7 Jan 2020

Inside out



Years ago I nursed a tiny old lady called Elsie. Time, arthritis and dementia meant she was constantly huddled over in an almost foetal position and her vocabulary consisted of 'No', 'Aye' and the occasional bout of singing. She needed constant care and was completely dependant on other people for all activities of daily living. Feeding. Bathing. Dressing. Toileting. Turning in the night. And anything else that might happen in between.

Like all the staff, I talked to Elsie when I was dealing with her but never expected much back. She'd outlived most of her family, and those who were still alive were elderly themselves and lived miles away, so there were no visitors to fill in the blanks and educate us about who she really was - or used to be.

Our interactions were understandably limited. Usually along the lines of:
Me: Here's your breakfast, Elsie, Ready for some porridge?
(Silence)
Me: How's that - Ok for you?
(Silence)
Me: Are you enjoying the porridge, Elsie?
Elsie: Aye

Sometimes the most mundane of interactions represent something far bigger. One day, about 3 years after I started working with her, this happened:
Me: Here we go Elsie, have some porridge.
(Silence)
Me: Ready for another spoonful?
(Silence)
Me: Are you enjoying the porridge, Elsie?
Elsie: Aye, It's lovely.

This was the longest sentence she'd ever said to me. And it included 2 brand new words I'd never heard her say before. I stared and stared and her impossibly wrinkled features and tiny sparkling eyes, shocked at the depth of conversation we were having.

Me: Great! Glad to hear it. So... how are you feeling today, Elsie?
(Silence)
Me: What would you like to do after breakfast?
(Silence)
Me: Ready for another spoonful?
Elsie: ....Aye.

And she was gone again. But I'd caught a glimpse of a real, live, actual PERSON within her slowly dying frame. I was acutely aware of the pure functional way I'd approached all interactions with her. Every shift, I'd fed and changed and dressed her like she was an elderly robot.

But Elsie - whoever she was - was still IN there. This ancient body that I'd helped keep alive for the past 3 years still housed an actual human being.

Astounding.

-----------------------------------------------------

It's 3 am and I'm talking to a student in the city where we both live and we are finding each other utterly fascinating.

He's a scientist and a musician. I'm a full time parent and have a degree certificate somewhere in the house - I just can't remember where.

He's an atheist but would like to believe in something. I believe wholeheartedly which is why I'm walking the streets at 3 in the morning with a goody bag of flip flops and sweets.

He has a dog called Fidget and would love to be a father one day. Fidget was the name of my bump when I was pregnant with my middle child.

We bond over a massive range of issues that should be contentious but somehow aren't. The rapid disclosure hops around a fair bit. Free will. Faith. Euthanasia. Abortion. Torture. Politics. He feels my faith and wants to tap into it but can't. I have flashbacks to Elsie and the porridge. I stare into his eyes full of openness and wonder and know our lives are rubbing off on each other in a way I can't explain.

-----------------------------------------------------

I'm at work and about to deal with someone who's been incredibly difficult both via email and over the phone. Now I'm meeting him in person for the first time and I'm determined to be super nice and professional because difficult people are a challenge I enjoy. It's like a game. If I'm helpful and he has to say 'thank you' for something, I win.

Immediately there's an opportunity.

Access to the venue is awful. We're at the rear of a very long building, a full 3 minute walk and flight upstairs from the main entrance. His car is currently parked on double yellow lines outside. It's rammed full of boxes of material that he needs to bring inside within the next 25 minutes when the road closes to everything except buses. There's a fire door by my desk which opens onto a lay-by that is usable for the next 25 minutes. Game on.

I suggest he parks and unloads in the lay-by. I offer to open the fire door each time he returns and watch his boxes while he fetches the next load. He is flustered, but grateful. He thanks me each time I open the door for him. I guard his boxes vigilantly. Later when he's unpacked his boxes, he brings me some pens for the desk and a handful of brain shaped stress toys. Game over. I win. Yay!

But then we start chatting. Over the next 2 days I grow to like him. There's a dinner coming up and he's nervous about going but expected to be there. I tell him it's only semi-formal and will be productive and hopefully fun.

