Sunday, 13 December 2015

MORE THAN A LITTLE DULL

Dear Rachel,

Your chattiness means that all of your pieces are too short and I usually read them over and over. I did like the way you wrote about wee Arlo heading off to school. The train cake looks tremendous and I'd like to see it from different angles. The marshmallow smoke is awesome!! He will surely love going to school and the adventure it is. A trip to the beach is wonderful, especially with wildlife encounters. I was up in Oman on Friday with a friend and some people I just met. We climbed a hill, ate a packed lunch, and swam in the rather cold mini waves. It really was a lovely way to spend a few hours. Beaches. I could believe in god purely based on beaches and the feelings of beauty they arouse and the wonder they evoke. 

So, 41. I'm not a big fan of ages. They tell us nothing about a person, really. How different people can be at each stage. An age is not an indicator of how we have lived or how much life we have left. It's simply a way to put people into groups on school sports day and things like that.

As an appreciater of maths, I liked your telling of the story about there being no last number. I like things which separate humans from other creatures. Things like mysteries and hypothetical situations and art and jokes. Do other creatures enjoy these things or just us? Infinity, or close to, is an amazing thought. Even unstoned ;)

I've been thinking about areas of sadness recently as I have a couple in my life. I'm happy. I'm very happy in fact but there are a few places in my mind which I take deep breaths before considering. I can not put into words how nervous I am about seeing Ben and Jonah next Monday. They have new lives now. New people. New friends. New new. New. I am part of their old life and I am terrified that the space they have for me in their heart is shrinking. I know it is certainly not growing. It may just be my imagination but, hand on heart, these thoughts have robbed me recently. I have been glum. I feel as if I've had a time of happiness but low esteem; an uncertain next few years and heartbreaking choices to make have shat on the waves I've been riding, hanging ten. Some Wellington air and ice cream may just clear the air.

Let's keep writing to each other. It's good to hear how you and those boys are. It's good to read of the joys of family life and the thoughts of 41 year olds. I need to slink into bed now. It's approaching midnight. 

Merry Christmas.


Michael









Wednesday, 25 November 2015

FOR ONCE IN MY LIFE.

Dear friend, I'm back.

Life kidnapped me for a while there and I have only just escaped its clutches. I've been sucked up and spat out but not in any way that offended me particularly.

I'm wondering how you are? We've been out of touch and I'm looking forward to reconnecting. Have you managed to get some of the time you needed for yourself? A bit more sleep? Knowing that the time left before you see your boys is getting shorter and shorter must help a lot. It's really not long before you're here.

We have had a big happening in our family. Our 'baby' has finished kindergarten and turned five and started school. We have had a week of all eyes on him and celebrations and a few tears shed quietly one morning in the shower by me. Watching my sons grow up brings me the greatest pleasure, but it's also bitter sweet. The feel of a small hand in my hand; the soft sweet smelling skin; the cuddles and crawling into laps and connectedness with a young child slowly disappear. It's hard knowing that I'm observing these milestones for the third and final time. Previously we've always known we'll get another turn at seeing one of our children arrive at this new stage.

That said, I am delighting in seeing him enjoy school. He told me there are some good bits and some not so good bits (that's a fair synopsis of school I'd say) but he's going happily and coming back happy and that seems like a good sign to me.

I made a train cake for Arlo for his birthday. That was what he had requested months ago, and his decision didn't change. Do you remember the old Women's Weekly cake book? The train cake is in there. My mother in law tells me that Ben had one when he was a boy too and she wondered if he had mentioned that. Ben doesn't tend to remember that sort of stuff. In fact lots of things he doesn't remember. In that way he's a good person to tell a secret to.

Today I took a trip to the rocky shore with the junior school that I hadn't been intending to take. But a parent helper pulled out and I subbed in and it was a lovely treat to get to go along with Arlo on his first school outing. We sat together and ate our lunch and talked about how nice it is to share a good sandwich. I found out that I'm not too scared to pick up a starfish or a sea anemone. I was pleased with that discovery.

but then this evening while we were reading Charlie and Lola I terrified Arlo by telling him that there was no end number. It wasn't entirely my fault as he's the one that brought it up, but he said that there must be an end number otherwise you'd just be counting all day and I said you could count all day every day for the rest of your life and never reach the end number and he shouted "NO! No Mummy! There is an end number!" and I said "Actually there probably is. Sorry about that". I've been stoned, lying on the grass looking up at the stars, and I've seen the whole universe stretching out further and further, deeper and deeper. It's a lot to take in, so I kind of know how he felt.

