Leaving

IMG_3368Whenever I left Brentwood to move to Belfast there was physical pain and wrenching as well as huge emotional outpouring. I drove away from my parents’ home, the home of my teenage years, in my little yellow Cinquecento (which had been my sister’s), with Holly the cat beside me and my new husband driving a truck ahead of me filled with all my belongings. The tears flowed most of the way to Liverpool and my body ached. It was grief. Grief for the loss of not being near as my niece and nephew grew up. The reality of not being a tangible part of their lives, having been so very close to them from birth (literally with one of them), hit me hard and broke me. I had never known sadness like it, saying goodbye to Mum and Dad, sister and friends. It was the hardest thing I had ever done.

Leaving the town where I’d been born, gone to school, worshipped, fallen in love (and out again a million times before I was 17), worked at my first jobs and learnt to drive, was hard too. I’d been away and come back twice. This time was different. This time was permanent.

I was leaving behind my history and my roots. I was letting go of things I had held tightly.

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The excitement and joy of being newly married, making a home and starting a family made the first few years an adventure. We were making our own history and growing our own roots in neighbourhood, church family, school life and work community.

Right now I am back in Brentwood, sitting in a park and listening to the distinctive Essex accent all around me, wondering if I’ll gain a twang before I go back. Maybe Katy’s growing Belfast accent will have an Essex edge by the time we leave?!

I have just met Kathleen (92) handing out puzzle pages and crosswords she has cut out from the paper. I heard her story of how she and her husband came to ‘accidentally’ buy the beautiful Victorian house just there over the park fence. Our histories intertwine. One of her children was born in the same maternity home as me. Her uncle owned the locally famous toy shop from my childhood and she knows the streets where I grew up. We even share a name – kind of!

This encounter stirs a warm response from me, a comfortableness of knowing and being known just because of this town and my history. I have left physically, but there will always be a part of me, in a deep place inside, that calls this place ‘home’. There will always be a part of me that meets the familiarity with welcome and memories and contentment. There will always be a part of me that wonders how it would be to go back.

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We will soon pack our bags, board our plane and head home. Home to Belfast. We will find pain in the leaving again but gratitude for these days of intertwining our lives briefly with family and friends here. We will head home to continue growing our roots and have our history shaped by the next season of life for our family, safely in God’s hands.

In leaving, there is loss, but there is also a heart full of memories, love shared, lives entwined forever and new adventures ahead for us all.

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Dear June,

Dear June,

As usual, you have been the busiest, most emotional, expensive and tiring month of the year. Every year, I know it will be the same, and every year you manage to surprise me with how intense you are. This year you even brought extra luggage with you. The ‘end of primary school for ever in this family’ bag and the ‘interview for a new job’ bag which definitely fell into the ‘excessive weight’ category. It was difficult unpacking the first one and the second one seemed to take forever to empty. Now they’re both zipped up again and the contents transferred to my mind and heart where I’m continuing to process them, but at a much more leisurely pace now that you’ve gone.

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Who’d have known that driving out of the gates of E’s school for the last time would be such a wrench. What an amazing place Lough View has been for both of our children. A place of polytunnels, creativity, respecting rights, buddy systems, Lifeguards, Judo belting, musical excellence, pond dipping, Roots of Empathy, amazing teachers, oh and academic learning! We will certainly miss it.

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And who’d have known that you would bring with you the opportunity of a job which I love, made permanent. I certainly wasn’t expecting that and am truly grateful. Not just because it’s a job, but because of where it is and with whom I get to work. I am very blessed.

So, now you’ve packed your bags and gone again. Thanks for the lovely moments of variety shows, visitors, P7 discos, fairs and fun nights, plant sales, end of year ‘do’s’, Prosecco, hugs from friends, flowers and whiskey.

Thank you for the endings, and the anticipation of beginnings.

See you next year,

Much love,

Kathryn x

PS. Please could you forward some sunshine – July arrived without it!

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Celebrating generosity

Yesterday the postman called with a package full of surprises from dear friends. It’s always a joyful IMG_2825moment that brings close those who are physically far away. As we untied the string around gifts which brought smiles and excitement, I thought of the precious hands that had tied the bows thousands of miles away – their touch brought near again. (Can you understand why I have to keep that string now?!) As I opened a letter full of news, hopes, words which were thoughtful and kind, the heart of a friend was brought close. I didn’t feel sadness in the missing, I felt joy in the nearness this package had delivered.

Yesterday was the day that Ethan and I had planned to surprise the postman with a bar of chocolate – something to keep him going for the rest of his round. This was an idea from 40acts.org.uk. We had wondered if we would even see him and so having him knock the door was just the perfect thing to happen. He was a bit surprised and very thankful for the treat. But, in the giving, I think Ethan’s heart was even fuller than the postman’s. ‘This is for you. Have a nice day!’

