Acts of Love

I’m tired and melancholy today. The massage I had the other day, coupled with a heavy, painful period is working its magic on my emotions and on the deep inner work that I need to do. I needed a way inside of myself but couldn’t find it but I found myself fighting back tears on the school run because I miss Phil, except I don’t, at all. I miss cuddles and love. I miss cold, rainy winter days wrapped up in bed just talking for hours and hours, snug in a cocoon that only love can create. I miss intimacy, real heart open intimacy. I haven’t had that since Phil, he is my last association with love, and so in my current mood I confuse the two.
I came home, spoilt Jasper with biscuits and cuddles because I’m trying to open my heart to him a little bit. I put on some music, I gave in to the torrent of tears and found myself time travelling once again, this time to my Nan’s garden. Languid summer afternoons laid on the grass making daisy chains and laughing with my sisters, later with Josh as he learnt to explore the world. The perfume of Nan’s hard work permeating my senses; the washing drying on the line, the flowers that grew all around, the dinner she was toiling over in the kitchen. The smell of bacon intertwined with cigarette smoke – my favourite smell out of every other. The sound of ‘The Box’ always on in the living room, always sport; football, wrestling, horse racing. The boisterousness of my Granddad’s snores laced with the delicacy of my Nan’s beautiful singing and my auntie’s distinctive sound ‘Aide’ drifting out of the open windows that combined, I found so comforting and homely. The love, warmth and laughter. My Nan had the best laugh, the kindest nature and the strongest determination. She was, is, my hero and my inspiration. She was my best friend and I miss her so much. I miss everything about that most precious time in my life. Twenty four years wasn’t enough, I wanted more. It’s impossible to believe that one moment in time, one whispered sentence would change everything. “I keep coughing up blood.” My entire innocent and safe world in that home eradicated in an instant. Nothing was the same once that grain of sand passed through life’s timer. That was the day I grew up.
I miss Greg today too. It’s the strangest feeling. The man I divorced a decade ago suddenly invading my senses again. The time I was married to Greg was a good time in my life. I never loved him the way I wanted to, but we were great friends. We were so comfortable with each other. It’s so funny how the man I’ve loved least in my life provided me with the years that I now miss the most. We were a family, Greg, the kids and I. As a family, we did everything together. Love’s absence didn’t matter. Not then.
And of course my parents. The people that, as I conjure up their images, their faces make me smile.
The good times that I’ve been guided to seek, which have been concealed from my eyes for too long are now reappearing, drip-feeding me the hydration I’ve lacked.
The Thursdays after school when Dad would pick us all up, drive Millie to her piano lesson and then we’d go and make our own fun. In the summer we’d park the car, walk down to the little stream in the village and try and catch tadpoles or just walk for miles in the sun, getting lost, thirsty and tired. In the winter Dad would drive to the road that had no speed limit (apparently) and a series of hills. Dad would drive as fast as he dared over the hills, we’d go so fast the car would bottom out, we’d hit our heads on the roof, smack our faces on the windows, fly into each other and laugh hysterically all the while screaming, “Do it again!” Once it had been done over and over we’d pick Millie up, grab a KFC on the way home and tuck into succulent chicken letting the grease drip onto our chins and down our clothes. Dad would then bake bread, getting flour and crumbs everywhere and we’d all be allowed a go at kneading the bread and throwing it around the kitchen before leaving it to rise and we’d scurry off to watch Top of the Pops and Kenny Everett;  Dad and I would sit in armchairs and do our versions of ‘It’s all done in the best possible taste’ and see who could get highest in the chair and twist their legs around the most. We’d have headstand and handstand competitions, Dad gave me a good run for my money in ability and laughter before we each fell over then we’d all run around like lunatics tidying up before Mum came home from shopping, sorry the evening was over but excited about repeating it all the next week. Dad taught me the importance of fun and laughter.
In the winter, Mum always made sure the house was warm and cosy. I’d arrive home wet and cold and she’d have pyjamas and socks warming up on the radiator in the kitchen. I’d grab them, run to my room, strip off and try and get the clothes on before they lost any heat, then I’d come downstairs to bowls of hot stew or soup that she’d been making during the day with big chunks of bread slathered with butter. Mum would join us at the table. Often Izzy would wolf her food down so quickly she’d choke, Mum would rush her into the bathroom and hit her back until the food came back up, then she’d bring her back in, sit back down and carry on as if nothing had happened, reassuring us that Izzy was fine. It was an odd but normal practice but it taught me to stay calm in difficult situations. Mum’s warm clothes and hot meals taught me about true comfort and true love and that people show their love in different ways.
