Thankful Tuesday: 2013 365 Challenge #86

Remembering Summer

Remembering Summer

Today I am thankful.

Grateful to my husband for getting the kids dressed this morning while I had a shower. Appreciative of the lovely ladies at No. 1 – a drop-in centre run by the Oundle Baptist Church – who entertained my children while I had a chance to catch up with my Mummy friends. I’m grateful to the library for letting my kids run riot and read books loudly, without once saying shush. I’m happy with myself for packing lunch boxes and with my children for eating their sandwiches. I’m immensely thankful for the amazing ladies at Rainbow for another 90 minutes of marvelous craft. And for their assistance in the creation of painted flower pots, woolly sheep, decorated bunny biscuits, easter bonnets and pretty eggs.

Finally, I am grateful to the lovely agent who rejected me today with this email:

You and your book sound absolutely marvellous and, though unfortunately we are unable to represent you ourselves, I think other agents will be interested and I do wish you the best of luck elsewhere.

I’m not sure I would have been happier if it had been an email telling me to send the full manuscript. In fact I can safely say I am happy that it wasn’t. The rejection (even if it’s all lies) has given me a spring in my step whereas a request for the full manuscript would have spun me into despair, as I’m well aware the remaining 200 pages are not as polished as the first fifty read by the agent.

Feel the warm sun

Feel the warm sun

At the end of my carefully planned and perfectly executed day I feel more positive than I have in weeks. The kids have had fun, I’ve had a nice chat and hubbie came home in time for baths so I could walk the dog. During my walk I made a plan to sharpen Dragon Wraiths and hopefully elevate its position in the Slush pile. I feel rejuvenated.

After today I understand why parents sign up to things like baby yoga, swimming, tumble tots, musical minis and so on. I’ve always felt we cover most of those activities at home, or the kids do it at nursery, and therefore I don’t need to spend more money on expensive classes. But now I get it. It’s structure. My day today was structured. I didn’t ask the kids what they wanted to do (as I do normally), I TOLD them what we were going to do, with a caveat that we’d review the schedule at lunchtime if we were tired.

I used to think giving them choice was good parenting because they were learning to make decisions and it meant if they later didn’t enjoy it I wouldn’t take full responsibility. Now I see they like knowing what’s going on as much as I do. Maybe not all the time. But starting the day with a plan and a motivated Mummy occasionally might make all our lives easier.

Now what the hell am I going to do with them tomorrow?

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“Mummy, Lucas pushed me.”

“Lucas, we don’t push. Say sorry please. Sophie, don’t provoke your brother. I saw you snatch his Transformer. Give it back and apologise.”

“No! Won’t! It’s my turn. Lucas isn’t sharing. You said we had to share our toys.”

The younger child stood with her arms wrapped around her chest, bottom lip stuck out like a shelf, while her brother glared and held his hand out for the stolen toy.

“Share, yes, but we don’t snatch. That’s not acceptable behaviour. Give the toy back to Lucas or you will get a timeout.”

Claire watched the domestic drama unfolding before her with something akin to horror. She shivered as the scene dragged out memories of her own siblings. Being the youngest she realised she must have sat, as Lily was doing now, on her Mother’s lap, watching as Ruth and Robert yelled and fought. I’m glad I don’t remember. With only two years between them, she and Ruth had mostly been allies. Robert — six years older than Claire — considered himself above childish games by the time she was old enough to join in.

Too busy being the school swot and doing his flute practice. Teacher’s Pet.

Claire considered Josh’s children, with their sun-bleached surfer hair and nut-brown skin, and thought they were far too like him to worry overly about homework. Except Josh is a doctor, so he must have tried hard at some point. And what does it mean anyway? I worked my butt off at school and now I’m facing the sack and reading kids’ books to kill the time.

The two children were still squabbling but quietly enough that Fiona chose not to intervene. Claire listened closely, hoping to glean some nuggets of parenting insight for her two weeks with Sky.

“They’re not normally this bad. They’re bored. We’re used to chucking them outside to run off their fidgets. I didn’t pack for this kind of weather though: We don’t really get snow.”

