Inspiration fails to strike, so I thought I would share some photos I took on my recent trip to Newcastle, to visit my youngest son. He left home for university 6 years ago and has stayed in the city since graduating. I wrote about leaving him there and my subsequent struggles to adjust to my now empty nest at the time.
Newcastle must be one of the friendliest and most vibrant cities in the UK, a complete contrast to our sleepy Suffolk village, and I always enjoy dipping in, despite the 500 miles distance we have to cover and the complexity of the Newcastle one-way system which never fails to tie us up in knots, particularly at the end of a long days driving, in the dark and wind and rain. Luckily, the policeman who stopped us as we were driving completely the wrong way up a road designated only for buses and taxis, despite trying to follow the signs, took pity on us and waved us on!
Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art
Whenever we visit Newcastle, I head straight for the Quayside area, with its fast flowing river, stunning bridges, bars and restaurants. The Baltic Gallery is housed in a former flour mill and is famous for its contemporary art collections and exhibitions and I love walking across the Millennium Bridge to visit. It looks particularly stunning lit up at night!
My oldest son visited at the weekend with his new young wife, the love of his life now, his lodestar, filling the house with their energy and optimism, eating more than I could possibly imagine, playing with the dog, walking, laughing, chatting, loving, sharing.
Then they were gone, as though
they had never been here at all, the house a thousand times more empty than
before they arrived.
And I sat for a while unusually quite alone, absorbing the silence, the
stillness, had a cup of coffee, walked the dog, picked some flowers
and waited for the emptiness to pass and my life to settle back into where it
is now and for that to be enough. More than enough.
Today is time out from all this madness of putting our house on the market and at the same time reassessing our lives, where we are now and how we want the future to unfold. This turns out to be better than therapy and there are plenty of opportunities to contemplate the tulips while we try and make some tough decisions. My jealously guarded pot of tulips has survived the further depredations of the dog, but she continues to show great interest in them! Her other particular favourite flower to nibble is carnations
I am having second thoughts about
the chain of events we have triggered. Who are these strangers who trail
through my home, poking about in my closets and demanding to know exactly how
much sun we get in the courtyard, and when (it varies depending on the time of
year, how high or low the sun is in the sky), then dismissing us for their own
spurious and personal reasons as everyone chases their own particular version
of the dream, the rural idyll.
Putting so much time and energy into our home recently has only made us love it
more, appreciate all the things that work for us here, despite the things that
don't. Every little change we make, every detail we complete, every
vision we have had for the house and garden which we are now realising, bonds
us to it more. It is such a jewel of a house, full of colour and love and it
fits us perfectly now after the five years we have spent here. The thought of
starting again in another house with all the adjustments that will have to be
made does seem increasingly daunting! And life moves on. I know things won't be
the same again if we do make a move back but at the same time, I do miss my old
friends and companions and would love to spend more time with them.
The memorial service for my friend was held last week in the lovely old village church in Kent where my youngest son was christened and where my mother used to join me for the annual candlelit carol service. The church was full of old friends and familiar faces and of course everyone wanted to catch up with us and then I was so sure we were doing the right thing. But my sons have all left home now and my mother is no longer alive so should I really disrupt our lives to chase a dream, a time that has vanished into thin air. Perhaps the answer is to make sure I spend more time there in future and keep up with my old friends but hold onto what we are building here?
We drove past my old home the other day, on a brief visit to Kent, and stopped for a moment in the road outside. A house I once lived in, a home that once was mine, a garden I once loved, an orchard where children played and a life that fitted me like a glove; a door that once was open to me, now closed for ever.
It is a strange thing, to so utterly possess a house, to sweep through the white five bar gate and park my car in the drive outside, put my key in the latch and go inside, to find my life laid out there, my possessions just as I left them, my pets waiting for me, my family coming and going, to wander outside, sit and have a cup of coffee making plans for my day, answer the telephone, put a wash on, go for a walk. Ordinary, everyday things. And then one day it's finished. Someone else has the keys. I am a trespasser now and my life has moved elsewhere. Drive on by, it's not my home anymore. It exists only in my mind.