He passes my desk a couple of hours before the dinner, a suit bag draped over his shoulder. 20 minutes later he passes my desk in the opposite direction, wearing the contents of the suit bag and smelling nice.

Suddenly the Game really is over.

I glimpse him as I think God does. The victory dissolves in my head and I imagine him reduced to his component parts.

Unarmed. Unthreatening. Vulnerable. Curious. Pre-loaded with potential.

Human.

-----------------------------------------------------

I think about Elsie and her porridge and her words locked away inside her head. I think about Fidget's owner and our words tumbling around each other in the middle of the night. I think about this new person who initially hid from me but now I see him and the game became stupid.

I left all these interactions changed.

God often uses people to shape and form and mould our thinking. Chance encounters sometimes have an effect years into the future. How much more does the constant, daily drip effect of dialogue with those we do life with? Long term connections?

Who these people are really matters.

It's OK to choose our travelling companions wisely.

And never underestimate the Elsie's.


7 Nov 2019

Skittles

Spawn X: There's been a theft. My skittles have been eaten out the cupboard. I forgot I had them and then I remembered and when I went to get them they were gone.

Me: And you're sure you didn't eat them yourself?

Spawn X: I would have done if it weren't for the EMPTY PACKET.

(Pause for dramatic effect. Rubbish left lying around winds me up. Rubbish hidden in cupboards and drawers even more so). 

Me: Well , by the process of elimination, I didn't eat them and I'm pretty sure dad didn't. But you can ask him and get an honest answer.

Spawn X: I think we both know who they likely suspect is.

Me: Family meeting?

Spawn: I don't want a family meeting - I want justice!

Me: We can discuss at dinner - see what happens?

Spawn X: Might as well. We're having quiche so everyone will be miserable anyway.







24 Jul 2019

Making up

Bedtime conversation in Spawn Y's room. There's unresolved sibling tension. I'm hopeful they will sort it out soon so I can have a shower and finish my gin - which is downstairs getting closer to room temperature the longer I'm up here. (Spawn X knocks and enters room)
Me (whispering): Do you want me to leave?
Spawn Y (whispering): No
Me: Hey. Did you want to talk this out before bed?
Spawn X: I'm sorry I was sarcastic to you before. That wasn't cool.
Spawn Y: That's OK. I'm sorry I was irrationally sensitive.
(They hug)
Me: Ah sweeeet ... You guys are so mature. Just so you know - me and uncle Michael never had conversations like this.
Spawn X: That's cause we're better people than you.



8 Mar 2019

Falling insects

It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men. (Frederick Douglass)

A while ago Madi and me came across a poorly looking bee, crawling on the ground. We found a piece of bark and encouraged Bee to climb on it, then carefully lifted it to a hanging basket directly above us. Bee slowly crawled off the bark then promptly fell, landing with a soft thuk on the ground. Bee obviously wasn't up to hanging from a flower - it needed to stand on one. We found a flowery bush nearby and used the bit of bark to transfer Bee to that instead. We watched it stick a proboscis into the centre of the new flower and drink in liquid energy for a long time.

We walked away, happy that we'd helped Bee survive another day in an increasingly flowerless world. Maybe we'd also helped postpone the apocalypse? You know - when we run out of bees and food and wifi. If the apocalypse does happen I think cockroaches will rise up as the new dominant species. They can live off manky food and survive falls of many times their height without splatting inside out.

Two days later, Madi and me went to Clip & Climb. We watched the short safety video then followed the instructor and got harnessed in. I soon found that clipping and climbing is fun. A system to let you defy gravity and see the world 25' from the ground? What's not to like? It's hard to equate it with any other feeling as an adult who doesn't do extreme sport of any kind, but the sensation of climbing higher than I've ever climbed in my life and then gliding back to earth again was invigorating. It was like someone had tweaked gravity. I scrambled up the wall and glided down 4 times before realising I couldn't breathe properly and needed to stop. I thought of Bee, tumbling from the hanging basket. Falling many times her height and landing on the hard paving slab. How does she experience gravity? Does landing hurt? Or are bees like cockroaches?

I thought about trust. Loads of things in life require trust. Lots of things are probably so familiar and assumed that they are taken for granted and people don't recognise the trust they have in them. Like the harness.