Tomorrow I will be 41 years old. That's good. That's quite old. I want to tell you what I've learnt in the last year and I can't think of anything except that I've acknowledged how much I hate to be cold and so I now encourage myself to wear a coat places where it might be windy. Why did it take me 40yrs to figure out just how much temperature affects me? Was I not paying attention?

Anyway, if I was having a birthday party tomorrow I would play this song and drag everyone up to dance with me to it. There is no hiding from the fact that I would be dancing like someone's Mum. There's no shame in that.

I'm going to go and read a book in bed now. That's what nearly 41 year olds do (this nearly 41 year old anyway!)
I'm wishing you happiness and peace of mind dear friend. And I'm hoping for a post from you soon.
With much love,
xxR



Tuesday, 10 November 2015

UNEXPECTED

Dear Rachel,

I've sat many times this past week to write and reply to you but the words didn't flow. The were choked. So I'm back to scratch and have unfortunately had to ditch some great jokes in order to clean off the screen and prepare this new message.

The irony inside that fact that I was going to discuss momentum with you has not escaped me. I tried and and tried to write and was clogged.

The truth is I am tired. I choose to sleep less hours than is required, for different reasons. I am tired of being talked about. I am tired of missing Jonah and Ben. I am tired of not running very well anymore due to a buggered knee. I am tired of coffee and beer and beds and cashews and grapes and being misunderstood and chicken and ironing. Everyday I force myself to be busy when really all I want is to sit on a sofa on top of a hill and watch the sun rise with a friend. I prefer sunrises to sets. They take more effort to get to and lack the melancholy of dusk.

I recently went abroad for work. We laboured long days through terrible lunches and non-complimentary beers. These trips are most rewarding and provide a lift yet I was very happy to get back here and catch up with a few good people. I need to go to Oman again and kayak until I hurt, then climb, then swim. This weekend is open and it's quite possible I go overnight. There I can hopefully bring some of the ends together again. Maybe even sleep. The trouble is I will go with my thoughts. For hours and more. 

There is often music I can play which rubs my knots but I can't find a single track or tune these days which nullifies how worn out I feel sometimes. 

I get asked occasionally (and reasonably) how I am doing without the boys. My reply is, more often than not, "imagine".

This is brief and all I have at the moment. My friendships mean more and more to me each month. They are still being whittled down which is also exhausting yet invigourating.  

I appreciate your words and having them on my screen whenever I need to read them and smile and take pleasure in them. 

Enjoy your week. Let's talk soon.


Michael



Tuesday, 20 October 2015

IN THE HOUSE

Hello dear MB,

I know I've been slow getting here this time. Writing has been very much on my mind and also very much relegated to a spot called later. Maybe it's that back to school bizzo - it's always busy isn't it? But more likely it's just the process of writing, which you and I both know can be a bit sporadic. I am noticing though that even if I'm not motivated to write for myself, I'm motivated to write for you, so I think we're on to a good thing.

This term is gearing up to be a full one for me and I confess to having spent some time last week worrying about that. Last term I had a couple of weeks where I tried to pack in more than I could easily achieve and even after I'd proven my doubting self wrong and nailed it all awesomely, I still felt significantly the worse for wear. I don't want to wear myself down like that again; it was hard to get back up from. That said, I'm still planning on doing everything that I want to do, everything that I need to do and all the things that other people expect and require of me, so it would be fair to predict some worn out-ness to come out of that. I'll keep you updated on how I go.

In contrast to the busyness, I keep thinking about the school holidays - gosh they were good. We stayed home and read books. We walked to the dairy and bought ice creams and then ate them leaning against the sunny wall of the school library. Friends came to visit. We went to visit friends.  I taught Jesse how to play last card. Joe went off on his bike, out and about doing things without parental supervision. It's a whole new world for him and what a great feeling it must be. Do you remember what it felt like? I remember. I remember coming back through the back door and calling out Mum's name and she was there and she hadn't needed me for anything but she was happy to see me. I think somewhere along the line I've lost that freedom again and I didn't notice it going. And I wish my mother and I shared memories in a kind way more frequently. That's just a passing thought really.

