Thursday, 23 July 2015

ENTRY FORTY ONE - THE WITTERINGS


You don’t want to go camping with a toddler they said, not unless you've got a magic blackout tent that lets in no light or noise or you’re prepared to drive all the way back home in the middle of the night when they won’t go to sleep. Others offered more pragmatic advice, ‘an endless supply of blueberries and a pair of earplugs should do the trick’. The hippy crowd was more forthcoming with tidings of joy. ‘Oh you’ll love it, just take a washing up bowl and some plastic cutlery and he’ll be happy for hours’.


Never ones to listen to predictions of doom we packed the car with every conceivable piece of gear, filled the hamper with food and the cooler with booze and off we went. We have invested wisely over the years and are equipped with a full set of glamping essentials, invaluable when travelling with toddler, to which we added some extra Felix kit; his own camping chair in the shape of a lion, his travel cot and warm bedding, and a quantity of blankets and pegs for various uses. I also conducted some thorough research in terms of location and after much deliberation plumped for West Wittering, a two hour drive away and the location of a blue flag award winning beach complete with dunes. Nearby Nunnington Farm campsite offered a baby bath, in actuality a double butlers sink, for washing filthy infants at the end of a long day, and a petting zoo, which sealed the deal.

The campsite was a wide green expanse of perfect flatness ringed by trees, and we pitched the bell tent in dappled shade where we hoped we could be in shadow by bedtime. ‘Oooooh’ and ‘Aaaah’ said Felix as the tent took shape, his face lighting up with delight. It was love at first sight; in and out he ran, touching the canvas and making little squeaks of excitement. It was now time for the finishing touch. Two star print blankets, some clothes pegs, and a little ingenuity later, and Felix had his very own bedroom in which we placed his travel cot and favorite tiger toy. This addition, we hoped, would help him sleep well both day and night, and would also give us a little privacy. After lunch, eaten with gusto in the camp chairs, and a stroll over to see the donkeys and goats at the petting zoo, and it was time to try out the bedroom. After some gentle persuasion he zonked out, leaving us to relax.

***

That afternoon we walked the fifteen minutes to the beach, a beautiful expanse of golden sand backed by dunes. A strong wind buffeted the shore so we put on our hoodies and huddled into the dunes, where Felix raced up and down the mini mountains and caked himself in sand. 'Wittering means wind' an old lady said as she caught sight of us. 'Next time bring a windbreak!' We ate slightly gritty ham and cheese sandwiches and paddled in the shallows, then took it in turns to have a proper swim. The tide was coming in and the waves were crowned with ruffles of white foam. ‘Bubble’ said Felix, pointing at the surf and tugging my hand. Deeper and deeper we waded as the waves pounded the beach, nearly knocking him over as he chortled with glee and I clutched tight to his little hand. Later we walked back home, exhausted and windblown but happy. ‘Thank goodness for the baby bath’ I thought as a startling quantity of sand detached itself from Felix’s body and swirled down the plughole, leaving him pink and smooth once more, and as the sun began to droop heavy and the night milk was drunk, we laid Felix in his cot and stood listening. The cawing of crows and cooing of doves were the only sound, lulling him to a deep sleep.

The elongated shadows of sunset made tiger stripes on the grass as the sun took its final bow, bathing the tent in a warm umber glow. As the barbeque filled the air with the evocative smell of searing meat I cooked potatoes on the camp stove and sliced the ingredients for a Greek salad, thick salty wedges of feta to complement the spicy chicken and blackened sausages. Drinks in hand we toasted the success of our inaugural venture and set about devouring our feast. The 'toddler quarters' meant we could sit up in bed and read without worrying about waking Felix, and as we prepared for sleep I peeped over to see him deliciously cozy and snug in his blankets. Hours later I awoke to a terrifying sound, my heart hammering. As consciousness flowed back I recognized it as the cawing of crows, those intelligent corvids whose presence legend has it signifies impending doom. Glancing at my phone I saw it was 4am, and for an hour between then and five I lay wide awake,
convinced the sound would surely wake not only Felix but also the dead, an army of whose rotting corpses would stumble over to where we slept and drag us screaming to Hades. This not being the case I decided to pop out for a wee, and the sight that greeted me was fairytale in its beauty. A crescent moon hovered low above the sleeping campers, gilded with the coming dawn, a single star atip the point like a beauty spot. On one side the sky was the colour of indigo ink, on the other a deep powder blue. Dew silvered the grass and the air carried a hint of salt from the nearby sea, and everything was still. I felt the special magic of being awake when all others around were asleep, and for a moment I stood and breathed deeply. Feet plastered in wet grass, I crawled back in the tent and tumbled back to bed, smiling at the thought of us all safe and snug under the canvas.