The first time I climbed, I trusted the harness consciously. I was about to experience an unusual thing and told my brain it was OK. I made the decision to believe it would prevent me falling and dying instantly. Or bleeding out slowly, surrounded by panicked Clip and Climb employees. I climbed 5' or so (like the video advised), then leaned back and swooped back to the ground. Trusting the harness was practised and learned. Climbing and falling a short way built confidence to climb higher. To trust some more. To repeat the experience of climbing and falling and becoming knackered yet exhilarated by the whole thing and never once feeling unsafe or damaged.

But what if it hadn't worked out like that? What if all indicators were: this is a safe activity, founded on a reliable mechanism that will feel a bit weird the first few times you try it but everything will work out - but then I splat to the ground on the first attempt?

Chances are, I wouldn't try it again (even if I could still move).

What happens when the trust isn't with gravity, but with people?
I'm your primary care-giver. 
I love you. 
I will nurture you to adulthood and celebrate your independence.
I will protect your body, mind and heart until you get there.

What happens when THAT safety mechanism fails?
Try again. 
I'll catch you this time. 
It won't happen again. 
Trust me- I said it won't happen again. 
WHY WON'T YOU TRUST ME??!

And then fails again?
That's awful - I'll never treat you like that last person did. 
I'm different than them.
OK...  NOW I'm different from them.
You can trust me now.
WHY ARE YOU BLEEDING??!

It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men. 

If this is true, then it's way too big a job for any parent. Building strong children takes a village. Building strong children doesn't ban them from ever climbing (unless you want to cause a different kind of problem), but allowing them to climb within certain parameters. Still allowing them to fall, but with gravity dialled down. To jump and be caught. To jump and sometimes not be caught. To learn who's outstretched arms should be trusted.

Repairing broken men is harder. Some of them don't want to climb ever again. They are afraid of heights and harnesses. They are wary not just of dangerous people, but of everyone. The villagers don't always know what to do with them or how to help. They wonder if repair is possible and who who should foot the bill.

So... damage control. Work with what you know. What are the constants?
• Gravity on earth is 1g. Always.
• Climb to your height and practise falling from there.
• If you can still move it and there's no bleeding, swelling or disfigurement, it's just a bruise. You'll live.
• God is bigger than any mistake you can make.
• Stability attracts stability. Surround yourself with people you want to become like.
• Mechanical failure and human failure are things. Don't be bitter.
• Forgiveness is always an option, even if it's not asked for.
• Terminal velocity increases with mass, so a cockroach will out-survive you in high fall.


6 Mar 2019

Seeking and hiding

It's 3am and I'm in our latest 24/7 prayer room. Our theme is Fixing Broken Things. All the activities around the room feature it on some way. Loosely sometimes- but there if you look for it.

Then they entered into a covenant to seek the Lord God of their fathers with all their heart and with all their soul. (2 Chronicles 15:12)

We have a roll of lining paper gaffer taped to the floor with verses and prayers scribbled all over it. I look at the verse from Chronicles for a long time. I become fixated with the word seek. Isn't it weird to single out one particular word and overthink it until it sounds like something you've never heard before. A foreign syllable that feels strange in your head when you think it and on your lips when you say it and your ears are like - Whoah! That was a brand new sound.

Seek
Seek
Seek

Honestly - what does it even mean?! What does it look like to seek for something? To seek for God? And how do you seek God's presence when it's essentially everywhere? Seeking is kind of like searching, but more intense. Like there's more riding on the outcome. Like your life depends on it or something.


This song starts playing over the PA. It has a line about seeking in it and the printed lyrics are in the prayer tent. I go over to the tent and crawl inside to read them. There’s a sleeping bag and pillow and camping lantern in here. It’s 3am and I could lie down and sleep, but I’m too busy thinking about seeking, here in the tent. Hidden from the rest of the room. Hidden from the world. I’m seeking while I’m hiding. Hiding and seeking at the same time. That's kind of cool.

