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Time has once again been on my mind. 

A while back our pastor told us that the speed of God is 3 miles an hour (I am paraphrasing…), because that’s walking speed.  It’s the speed we need to travel at to connect with His world and to notice the people around us, to become aware of and attuned to our environment.

A few sermons back we heard that you can’t hurry a tomato – and I love the message of waiting and expectation that is implied.

Then at the weekend, after a rotten few weeks of being poorly, and finally enjoying being on the mend, I was excited to receive the latest edition of Jamie Magazine, Jamie Oliver’s most recent adventure in publishing.  It was full of lush photography, gorgeous recipes, and some lovely evocative articles.  My favourite was about a winemaker in Beirut, whose passion and relish for wine and for his country infused everything he said.

I loved this:

“This is my Beirut,” says Serge, in his soft, exotically accented English. “And these are my babies, they improve with age.” He waves an immaculate cuff over the six or seven million bottles of vintage Musar, that are quietly, splendidly maturing in cool damp dark cellar cut deep into the flanks of Mount Lebanon.

“My wines need time”,  [Serge] states, “Time to grow, time to mature, time to taste.  Now, ” as he eases the corks from bottle after venerable bottle, “let us take our time.”

A few weeks back I read a little filler article in the Guardian about a journalist’s one-day attempt to ‘go slow’.  It was a bit of a half-hearted effort really, and seemed to mainly consist of her getting stressed about not getting stuff done.  It made me think once again about the obstacles which lie in our way as we pay lip-service to slowing down, to relishing life.  I don’t live a crazy manic life really, but it’s very full and busy enough to always have stuff undone.  Not so unusual really, but in terms of appreciating the world I’m in (in the micro as well as macro sense) and in terms of simply paying attention to those who come my way, most of the time life is too much of a blur to be that intentional about it.  And that just isn’t good enough really.

So I’m brought to wondering if that’s the underlying blessing of being ill so often, and in particular having a really horrible bug that has floored me for the last fortnight and intermittently for the 3 weeks prior to that.  ‘Go slow, take a little time’ became a command to be obeyed, not a suggestion to be shrugged off.

And so now, as I return to ‘normal’  I look back over the last five days in particular, as I felt less ill and more on the mend.  The afternoons spent curled on a garden chair in my pyjamas and dressing gown, cup of tea at my side, unread paper on my knee as I listened to the blackbirds singing, watched the apple blossom begin to flower, saw blue tits begin making their home in the bird box on the side of the garage.  The drowsing in the sunshine, the time taken to mull over interesting articles in the paper or magazines, the long chats with friends and family on the phone.  The sowing of seeds, the gentle easing of seedlings into pots and vegetable plots.  Time to reflect, infused with the hope and promise of spring.

I like going slow.  Taking my time is my favourite thing.  Looking another person in the eye and being entirely focussed on them – “love the one” as we’ve heard in church recently – is a powerful experience and a powerful gift to give to another person. 

So as I return to life with a little less leisure, (but hopefully a lot more health) I am holding on to those thoughts, those aspirations and aim to moment by moment put them into practice.  A little time well spent.

I’ve been thinking over the last few days (well, in truth over the last three and a half years) about what it means for me to be a mother.  Before I go any further, I must say I love being a mum to my gorgeous, funny, clever little girl.  But it has also been a fairly devastating experience in some ways too, in terms of who I am and how I view myself.

The reason I’ve found myself thinking about it again is primarily through looking at motherhood again through the lens of others’ experiences.  A couple of friends who have become mums over the last 18 months have been having fairly difficult times, and I have related absolutely to what they’ve been going through.  And this has led to me coming across a book called ‘A Life’s Work’ by Rachel Cusk, which is basically a warts and all kind of book about motherhood.  But two things for me are making it stand out from the crowd:

  • it is not written in a chick-lit style, for poor baby-brained mums who can’t cope with polysyllabic words and complex sentence structure. 
  • it recognises, profoundly, how much of a violation of your sense of self motherhood can be. 

Let me explain why these are important to me.  I have devoured (almost literally) an inordinate number of books about parenthood since the moment I found out I was pregnant.  It’s kind of my default setting for getting to grips with an unfamiliar situation (unless the unfamiliar situation is also a bit boring, but that’s another story).  So I have read a LOT of books, varying from the practical manuals, the cheery guides, the ‘humorous autobiographical accounts’, the verging-on-misery-lit accounts of how it nearly went horribly wrong.  And whilst they were often helpful, entertaining and illuminating, they rarely went much beyond skin-deep.

The thing I struggled with most in the early days and weeks after my daughter was born was just how much of myself was lost.  I had never considered myself a selfish person but parenthood (and to be absolutely specific motherhood, because I don’t think it is the same for fathers) instantly demanded I set aside everything for the sake of this tiny helpless autocrat who now ruled our world.  Of course I had known that, practically, that would be the case, that I’d have to make do with little or no sleep for a good while, that I’d have to juggle looking after my baby with simple things like having a shower.  But it felt like much more than that, like part of me was just missing, the part which thought independently, which even moved independently (anyone who has finally got a crying baby to sleep in their arms, and then finds them self trapped in that position for the next couple of hours for fear of waking the baby – and their wrath – again will know exactly what I mean).  I knew who I was before, but who was I now?

Rachel Cusk touches on this in her introduction to ‘A Life’s Work’:

Birth is not merely that which divides women from men: it also divides women from themselves, so that a woman’s understanding of what it is to exist is profoundly changed.  Another person has existed within her, and after their birth they live within the jurisdiction of her consciousness.  When she is with them she is not herself; when she is without them she is not herself; and so it is as difficult to leave your children as it is to stay with them.  To discover this is to feel that your life has become irretrievably mired in conflict, or caught in some mythic snare in which you will perpetually, vainly struggle.

This sums it up so well for me.  Yet some mums just seem to slip into that role as easily as they would change clothes, as if there is no division or sense of loss for them.  It certainly wasn’t what I’d expected, and it would have been nice to know that motherhood brings layer upon layer of changes and struggles, and they’re not all to do with lack of sleep or loss of a social life.

As time has gone by I’ve adjusted and got used to this new version of me.  I am much more aware of my failings, but perhaps that’s a good thing.  At least I can’t kid myself I’m any kind of angel.  More positively, I’ve also begun to get good at certain things.  I am much more impatient, but much more able to recognise when I need to practice patience and can now more easily make that choice.  I am discovering too that truth from Ecclesiastes 3:  there really is a time for everything.  I may feel sad about no longer doing the things I used to love doing (for example, I used to be really involved in youth work at our church, but now have a very limited involvement), but it’s both exciting and liberating to see that for now my focus needs to be closer to home. 

I don’t think being a mum is all I am, but ,since the day my daughter was born, it has underwritten all I am.   And I’m glad, because this means that I have the privilege of sharing my life with my daughter and my husband.  We are becoming the people we are meant to be, bit by bit, together.

August 2017
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