For the first time yesterday afternoon, Daniel was crawling around our garden, examining blades of grass and nasturtium petals that come up to his nose.
The garden is a length of very scraggy grass, dotted with dandelions. Down the centre is an old brick path. The grass on the left hand side of the path is ours, the grass on the other side is our neighbours’. We both have a strip of flowerbed running down each fence. The neighbours’ side is low maintenance: the soil is covered in bark out of which grow three tall rose bushes, two low shrubs with mottled leaves and a Japanese maple. They also have some very colourful flowers in pots.
For the last two years I’ve planted nasturtiums on our side which have flourished, climbing over the fence and creeping out into the grass. They move so fast I’m sure you could watch them grow if you sat for an hour. Even this year, when I haven’t planted any, the little round leaves are appearing all over the place. We also have jasmine, lavender, oregano, mint and rosemary in pots, flowering stock, lambs lugs, a climbing rose and a green bush. Last year we grew tomatoes. Its a sunny, south facing place and plants seem to enjoy being there.
Like others before me, I’ve learnt some things in my garden:
1) Planning in November what you want to see in June is a good idea (planning, even what I do next week, is not one of my natural abilities).
2) Believing that that stick will one day become a rose bush and that speck a mass of orange flowers is not crazy.
3) Plants need watered – often.
4) If one day we all stop gardening and stay inside and watch TV, the walls and streets and houses of London will disappear under the weight of Japanese bindweed – and that will take less time than you think.
What do we take from our parents? What do we leave to our children? I’ve just finished reading Barack Obama’s autobiography, ‘Dreams from my Father’. (Read it, now, if you haven’t already. My baby is completely obsessed with the book – he only needs to see it on the bedside table to start shouting, commando crawl over the duvet and pillows, grab it with both hands and sink his teeth into the cover.)
I’m left wondering what was it in all of Obama’s experience that gave him the courage to dream, the boldness to act and the resilience to make the choices he has? Barack hardly knew his father. Obama Senior did not fulfill his own potential or the expectations of his family. What Barack discovered about him as an adult, must have been disappointing. And yet … dreams from his father? And I note, before the book starts, he says of his mother: “She is the kindest, most generous spirit I have ever known, and what is best in me, I owe to her.”
Watching my funny boy, on his knees at my feet, a pen lid in one hand and his mouth in an ‘oh’ of concentration as he tries to climb the drawers of the desk, I think of everything I want to give him. I wonder what he will choose to take with him as he goes on his way?
Walking home at the end of the Bank Holiday weekend, we passed a little boy on a scooter and a man wearing a t-shirt that read: ‘Wearing Boden is not enough’. Where did he get that t-shirt? I’ve searched the Boden catalogue and they don’t seem to be selling them there. It stuck in my head: we’re not getting the lifestyle free with the t-shirt – that sundrenched, breakfast on the terrace, smooth-skinned, shiny-haired, true-blue, union-jacked, white-walled, dipping our toes in the swimming lifestyle.
Instead we have cramped rooms and frizzy hair and too much junk and not enough time and traffic outside the window and cars that leak and gardens that need weeded and to-do lists that keep growing and houses we can’t sell and children who wake up at the wrong time and once in a while a moment when the sun comes out and we’re with friends in a beautiful place and our children make us laugh and someone surprises us by taking a camping stove, five cups, a teabag and milk out of their rucksack and then everyday life, the one we’re blessed to be living, is as good as the one dreamed up by the marketing men. But wearing the clothes is not enough – it doesn’t even get you started.
As I start writing, I realise I’m already thinking: ‘Is it good enough?’ Good enough for what? Good enough for other people to read, I suppose.
This question comes from my parents. They might have said: “If a thing’s worth doing, its worth doing well” – true, but looking back, it stopped them doing more. My mother wrote poetry, she was original and accomplished in her use of language but she never tried to get it published, to make it public, because it wasn’t ‘good enough’. My father used to be able to improvise jazz piano so that everyone in the room tapped their feet but he hardly ever played outside of the sitting room (and he only played there when it was empty). Why not? I don’t think he believed he was good enough.
My parents were talented people, they were good enough to recognise good and bad poetry or good and bad jazz. But they would never accept that good enough was good enough – they weren’t Emily Dickinson or Scott Joplin, but they were good enough to share something precious with the world.
So now I’m thinking, how will my son learn to be as good as he can be at whatever he wants to do and then know that that is good enough? Not just good enough for me, not just good enough for family and friends but good enough to share with the wide world and in a big or small way make it a richer place.
As a confirmed late-adopter when it comes to technology, I can’t quite believe that I am writing my first blog. I am someone who never checked my email account at university, didn’t own a mobile phone until years after everyone else and only have an ipod because my husband gave me one on his birthday. But once I have ‘got on board’, I appreciate the advantages technology brings – being able to organise lunch by email, find out what a friend is doing on facebook, text to say I am going to be late (again), listen to music while pushing the buggy.
So now I’m going to blog, or be a blogger or (apparently) write blessays. The inspiration? Time off work for maternity leave and a desire to record my experiences and emotions as I start on the journey of looking after a beautiful baby boy, a task that fills me with more delight and leaves me more exhausted than anything I’ve ever done.
I’ll try to write each afternoon while I drink a mug of coffee and my baby sleeps (as he is now – face down, bottom in the air, arms spread out on either side, breathing so gently I have to lean down close to hear him). This is a precious time in the day when I get a chance to pause and reflect and recover – and this is my first blog: not inspirational, not Garrison Keillor, just me and my baby. I think I’m going to enjoy it.