Every Sunday, without fail, Mum would make a roast dinner. She’d take hours carefully preparing and cooking the food, making sure it was perfect. We’d all sit around the table together as a family, eating and enjoying Mum’s amazing cooking abilities. Afterwards, we’d all argue over what to do for the rest of the day. We’d all grab paper and a pen and write what we wanted to do, fold up the paper, put it into a pot. Dad would draw and whatever it was, we’d do. Usually, it was a trip to visit one of our aunties or uncles, sometimes a trip to the beach or a walk in the woods. I loved the excitement of fate deciding. They taught me how important family is and it taught me about choices. They also taught me you don’t always get your own way, that sometimes you have to do what someone else wants ~ Compromise. They taught me about letting go of the need to control and just going with the flow.
Every Christmas we’d have a big family Christmas. Nan, Granddad, aunts, uncles and our cousins. Some years our relatives from up north would come too. The house would be full to bursting, it was noisy and hectic. Mum would bustle and stress in the kitchen, Dad would fill the home with Christmas music, Nan would turn up with trifle, and then in the chaos, somehow Mum would produce a meal for at least 14 people that was delicious and we’d all sit around two huge tables pulling crackers, drinking port and lemonade and embracing each other’s company. So many different personalities in one room made for very interesting Christmases! They taught me the importance of extended family, about coming together and sharing the simple things in life. A meal, laughter and each other for just being who they are.
I grew up in a home where money wasn’t really an issue. We were very lucky to have our own swimming pool in the garden which we could use whenever we wanted but despite having more money than most of our friends we were never allowed the high fashion clothes and we were never allowed designer stuff. We hardly ever received pocket money and we always felt hard done by! We were allowed to have friends around whenever we wanted to use the pool though and I learned very valuable lessons. I was taught that money doesn’t make you better than anyone else and that what I do have I will enjoy more if I share it. I learnt that it’s not the outside packaging that matters, no matter how much money you have, but it’s the inside, how you treat people and how you feel about yourself that really matters. My parent’s money taught me self worth and that’s more valuable than anything money can buy.
In the summer, Mum would take us to the park. She’d have four girls in swings all in a row and would run between each swing to ensure all of us kept swinging the entire time ~ This simple act taught me that we’re all equal. Mum never let one swing higher than the other or be pushed more times. Sometimes one was up while the other was down but no matter what, and no matter how tiring for Mum, we were all treated equally to the best of Mum’s ability. It also taught me that sometimes her ability was less than other days, those were my down days and someone else’s up but like all good parks, it’s all swings and roundabouts. It’s all fair in the end.
Our home was always filled with music. I don’t remember it ever being quiet. My parents allowed us to take up whatever musical instrument we felt like even if we hadn’t stuck to the last one. Somewhere, everywhere in the house there was music; a radio left on in the kitchen, a record playing in the front room, a cd playing in the middle room or there would be the sounds of Izzy playing her trumpet in her bedroom, Millie playing the piano in the front room. I would walk around singing. The house was bursting with music at all times of the day and night, it developed my natural drive towards music and encouraged more out of me each day. Because of Mum and Dad’s taste in music I love almost every genre of music even now and there’s always music or singing going on in my home now. They taught me a very valuable lesson with their love of music, even if they didn’t realise it at the time. They taught me to always follow my passion and to find time for it each and every day, a practice I have done my entire adult life. Conversely, they also taught me that there’s beauty in silence.
Although Mum at first was never comfortable talking about sex, when she realised that I wasn’t going to stop challenging her by talking about it, she accepted it and embraced it. We may not have talked openly about sex but in other ways she guided me. She bought me books and she encouraged me to explore ~ I’ve never seen this as a good thing before but now I can see that it’s actually given me a very healthy attitude towards sex which I may not have gained otherwise. Mum taught me that when a situation in life is difficult, there is more than one way to deal with it for a positive result. It doesn’t always have to be the most obvious choice.
