Relax: 2013 365 Challenge #339

Doggy comes to McD

Doggy comes to McD

Today has been a surprisingly restful day. It always starts well, when I’ve managed to get my post finished before the school run. Plus, too, it’s a nursery day, which means the little one is dropped off first. Amazing how much that reduces the stress, even if we have to leave the house earlier.

We had a slight hiccup when hubbie came down and asked if we could redo the bathroom and boiler system. I still have nightmares from having our kitchen redone three years ago and my answer was rather short and snappy (and my misdirected bad mood resulted in a crying child who had to be placated)

Apologies and hugs all round and tranquillity was soon restored. I left a smiling child at nursery and another one at school, then wandered down to the charity shop to get some books and puzzles as stocking fillers (knowing that quantity is as important as quality for my children, and they don’t mind if Father Christmas buys second hand!)

Sunny cafe

Sunny cafe

I managed to be home and writing by 9.30am, successfully ignoring the rubbish tip that is my house, the towering pile of laundry waiting to be sorted and ironed, and the hundred and one other chores all around.

Hubbie rang mid-morning and asked if I could run a favour for him in town. As the sun is shining today, it’s a good time to be out and about, and doing it to help out someone else stops me feeling guilty for not writing.

I rushed out to walk the dog first, because she asked me so very nicely, then headed off in the car, singing Michael Bublé at the top of my voice. I love driving in the sunshine, with blue skies over head and great music on the stereo. If I’m not in a hurry I’m quite happy to drive for miles.

Chore completed, I took the car to the car wash next door and finally got rid of the two inches of road dirt on my boot that the kids have been drawing in in the mornings. Well, to be precise, some lovely people cleaned it while I sat inside and read All in the Leaves by Pat Elliott.

Enjoying my Earl Grey

Enjoying my Earl Grey

Then a cheeky McD lunch, while I did some more writing and surfed the free WiFi; I even remembered to take a picture of Doggy in the café, as requested by my son this morning, when he asked me to take his favourite toy to work with me.

I decided to drive straight to town, rather than go home and come back for the school run. So I’m currently in the supermarket café drinking my free cup of Earl Grey and making up new adventures for Claire, while the sun slips slowly to the horizon outside the window. Shortly I shall head off and walk across town to school, rather than screeching in late having legged it round with the dog at a zillion miles an hour. This calm and organised lark is rather pleasant.

Ah well, normal chaos will resume tomorrow I’m sure.

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:

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Claire’s stomach began to squirm as she drove the almost familiar road into town.  Conor wasn’t expecting her for two days and she wasn’t sure how he would greet her early arrival. When she’d finished her conversation with Kim she’d realised how stupid it was driving all the way to Cornwall only to have to travel back to Dorset two days later for the Carnival.

How did it creep up on me so quickly?

The fortnight with the boys had passed in a blink, despite each day feeling a hundred hours long. How did time work like that? Being both fast and slow?

She let her mind drift over the unsolvable problem, ignoring the mounting tension as she headed into the centre, wondering where she was going to find a room for the night. Her accommodation was booked for the Carnival week, but she had no idea if there would be space at the hostel for the two extra nights. The idea of telling Conor she had nowhere to sleep did strange things to her tummy.

The car park at the side of the hostel wasn’t full and Claire took it as a good sign. She’d forgotten how gothic the building looked, all grey stone and higgledy-piggledy windows. Looking around at the tired hostel, with the grimy details she hadn’t noticed on her last stay, she began to have second thoughts about arriving early. In her mind she saw the clean and bright hostels of southern Cornwall, with the crisp sea breeze and the rolling surf calling her out to play.

In the distance she could see Swanage Bay glistening in the afternoon sun, with the barrow climbing up behind. It reminded her of a phone call with Conor, what felt like light-years ago, when she’d hiked along that barrow into town. The day he’d called and offered her a job. With the knowledge she possessed now, would the outcome of that day been different?

*

Claire looked around the tiny room that would be home for the next week or so, and sighed, hoping she would be so busy with whatever Conor needed her to do that she wouldn’t be in the hostel all that much. The darkness of the building felt oppressive and it smelt like mouldy carpet.

As soon as she’d left her bag on the only available bed, Claire headed out into the fresh air and followed the long road down the hill to town, in search of coffee. She knew she should call Conor straight away, but her mind went blank every time she thought of it.