Wednesday, 8 July 2015

ENTRY FORTY - SWALLOWS AND AMAZONS

It is midsummer and the season hangs full and heavy like the ripening fruit in the orchards. The days are long and languorous, the nights mild. Solstice is only just past and the birds start their serenades at four am when dawn peeps through the shades of night and begins to bleed the black sky pale. Swathes of lawn turned crisp and brown speak of the recent heat; while in the meadows wild grasses wave golden fronds in the sunlight like a mermaid’s hair under the ocean.

Felix too is ripening like a warm peach in the sun, golden skinned and mellow, sweetness oozing from every pore as he embraces all the pleasures of summer. Already Chiswick seems a distant memory, so at home are we in the wilds of Teddington. I would swap a tube stop and proximity to central London for the abundant open spaces and parkland that surround us without hesitation. It seems that every direction culminates in a park or meadow, river or lido; across the grassy expanses of Bushey Park to the tropical blue waters of Hampton Open Air Pool, down the tree lined river path to our very own secret beach at Thames Ditton.The buggy sits folded and forgotten as Felix travels almost exclusively by bike nowadays, perched in his Co Pilot seat observing the world passing by and noting points of interest. Bright red buses whizzing by on the high road, blue and white boats on the river, flashes of lime green parrot in the trees.
His smattering of words has swelled to a babbling brook of nonsense chatter;
wibble wobble bibble babble he says, bubu baby and moomoo mama. He trills pleasantly like a caged canary as he plays with his train set, and every now and then he mimics a word or expression then refuses to repeat it, leaving you wondering if it actually happened. 'Don't know' he echoed as I asked him where the lid of a pen was the other morning. His words are like the whispering of the wind in the willows, invisible and impossible to pin down yet strong enough to sway the boughs. He seems to be at a zenith of happiness, and being able to communicate his contentment adds to the joy. He loves having his own room and his assortment of toys; the train set, play tent and drawing table. He loves the deer of Bushey Park, and has taken to collecting fallen feathers, brushing their softness across his cheeks in an attitude of rapture. He loves Hey Duggee and In The Night Garden on TV. He loves the garden and his sand pit, loves watering the sunflowers I have grown from seed and the tiny allotment I have cultivated in the neglected corner of the garden. Potatoes have shot out their tall straight stalks from the bare earth with unbridled enthusiasm, whilst the broccoli and carrots, hesitant at first, have taken strength from the recent sun and settled in. The giant oaks whisper and wave in the wind and Teddy sprawls sphinx like in his favourite spot by the trunk, half covered by the fronds of last springs bluebells like the tiger in Rousseaus painting.

We have almost everything we need, and whilst the tectonic plates of work continue to shift under our feet there us still cause for anxiety, yet the rightness of our move here, the gains we have made in favour of the losses, means we live literally and metaphorically in the sun. The simple pleasure of opening the kitchen door into the garden gives me daily pleasure. Feeling the honest earth under my fingernails as I work the soil and watch the green shoots emerge like faithful flag bearers is a minor miracle. Al fresco meals every day make not only us but also the birds and Teddy happy, as they feast on the dropped scraps and crumbs post mealtime. We are closer to nature and further from the city, and when needed the silver snake glides to Waterloo and the urban grime of Vauxhall in no time at all. Teddington Lock is where the Thames turns from tidal to a regular river, meaning the water past the locks is no longer saline but fresh, a river you can swim in. Felix loves to watch the endless gush and gurgle of water as it is squeezed through the metal barriers, a manmade waterfall marking the end of the grubby brown river that flows through the great city and the beginning of the green and silver stream that pootles through the suburban landscapes of Teddington and beyond. We have crossed the barrier and somehow in the process entered a real life Swallows and Amazons; a place where where the river is blue and safe and welcoming, where on Sunday afternoons we can decamp with a picnic for a dip, where a cycle ride away is a sandy beach with children frolicking and sturdy boys and girls popping canoes and kayaks into the water, where likeminded people can escape to a place of childhood innocence and joy free of the worries and duties of city living. One foot in the country one in the town, and already I know which foot is the happier one...







