Poetry Out Loud

Last night I took part in a virtual open mic night hosted by performance poet, blogger and generally creative mother, Stephanie Arsoska. The thought behind it was that as Poets with Children we don’t really get much of an opportunity to go out to actual open mic nights to perform our work – but in this time of virtual everything, why should that mean we have to miss out? So there were five of us: Stephanie in Scotland against a professional-looking white wall, sipping a glass of something exciting; Ellie in a bathroom in Poland among her mother’s washing; Helen, surrounded by coves and candles, also in Scotland and also with wine (Scotland is the place to be, clearly); Annie in a comfortable looking chair, who almost didn’t make it due to technical hitches and me, with unwashed hair, eating curry. And so we read poetry, not sure if anyone was watching, but having a lovely time listening to each other and discussing whether poetry needs to be spoken, or read, or both.

I read my poem about my daughter’s first word and one about a sweltering night with wakeful baby. I also read a previously unseen poem, written at a time when it looked like I might never be a Poet with Children. Here it is:

Yahweh

I set a bush on fire
I spoke to it at length
but there was no staff
No quest or commission

Just my lame
stumbling tongue.

I built a ladder to the sky
and lay down at the bottom rung
but there were no angels
travelling serenely up and down

Just a cold, hard stone
for a pillow.

I stood in a river, hip deep,
but you would not wrestle.
I locked myself in prison cells
I tore curtains, released doves.

I left the door ajar
just wide enough for an angel

but there was no child.

Just a voice that told me
that You Are
Always, forever, everywhere,
burning, flaming, shining.

You stripped me bare
till there was nothing but glory.
So here I stand – unique
and highly favoured,
beautiful and loved.

Speak
Yahweh
I will listen.

(c) Judith Kingston, 2009

 

PS For anyone who was watching last night, the poem “Easter Wings” that I referred to is by George Herbert.

Opa and Oma

Mmmm...

Mmmm…

To the Boy’s utter delight, Opa and Oma arrived this morning to stay for the weekend. They came over from Nininand [The Netherlands] by car on the ferry, bringing all sorts of delights with them, such as a book about Pinocchio and a Pinocchio puppet for the Boy, and an adorable little dress for The Girl. They made me very happy by bringing a crate full of my favourite Dutch food stuffs and setting about cleaning my house for me.

My parents were not sure they were ready to become grandparents. When my husband and I first mentioned the fact that we were considering starting a family soon, a look of panic crossed my mother’s face and she said: “As long as you don’t expect me to babysit!” Part of the panic was the introduction of a taboo subject at the dinner table (“one does not discuss procreation with anyone other than the parties directly involved in making the baby”), but I think she also felt a certain dread at the prospect of shifting up a generation.

This led me to reflect on what it means to be a grandparent. What is your role, how does your attitude to life shift? Obviously, I can’t comment from personal experience, but from observation a lot of it seems to be about supporting your children as they become parents. It is like you step back a little and work behind the scenes. My parents are used to living like people in the prime of their life: they are active, they travel, they get involved in new things, they take centre stage. Of course, everyone is the protagonist in their own lives, but the importance and the potential of children temporarily gives their parents the very special role of Shaper. For this time in our lives when our main job is to raise children to become well-rounded, happy people, we are shaping society, shaping the world and shaping the future through them. Grandparents are there in the wings. They pat us on the back when we come off stage left, convinced we did an appalling job. They hand us props and tools when we need them. They change the set between acts. And because they are old hands at the play themselves, they know the lines, they’ve done it before, they can cover for us occasionally, when it gets a bit too much.

The day I found out I was pregnant with my son, I was due to pick my mother up from the station. We were going to a spa to celebrate my birthday, so I thought it would be wise to just check. Just to be sure. I wasn’t expecting a positive result – we had been trying for 18 months and I had been diagnosed with poly-cystic ovaries, so the chance was slim – but I just quickly did a test five minutes before I was due to head out. I was pregnant. My husband and I were in shock. I raced out to see my mum, now about fifteen minutes late, and told her straight away.

The first thing she said was: “Oh you *must* move back to the Netherlands, so I can babysit!”

Now that the kids are here, my parents love being Opa and Oma.  They are experts at support from the wings:

* They dedicate themselves to learning how we like to do things with the kids and how best to take care of them so that they can slot into our household and contribute to its running. “Opa, she has to grab the cucumber herself. That is what her mother wants,” my Mum berates my Dad when he tries to stuff a morsel of food in The Girl’s mouth.