It felt strange, wandering through Swanage again. During her time travelling around the South West, she had remembered the town through Conor’s eyes; through his passion and sense of belonging. Coming again, unannounced and fresh from the very depths of Cornwall, the town felt small and dated. The endless grey stone hemmed her in and the shops seemed insufferably twee.

She tried to compare it dispassionately with St Ives or Penzance. The former was similar in a way, with the same steep, winding streets and small shops, surrounded by the beach and the ocean. If anything the streets were more narrow and the stone buildings just as forbidding in wet weather. But, inside, one felt welcoming and the other didn’t.

Without realising where she was going, Claire’s footsteps took her down to the shore near the pier. The sun dipped behind a cloud and a shadow fell over the concrete slip, where a father and two sons were pulling their canoe out of the sea. The air felt cooler by the bay, relieving some of the oppressive heat of the day. Claire ordered a coffee and sat on the picnic table staring out at the boats on the water.

Forcing herself to dial without thinking, she called her boss and waited for him to answer. Her heart beat loudly in her throat.

“Hello, Conor speaking.”

The deep Irish voice made Claire jump when it came suddenly on the line. She didn’t answer immediately, and felt foolish when Conor said, “Hello? Claire is that you?”

“Yes, sorry, hi Conor. I had a mouthful of coffee.”

He laughed, but it was a tight sound and he spoke again immediately. “Is everything okay? I’m rather busy.”

“Yes. Sorry to disturb you. I just wanted to let you know I’m in town. For the Carnival.”

“I thought you weren’t coming until Friday?” The flatness of the question drove Claire’s heart into her stomach.

“I had to take the boys to my mum’s house and it seemed daft to drive right past the door back to Cornwall.” Her titter made her cringe. “So, I’m here ready to help. What can I do?”

The line went quiet, and Claire sipped at her coffee. Her hands shook and she dropped the cup with a clatter back into its saucer.

Eventually Conor spoke again. “Great. That’s great. Listen, we’re not really ready for you. Can you hang fire and I’ll give you a buzz?”

Claire murmured her assent and disconnected the call. Wrapping her hands around the warm coffee cup, she shivered as she stared out across the sea.

***

Depression and Parenting Doubt: 2013 365 Challenge #221

Sometimes I want to hide under a blanket

Sometimes I want to hide under a blanket

I had a debate recently, in the comments of one of my favourite blogs, that forced me to reevaluate my parenting style. Again.

It doesn’t take much for me to sink into doubt that I’m doing the right thing when it comes to motherhood. Do I have in place sufficient boundaries? Do I give freedom to grow and chances for my children to make their own choices but still give them the security of knowing I’m ultimately in charge?

I’m a peacemaker. I learned to apologise for the world and my place in it so that people wouldn’t be mad at me. I’m not great at being in charge.

Interestingly I read a masterful post of what it feels like to have depression over on The Belle Jar this afternoon and I could relate to every word, even though I feel I have my depression under control. So maybe I don’t.

Another blog post that came my way is this one by Becoming Supermommy, about the impossibility of ever being the perfect parent, called Dear Less Than Perfect Mom. (Read it, it’s brilliant). I know I’m not a perfect mother, I know I never will be, but just when I think I’ve wrestled my demons into submission I read something, or am told something, or something happens, that causes me to believe I’m doing it all wrong. That my depression, my tears, my indecision, my laissez faire parenting, means I’m not a safe harbour for my kids. That maybe my daughter’s insecurities are caused by too many choices and too few boundaries.

My children at nursery

My children at nursery

It makes me want to go back to work full time and leave the child-raising to the professionals. After all, my kids don’t have tantrums or breakdowns at nursery. As the school era approaches, I review the last five years with fear, much as New Year’s Eve makes you relive the preceding twelve months and realise you wasted them. That those pristine resolutions from the January before lie dead in the dust at your feet.

I was going to be the strong parent, the one with boundaries; the rock. Calm, patient, kind. I almost managed it when I just had one child. The second blew it all out the water.

I look back now and see parenting failure left and right. But I look back through a mind reasonably clear, in a body that actually had six hours of uninterrupted sleep at least once this month. I critically review the actions of a person I no longer am. Sleep deprived, hormonal, depressed. I judge her and find her wanting.

Even now, I evaluate my day with the hindsight of two sleeping children and a glass of wine, and judge who I was this morning with 8 hours work to fit into 3 and two hyper children to entertain. As the pain of childbirth can never be understood after the event (or you’d never have more than one baby) the body lives in the now, when the mind does not.