Sunday, 14 June 2015

ENTRY THIRTY NINE - SAY NO MORE

At between twenty and twenty one months Felix has only a handful of words. Despite my lack of interest in so-called 'developmental milestones', I have become aware that this is not quite where he should be at his age. I hesitate to use the word delayed; children develop at their own pace and in their own unique order, just as a row of seeds planted at the same time will unfurl and grow differently.

His lack of language was highlighted when a friend visited with her toddler who is two months younger than Felix. Teddy had a word for everything; ball, cake, train, and upon spying our cat - confusingly also called Teddy - his eyes lit up with glee. The cat is now well versed in the ways of toddlers and after allowing himself to be clumsily fondled for a few minutes made good his escape. Teddy the toddler stood and pointed at his retreating form; 'Titty' he said. As a mash-up between Teddy and Kitty it takes some beating, and his unintentional gag gave us a good old laugh. Later I looked on in amazement as Teddy pointed at the items in The Hungry Caterpillar and named each one 'cupcake, sausage, apple, cherry pie'. Felix does not know a single word despite it being one of his favourite books. His entire vocabulary consists of 'daddy' and 'mama' 'baba' (for his Polish grandmother) 'nana' for his English, 'daffodil' 'bubble 'blue' and not a lot else. He makes a variety of appreciative noises to express pleasure and excitement, but no other concrete words have appeared for months. There is however an explanation for this apparent delay in his language development, for Felix is trying to learn two at the same time. After Teddy's startling linguistic display I decided to undertake a little research and found myself delving into the roiling broth of myth and science surrounding language development in bilingual and multilingual children. 

Research from the 1960' and 70's suggested that multilingual children acquire language later and perform worse overall than monolingual children. There was thought to be detrimental effect on language and speech development, and these flawed studies seemed to show that children raised with two languages struggle to learn either properly. The research based conclusions on the fact that multilingual children mix languages, sometimes in the middle of a sentence (code switching) or pepper a sentence in one language with vocabulary from the other (borrowing) Immigrant parents were encouraged to drop their natives tongues and speak only in English, a disaster for their children as it transpired that their children's language acquisition was harmed by being taught in a language their parent were not confident in and thus struggled to master the basic building blocks of speech. More recent studies

have shown that not only is code switching and borrowing completely normal and resolves itself without needing special attention, it continues quite naturally and healthily into adulthood, and in fact bilingual children develop within the same developmental timescales as their monolingual counterparts. Having grown up bilingual in Polish I am fluent in both, although English is dominant, but am also fluent in Ponglish, as are all my bilingual friends. We find it completely natural to rattle off a sentence in English and add a flourish in Polish, either because the Polish word is more expressive, for comic effect, or even without noticing. I find switching between languages fantastically liberating, providing another level of verbal dexterity that adds extra richness to communication. It is like knowing how to cook several cuisines, once you have mastered them you can chop and change fluidly, taking something from one to enhance and refresh the other. 

In recent years new research into speech and language development has made some startling findings. Consider this; within five days after birth all infants can tell the difference between two or more languages. It may take them six months to be able to separate them, especially if the two are similar, but they are immediately able to perceive the difference. A top international infant lab has produced a study showing that language acquisition begins in the womb, and that babies of mothers who spoke two languages during pregnancy responded to hearing both in the days post birth. Although opinion is now divided as to whether there is any delay in speaking for bilingual children, there is an understanding that this may sometimes happen as the child learns to distinguish and group words into each language.