I remember an incident from years ago when the kids were little and my parents were down visiting us. Grandparents are nature's built-in babysitters and were playing with everyone while I tidied up after dinner. There was lots of squealing and running and laughing as they played hide and seek. There was a distinct lack of stealth to the whole thing that comes with toddlers, but no one seemed to mind and it didn't affect the enjoyment of the game. After a while, the house became quieter as the game moved on and attention (or grandparental energy) ran out. I was making a cup of tea when a muffled voice almost made me drop my mug. 'Do you think they're still looking for me...?'

It was my mum. She'd been hiding in a cupboard for the past 20 minutes, squashed next to the ironing board, 8' from where I was standing and I hadn't know she was there. The kids didn't know she was there either, and what's more, they weren't looking anymore. They were watching TV with Grandad.

Sooooooooo..... My Mum won at hide and seek.

If the end goal is to out manoeuvre the other players and stay hidden until it's decided you can't be found, then everybody gives up and declares you the winner, then that's what happened. Technically and actually. My mum was the winner.

Except that wasn't the point. The point was the game itself. The laughing and being engaged with what's happening in the moment. The being alive together.

It's so easy to beat a little kid at hide and seek. Toddlers are monumentously poor at
1: Being quiet (unless they are asleep)
2: Finding a good hiding spot
3: Staying there for any length of time



As illustrated here (pinched from my mate Michael - engaged in a covert hide and seek operation with his daughter, Abby). I love this picture. It illustrates everything that's beautiful about playing with your kid. You can't win at anything with them because you can't win at relationships. You build them. The game - the stories you create together make the whole thing work.

I think about all this in the prayer tent while I hide. I get a sudden image of God in the fringes of my mind, counting. I zip up the prayer tent to hide even better. I even lie down to make myself smaller. 4..... 3..... 2...... 1...... OK - Where are you!?

And I burst out the tent, surprising him (because you can totally do that) and he laughs and bolts and beckons me to follow him. I don't know where to run to first. He's everywhere. Divine hide and seek.

Is that even a thing? I google and unsurprisingly, other people are writing about it: There's something deep in our hearts that wants to be pursued. We love the feeling of hiding, knowing full well people who care about us are pursuing us, seeking us out. I believe there is a God-given desire in all of us to be pursued, to be sought out. We want someone to pursue us. It makes us feel wanted, worthy, and desired. God is no different. He wants us to pursue Him. I believe that He even hides Himself sometimes to see if we value Him enough to seek Him. www.wholeheartedmen.com

I think this guy's onto something. I think winning is in the connection of relationship, not the victory of the outcome.

And if you really, really want someone to find you, then you hide in plain sight. Just like Abby.



1 Mar 2019

OCB

Outside Clothes in the Bed! Outside Clothes in the Bed! Outside Clothes in the Bed! Outside Clothes in the Bed! Outside Clothes in the Bed! Outside Clothes in the Bed! Outside Clothes in the Bed! Outside Clothes in the Bed! Outside Clothes in the Bed! Outside Clothes in the Bed! Outside Clothes in the Bed! Outside Clothes in the Bed! Outside Clothes in the Bed! Outside Clothes in the Bed! Outside Clothes in the Bed! Outside Clothes in the Bed! Outside Clothes in the Bed! Outside Clothes in the Bed! Outside Clothes in the Bed!


The only reason I can cope with such violation is that I was on my 2nd glass of Prosecco. Plus, the duvet cover really needed changed anyway, so their outside clothes are in direct contact with the remnants of 2 weeks worth of farts and arousal-related epithelials.

27 Jan 2019

*STOP PRESS*

New era of parenthood has arrived - one which allows me to play on my phone while getting driven around on the motorway after consuming 2 glasses of wine. This is the dream, people.


27 Oct 2018

Thinking big

Child X appears in living room half an hour after being put to bed.
Me: Babe, what's wrong?
Her: (Slinks over and crumples next to me on sofa) I don't know...
Me: Are you poorly?
Her: (Trembly voice) No
Me: Are you sad about something?
Her: No
Me: What's up then?
Her: I don't know. It's just life. It goes on and on and on and I can't get my head around it.
Me: This is big stuff. Are you having an existential crisis like Michael?
Her: Yes - I think I might be.
Me: I love the way you think. Your brain is growing up just like the rest of you. But can we talk about this when it's NOT an hour past bedtime??