The seasons have been changing here. I haven't worn a jacket for a while and I've discarded my socks and stockings. I've even been needing to open the window in my little reading recovery room from time to time. I love the warmer weather coming, but my pasty whiteness and winter pudding rolls make me a bit nervous.

Your big school inspection will have been and gone by now. How did it go? You would have shone, that goes without saying, but I'll look forward to hearing the ins and outs of it. And soon you must be off to inspect elsewhere I think? I'm happy to hear whichever details you're in the mood for sharing.


On Sunday Ben and I took a day trip to Auckland. We'd never done that before and overall I thought it was well worth the effort. We were without our children, without luggage and in possession of a rental car, so really the world was our oyster. We went to Auckland to celebrate our much loved sister-in-law's 40th birthday. All the family were there and I was happy to see them all. I would have liked to say a few words about Jan at her party as she has been a wonderful friend for a long time now, but I hadn't known in advance that there was going to be an opportunity to give a speech, so when her husband stood up and asked if anyone might like to say a few words, I didn't have any. What I realised from that is that I'm not good at spontaneity. Now that I'm 40, each time I discover something that I'm not very good at I wonder if I should try to improve in that area or just accept that that's what I'm like. How do you approach things you're not very good at?

Our niece was at the party. Her name is Meghan and she is two and a half. Her Uncle Ben thinks she is the most beautiful thing EVER and I am wishing a long life of mutual admiration for them both. Meghan could do a lot worse than modelling the partner she chooses in life on her Uncle Ben. And Ben could only benefit from her friendship and love. I'm sorry he doesn't have a daughter - he would have been really good at it. So would you.

I said last time that I would write more about friendship and goodwill. But I find myself reluctant to talk too much about my relationship with Ben for fear of sounding like I think we have this being-in-a-relationship totally sussed. Does anyone have it totally sussed I wonder? We're a work in progress; some aspects of our relationship work beautifully, other aspects I can see other couples doing a lot better than us.
I mentioned friendship and goodwill when I talked about Nita-gate though because I had identified those as the two aspects of our relationship that we drew on in our choice to remain loyal to each other. Romance and sex and falling in love are available other places, but 15 years of loyal friendship and happy company and the shared memories and achievements that go with it, you can't just get that anywhere; and so it's precious. Our mutual goodwill comes out of that friendship I suspect. It's a holding of the other ones happiness as a high priority. When we act kindly and supportively that brings with it a reciprocal momentum. Good will makes more good will.

As an aside: I don't think people ponder maintaining momentum enough. It's massive for me in understanding how my life works: the more I do something the easier it becomes and the more I get out of it. Writing a blog is a case in point. Frequent kindnesses are another.

When I wrote "builds reciprocal momentum" I suddenly thought: building a house is a metaphor for relationships. (Bear with me). So you start off building a little house together and then over the years you (hopefully) keep building on it and developing it and making it just how you want it (bigger, stronger, more porches for enjoying the view). But life's busy so from time to time you neglect the house  and it gets shabby in places. And then I guess you either spruce it back up again or you just leave it like that. No house will be perfect, there'll always be a room that doesn't get the sun or a draughty door or some such thing, but as long as you love where you live, and fix the bits that you think need fixing, it will be good enough. It could happen that one of you decides to move out of the house, maybe they think they've found a better house, or they just don't like the one they're in. The house might even fall down leaving you both homeless. And while that will feel like a tragedy at the time it won't actually be the end of the world, because as much as one or both of you might think you never want to live in another house, you could actually build again with another person and you could love that new house just as much.

What do you think?  I'll stop there (although I could go on, because gosh I love a metaphor); but Billy Bragg says you have to be careful with metaphors as you never know where they might take you. Feel free to pick holes in it; I can be resilient about you not agreeing with me. 

You know one thing I would say about Ben's and my relationship? I can't actually think of a time that we've had to pull on resources that we didn't already have available to us. Ben and I, as a team, but also as individuals, are good at being good friends and we're good at kindness and supportiveness. We've got through 15 years, and while it hasn't always been easy, we've used the skills we have to get through. Maybe our current skills will cover us, but I think the chances of getting through the next however many without ever having to significantly up skill in a particular area seems unlikely. Would you agree? I hope that up-skilling goes ok when the time comes. I'd like to end up old with Ben. I think there'd be a lot of cups of tea and games of cards involved in it.

