Mrs Clutterbuck's class: sometime in the early 'eighties. The door opens onto rows of single desks, side on, and there's a window seat across the room. The school used to be a grand home but the furniture's changed and there are dry-erase white boards in place of artwork. There's an impressive entry with a marble slab stairwell clinging to the walls, taking it's time to meander past large stone windows, down to the iron studded double oak doors. Beyond Mrs Clutterbuck's class is the stairwell. We never use it, of course. We come in through the cloakroom at the back. Past the dining rooms, eyes on the black and red floor tiles, and up the back stairs. Homework is to find out what our first words were.
'Cow', I discover, and write it proudly on my piece of paper. Cow. I learn that my brother said 'Clower' and I imagine my mum pushing him in the purple Silver Cross pram and pointing out the primroses and snowdrops as they emerged from the hedgerows. Or maybe it was later, May perhaps, and the lane was full of cow parsley and campions. By the time I arrived, my brother would have just been toddling at my mum's side. You didn't have to walk very far before reaching the crooked iron gates and seeing the cows. Damp pink noses pushing through the bars, whiskers as tough as fishing line. The farmer left giant bricks of salt by the water troughs which they'd lick like eroded sandstone, before pushing their vast sandpaper tongues up a nostril. My brother's gaze, by now, had shifted from flowers to cows and I was the beneficiary. 'Cow' would be my entry into language, my stepping stone. How often did we walk up the lane? Twice daily, with the dog? A single track, muddied tarmac, with gravel smoothed in two neat grooves from the wear of car tyres. I can only imagine those walks but they are sealed forever in a part of me with the knowledge of my first word. I remember the later walks, using my doll's bonnet to stash wild strawberries only to find out that I had stained the soft blond flannel with a gash of red that looked forever like a head injury. I was not a 'girly girl'; I had called the doll 'floppy legs', but it still shocked me. And later again, home from boarding school, walking with my camera, taking pictures of those noses, or of black and white hide pulled tight over angular haunches. Then the walking became running the loop; up the lane in one direction, zig-zaging to the end, a left and right, up the hill, past Treswallen and Creed Lane, hugging the hedge on the way down the other side, over the bridge and back home.
What is a first word? Must it be accompanied by a pointed finger? 'Look, a cow!' Or is it a mother's memory; 'You loved the cows, we walked the lane so often to look at them.' Our youngest has, in the past few weeks, put his first word on the slate of his emerging history. Though he mimiced 'apple' beautifully several times he hasn't quite aligned the softly spoken syllables to the fruit in the bowl. What he does say frequently and what is all too clearly understood is 'Nee new', copied from his brothers' 'I need you!' He must have worked out that 'Nee new', in this house, is the equivalent of dialing a first responder. What picture will this third child draw for himself when he is asked by his teacher to find out his first word? Mine, after all, could have come from a picture book.
Monday, January 9, 2012
I'm at a disco! We went on a muddy walk with the kids yesterday around a lake; backpacks, jogging strollers, picnic, the works. When we got back I remembered I was running out of time to join a virtual blog party at Pinterest. To the uninitiated this involved taking a picture of myself (looking appropriately discotastic), posting it to Flikr and tweeting the organizer, who then pined it. The idea (I think) being that lots of friendly bloggers get to meet each other. Until yesterday, I was the uninitiated, and that meant joining Flikr and Twitter. In between mashing the potatoes and cooking the carrots I think I managed the upload and tweet. Despite wearing an apron and still being in hiking boots, I was able to sit down to supper and announce to my family that my cyber ego was actually jiving under a disco ball! This could be fun.
The party organizer is Holly Becker. When we started flirting with the idea of doing our house up I found her very cool blog, decor8. I love her style and she has a great book, Decorate which has plenty of ideas and fab looks. Enjoy!
Wednesday, January 4, 2012
Happy New Year! I seem to remember grabbing on to 2011 as if it were a life raft in rough sea. 2010 had seen me so laden with anxieties - in so many forms - that by the end of the year I was ready to jump ship. This New Year, Dom and I sat for a while in the dark, on our doorstep, to say goodbye to 2011. We listened to the whisper of Abba coming from a party in a fifth floor apartment down the street, and tried to work out what stars we were looking at. It wasn't a raucous welcome to 2012, but it was perfect.
Jack hadn't settled well. He didn't have a fever, didn't have cold. I sat in his room, in the dark, holding him, on the oversized rocking chair that we bought for just this kind of thing a few years ago. His head was on my shoulder, his hair still rabbit soft and fine as silk threads, his face turned slightly towards me. In the grainy grey of a late December night his face looked almost hyper-real, like a Pixar character - a grey blush on his full cheeks, long eyelashes like dark feathers, he closed his eyes ever so slowly only to reopen them abruptly to the sound of his own breath. Wrapped in his fleecy sleeping bag, I took time to notice the weight of his body on me, his legs tucked up to his tummy. I stroked his cheek and he smiled with effort. Knowing my hand was near, he reached out for it and we rocked together in a cozy cocoon of exchanged warmth and breath. In his waking hours Jack does not have this snuggling ease. Getting him dressed is like putting clothes on a cat; he crawls off, scampering away, with one wry glance back, to find his brothers or simply be out of my reach. Although it's never ideal to have a child refusing sleep it gave me a moment to think about the changes in him this year. I wonder now if this little boy was just reminding me that he won't be this small for long.