All this is mighty reassuring for those of us concerned that our haphazard approach to teaching two languages is confusing the hell out of our child and that perhaps we should just desist lest they not be able to 'catch up'. Such research becomes ever more relevant as more and more people are raised with a dual heritage, born of couples who may not share a native language or of parents who are not both bilingual. This is the case in our household, where it is not as simple as speaking only Polish at home and English in public. My attempts to speak to Felix in Polish are sporadic as I tend to forget, but thank goodness his Polish 'babcia' speaks and sings to him primarily in Polish and has done since birth. All those Polish songs and rhymes he so loves hearing are finding their mark, and I am certain that in his own space and time he will order the confusion of words in his head and speak with confidence. 

Just in case I needed an extra incentive, there is solid evidence that bilingualism has a positive effect on cognitive function outside of language. Bilinguals are better able to focus on tasks and ignore distractions and irrelevant information, find understanding math’s concepts and solving word problems easier, have enhanced reasoning and logic skills and find learning other languages easier. Children raised in bilingual households also have better self control, a key factor in school performance, but the most fascinating and hopeful of all these benefits is that bilingualism has been found to delay the onset of Alzeimers disease and dementia. The act of switching between two different languages makes the brain active and flexible, and just as older people are encouraged to exercise regularly to maintain bone density and muscle strength so the aging brain needs its daily exercise to remain supple. The knowledge that teaching Felix to speak my mother tongue may benefit him from toddlerhood right through life, even to a liver spotted old age that seems unimaginable in his unblemished baby skin, stopped me in my tracks. So what if he has only a smattering of words? So what if he cannot name the characters in his books or say the word for cat? In his tiny and endlessly agile baby brain an incredible double act is gearing up for performance, one which can skip between tightrope and trapeze, tumble effortlessly between any number of obstacles and fly with unerring precision through all the hoops that life throws up. Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls, please take your seats, the Incredible Bilingual Baby Brain Circus is about to confound your expectations








Saturday, 16 May 2015

ENTRY THIRTY EIGHT - THE TOWN MOUSE AND THE COUNTRY MOUSE

Does having a communal garden make neighbours friendlier? This question has occupied my thoughts since moving to our new place in Teddington which has a lovely shared garden. From the outset we have been bowled over by the friendliness of the other residents of our ‘Court’, a seventies block that houses eight separate flats. On moving day we made the acquaintance of Fred and Joan, a spritely older couple who immediately introduced themselves and went out of their way to offer assistance. Several cups of tea later we are already at the stage of borrowing hoovers and taking in each others washing from the line when rain threatens. They cast an indulgent eye over Felix who plays happily in the garden while I prepare lunch, offering welcome advice on local playgrounds, schools and cycle routes. All in under a week!

As a Londoner born and bred I have found such openness startling. Imagine my surprise when the lady who lives above us appeared wielding a garden table and chairs when we were sat out on a balmy evening having a humble barbeque. ‘Thought you might like to use these’, she said, noting our camp chairs and distinct lack of table; ‘They’re communal’. The Oxford English Dictionary defines communal as something ‘shared by all members of a community; for common use’. What fascinates me is the implication that the act of sharing something fosters a sense of community between those who use it, and in my short and very pleasant experience I have found this to be very true. The garden is a space for all; even the bins and washing lines are shared, forcing us together for the acts that make up daily life, and I love it.

In the garden are two wonderful old oak trees which offer a delightfully dappled light all day long. Bluebells cluster at the base of the trunks and around the perimeters of the lawn, while blackbirds, blue tits, sparrows, starlings, magpies and squirrels skip from branch to branch, making me feel like I’m living in  an episode of Springwatch. One night I listened as a nightingale gave voice to its song, transfixed by the bewitching beauty of the melody. On fine days I sit Felix at the communal table for lunch, an
experience that I can only describe as sublime. No worrying about dropped crumbs, no wiping and no mess, only the pleasant rustling of leaves and the certainty that eating al fresco must be close to heaven. And oh, the evenings! No longer are we trapped indoors whilst others enjoy summer nights; as soon as Felix goes to bed out comes the barbeque and the camp chairs and we appoint ourselves in our favourite spot with a beer or cider to hand while our dinner chargrills over the coals, the fragrant smoke wafting over our clothes and into our hair so that as I drift off to sleep I am surrounded by the evocative scents of a campfire. I have started to feel like I am on a permanent holiday, what with Felix happily installed in his own room and space aplenty to roam, not to mention the much longed for delights of lying in bed and reading before sleeping more soundly than I have in a long time.


