning gave me the news that it has been the wettest early summer in this country since records were first kept in 1766! By golly, that's some record. And does that mean that the late summer will be good? Probably too much to hope for.

I have two foreign students staying here at the moment. One from the Czech Republic and one from Germany. I am their "host mother", they are 19 and 18 respectively, and they are both very good-looking, charming and well-mannered girls. Surprisingly, the German girl, who seems the more sophisticated and "together" of the two, has been homesick since her arrival last Sunday, and is constantly on the phone to her Mutti and her Vater.
I hesitate to focus on national characteristics so early in the day, but this morning over breakfast, her german-ness became apparent. I was waxing lyrical about Tchibo, the new shop in our local area which has interesting stuff, when she smiled in a very superior way and simply said "tCherman". Of course I know that Tchibo is a German chain, but I simply couldn't believe it. There, in a flash, was her innate sense of superiority over the English - she couldn't help it. I must try and mention the War over supper - and it may be necessary to watch a couple of episodes of Fawlty Towers and Dad's Army just to boost my sense of what it is to be English.

I had a bit of a triumph when I cooked them Toad in the Hole for supper on Tuesday. They both asked "What iss thiss "Toad"? So I answered "Like a frog, but bigger."
They still looked puzzled, so I helpfully added "Kribbit", in what I hoped was a reasonably frog-like impression.
At this point I took pity on them and explained about the sausages and the pudding, and the fact that it's a traditional English dish. It went down very well, and the
czech girl asked me for the recipe to take home. I do feel that I'm helping them with their understanding of all things English.

Just in case you are wondering (that is, if anyone is reading this), today's title is courtesy of Frank Sinatra, and reminds me of a time when I was desperately in love with a desperately unsuitable man who broke my heart (and nearly my mind) thirty-odd years ago. "Maybe I should have saved those left-over dreams." Ah well, life goes on...

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Keep up, keep up

My son has introduced me to Facebook. Apparently I'm now his "friend". That's a blessing. I looked at the setup for ages before I got the courage to do anything about it, and then my daughter had to show me what to do. Actually, once I understood it, it was O.K. But I do get the feeling that I am aeons behind my "children" in this sort of communication.
It sent the years rolling back when I looked at my son's entry. There were all these gorgeous looking grown-ups, male and female, who apparently went to school, middle school (whatever that is), college and uni with him. I certainly recognized the names, but not the faces (or the bodies!). And now they're all living and working(mostly) in London. I remember some of them from 10 years ago, when they were about 16; the ones who used to turn up on our doorstep smelling of cigarettes, the ones who threw up after drinking too much, the ones who were always hungry and seemed to arrive in time for dinner (a hastily enlarged spaghetti bolognese or something similar). Those were the days.
Anyway, now they all look wonderful - very sophisticated - I like the idea of catching up with them. But can I keep up with them? Probably not, and I suppose that's how it should be.

I noticed that my ex-husband, father of the children, is also on Facebook as one of my son's friends - quite right I guess, but whereas I have owned up to being his mother, he has listed himself as "in the family"! Not his father. (Actually, he was a mostly absent father, so I suppose that's about right.)
The silly thing is that I'm so proud of my two that I take any opportunity to identify myself as their mother.(Maybe they find it embarrassing, but that's tough.)They're without doubt the best things I ever produced, and the very best people I could leave to represent me in this human race.

My daughter read this blog and alerted me to the fact that I had left some labels out of the description of myself. They were: daughter, friend, sister. And I'm sure there are more.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

And now for the good news.

Appropriately, after yesterday's effort, came the news on the radio this morning that women can now look forward to being paid equally for equal jobs in 20 years time! Oh Joy. So those of you who are now in your striving forties; juggling children, jobs, homes, husbands, childcare etc, can look forward to retiring just as your pay packet weighs the same as a bloke's.
And the even better news is that it will take 200 years for women to be equally represented in Parliament. Mind you, given that the House of Commons looks and sounds like a childrens' playground in a deprived area of Liverpool (apologies to Liverpool - it could be anywhere) what sane woman would want to be included?
However, this "news" does point out what we all know, that women have a long way to go before they have anything like the power that blokes have over their own lives.

What awesome timing! Gordon Brown (or Golden Brown as Terry Wogan endearingly calls him) yesterday announced that he plans to build xx thousands of new homes on flood plain land.(So John Prescott,departed Deputy Prime Minister, was on his wavelength!)
The great GB won't, of course, be living in one of them, or going anywhere near them.
(I suppose he might consider a "buy to leave" would be a good investment.)
No, these new homes are for families so desperate to get on the housing ladder that they will live anywhere, put up with rapidly increasing interest rates, pay through their noses for gas and electricity, have no choice about where they send their children to school and, eventually, deal with being flooded every 10 years or so.

Anyway, enough of yesterday's news. I discovered that I had already given myself another name on one of my aborted "blog" missions. So I have "The Home Service" to fall back on if I should blot my copybook.

Monday, July 23, 2007

First Steps

Today is the first time I've had the courage to go right through the process of starting a blog. Sounds pathetic I know. Can I do this - of course I can.

I began to think about it after reading "Wife in the North", and sympathising with her situation.
I'm now a grandmother, with a three year old grandson and two grown-ups for children (25 and 27) but it seems to me that womens' lives haven't changed that much in the last twenty-something years. Of course women can now work full-time, pay a fortune for childcare, struggle to please everyone at home, shop, cook, clean etc, and be overlooked in just about every area of life. Or they can choose to stay at home with the children (and who says this isn't work), do all those other things (except pay a fortune for childcare), and still be overlooked. It doesn't sound fair, but half the world - the male half - lets it continue, and the other half - the female half- is still powerless to really change things.

I was a wife with two small children, aged two years and two weeks, when I rather surprisingly became a "single" parent. (I know, it was awful.) Somehow we got through it (this is something of an understatement) and after a while I worked from home, running my own business, which meant that I was around for the children as much as possible. Of course we didn't have loads of money, but that didn't matter because we were a close family. A good family.
I remember my son coming home from school one day, when he was about 8, very upset and angry.
"Mum, we're a family aren't we?" I was rather puzzled. "Of course we are, why?"
Apparently, they had been talking about families in his class, and the assumption was that you were only a family if you had a Mum and a Dad (resident and definitely not divorced). After I had reassured him, I had a word with his school and told them what I thought. I was appalled that a supposedly caring Church of England primary school could make any child feel so isolated and excluded.

Of course this was Cambridge in 1987, where there were a lot of smug families cocooned in their secure academic world, but hardly the dark ages! Interestingly, by the time my children were at Sixth Form College and University, respectively, (and their father was about to marry wife no.4), most of their friends had parents who were separated, divorced and even remarried. And we were still living in Cambridge. Sometimes I feel like a living social history book!

Surprising, isn't it, that my children should have made it to Sixth Form College and University.
Weren't they disadvantaged by coming from a "broken" home? Didn't they get into trouble?
Thankfully, they were OK - still are.
And, guess what, our house was the favourite place for all their friends to hang out. We always had other people's children sleeping over, having barbecues in the garden, just having fun.
We always felt like a family, and I love my children more than anything else in the world. We're friends too. And that doesn't mean we haven't had difficult times. We've had fights, arguments,
times when we've fallen out. But that is family life.
I think that's enough for one day - time for a cup of coffee. Time to phone a friend.