During the summer holidays I tackled a job I had put off for a number of years. This job was becoming a problem – a three foot high problem. I was unable to write, had issues with my story and in an effort to divert my mind, let’s call it Productive Procrastination, I decided to battle this three foot beast and tame it.
My children are creative, enthusiastic and most of all prolific. They bring home works of genius which I filter with the ruthless eye of a critic… until I’m faced with the question, “Mama, who put my beautiful work in the recycle bin?” They blame Daddy. I don’t correct them (out loud). The masterpieces go on the ‘keep’ pile. Over the years, the pile grew and grew. The shelves groaned for assistance.
This practical endeavor became an unexpected emotional journey. The writer in me is never far away and for a while now I have used writing as a form of therapy – emptying my head of dark anxieties at midnight to find clarity in the morning. Accessing and capturing emotion is an important writing tool. My task was emotionally loaded so I took notes to aid my writing but also to stop my head exploding with sentimental overload from my heart. Would I convey my feelings accurately and honestly?
I worked from the top down, going back in time. Each paragraph marks a pause for thought. Here’s what I captured:
Why did I think this would be easy? Over time I’ve learned to let go of some of the pieces but as I’m sifting through the work I realise I am my childrens’ number one fan. Memorabilia is worth more with a signature so anything with a name/vague scribble, holds a higher value. Sentimental currency. My children haven’t achieved anything above and beyond any other child. They are amazing and special because they are mine. Every scrawly scribble and picture captures a certain phase in their lives. Each piece holds a memory, a push pin marking their journey to the present. This is their story.
Time moves at super speed with children. A special moment comes and goes in an instant, not because it wasn’t memorable but because it is replaced by one amazing moment after another… Their output serves as a reminder of that time that is so precious, so beautiful, I want to keep that moment for ever. Crazy colouring, with utter disregard for lines or boundaries moves to tighter lines and ‘neat’ colouring with carefully selected shades. Swirls and scratches become intricate zigzags and loops – that little special scribble which is the precursor to writing – before magically morphing into letters and words as they develop greater control of their hands and hone fine motor skills. Phonetically spelled sentences open a door right into their little heads! This is their world! All unique stages of development, all absolutely, mindbogglingly brilliant. I’m in awe.
What started as a chore now feels indulgent. I’m a member of the Time Team, digging through layers of soil and sediment finding new artifacts from the ages the further down I go. The Christmas layer provides a lovely spattering of glitter and various spangly items. Memories switch on with each piece – at this years Easter layer I’m reminded of a mind blowing revelation to youngest child, “Mama! Did you know, baby Jesus isn’t a baby any more! He grew up and then they killed him! Then his friends came and put him in a cave!” It’s like finding money in your pocket.
Confession time, I’m being slightly pathetic – just found three little bags of cuttings. My children were taught to use scissors from a very early age. Cutting was sent home in little white sweetie bags. I can’t throw them away. Why? Why?! I have absolutely NO rational explanation for it. My husband thinks I’m a bit bonkers. He likes to believe that, if not for him, I would descend into hoarding madness and end up on TV being dug out of old magazines by the emergency services. I’m not a hoarder, I’m sentimental. His idea of storing memorabilia is to scan it to disk and be paperless. You can’t scan emotional investment. The wonderful staff at my childrens preschool often annotated and dated the scribbles adding to their provenance and history – giving a voice to their artwork and a window into their minds. For me, there’s nothing like the original. I put the cuttings bags in the ‘keep’ pile and plough on.
The three foot beast has diminished in size and I have come to… drum roll… the pregnancy folder. NCT advice with multiple helpful lists etc – there is a table for sleep patterns during the first week. Hilarious! Talk about setting expectations. The reality was very VERY different!
Wow! I kept EVERYTHING (but I’m not a hoarder). My packing list is neatly written and ticked. Nothing was left to chance, perish the thought that anything should not go according to my plan… until the visualisation script for my safe place went out of the window – no one told me about overlapping contractions! I see my husband noted my contraction times on the back. Pure gold.
And now labour instructions for my husband – most of which he wouldn’t say because he thought they sounded too “wanky” but they end with this advice, “don’t crack jokes, don’t try to fix things with words, don’t rationalise. If you have to think about what to say don’t say it. If you can’t think of what to say then stick to the script.” MAMAZILLA! Looking back, it sounds hilarious but was probably the last time I actually felt in full control of my life.
Who am I keeping this stuff for? Mostly me (obvs’) but also for my boys. A reminder for their future selves of where they began their journeys; before they become whatever it is they decide to become; whatever dream they decide to fulfill, I can show them their starting point. Our starting point…
“When a woman gives birth two people are born, a mother and a child.”
Three feet done, one last page in my hand. The smug satisfied smile is wiped from my face with this last page and I falter. Reading the birth plan reminds me that my husband wasn’t comfortable cutting the umbilical cords. He felt it was the job of a medical professional. I thought that was a load of bollocks. No stranger was going to sever such an intimate bond. I cut my own umbilical cords. It felt powerful. I let them go. I broke the physical connection between us and separated us. Did I really forget that? The emotion swells and sparks prayers for my children, for their safety, freedom, happiness and wellbeing. I pray they will take hold of life and fly.
The box is empty. I’m exhausted.
I will continue my task until everything is filed in a neat, accessible way. I seem to have released an odour from the depths of this last box. It’s taken me a while to put my finger on it. Now I realise it’s that special smell that lingered with me for the first few months of my children’s lives, Eau de Baby Sick!
The physical task is complete but I feel emotionally marked. It’s an invisible mark but my fellow mums will recognise it; at the slightest touch it will ripple into life flooding me with those early memories and the joy that only my children can bring. I realise motherhood took my confidence and self belief, in so many ways, to concentrate it in my role as a mother. I look back and feel secure that I have done the best for my children and say a new prayer asking for that strength to continue.
Several named and dated folders are neatly stashed away in the loft. Two new boxes are empty and available to capture new moments of magic.