As I board the train at Teddington train bound for Waterloo on my way to work we pass through what feels like miles of woodland.  Trees and greens are everywhere, at the delightfully named Strawberry Hill, Twickenham, St Margaret’s and Richmond, then the two stations at Barnes, all abound with nature, and it is only as we pass through Putney into the markedly more urban environs of Wandsworth Town that I even feel I am in London. It is like going from the village to the town, and when it is time to retrace the route it is with a deep sense of satisfaction that I roll back into Teddington; a (nearly) country mouse come home to roost. 

Thursday, 7 May 2015

ENTRY THIRTY SEVEN - APRIL SHOWERS AND MAY FLOWERS



May is surely the sweetest month of all, the gateway to summer and the promise of long sultry days and balmy nights. The first flowers of spring have put on their display and faded, leaving the stage set for the main act. Summer hovers in the wings, making the final adjustments to her costume, warming her breath and stretching her limbs ready to leap out and dazzle the waiting audience. Frothy bursts of cow parsley line every path; trees and shrubs are gilded with the brilliance of new leaves. There is no green as vivid, as achingly alive, as those first leaves, and as the spring sun shines through the delicate new canopy the world below is painted with peridot radiance.  

Felix, now somewhere between nineteen and twenty months, is in thrall to this spectacular transformation. Trees that had been bare and skeletal throughout the long winter are changing before his very eyes, and our daily walks and cycles are a kaleidoscopic trip through an ever changing picture. 'Wow' is his new favourite word, uttered with a long drawn out inflection which somehow perfectly sums up his feelings about the pleasant bombardment of stimulation on his eager senses, and how like a sponge he absorbs it all and is immediately thirsty for more. I am more aware than ever of the incredible importance of a positive and stimulating environment for a toddlers tender spirit. No more a baby, this tiny person notices and absorbs everything that you do. They are like a searchlight, shining remorselessly into every nook and cranny - ready or no - and you better believe they see it all. 

Just in the nick of time we are moving to the leafy environs of Teddington, to a flat with a second bedroom and a shared garden. It is time at last for Felix to have his own bedroom and for us to reclaim the privacy of our own bedroom, yet a part of me is sad to bid farewell to this period of extended intimacy, all three of us sleeping soundly within a single chamber. Of course the larger part is clamouring for escape, for the unimaginable luxury of space and privacy our new home will offer. It is a time of farewell, and I have been busy not only with the endless packing and sorting but also with doing my round of farewells. Being an incurable sentimentalist I have visited each and every favourite spot in order to give thanks for the pleasures it has brought me, knowing I will see them all again but in the awareness that it will be as a visitor. No longer will we cycle down the river path to Dukes Meadows, for a new bend of river will be ours to explore. New pastures beckon, but old pastures hold a place in the heart that can never be erased, and sometimes it seems that every blade of grass holds a memory for me; that spot is where I lay while Felix napped, that tree where I first took him from the pram to see last springs apple blossom. Layer upon layer of memory colours my vision of places so familiar they have become stitched into the very fabric of my soul. Felix too has his favourite spots, and I am conscious that this is the only world he has ever known. 

The final day of April was composed of two halves. That morning the rain came down heavy and enveloping, and we had to content ourselves with a quick trip to the sodden playground where Felix could splash and stamp out his frustrations. By afternoon the sun had found his hat and was shining with renewed vigour, and off we went for a cycle. As we passed the Chiswick Pier Felix started making sounds of excitement. The pontoon is one of his favourite places, and he never seems to bore of walking along the wooden boards, stopping to study the river rushing directly below his feet. As he went about his examinations I noticed an elderly, spritely figure watching us in amusement from aboard a house boat. Complete with grizzled beard and deeply sun lined face he looked the spit of an old sea dog, and imagine my surprise and delight when the pier master - for it was he - invited us aboard his boat for a little look. Well such chances don't come every day so I seized Felix by the hand and stepped on deck. 'Woooow' came the little voice as he contemplated the view. 'Loves the river your little feller' the sea dog stated and I nodded. 'Like mother like son' I replied with a smile, and my heart could have burst for love of my little feller, his blonde hair blowing about in the lively breeze. 'Thank you very much' I said to the pier master as we waved to him from the pontoon. 'My pleasure' he replied 'Mind how you go'. 