Claire jerked her head up and gazed at the other woman. It was the first time she had said anything voluntarily to her since they’d met up in the hostel, despite them all sitting down to dinner together. Josh had manfully kept up a stream of anecdotes and idle observations while Fiona stared at Claire through tired eyes.

Searching her brain for a sensible response, Claire cleared her throat and replied, “it’s not normal this late in the year. Last March we were in t-shirts and cracking out the barbeques. Then it started raining at Easter and didn’t stop until autumn.”

“We don’t get much rain either. No wonder you Poms talk about the weather all the time. You get so much of it.” The corners of her mouth raised in a tiny smile before her attention was dragged back to peace-making between her eldest children.

Claire became aware of the tremble in her hands. Fiona intimidated her. She was so poised, and beautiful, and always calmly in control of her gaggle of kids. The prospect of having one small person under her care for a couple of weeks had Claire waking in terror.

“Does it come naturally? Being great with kids?” Claire heard the words and was shocked to find she had spoken them. Fiona looked surprised too, but not offended.

“I wouldn’t say I’m great with them. It’s different with your own anyway. They’re not ‘kids’ they’re your kids. They have personalities, ones that are infuriatingly close to your own. So you understand them and love them for it. It means you clash too — they know how to press your buttons, that’s for sure. And no, I’m sorry to say, being a parent doesn’t come naturally. You have to work at it, like anything else.”

Fiona’s words surprised Claire. Ruth always makes out like being a Mother is the most natural thing. How she wanted kids more than anything and loved Sky from the minute she popped screaming into the world.

“How did you know you were ready for kids? You and Josh?”

“Ah, there’s never a right time to have kids. If you’re in a relationship you think will last, and you both want kids, then you just take the plunge. No one is really ready to be a parent. You learn on the job.”

“Did you give up your career? I think Josh mentioned you’re a doctor?”

“I haven’t given it up, no. On the other hand I have been on maternity leave three years out of the last six, so I’m not legging it up the career ladder. I have the rest of my life to do that, but they’re only little once.” She looked at Lucas and Sophie, who were running round the sofas screaming and giggling and occasionally wrestling each other to the ground. She smiled and caught Claire’s eye.

“Thank goodness.”

***

A daughter’s rejection and 2013 365 Challenge #22

Jungle Party Prep box

Jungle Party Prep box

So far I seem to be taking the agent rejection thing in my stride. I’ve sent out about ten submissions and had two or three rejections. That’s fine, I expected it. Occassionally if I really liked the agency I’m disappointed but I certainly haven’t taken it personally. However I have discovered a type of rejection today that does hurt.

My daughter’s.

I spent the afternoon painting props for my daughter’s Jungle party, which we’re having in our house this weekend. Nothing fancy just a giant palm tree, a pin-the-tail-on-the-zebra and some leaves for Musical Leaves (think musical chairs). I showed them to her after nursery and her first response was “that one isn’t quite covered. You missed some.” And that was it.

And it HURT.

Jungle Leaves for Musical Leaves

Jungle Leaves for Musical Leaves

I wanted to yell all sorts of rude things at her. Analysing my over-reaction afterwards I realised that I wasn’t (that) bothered that she didn’t like my jungle leaves. It was more that she was being exactly like me. When my husband does house DIY I’m much more likely to say, “what about this bit?” than “well done that’s amazing.”

Breeding a mini-me has forced me to come to grips with my worst habits and traits and it’s HARD. I’m also worried that she won’t enjoy her party because of something I haven’t managed to get right. She has talked about her birthday party pretty much every day since the last one and it’s become a big thing in her mind. Settling on having a zebra party (which I have expanded to be a jungle party) has put my ingenuity to the test. So far I have only failed to source a zebra cake (and I don’t do baking) so not sure what I’m going to do about that. Hoping I’ll find a store that will do one of those print-from-picture things.

Anyway, as today has been mostly party prep and a couple of query letters I haven’t done any research on Alnwick Youth Hostel. I’m trying to decide whether to send Claire to the castle or focus on her first night in a dorm. You’ll find out in a minute which I chose!

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Claire put her key in the lock, opened the door,  and peered into the room as if someone might jump out and attack her. It was dark so she reached inside for a light switch, hoping no one was asleep. Surely no one will be in bed at 8pm?