Dad, on the other hand, was always willing to talk about sex. He knew that it was a vital part of life and he never showed any embarrassment or fear about talking to his daughters about sex or periods or any other typically ‘awkward’ situation. He never tried to pass the job onto someone else he just talked openly and with humour teaching me that my body and sex were safe and natural parts of life. His acceptance of both enabled me to be accepting of both into my adult life and has enabled me to talk freely with my children about these areas. He taught me that sex is a wonderful thing but more than that he taught me to open my heart and talk honestly even if it’s uncomfortable to do so.
We always had a clean and tidy home and clean clothes. Mum saw her job as providing food, warmth and clothes on our backs. She may not have been able to be physically affectionate but she showed her love in other ways. We never went without anything that we needed, even if it meant a lot of extra work for her. She taught me that everyone is different and that differences should be respected and celebrated. She taught me to accept others for who they are not what you want them to be. She taught me to embrace what I am given in life even if I wanted something else. She taught me that you always get what you need, even if it’s not what you want.
Mum would stay up still 3am some nights doing the ironing to ensure we all looked nice ~ Mum taught me about sacrifice in the name of love. It’s enabled me to never resent anything I’ve done for my kids even when I’ve been exhausted and crying out for my bed. This got me through the baby days and the breastfeeding nights. Love is a sacrifice sometimes but if you sacrifice for others, they will sacrifice in return one day, or they will pay it forward.
Dad would get up at 5 or 6am and work tirelessly to provide for us all. He’d often work a 15 hour day and although it meant we didn’t see him as much as some of my friends saw their Dads, when we did, it was quality time. Dad taught me the importance of hard work versus playtime but he also taught me that work isn’t everything and that spending time with loved ones is more important than having a lot of money. It’s enabled me to be the parent that I have been. I’ve worked as hard as my Dad but I’ve done it at home with the kids, ensuring they’ve always had my time whenever they needed it.
Mum didn’t go out to work. She stayed home and ensured that she was always there when we got home from school. I don’t remember ever coming home and her or Dad not being there. It was very strengthening as a child to have that security. If there was the odd occasion when she couldn’t be there she always made sure that Dad came home early. We never came home to an empty house, not once. Mum taught me the value of having an endless supply of love and support on tap. She taught me how to be a good Mum and her actions gave me the permission to do the same for my children as she did for us. Her actions gave me the power to stand up to society’s pressure for a mum to go out to work, instead I’ve stayed home and given my kids the same level of support that was so important for me. Mum and Dad both taught me, in their own ways, that working from home was the only option for me and it gave me permission to look inside myself and make careers for myself over the years doing things I love passionately so that I can passionately parent the kids at the same time.
I ran away from home when I was about 10. Dad was at work but he knew. He suddenly became ill at work saying he just didn’t feel right and came home. He soon discovered why and spent the entire time out searching for me. When I was found and returned home (the same day) I was told all about what had happened to Dad. Inadvertently, Mum and Dad taught me about intuition and they started me on my path to trusting my instincts.
Mum and Dad were both really open to other things. They didn’t openly discuss it with me when I was young but Mum would have loads of books on mediums and spirituality and would allow me to read them. Dad would talk now and then about what I now know to be as personal growth. Their teachings enabled me to explore that world for myself without fear of judgement. Once I’d begun I then felt open to talking to Dad about it and we’d have fantastically deep conversations about life. I remember one such conversation when I told Dad about a situation I had where I didn’t know what to do. I asked him what I should do and he said he wasn’t prepared to tell me as he wanted me to learn for myself. I asked, “What if I make the wrong choice?” and he said, “Then you’ll learn from your mistake and you’ll learn far better than me telling you beforehand.” That always stayed with me and it’s a lesson I’ve been able to pass on to my own children, as well as using in my own life. It taught me to never be afraid to explore.
Even though my Mum had some issues with her Dad, she still allowed us to have a relationship with him. Every Saturday she would let Granddad come and pick us up, we’d get on the bus and travel back to his house where we’d spend the day with him, Nan and my aunt. Mum would come for us mid-afternoon and we’d all spend the rest of the day together. Mum’s lesson was to teach me about compassion towards others, understanding another person’s needs and about forgiveness.