Here's a song for you by The Red Hot Chilli Peppers. It sprung to mind because there's a great line in it that goes: 'This is what I give to you because I get it free'. I've been pondering that line for 12 years now. Do you think a kindness counts as a kindness if you're only giving what you naturally have in abundance to give?




I think this might be the place to stop. How are your boys though MB? It is now less than two months until you see them. You've almost made it. On my home front one of my sons has taken to swearing (crap is his favourite word), one is living out one long pokemon impersonation, and one is well and happy again. I don't think there's anything more that I need to say about any of that. 

Sending you lots of love dear friend. You're often in my thoughts.
xxR


Thursday, 8 October 2015

TOUCH

Dear Rachel,

It's not enough that I apologise for delaying in writing back to you but at least let me start by saying that I am sorry. Your writing has been in my mind but my bum has not been in this seat for long enough to let you know that. Here we are.

Good news is one of life's pleasures. Babies are good news, ergo babies are pleasures. A lady whom I have worked closely with for the past couple of years announced her pregnancy recently and you can see already in her face the love and excitement bubbling. It's as if she has already had a cuddle, which I suppose she has as she envelopes and develops that wee creature. I wonder if she has any idea how new her life will be in just a matter of weeks.

I received a handmade father's day card in the post today from my dear Jonah. I've written before about him and the delay I had in bonding with him when he was so little. I adored him long before he was a twinkle but, to my enormous shame, I held back. It's godawful for a parent to write those words. 

Jonah is a hero. His is alive to the nth degree and brings happiness and hope to his company. He brings it to me every time I feel him in my thoughts and prayers. Ben is a one in a billion boy and we worried that Jonah would be in his shadow. Little did  we know that they be in each other's - keeping the other cool. Our family has its bumps but the love and affection between Ben and Jonah is as big as Wales itself and the root of all the pride I enjoy in my life.

Yes, I got my cookies and the conversation and smiles I really was after. There was also a bag of cookies hanging on my door handle one evening this week after I returned from a run.

With a good friend, I am off to Oman again tomorrow, . It's a beautiful place and you'll definitely get taken there when you visit. The water is clear and there is a warmth from both the sun and the people which makes me feel at home. I am going because I have been so busy at work (and the pub) recently. There will be not let up for the next month. This is a forced break and when my friend agreed to come I knew that choosing to be happy instead of busy  this weekend was a splendid move. With regards to ice cream, I like the ones that are berry flavoured. As an adult with discretionary income, I often splash for frozen yoghurt or sorbet. I was babysitting a wee boy yesterday and we went for a very simple vanilla on a stick, coated in a hard chocolate shell. It was a good choice because it became a little messy which gave us reason to laugh and wipe faces. You did well to identify the need for a treat and stepped up, as a kind person, to make it happen. Ice cream is a memory maker, amiright?

I do actually understand what you mean by parenting being a be a show and we're in the audience to some degree. Once I realised this was the case, I felt a relief in letting my boys be who they already are rather than trying to make them into who I wasn't, we were all free to enjoy the ride a little more. A trip to New Zealand a few summers ago to farewell a friend impressed this deeply in me and although I never thanked him for helping me understand this, I will be forever grateful.

Being secretary for the Sailing Club will be a hoot. If there is a uniform, like I hoped, it will be provided by myself and will consist of what most cool middle aged men wear - jeans, adidas sneakers and either a smart collared shirt or retro tee with a slogan reading 'independent trucks' or 'old school' across the pecks.

You asked me a question which I was asked again by another compatriot this week. You'll get the same answer. Little makes me happier than to see parents taking joy in their children and expressing that through the stories they tell. I worship my sons and talk about them as much as I bloody can. Please, don't for a second hold back sharing this part of your life with me. There is no sadness here when I read these stories as they all remind me of the love I have for my own whippets.

As I work long, officey hours these days, music has been barking away in the background relentlessly. Jack White and Dave Grohl have had my attention almost exclusively this week. Jack White is, as has been said by many, a genius. Dave Grohl is simply a good old fashioned rockstar with belting tunes. In the end, it was decided that we enjoyed listening to music we liked more than playing musical tease.