A quick scan of the bunk beds showed them all unoccupied. Claire released a breath she didn’t realise she had been holding and stepped into the room. It looked like only one or two of the four beds were taken, as there were only two bags in the room. Relieved to be alone Claire shut the door behind her and had a proper look at the room. The walls were blue and cream and there were stripy curtains in similar colours.

It’s not about to win any décor or luxury awards but at least it’s clean.

She looked closely at the beds and realised that both bottom bunks had been claimed by the current occupants. Maybe I should have come straight to the room this morning, I might have been able to claim a bottom bunk. She didn’t fancy the idea of climbing up and down a ladder in the night. I haven’t slept in a top bunk since I was about eight and I got concussion falling out in the night. Thank god mum thought it was time for me and Ruth to have our own rooms.

The memory brought others to mind. How Ruth used to wriggle, shaking the bed as she shifted position every fifteen minutes. How her snoring that would resonate up through the mattress when she had a cold. Claire felt a chill prickle her skin. She hated sharing her space with people. Except Michael. The words entered her mind only to be shoved away.

Claire chose the bunk furthest from the door and tucked her bag in the corner. She removed her nightie and wash-bag from the rucksack and threw them on the bed to stake her claim. Then, with nothing else to keep her, she decided it was time to go and have dinner. She hesitated before taking her iPad from its position stuffed between cashmere sweaters. She had avoided having it on display in the hostel in case it marked her as different, but she needed to spend some time on Twitter and the other social media sites and it would prevent her from looking like an idiot by herself at dinner.

The hostel dining room reminded Claire of school dinners at primary school, before she was whisked away to join the same school her father had attended. Not that there had been girls there in his day. The dining hall there had been rather more opulent.

Claire chose a seat in the corner and prayed no one else would join her. There were a few people in the dining room but it wasn’t crowded. Claire ordered the most palatable thing on offer, then loaded up her blog and tried to think of something interesting to write. She had spent the day in a giant second hand bookstore – largely because it was warm and she didn’t have to walk anywhere. She wasn’t a big reader, but had found herself caught up in some silly romance with a bright cover. The book was in her bag upstairs. Purely for research purposes, so I can embody the backpacker spirit.

“Hello, may we join you?”

Claire looked up from her iPad to see two blonde girls standing in front of her holding trays. A swift glance confirmed what she already knew – that there were empty tables in the dining room. Claire hesitated. She couldn’t bring herself to tell the women no, feck off. But at the same time she didn’t fancy being crowded in by a couple of strangers. She noticed a flicker of consternation whisk across one of the girl’s faces and relented.

“Of course, please.” She gestured to the empty seats and sat back so her iPad wasn’t taking up table space. There are two of them, it’s not like I need to make conversation. Claire resolutely stared at her screen, giving off her best Metro-travelling vibes, the ones that created an area of blank space around her even when the trains were crushed with commuters. It failed.

“Hi, my name is Ola, this is my sister Francis. We are from Sweden. The nice man at reception said you were staying in our room, so we come to say hello.”

Claire looked up and stifled a sigh. She couldn’t ignore them now, no matter how tempting it was to pretend she didn’t speak English. “Hi, I’m Claire, nice to meet you.”

“You are English yes? You travel long?”

The one Claire thought was Ola was clearly puzzled that someone would choose to travel solo round their own country in the middle of winter. Or that’s what I would think anyway. Who knows what she’s thinking under that beautiful Scandinavian mask. Claire tried to decide whether to come up with a story more interesting than the truth, but she couldn’t find the energy. She settled for a slight twisting of the facts.

“I’m a writer. I’m researching a piece on hostelling in Britain.”

The girl who hadn’t yet spoken, Francis, lit up at the words. “You write for Lonely Planet?” She spoke the words reverentially, as if Lonely Planet were on a par with the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.

“No, sorry, it’s an independent piece.” She finished speaking then gazed away, signalling that she had no more conversation. The girls took the hint and began talking quietly to each other in their own language.

I wonder if they’re talking about me? Claire eyed up the lasagne and garlic bread the girls were eating and wondered if it was too late to change her order.

If one of us is going to reek of garlic all night, I want it to be me.

***