Saturday, 25 April 2015

ENTRY THIRTY SIX - FISH OUT OF WATER

After spending most of last summer in water of all kinds, Felix has suddenly
decided that he loathes the paddling pool and is none too keen on his bath either. Clinging, crying and hiding his face from the sparkling fountain, I stood bewildered by his sudden fear of the water. Whilst other children frolicked merrily my former water baby wept bitterly as I carried him towards the pool, refusing to dip even a toe into the shallows. Deciding that the best policy was a slow re-integration I left him alone to play happily on the grass, wondering if perhaps curiosity might get the better of him. The next visit was the same, and whilst the children of friends splashed happily Felix continued to cling and cry at the merest suggestion of a paddle. What on earth has happened to my fish?
 
This behaviour is part of larger emerging pattern. It is as if Felix has suddenly discovered fear as a concept. Previously he was a mustang; throwing himself into new experiences without a second thought. Nowadays he is more of a thoroughbred, volatile and easily startled. It is anyone’s guess how he might react to familiar experiences and people, burying his face in my shoulder at the sight of a smiling face or howling as we arrive at his favourite playground. Deciding it was time to seek some advice I googled 'toddler fear of water' and lo and behold a multitude of entries popped up. It turns out that a sudden fear of water is common in toddlerhood and is part of a new awareness of the environment. The brain of a toddler is a complex affair, able to conjure up terrifying scenarios based on assumptions that adults can find impossible to comprehend, and as yet unable to rationalise these fears into real and imaginary. One article suggested that the fear of bathing may relate to him realising that water swirls down the plughole and concluding that he too may be swept away. Seen through these eyes the paddling pool is petrifying indeed; packed with shrieking children firing water pistols and running madly through the water, a veritable battleground for a newly aware Felix. 
 
With this in mind and armed with advice to treat these fears as valid and proceed with patience and understanding we continued with the softly softly approach. Thankfully after a few nights of fun filled baths the fear of the tub seemed to ebb. The paddling fear was harder to tackle, but after several attempts I am delighted to say that Felix has been successfully re-christened. Amphibious once more we have surged into the swimming season with daily trips to the paddling pool on Dukes Meadows to soak up the glorious spring sunshine, united once again in our love of water. 
 
We too are about to find ourselves in a strange pond, for we have finally succeeded in finding a flat with a garden and a second bedroom that doesn't cost the earth, but it does mean a move away from our beloved environs of W4. Teddington beckons! I feel somewhat as Felix may have done, full of trepidation yet also curious and elated. Change hovers in the air like the Northern Lights, a flickering spectral light show that surges and glows and is swiftly gone. After nearly a decade in our current abode there is a curiosity shops worth of junk and treasure to sort through, and the size of the task is
daunting. Every day while Felix naps I sort through drawers and cupboards, pullling bags of old magazines from under the bed and finding myself engrossed by ten year old articles on home decor. Our flat has slowly but surely been filled up with mementos; handpainted shakers from Greece, novelty kettles and enough frames, canvases and photographs to fill the Tate Modern. It has become clear that we are both avid collectors of curios or curators of clutter, depending on your viewpoint. Sorting through this mountain of stuff is exhausting but therapeutic, and deciding what to keep, what to give away and what to bin is my current preoccupation. A life laundry is underway, and as I riffle through old university essays and photographs of holidays long past I feel like a snake shedding several layers of skin. A delineation between the past and the future marks the present as a time of limbo; and whilst I long for the day Felix has his own bedroom and I can retire to bed of an evening with a book and a cup of tea, not to mention open the door of the kitchen and release my darling boy into a grassy haven, I also mourn the time that is gone forever. A butterfly emerges triumphant from the cocoon, but the caterpillar it once was can sometimes miss the safe, dark seclusion of the home it has painstakingly built.
 
