letter to my one-child self

Dear Me,

I really hope this doesn’t turn into one of those patronising “If I only knew then what I know now” type missives. If it does, I’m sorry. But recently I’ve taken to remembering what life was like five years ago, and I wanted to encourage you for all you’re doing.

You’re about to turn 30. You have a 1-year-old boy and have just found out you’re expecting again. I want to tell you that the jump from one to two children will not be that bad. You think it will – but I promise you, it won’t. You undersell yourself – but really, you’ve developed so many new skills since becoming a parent that you’ll cope with the new arrival – as well as your lively toddler – with your eyes closed. I’m not saying it won’t be hard – just that you’ll be fine. You’ll learn how to feed two, get in and out of the car with two and navigate swimming lessons with two. Soon, you’ll be able to assemble the double buggy in seconds, entertain your 2-year-old while you feed your newborn, and somehow find time to load the dishwasher. (Good purchase, by the way. It’s only been a few weeks, but this will turn out to be The Best Decision you ever made. Nice one.) You are no longer the anxious first-time parent who didn’t know how to change a nappy: you are assured and confident – even if you may not feel like it all the time.

One day, you’ll have more kids, and you’ll realise that it was glorious, glorious to have as many parents as you had children. But that’s for another time. Don’t think about that right now.

I want to tell you that, five years on, the parenting parameters have changed. I guess you remember the hell of All The Comparisons at baby groups – you know: which kid sat up first, crawled first, walked first, said the first word. Having crossed over from preschool to school territory, do you know what actually counts? That your son is kind and considerate. That he can make friends. That he’s a nice person to have around. And guess what? All the kids in your little boy’s class can stand, walk and talk. No big deal. They all got there.

Keep reading and singing – don’t forget the singing, just because he’s too big to sit demurely in his baby bouncer while you play the piano to him. Sing whenever and wherever you can, accompanied or not. Most of the time it will be not – but that doesn’t matter. They’ll tell you that all this is good for reading later on. You’ll nod your head but you won’t understand – until the time when he actually starts learning to read and you realise that it’s all about rhythms and rhymes, the fall and rise of speech and song – and that a wide vocabulary doesn’t hurt either. I realise he can only really say ‘duck’, ‘cricket’ and ‘chocolate’ right now, but he’s taking in every word that you speak or sing to him.

There are a lot of nappies and a lot of washing. Sorry about that. One day you’ll have twins and they’ll poo eight times a day and you’ll remember these days as a doddle.

You’re great at keeping busy. So many groups, so many playdates. You know what? Your little boy is learning, even now, the important skills of sharing, taking turns, relating to other kids, being hospitable, paying attention, trying things out, responding to adults. Keep up the socialising – it will pay off. But the small fortune you’re forking out for swimming lessons – that will not pay off. At least it hasn’t done yet. Honestly, utilise the free toddler groups at churches and children’s centres – he’ll get just as much from them.

You know the friends you’ve made in the last year? Some of them will turn out to be some of your best friends. You’ll share highs and lows together and, before you know it, the friendship will be deeply dug, strongly built, firmly cemented. There are one or two more special friends to come as well – you might not recognise that spark when you first meet them, but circumstance will bring you together more and more, until eventually your bond is stronger than iron.

Oh yeah, the adoption thing. It’s going to happen – but don’t worry, God’s going to get you excited about it in His own time. I know right now it feels like the scariest thing in the world – if it feels like anything, because you’ve been pushing it so far back in your mind, it hardly even exists as a concept. But the seed is there, and it’s going to grow.

Finally: I know he’s clingy. I know he won’t leave your side unless Dad’s around. I know he screams and screams and screams when you leave him once a week – at home – for an hour’s Bible study retreat with friends. I know you can’t understand why he doesn’t realise you’re coming back, why he’s uncomfortable with those he sees regularly, why he doesn’t just get on and play like the other kids. Guess what? I still don’t understand these things – and never will. And the boy would just laugh if I told him now. But keep doing what you’re doing. He will gain his independence from never having had you turn away his dependence. When he eventually learns to separate from you, he will do it with such confidence.

Keep going, Mama. Enjoy these days, they go so fast – but the best is (always) yet to come.

Love,

Me xx

Continue reading “letter to my one-child self”

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when the waters recede: who will still show up?

Recently my beautiful city flooded. There are two rivers here in York – the Ouse floods every year, sometimes several times, but, because the city is built for this, with nearby housing designed on the first floor upwards, the damage is limited. This time, the floods were so bad that the flood barrier had to be raised in order to let out some of the Ouse’s water into the Foss. This is the river near us and, whilst we are fortunately high enough above the river not to be affected, several friends had to evacuate their homes, with damage which will take several costly months to repair.

We were away at the time, and could only sympathise from afar via social media. As news of the events unfolded on local Facebook groups, it became apparent that a mammoth volunteering force was springing up – locals from all over the city (and non-locals from all over the country) were jumping to the aid of those they didn’t know: donating cleaning supplies, baby essentials, food and furniture; cooking and delivering hot meals to volunteers, the emergency services and the army; coordinating drop-off points, collections and deliveries. It was, by all accounts, an incredible example of the desire deep inside us to be generous, kind, sacrificial.

One guy posted on Facebook something which stuck with me. The gist was that his Christmas hadn’t turned out the way he’d expected – he’d ended up helping out in the donation centres – but that this had been the highlight of his Christmas, being able to help, and seeing so many others prepared to give of their time, energy, money and possessions.