"What will you do now with the gift of your left life?"
Such a lovely evocative line from a Carol Ann Duffy poem. She has such a spare way with words and chooses and places them so beautifully.
And reading this made me think about my own left life, the children having grown and flown the nest, busy with their own lives, and my mother having recently died. This has been a time of great change for me and a chance to reflect, reassess where I am, where I want to be, what I will do now. What really matters.
I have loved being a mother. For me, it has been the best thing in my life and, now that I find myself only a small part of my children's lives, it is hard to find something meaningful to fill the huge space they have left behind in mine. I could spend hours listing the things I miss about having my sons living at home with me. Not that I would want them at home all the time now that they are young adults - they need to have their own lives and I need to have mine. Nor has it always been easy; far from it! Yet somehow the only time I really feel whole again, and at peace, is when they are here with me, chatting and laughing in the kitchen while I cook at meal for us all, bake a cake I know they like, feel the warmth of that unique relationship we only have with our own children.
coming near Christmas, they're cuttin' down trees
puttin' up reindeer and singing songs of joy and peace".
always magic in the air at Christmas. I love to think of people
through the ages celebrating the Winter Solstice in one way or another,
from the ancient pagan tradition to our more recent Christian era. Despite the commercialisation, it is a wonderful occasion to have a
family get-together, share a feast, the warmth of our homes and the
giving and receiving of gifts. I cannot think of a better way to
distract us all from what can be a rather depressing and miserable time
of year, the short days and often dank weather. I love the sense of
anticipation and goodwill, the lights going up on trees in houses and
gardens, the bustle of Christmas markets and the smells of the Christmas
cooking wafting through the house.
And yet, increasingly as time passes, there is
such a complex layer of emotions simmering away beneath the surface and I
think this is particularly the case where marriages have broken down
and families have been fractured and reconstituted. More than anything,
I miss my small sons and their joy and excitement at this time of year,
the carol concerts and nativity plays that used to fill my days, whilst
at the same time I look forward to seeing the grown-up versions of my sons and spending some time with them. My partner, too, misses the
family Christmases he shared with his own children when they were an
intact family and from which he is now excluded, even as we prepare for
them to come and visit on Christmas Eve, knowing that they will be
leaving early on Christmas morning to spend the rest of the holiday with
their Mother and her new husband.
And, of course, this is the
first Christmas without my Mother. Bittersweet.
is full of challenges and changes, adjustments and adaptations, the
weft and the warp. Christmas puts our lives under a microscope and
exposes the flaws as well as the beauty of what we create. It is a time
of joy as well as sadness, but this Christmas I hope, mostly joy.
It was 21 years ago when I first came face to face with my youngest son. The time just flies by from baby to toddler, small child to large child, teenager to young adult.
We met for lunch in a bustling
London bar, all Farrow & Ball and mismatched tables and chairs; red buses
swishing by on the busy, wet, Saturday streets, people scurrying under
umbrellas in the relentless icy rain, but we were warm and cosy inside.
I miss my boys and the homes we made together, the lives we shared, but how
lovely to meet up like this and share a birthday lunch.
I abandoned my youngest son in a cold Northern city one fine autumn day.
It's what we do with our young; it's our way of pushing them out of the nest. We hope and pray that they really can fly, that they won't crash and burn. And suddenly, there's a huge hole in my life, in my heart, in my home. The house is often silent now, peaceful, serene, still, and I love it, so why do I still crave the noise and mess and sheer vitality of my son? He regularly used to drive me to distraction and I often longed for the day when I could reclaim my life for myself, it having been so well used by my children for so many years.
Everything in my life now is so different, it's hard to know where to begin counting the ways in which it has changed, but this has to be the most significant. I'm now living in my new home, with my new partner in a different part of the country and slowly trying to put a life together, pretty much from scratch. I think we must have been mad to do this, but at the same time, it seems terribly sane. Time will tell.