So I need to stop evaluating and second guessing my parenting because it leaves me confused, like the centipede that’s been asked which order it places its feet and as a result forgets how to walk. Is my daughter’s insecurity caused by my depression and lack of authority? Possibly. Do I need to be firmer and offer my kids fewer choices? Probably. Do I think I can do that every day when it’s not in my nature? Doubtful. Does it matter? Only time will tell for sure.

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog: 

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Claire turned her face to the window and allowed the sea breeze to caress her skin. Around her, people filled the tiny ferry; everyone eager to visit the nineteenth century sea port on the other side of the bay. She recognised one or two faces from the bus and nodded in greeting before swivelling her eyes back to the water.

Outside, the same tree-covered hills she could see from the hostel crowded round protectively. In some ways it felt like Swanage bay, although those cliffs were of grass and rock, worn away by years of weather.

Unsure what to expect, Claire searched eagerly ahead for a glimpse of the town, reputed to be the first European settlement, and once known as ‘The Hell-hole of the Pacific’. She couldn’t imagine anywhere in New Zealand earning that epitaph.

The town nestled into the hillside, buildings dotted through the trees like a herd of deer trying to conceal themselves, with only their antlers visible through the green.

The ferry pulled up alongside the pier and Claire joined the queue of people waiting to disembark. To either side, a long beach stretched in a line of copper sand, while boats bobbed about on the water like excited children wanting to play.

Armed with a map and some instructions she’d picked up at the hostel, Claire opted to walk up to Flagstaff Hill and take in the views of the islands. It felt good to be walking away from the crowd.

Within twenty minutes, Claire was glad it was autumn in New Zealand. Even the cool sun drew sweat and cursing from her, as she toiled up the hill towards the flagstaff. Maybe I should have taken the bus. If I was here in my Skoda, I could just have driven up. Who knew what freedom a clapped out car could bring?

By the time she reached the top, her face and throat burned. Claire stared up at the tall white flagpole and wondered what was so special. She reached into her bag for her water bottle and turned to take in the view for the first time. The water bottle fell, forgotten, back into the depths of her handbag.

“Wow!”

The view stretched all around: flat patches of sparkling aqua water surrounded by undulating hills, receding in shades of blue to the distant horizon. Beneath her, the pier bisected the bay she had walked along, prodding into the water; the only straight line in a scene of curves. Even the clouds served to enhance the vista, as their flat bottoms emphasised the horizon and marked the many miles visible from her standpoint.

Claire inhaled and spread her arms wide. She felt like she could swan-dive off the hill and swoop like a bird over the islands below.

Wandering away from the flagstaff, and the people snapping shots before getting back on their buses, Claire sought a peaceful spot to rest. As she settled on the grass, her phone trilled the arrival of a message.

Who can that be? It’s the middle of the night back home.

She only knew one person in the same time zone as her. Excitement fizzed along her veins. She quickly searched for her phone and opened the message. It was from an unknown number.

Hi, Claire. Hope you don’t mind me texting you. I checked it would be a good time. Your blog says you’re in NZ. I got your email, saying you were declining the job. I understand, but I hope you’ll reconsider. Have a great holiday and give me a call when you get back. Conor

Claire didn’t know whether to be irritated or flattered. She’d never been so actively and personally pursued for a position before. As the thudding in her chest subsided, a warm feeling spread through her. Annoying as he was, it was nice to know someone in the world cared if she ever went home again.

***

Tempus Fugit: 2013 365 Challenge #209

Happy Holly Dog

Happy Holly Dog

I sometimes think an upside of writing novels might be having something to show for the passing of the years. I know time speeds by, quicker and quicker now I have children. But it seems the only way of passing it, and marking it, is by anniversaries of death and marriage (for me both happened in the same year.)

Seven years ago my father passed away and we scattered his ashes at Old Harry Rocks in Dorset (I think Claire might have to pay a visit there today). His dog, Holly, was adopted by close friends of my Dad with whom I didn’t manage to stay in touch.

I received an email this morning to say that Holly is now walking with Dad in the afterlife (particularly poignant for me, after reading two of Pat Elliott‘s short stories from her forthcoming collection Sanctuary’s Gate). Holly’s ashes will also be scattered at Old Harry Rocks, a place of special significance to my Dad.