Rachel, it's been lovely to chat. I said more to you in my head as I reread your post and it's not all here but be assured you have kept me thinking as always. When you're ready, tell me about friendship and goodwill with your Ben.

Have a happy weekend. Drink wine (then tea) and laugh as much as you can. As you like. As you need to. As a child.


Michael





Wednesday, 30 September 2015

LIFE IS A THEATRE

Hello hello dear MB, 

This morning I found myself experiencing all at once the last few chapters of an excellent book and an email to say that your latest post was there waiting for me and another email with the announcement of a dear friend's first pregnancy. All those things together! And I realised that I was experiencing the very definition of excitement. And all with me still in my nightie. 
Excitement does happen in my nightie of course. But this was of a different variety.

Your email couldn't have come at a better time though: I'm prone to feeling a little bereft at the end of a great book, and so I saved reading your post until after I'd finished the book, to help me through. That worked thank you.

How did the biscuit hunt go? Did you find them and eat them and were they everything the photo suggested they would be? On Monday I made Belgian Biscuits and they have been devoured in an enthusiastic fashion and so tomorrow I will make caramel slice and see what takers I have for that. I wonder if a small person will help me.

I loved hearing about Oman. I felt nervous imagining being swept into a fever of rays though (did you know a group of rays is called a fever? I googled it. I appreciate Google deeply). Did you not feel nervous about that? I would have squealed and kicked and got myself into quite the metaphoric fever. But you laughed! It sounds like you were calm and cool about your predicament? 
And the ice-cream in Oman: is it better than Tiptop? What was your chosen flavour? In Italy I always chose cantaloupe or rum and raisin.

We had ice creams today too. It had been a hard hour and we were in need. Arlo had lain down on the floor of Farmers and tried to got to sleep after the shock of having a blood test. Short of a sweet cup of tea, ice-cream seemed like the best answer. We were in Farmers buying him a much desired Spiderman suit to congratulate him on his strength and bravery, but even that couldn't cut through his genetic inclination to need to faint around blood. 
Ben and I have passed on all sorts of interesting quirks to our children. The awkwardness around blood comes from him. The angry temper that all three have is definitely mine. Lets wait and see if their hair goes grey at 25.

There was a beautiful moment in the blood test saga that I must tell you about: Arlo's big brothers had been left in the waiting room while Arlo and I went in to have the sample taken. The big needle in his little arm caused Arlo to let out a long and loud wail of fear, hurt and indignation. When his brothers heard this they leaped out of their chairs and barged into the cubicle demanding to know what was happening to their brother. I felt so touched that they would race to rescue him. Those moments must be when it pays off having big brothers. There is a rent-a-crowd-ness to three growing boys and there is safety in numbers. What were your experiences of this growing up?


I embrace the fact that more and more, parenting them becomes a show I get to enjoy watching. If I use a stage show as a metaphor for their lives, I could say that there is a decrease in my script-writing duties (I don't mean I'm totally out of the script writing team though, not by a long shot) and at the same time an increase in my role as supportive and encouraging audience. The role of front row audience member is massive in parenting I think. Watching and supporting and encouraging and clapping, with a fair share of honest-as-I-can-make-it-without-crushing-them feedback. When my personal mood affects my parenting and I become nothing more than a nasty heckler, then it's time to slip out to the foyer for a breath of fresh air I find.

I think my theatre metaphor has been inspired by last week being production week at school and Joe having a starring role. He brought the house (and my heart) down with his rendition of Othello: 

"O beware, my lord, of jealousy! It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on." 

His voice travelled right around the hall and settled on people's shoulders. Some small children giggled with the nerve of it, and when he finished there was a roar of applause.  
On the walk home he said to me "Someone I didn't even know came and said well done to me". And rightly so.

Now it's time for me to ask you something: I want to know if my ongoing talk about those three Brown boys sits okay with you? This time for you away from your boys is surely the very hardest time of all and I wither at the thought that my talk of my own three boys burns more than it warms. When you said that you longed for my sort of laziness I realised  that my talk of laziness-post-kids probably did little more than make you feel like your ribs had been poked. I'm sorry for that. This is the first time that I've let my need to check whether I've said the wrong thing creep into our blog, but I know it won't be the last; it's a can't-let-goer for me. I hope you feel you can answer me honestly.