It wasn’t a surprise to me that he felt more fulfilled helping others than indulging in chocolate or wine or whatever he might have been doing on Christmas Day. We’re designed to live in community, which means that we each have a desire to help those around us. Of all the ways we could spend our time, helping others is something which never disappoints, never leaves us dissatisfied. I’m not sure we will ever reach our full potential if we’re not actively engaged in serving those around us – it’s part of who we were designed to be.

One of the glossier round-robins we received at Christmas left me a little uncomfortable. For a few days, I couldn’t put my finger on what it was – and then the penny dropped: there was no mention of any activity designed to serve someone else’s needs. There were paid jobs, and there were indulgent hobbies – and that was it.

I’m not going to pretend that it is pure altruism which motivates people to give voluntarily of their time and energy, although of course that is a big part of it. Actually, people who spend some of their time volunteering have recognised that something in us lights up when we serve others. We’re made to do it, and when we do it we discover a little more of the people we were designed to be.

Friends, York is in need 24-7, 365 days of the year – and your locality is too. There are people who are addicted to all sorts of things, living right near where you live. Families are breaking down. People are living on the streets, or in carpet-less council flats, with barely enough money to feed their families. Pushing back evil with good is necessary all year round.

However, the good news for stressed-out parents, busy career types, elderly folk with declining energy levels, is that we don’t have to do this in our own strength. We don’t even ‘have’ to do anything. The battle is won, God is victorious – we simply show up and take part on the winning side. The question is: where are you showing up? Are you showing up at a toddler group each week, which could do with a hand welcoming new people or clearing up afterwards? Are you showing up at a school gate, where some of the parents are going through hell and need your listening ear? Are you showing up at a lunch for older folk who really need to know something of God’s hope? Are you showing up at work, where colleagues need to know their work is valued and respected?

Or are you just showing up and going home?

I know I said 2016 was not about resolutions (actually I’ve been a hypocrite and made one – more on that later) BUT perhaps it should be the year for Showing Up – proper eyes-open, ears-alert, hands-ready Showing Up. Who knows where God will take us?

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. (Romans 12:1)

when the new year fails before it’s even begun

There is nothing like the seeing-in of a new year to convince us of our failures.

Take New Year’s Eve. Whilst I love the idea of it, I find myself caught in that awkward time of life when celebrating it in any way, shape or form seems near impossible. Lodged between my carefree twenties, when I was free to go anywhere and do anything, and my forties, which I sincerely hope are going to be like a second adolescence, as my kids grow into the right age and temperament for partying with us, these days I find myself generally doing very little to see in the New Year. Scrolling through Facebook, it would appear that my parent friends are the same. If we’ve managed a glass of something alcoholic and made it to 11 without passing out due to sheer exhaustion, then that passes as a decent celebration. I chuckled when I read that one of my friends had celebrated with a bottle of Prosecco and University Challenge, and admired their determination to celebrate whilst their 1-year-old slept upstairs. And yet something about my own lack of energy to put anything into New Year’s Eve makes me wonder: if I can’t even get this one night right, what’s the hope for the rest of the year?

Then there is the constant stream of end-of-year reviews, in every format. There’s nothing like a quiz about the previous year’s events to remind me at how rubbish I am at keeping up with the news. I don’t even know which celebrities have got married/divorced/enhanced, let alone the Important Events. Honestly, I watch Charlie Brooker chiefly to catch up with the main news stories of the year. Again, FAIL is written right over me.

And let’s not forget the constant pressure to be a Winning Mum – read: scour Pinterest for creative ideas to make the New Year meaningful and poignant for your 2 year old. Time capsules. Firework crafts. Chinese lanterns. Wishing trees. Over-optimistic lists of what you all want to achieve this year. I’ve done none of this. I kind of want to, but not enough to actually make it happen. FAIL.

Of course this leads us nicely to the elephant in the room: New Year’s resolutions. Surely nothing reminds us of our own failure more than vowing to do something you know is over-ambitious. And all around us, people seem to be actually achieving their goals: losing weight, running marathons, travelling the world. What about me? FAIL.

As I ponder this, I wonder whether I’ve got it all wrong. Whether actually the passing of old seasons, and the arrival of new ones, is not about making oneself better, stronger, fitter, richer. Whether the change of year is actually no more significant than a new month, a new week, a new day – each one abounding in the same fresh hope and new opportunities.

The writer of Ecclesiastes had something to say about this:

“There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens” (Ecc. 3:1)

After listing a variety of activities, he concludes:

“I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it.” (Ecc. 3:12-14)

Perhaps the New Year is not so much about striving for more, but acknowledging what we have. Perhaps it is not so much about improving our lives, but noticing the good which is already there. Perhaps every day – not every 365 days – is a chance to grab opportunities, see the good, serve someone else, live with hope in our blood. Maybe what we need most is what we already have – and the One we already have is ready to do the impossible this year: acts which will endure forever, beyond whatever fitness regime or career ambitions or self-improvement plans we could set ourselves.

This is not a time for failures. We have already failed – and, try as we might, we will fail again. Instead, may we entrust our 2016 to God, with all the successes and failures it will bring. His works – not ours – will be of lasting substance. On 31 December 2016, I want to be content and encouraged by having sat back and let God take centre stage during the year. I want stories of His goodness and grace, miracles and wonders, the addicted released and the hungry fed. And then I’ll know, whether I party till the early hours or crash out at 9pm, that God’s love endures forever.