IMG_2826Over the last 2 ½ years, as a family, we have been totally overwhelmed at the financial and practical generosity of people. Envelopes put through our door or into our hands with cash or vouchers tucked inside. Food parcels from a local church who understood our need. In times of despair and hopelessness these profoundly kind and timely gifts have brought us tearfully to our knees. The gratitude in our hearts has not always been expressed in person as often these were anonymous gifts. But I am convinced that the joy in the heart of the givers has matched and even surpassed our thankfulness.

If you are reading this and are one of those givers (secret or not) – THANK YOU. Please know that you have impacted our lives in remarkable ways, helped us when we couldn’t see a way, and blessed us beyond anything we feel that we deserve.

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Thankfully the darkness of those times has largely passed and we are again hopeful for a new season ahead and the opportunities for us to give again in the way that we have received. Believe me, I know that it’s not all about giving financially. There is so much that we have received from the hearts of our family and friends that is immeasurable: support, encouragement, listening ears (often while I cry), kindness, prayer and understanding – because of ALL of this, we are still standing.

In this season of #doinglentgenerously I wanted to mark the sand with this expression of gratitude.

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Cyril – a chance encounter

I have seen Cyril many times over the last number of years. Driven past him, him walking purposefully to somewhere. Or pushing a bike. And always with a few plastic bags in his hands or hanging from the handlebars. The look of a homeless man. Dirty clothes, worn shoes and a big beard. But I’ve never met him. Until recently.

My Tuesday Cregagh Glen walk was much later  (because I’m trying to get this book written  – you know, the one we all have) and there were lots more people up and down the glen at 11.30am than there are at 8.30am. At the bottom, on the way down, I met Cyril. We had a conversation about how long the Glen has been ‘renovated’, the fact that I’m from Essex (and wasn’t Brentwood famous? Yes, but for all the wrong reasons!) and that I’d first met my Glenravel husband at Gatwick airport en route to Jamaica, before I went and lived there 26 years ago. And the fact that my son is on the Autism spectrum. It’s amazing how much of your life story you can share with a stranger in the space of 2 1/2 minutes.

And then, for the next 45 minutes, a patient Lacey at my feet, I listened to a man, self-diagnosed with Aspergers, retrieve from his phenomenal mind, fact upon fact, quote upon quote. He is Mr Ology. He has read it all. Quantum physics, natural healing, Northern Ireland’s heroes, scientists, authors, spirituality. As he spoke, non-stop, with brief cross-references to my Essex roots and my son with ASD, I was amazed at the holograpicuniversetalbotmemory that shone from behind his flickering eyelids as he read (I’m guessing here) from the memorized pages of books. He can quote page and line number of the information he is expounding. An amazing man, who will share his natural healing theories with you on the bench opposite the lifts at Forestside. He’ll even write down possible concoctions to heal your ailments, having himself partaken of his daily tonic before leaving his ‘home’. If you don’t catch him at Forestside, maybe your paths will cross on a walk in Botanic Park where he passes the time of day with tourists and lecturers and proudly shares the fact that his photo is all over the web.

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And sure enough, if you Google ‘Cyril of Botanic’ you will find out more from others who have met this fascinating character. My day was made undoubtedly richer by this chance encounter.

 

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How odd!

 

 

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How do you feel about odd numbers? I like them! A lot! Don’t ask me why because there’s no rhyme or reason at all. I just like them. I have enjoyed all my odd number ages and strangely enough, ALL the houses I have lived in have been odd: 49, 85, 89, 39, 127b (even the ‘b’ feels like an ‘odd’ letter!) and our current home, number 1. I was born, graduated, married, moved country (twice) all in odd years. I guess it’s not that strange: I had an even chance of all those things happening in an odd year.  So, all this to say, I am enjoying the thought of this year being odd!

 

Yesterday I found some time to sit and think about my hopes and intentions for this odd 2017. I made four lists (personal, family, home and others – as in other people) and tried very hard to balance intentionality and eagerness with realism and practicality. I have planned on some things which just need to be done better and some things which need me to step up and be different. Some things which are carried over, a bit like Christmas turkey and need eaten soon, and some things which will take me out of my comfort zone. Some things which I hope will help us as a family to be together more and some things which will help us to think outside ourselves a bit more.

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It warms my heart that these ‘hopes and intentions’ are not just randomly pulled out of the air because a list is being drawn up. They grow out of the journey travelled this past year. Experiences, relationships, listening, reading, thinking, watching. Everything that I have soaked up to make me who I am at the end of 2016, spills out into the dreams and motivations for a new season. Things that have been whispering in my heart, increase volume in the expectation and energy of possibility. Things that I couldn’t have hoped for last January, come nearer and become clearer. Things that I never imagined I would be able to do, grab hold of new confidence and determination, nurtured in the old year.

 

I wonder how you see the new year. How you hope and dream. From whatever place you find your feet standing now, there IS hope. Whether the path you see ahead is straight and beautiful, rough and lonely, beside still waters or steeply uphill, there IS hope. And I pray you find it.

Have a happy and odd 2017!

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Night night. Sleep tight.

‘Night night, sleep tight’ are words that I don’t really say to the boy. They are not in the routine, because they suggest I won’t be coming back up the stairs or seeing him until morning. And to him, that is upsetting.