We're nearing the end of the first week of the holidays here. Due to a change of plans around going to Auckland and Arlo being sick we've ended up with time on our hands knocking around the house. Arlo has taken to napping in the afternoons in some sunny spot. Joe and Jesse have taken to playing together in a friendly fashion (less fighting and more team work). I have rested my bones by sitting for long periods reading a book. It is fitting for a reading recovery teacher to recover herself through reading I think. Don't you? 

I do look forward to hearing how your role as secretary goes at the sailing club. I have filled that position on the kindergarten committee from time to time. It involves the challenges of listening more than talking and not going off in a daydream. I had to put a concerted effort into mastering the skills required. If you end up with a uniform, please post a picture. And I laughed thinking about your play-me-something-I'll-hate club. What fun and how agonising all rolled into one. I felt close to losing the good opinion of a dear friend recently when I confessed to listening to more than my share of Maroon 5. He was appalled. Not without reason.

Next week I am going to write about friendship and goodwill. I'm going to consider my thoughts until then. As with you not wanting to open the dam, I don't want to set to print an unconsidered opinion that then becomes the truth of the situation. Ben's and my friendship and goodwill is wrapped around a lot of human faults and differences in personal style. It's as simple and as complicated as knotted balls of wool.

Talk soon dear friend.
With love,
Rachel xx


Tuesday, 29 September 2015

MORE AND MORE

Dear Rachel,

Yes, there are so many types of writing and it's funny how they bring different degrees of pleasure. I write a heck of a lot for my work - reports, emails, agendas, minutes, lists and stuff but none of it really is a form of expression. A sozzled Belgian this evening asked if I would take on the role of secretary at the Sailing Club. I said I would if we could change the name to 'executive guy' rather than secretary and that I wanted a uniform. Our first meeting is in two and a half weeks. There had better be a beer or two in it. I've said it before, that your writing seems to listen rather than talk and I think you are very clever for being able to do that.

I like the looping song thing although I have started to play a game with a friend who comes over from time to time whereby we try to choose music which we think the other person would not enjoy listening to. So, frigsample, I might play some Alien Ant Farm while they search out James Blunt. It's childish but gives us something to laugh about and there is usually lots of moaning. Your story about the ex who only phoned drunk is a sad one. Sad for him that he couldn't bring himself to phone while clear and maybe sad for you, at the time, that you were hoping for more from him that he could give. As is almost always the case - it turned out for good, bless you.

That cake you  made looks fabulous. I do envy people who have skills which can be used for helping others and cake building has to be one of the noblest. Tomorrow I will walk from one side of our campus to the other simply to find an office housing cookies. Cookies which appeared in a photo I was sent on facebook tonight  by a colleague. Said colleague (and yourself) keep this planet spinning. Your laziness is different from my laziness. I long for yours.

Can you tell me more about friendship and goodwill? Why are they important? What do they look like in you? In Ben?

I made it to Oman and had a glorious time.  I dragged my blow up boat 11km around a couple of bays. I also tried swimming. I probably swam about 1km all up but I was distracted by my own laughing as I kept being washed ashore to join the squads of supper plate sized rays with tails as long as 40cm rulers. It was amusing to me that I was so bad at something I thought I'd be okay at. Still, sunburn was avoided and that evening I ate lamb around a BBQ with people I hadn't seen for a long time. A Moroccan guy greeted me with kisses on the cheek, through his beard. It was a hoot and the ice creams I brought for the children were deliciously good.

I've been so busy at work this past week as you know but very happy. As well meeting and typing and grumping around the place, I have seen bridges mended and heavy sacks lightened. This weekend there is  a short kayaking trip being run, so I'll join.  There will be beer and steaks to follow.
To be honest I have had a lot on my mind recently but I am struggling to articulate it here, now. I feel guarded and as if starting to write about some of my thoughts would open a dam, a door. In the course of a five hour lunch, coffee and milkshake event with a friend last weekend, we talked about spending time alone. I said that I do all that I can to keep busy, connected and active. There is no appeal to this guy to meditate or sit or be still. I never do it. I move, I think, I connect. My friend said they could comfortably spend three days alone with snacks and a sunhat. How?

Rachel, thanks for listening. Your life sounds such fun and I appreciate the way you share a slice of it here.

Michael