We went walking in the woods today, with my very lovely friend, our combined five gorgeous kids, two canines, and a big bag of chocolate. We left after the early morning deluge had cleared, and spent the first two hours watching sunshine bounce off the raindrops that still clung to the forest.
The earth was boggy and we walked slowly, chatting, enjoying the effort of walking, and relaxing — except that today, instead of being able to let the children run free, we had to warn them away from the stream. Usually we’d splash across the ford and skim pebbles over the clear, ankle-deep eddies, but today we were faced with a torrent of gushing, brown foam that threatened to wash the kids’ feet from under them. An icy flow, flushing the forest free of pebbles and sticks.
And I thought, I prefer it slower.
As we walked, I babbled, rabbiting on about how great the forest was, how much the kids needed the run, chatting about people we’d seen during the week, how we’d been working, carving pumpkins, facing illnesses, juggling hospital visits with business and family commitments and… and, and… while the dogs chased imaginary squirrels and the kids kicked up red and gold leaf-storms, I yacked on incoherently about dental trips and ceiling cobwebs… When I got home, I realised, I had barely paused to draw breath (oh God, my poor friend…). And while I was thinking this, my kids were trying to get my attention.
“What?” I said, squinting at them. They gazed at me with concern and I realised, I hadn’t been talking at all in the last few minutes; it was my thoughts that were coming too quickly, not actual words. My awareness of — and enjoyment in — the real world has been washed away by a foaming deluge of worries — and looking around, I don’t think I’m alone in this.
This week, we have a few things going on: we have half term and Halloween, so we’ll be cooking pumpkin cakes and making monster buns for parties. We also have a couple of hospital visits; nothing too terrifying, if you don’t mind tests for really dreadful diseases. We have an emergency dental appointment for a child whose teeth just don’t want to grow right. We have work. We have building work. We have a baby who doesn’t always sleep through and a kitten who’s not yet allowed out of the house. Juggling that lot while still trying to keep on top of the laundry and and my in-house dust-drifts can feel like a daily marathon, even without the overshadow of worry (will we be faced with one of those diseases? Are my child’s teeth issues my fault, from a dietary and/or genetic perspective?).
So, OK, I’m busy — but when you write it down, it looks like your typical family. There is nothing in that lot that looks even remotely daunting (apart, maybe, from the terrifying diseases — but right now, these are still tests, questions… not diagnoses…) So why am I giving myself a premature brainstorm? Can’t I even enjoy a walk?
It’s because I want things to be picture perfect. I will relax when I know we are all disease-free (and not before), when my child’s teeth are sorted out (and not before), when my cat has been chipped, jabbed and neutered (and not before). God forbid that I try to relax during the process — my mother taught me at a young age to spit at magpies and to keep everything crossed till we got good news in writing.
But you know what, with the kids, pets, a huge extended family and circle of friends that include some wonderfully old people, I don’t think I’m going to get to a point where every last loose end is tied into a pretty bow. And yet, right now, right at this moment, my children are snoring happily and my husband is pottering in the kitchen and my parents and friends are OK. And today, while I was walking, my world was a wonderful place.
I should have stood still, let my thoughts trickle to a halt, and just breathed in and out for a moment… because if you grab a moment like that, it’s gold. It’s what life is for, and it’s not to be messed up with panics about tomorrow.
Some poor thirty-year-old guy was killed by a falling tree in New York today as Hurricane Sandy raged along the east coast. Tomorrow is a capricious friend, and while we may feel a need to plan for it, there are no guarantees. Besides, our most productive preparations are likely to come from a trickle of considered thoughts through a still mind, rather than an outpouring of waffle flung from a spinning head. We may all be stuck with global recession and the unavoidable fact that one day we will die of something, but there’s no joy in letting either of those scramble our brains during a woodland walk.
One of my oldest friends emailed me today, asking me what I would like to see online, as a mother. What would help in those early years of parenting? And I haven’t really thought about it, but I guess it’s this — a big page with
Life is messy.
written across the middle, and maybe, also,
Just for a moment — slow down.