 
 
 

Thursday, 9 April 2015

ENTRY THIRTY FIVE - SWINGS AND ROUNDABOUTS


Standing in the endless drizzle on an unreasonably dreary Good Friday, watching Felix play a repetitive game on the merry-go-round, I got to thinking about the meaning of parenting and life in general. The park was practically deserted; just a few damp dog walkers and our little group braving the elements. It seemed the whole world was shut up inside enjoying a lazy afternoon while we watched our energetic toddler get on and off the roundabout, as intent as a marathon runner in sight of the ribbon.
Faced with such repetition the mind tends to wander, delving into darkened passages of thought where cobwebs hang thick and laden with dust. What is the point of it all? Is it just a way to kill a tedious afternoon, a few hours closer to nightfall and ultimately to death? Such morbid thoughts sidled across my mind as I felt my jeans go from mildly to moderately damp. 

Things have been somewhat up and down recently. I have suffered an unforeseen professional setback, upsetting my pleasantly trundling cart and sending my apples rolling in all directions. Out they tumbled, rosy spheres winking merrily as I scrambled to retrieve them, knowing it was fundamentally futile. I am suddenly confronted with a crossroads, one side falling away to a gaping chasm lined with slippery indecision and the nagging sense of urgency coupled with confusion. Which way to turn? Leap or stay put and hope for a miracle? And if not leap then stand transfixed while the ground crumbles away beneath, revealing a cruel precipice and a sheer drop to oblivion.  Resilience - according to the experts - is the primary quality that unites successful people. The ability to take bad news and setbacks and turn them into fuel to the fight is of critical importance. Normally I am fairly robust but this time I have felt crushed, wishing fervently that things would right themselves without my having to make the mammoth effort to pick myself up, dust myself off and launch myself back out into the unknown. 


Meanwhile Felix continues to grow and develop, picking up an occasional new word and slowly but surely becoming more independent, more delightful, more able to play alone. This comes as a welcome relief as in his exuberant excitement at everything around him he has often been unable to focus on the toy or game in front of him, a toddler with the attention span of a fish and the energy levels of a puppy. His latest acquisition is daffodil, pronounced daf-a-doh, revealing his ardent love for the bright yellow flowers that have sprung forth all around. On the edges of Dukes Meadows, our favorite haunt on sunny days, clusters of yellow heads nod invitingly, whilst every entry and exit to our home is accompanied by my blooming tete-a-tetes, the miniature daffodils that are so perfectly on Felix’s scale. Over Easter we managed a brief and much needed escape from the Big Smoke to the wide open spaces of rural Wiltshire, and Felix was in Seventh Heaven. ‘Daf-a-doh’ he exclaimed as we pulled up to our lodgings, pointing at a row of splendid sunshine yellow trumpets. Lambs gamboled merrily in the pasture while their milk-swollen mothers bleated aggressively, cherry trees puffed up pink with blossom and birds singing their hearts out in the sudden sunshine. It was all a picture of bucolic perfection
and yet a nagging sense of anxiety stalked me like an abandoned cat, tearing me from the present into a purgatory of worry. ‘It’s swings and roundabouts’ - the phrase echoed annoyingly through my mind all day long as I tried to sort the clamouring thoughts into some kind of order. I have never been entirely sure of the exact meaning of the saying, and having asked several friends all have shrugged their shoulders. For the purposes of accuracy I looked it up, discovering a succinct clarification that encapsulated my present dilemma. ‘Gains and losses that offset each other’. Perhaps my recent setback is actually the dawn of a new era, one that leads to a future of emancipation via the gathering of new skills; as the dictionary says ‘What you lose on the swings you gain on the roundabout’. 


Easter Monday dawned blue and crisp as a freshly laundered sheet, sky high and arching and dew steaming off the grass in the morning sun. As Felix wriggled from my grasp and ran over to a patch of custard and cream coloured daffodils, the cheerful friends who pave the way from early spring to early summer, he whispered to himself daf-a-doh, and I took a deep breath and inhaled the joy of his new word, realizing it was a small yet vital step towards self expression, to communication. Thank Goodness for words, these magical squiggles that represent our thoughts and dreams, that convey sadness and heartbreak, that express delight and wonder and awe, and that allow us to share with one another the joy and pain of living. Language, how I love thee! Sending forth my missives to the world, lighter in heart and mind once they are freed from the tangle of my mind to the clarity of the page. And so I ask you; what does it all mean, where are we all headed, what should we be doing? It’s swings and roundabouts my friends.