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Since he was able to sleep in a cot at around 6 months or so, E has needed physical contact to help him fall asleep. To begin with he would grasp my little finger as I stretched my hand down into the cot, my feet on tiptoes. I don’t think I ever fell asleep in that position, but there was often a dead arm feeling or a rush of blood to the head.

 

When he was big enough for a bed, maintaining that physical closeness was easier. Sitting together reading stories, my arm round him til he fell asleep. I can’t even remember at which point I realised his dependence on that contact to lead him to sleep. It wasn’t just physical contact. It was me. Daddy didn’t quite do the same job. Probably because he didn’t do it exactly the same way. There was the expected back rubbing and a lot of hand contact, Ethan balling his fist and twisting and turning it in the curved palm of my hand. He still does this. There was a stage of him pulling my hand to cover his eyes and then positioning my fingers to rest on his closed eyelids. When he was a toddler, going to sleep with a dummy, he would push my fingers hard into the little air spaces each side. Sensory seeking? I think so.

I went through a period of time when I tried hard to wean him off this contact so he could go to sleep independently. In the end I decided it was no sacrifice really, snuggling with him, singing, praying, reading until he fell asleep. Surely he wouldn’t need this still when he was a big, big boy?

My parents would come to stay, or we would have friends in the house for the evening, and I would spend anything up to an hour each night sitting with him to go to sleep, with Tony entertaining guests downstairs. If I left him on his own to settle, it would result in a late awake and tired boy who then needed the whole routine anyway when it was my bedtime.

The curious thing was, that if Tony and I were out and a babysitter was in the house, he seemed able to settle and sleep fairly easily. It was curious too, that if I went out on my own, leaving Tony to do bedtime, then invariably Ethan’s face would be peering through his bedroom window on my return. Waiting for the routine. Not so curious I hear you say. He’s got you wrapped round his little finger!

And we did have a routine. Back rubbing, singing lullabies, lavalamp, meditation music and praying. I began to be able to judge the very moment when it was safe to say, ‘I’m going downstairs for a cup of tea now.’ Then this sequence of words would follow…lavalamp-1255942

‘Ok . You’re coming back?’

‘Yes. I love you.’

‘Love you too.’

This became a winning sequence and invariably I would hear no more from him and go back to a sleeping boy later in the evening.

When he had his ADHD diagnosis and the sleeping situation was discussed with his doctor, she suggested and we accepted, the use of melatonin to get him over to sleep. This helped a lot and reduced the routine time by about half.

He has just got a new bed. One of these climb up the ladder to sleep and with a desk underneath. It means that I cannot physically snuggle beside him. No way can I tackle that ladder. I do still climb up onto a chair (precariously), hold his hand and stay until the meditation app is in full flow.

Recently, turning 11 and entering his final year at primary school, it is apparent that he understands that some of his routines and sensory issues are not experienced by most of his peers and that he is different. He is trying to cross the river, wading at times, into a new territory which involves letting go at bedtime and trying new foods (a whole other post). I was trying to think of other things to add to that list, but couldn’t, and figure that two things at a time is enough for anybody to be working on!

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The girl with the auburn hair

 

lacey-and-glen-signTuesday mornings have become my ‘walk up the glen with the dog’ day. I drop the kids off at school, drive down the Rocky Road and park at the bottom of the glen. Within about 30 seconds I have lost the sound of the rush hour traffic and all I can hear is the tumbling of the river water, birdsong and the journey of the wind in the trees. It has become a favourite habit. At that time of the morning I can be brave enough to let Lacey off the lead without fear of meeting too many people for her to greet with her muddy paws. Mostly just other dog walkers and the odd runner.

 

But last Tuesday we met someone with a different walking habit. Near the top of the glen you can choose a path that takes you through a gate and into a newly harvested field. After a couple of hundred metres around the perimeter you come to the gate of the American Military Memorial. As we got closer, a young, auburn haired woman was coming through the memorial gate to start her walk. At first glance I inwardly commented  that her pale coloured pumps were probably not the best foot attire for a walk in the field. They were a bit out of place with her otherwise ‘ready for the occasion’ outfit. Jeans and a hoodie.

 

As we walked closer to each other I realised that she was in fact, shoeless! And sockless! After our ‘good morning’ I watched as she kicked up the grass cuttings and revelled in the cool dew of the field. There were other things in that field which I hope she managed to avoid!

 

lacey-and-glen-pathHow wonderful to have just parked up, lost her boots and socks and enjoyed the moment of peace at the start of her day. I admit, I was a bit jealous! (Not that there was anything stopping me from joining her.) Of course I don’t know if she was thinking about her day ahead (as I was) or a pre-school tussle (as I was) or what I was cooking for dinner that night (as I was), but the very image she conjured up for me, just because she had on no socks, was one of freedom.

 

Freedom to stop, to walk, to feel, at a different level to those with shoes. Freedom to do what she wanted (in a beautiful not defiant way) and be unconcerned about anything outside of that. Freedom to connect with creation with an extra sense.

 

Maybe we all need to take off our socks a little more.

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