Mum severely lacked a sense of humour throughout most of my childhood. I can now see that this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing because it taught me the funny side of life and it taught me how important laughter is. Dad balanced out her lack of humour with an abundance of it. He has a mischievous, naughty side that he passed on to me and I can now see that together, they gave me the perfect balance. Had they both been like Dad I possibly wouldn’t have learnt to take life seriously. Had they both been like Mum, I’d have learnt to never see the funny side of life. Because of their differences, my humour is mostly balanced. They taught me about the importance of balance in all things.
When I was 16 and got pregnant with Josh, I told Mum first. We were in the kitchen and I just blurted it out, she said, “I had a feeling you were. Mother’s intuition.”  She taught me my first lesson in becoming a parent ~ that I would bond so closely with my child I would just know things about him. She then offered to tell my Dad and said she would deal with his reaction. She taught me my second lesson in being parent ~ a good parent will have your back for you. When Dad was told, he came in from the garden and said, “Your Mum’s told me you’re pregnant. What’s done is done so if you want to keep it, we’ll support you all the way.” Unconditional love ~ my third lesson! All of my vital parenting skills towards my children taught in a few minutes on one day in September 1990. Love, intuition, protection and acceptance at a time when a lot of other parents would have done the exact opposite. They also taught me how strong, open and amazing they are as parents and people in their own right.
Mum always had books all over the house, she always encouraged us to read and learn. This could never be seen as a bad thing. Mum taught me the power of knowledge and wisdom and that you’re always learning and always have the opportunities to learn.
When Mum and Dad divorced neither of them showed any upset or fear, they just got on with it and embraced their new lives. I’ve no doubt this has enabled me to embrace my life as a single parent and not really ever worry about it. They taught me to cope and to have a natural strength and ability as a single mum.
When I missed Phil this morning what I was actually doing was putting in place the comfort blanket to start exploring what needed to be done. When my mind jumped back in time to my Nan it opened the doorway to my first love and made me feel safer and more secure knowing that I’d had that in the past and could retreat back to it if I needed to. It was a reminder that even though they’re no longer here with me, my Nan, Granddad and aunt are always still with me when I need them. When I reminisced about Greg I was underpinning the security layers, just in case, and reminding myself that there are many types of love. With Phil, Nan and Greg, I created a very soft safety net to fall back on to as I jumped down into the painful past of my childhood. It was there if I needed it, but I didn’t because what I found in amongst the debris that’s been so evident for all these years, was a wonderful, solid foundation of unconditional love that got muddled and disguised in my mind as something else. Only now, as I have gently peeled back the layers of crap and really made myself find the positives, can I see that my parents made me who I am today. They created the loving, caring parent that I am to my own children. They opened me up to a more open point of view of the world. They sustained my love of music. They taught me that sometimes life is hard, it can be really shit but the way they dealt with it taught me that it doesn’t have to be that way.
My parents did do the negative things that I’ve explored before, the things that I’ve lived through every day and stayed angry with them for, but they did a whole lot more besides. They taught me what it was to live a full and true, realistic life. They taught me to be down to earth but to raise my spirits too. Shit things happen. People react badly to life sometimes. People hurt other people. Good things also happen and it’s the good things that I need to focus on because although I haven’t written page after page of goodness, it’s there. It happened and it influences me on a daily basis. It makes me the person I am today. All of my experiences encourage me to embrace and develop my positives and grow from my negatives, the same as I’m now doing with my parents.
My parents’ lessons were hard. They sometimes delivered them in a way that I didn’t like. I’ve focused on that my entire life and played the ‘poor me’ card for too long. What they actually did was they impacted me fully. Gentler lessons wouldn’t have done it for me, I’m not that kind of person. I need a punch in the gut to get through to me and that’s what they gave me but I couldn’t see it until now. The impact of their negative teachings have served to hurt me because I let them, I never turned them around and saw them for what they were. Huge positive lessons that had to hit me on a deep level for me to really understand and experience them.
I had an amazing childhood. That is the truth. Finally I can see it. I had a childhood richer than most; rich in experiences and lessons and had it not been for that I wouldn’t be the person I am today. The person that is able to be lighthearted one minute and deep and serious the next. The person that can see the positive in every situation but can cry and feel sad at the harder parts of life without resistance. My parents created a well rounded, healthy daughter who has finally found the ability to see the truth ~ I was blessed all along.

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