Old Harry Rocks

Old Harry Rocks

Seven years – 49 for Holly. It feels like yesterday. Truly. I don’t need to look at the pictures or read my life writings from college to remember standing up at his funeral, reading the eulogy that came to me one sleep-deprived night, or to picture us all climbing up the hill in Dorset with most of Dad in a plastic canister (we kept a ‘leg’ of ashes back for my grandma, too old to travel, to scatter alongside her husband at the crematorium. Divided in death, as in life, between his love for Dorset and his need to be near his Mum).

I’m pleased Holly lived so long and died peacefully. I can’t mourn her, because she ceased to be our dog the day Dad died. I know she was loved and happy and provided a wonderful reminder to his friends. For them today must be a sad day. Today they must feel like they lost Dad all over again.

Tempus Fugit: Time flies. From now on I hope to remember it in books, rather than deaths.

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog: 

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Claire strode up the wide grassy incline, dividing her attention between the sea to her left and the raptors overhead. The birds of prey swooped and circled on an updraft, forming a perfect dance of air-born joy.

Two horse riders ambled down the hill towards her. She nodded in greeting and wondered what it might be like seeing the world from that height; peering over hedges and into people’s houses. Maybe horse riding could be my new passion? People who ride become consumed by it. It’s a healthy obsession at least, if a bit pricey.

Out in the bay, a large speedboat carved arcs of white against the cerulean blue. The growl of an engine drifted up to her. Wondering if it was a Sunseeker being put through its paces, Claire stopped to watch. Now that is an expensive pastime. Well above my touch. I’d have to marry a footballer. I could hang out at Sandbanks and see if I take someone’s eye.

She laughed, startling a pigeon pecking at the grass. Who am I kidding? I’m not young, blonde, thin or dumb enough to be a WAG. Actually they’re not dumb. If I thought I could bag Beckham I’d definitely give it a go.

The wind picked up as she came, blinking, out of a copse of trees and crested the ridge. The hedgerow dropped away and all around was sea and crumbling limestone.

Nearby, a young woman sat on a checked picnic blanket, entertaining a baby, while a small boy ran about in the grass. He kept creeping close to the cliff edge, each time eliciting a squeal of alarm from his mother.

Goodness, why would you bring young children up here? Idiocy. Kids gravitate to danger like flies to jam.

Then Claire saw the faraway look in the mother’s eyes as she kept glancing from her son to a group of people huddled near a ledge. As Claire watched, the group threw handfuls of dust off the cliff, nearly toppling from the rocks as the wind blew the ash back at them.

Claire felt a lump rise in her throat.  The tight-knit group of people, some holding hands, other’s hugging one another tightly, spoke of family and love and loss in such volume it seemed to echo around the cliff-top.

How awful, to forever associate this beautiful place with death. Around her the wide sky drew her spirit and the endless sea beckoned her on. Although it wouldn’t be such a bad place to spend eternity.

Rounding the corner, Claire saw the Pinnacles, marching out to sea, and glimpses of Swanage in the distance. It was tempting to carry on walking into town, but that posed the dilemma of getting back to her car. It was a gorgeous day, and she had nowhere else to be. No one expecting her, or harbouring expectations of her. With a shrug, Claire followed the path to town.

*

The phone rang just as Claire was beginning to regret her impulsive decision. Footsore and hungry, and without so much as a boiled sweet in her bag, Claire knew she had broken all the hard-learned rules of walking. It didn’t improve her mood.

“Hello?”

“Goodness, you’re in a temper. Or do you always answer the phone like that?”

“Who is this?” She knew, but needed time to calm down.

“Conor. Where are you?”

“I’m out on the ballard, walking back into Swanage. It’s further than I anticipated.”

“Ah, did you go up to Old Harry and get tempted? Do you need a lift back to Studland to get your car?”

How did he know? Claire sank to the grass to rest her bruised feet and seethed in silence.

“I’m right, aren’t I? It’s not rocket science. It’s a cracking day. The walk from The Bankes Arms is the easiest way up on the cliffs along there, and many a time I’ve been lured to walk the route back to town.”

“Is that why you’re calling? To check up on me?”

“No, I’m calling to offer you a job. If you still want it?” There was doubt in his voice; all brash bravado gone.

Claire’s stomach plummeted as if it had dived off the cliff like the paragliders she’d seen earlier. Damn. It wasn’t a shock. But it did mean she would need to make a decision.

“Can I have some time to think about it? I’m going home to my folks’ for the weekend. I’ll ring you Monday.”

Before Conor had time to interject, Claire hung up the phone. The day fell dark, and she would have paid a large chunk of her counter-offer salary to be whisked back to the hostel and furnished with a hot mug of tea.

***