* They look out for handy gadgets that might make life easier, appearing on the doorstep with a miniature gazebo (brought over in their car all the way from the Netherlands) to provide shade for our paddling pool.

* They cook, they clean, they make dinner and buy treats. “You shouldn’t take this as criticism,” my Dad says, wearing my apron and wielding a sponge, “but shall I just quickly clean your fridge?”

* They don’t live down the road, which is sad, but we talk on Skype twice a week to keep the relationship going from afar. My son is over the moon when we go and visit them or they come here. When he was a lot smaller, my Dad mused: “Why do you think he likes us so much? What is it he sees in us?”

“He sees that you love him,” was my reply.

So here’s to you, Opa and Oma! Thank you for being so wonderful, and for being there-and-here for us!

opa en oma

Counting Happies

goth

Me as a Goth.

I used to be a Goth.

I say “be” a Goth, but perhaps more accurate would be that I used to try very hard to be a Goth. By inclination I was really more of a Hermione Granger, sitting in the front row of every class with my hand permanently in the air to show off how clever I was. So when I decided at age 16 that I needed to be more cool and interesting, I went about it in much the same way as I would approach a homework assignment: I researched what Goths were into, what they looked like and listened to and set about adjusting my own appearance and interests accordingly. Through this meticulous research I found some wonderful new friends for life, like Neil Gaiman, and some fair (or perhaps I should say ‘foul’) weather friends that did not outlast the fad (Joy Division, Siouxie and the Banshees).

For about four years, I listened to gloomy music, wore black ball gowns to school (no uniforms in Holland) and surfed the Dark Side of the Net (not a metaphor, this was a real actual thing. Come to think of it, it’s probably still there.)

But I was never a real Goth. I am just too positive and sunny by nature. Nothing could stop me skipping, or singing, or enjoying life. I am a glass-half-full person. My husband, who leans more towards the glass-half-empty side of things, says that this is something he loves about me: that I can always cheer myself, and him, up. My secret? Counting Happies. There are so many happies in life, in every day. Rejoicing in those instead of moping about the Sads has always kept me going.

Yup, I know. More Pollyanna than Goth. No self-respecting Goth would count happies. Or use such a phrase, come to think of it.

The wheels came off the wagon when we started trying for a baby. We found out I had poly-cystic ovaries and although it was possible to conceive naturally, it might take a very long time or require medical intervention. I wouldn’t say I was depressed, but I was very sad for a long time. I so desperately wanted a child. My husband didn’t know what to do – I had never been like this over anything. I couldn’t get myself out of the slump. I was normally the cheerer, he the cheeree. With the roles reversed, we struggled.

Then, my son happened. Without any help.

This tremendous Surprise-Happy kept me going for ages, as did the arrival of my daughter – but lately, I have realised, my glass has seemed a little empty. I have felt weighed down by stresses and strains of every day life with two small children: the Baby waking in the night, the Toddler testing boundaries, the stress of making enough money with freelance work, keeping on top of the housework… Then my fatal mistake was to calculate how many hours I had in the day that were not devoted to the children. The hours for cleaning, translation work, writing, spending time with my husband and my friends and just general chilling.

Total per day: 4 1/2.

Somehow, putting a number to it really got me down. It seemed impossible to do all the things I wanted to do in the time available. I started to feel a little desperate, even resenting those little people that I had longed for, for stealing my time.

I have been moping and feeling gloomy. I have been more of a Goth than I ever was back when I dyed my hair black and used eye-liner to decorate my face.

Then I look at my daughter. She is the single most joyful baby I have ever seen. (I may be slightly biased.) At this very moment, she is standing up, beaming with pride. She points at the cat and shrieks joyfully. She finds my stash of clean nappies, grabs one and waves it around: her all time lucky find of the day. Then her brother comes downstairs and it is like Christmas morning. Her life is one big happy, everything she discovers is the best thing ever.

She is just like me.

So enough is enough. I am wearing an orange dress, the sun is shining, I have been blessed with a wonderful supportive and inspiring man to spend my life with and two adorable children who brighten my life. I am able to work from home and spend these precious early years with my son and daughter, time before school that I will never get back. The cats are gloriously obnoxious and furry. The house is a home. I am living abroad, but also live close enough to my family and friends to see them reasonably often. And now I have found this wonderful way of making sure I keep writing, and met a community of other bloggers who are a source of inspiration and entertainment but also a whole new group of friends.

My life is full of countless happies and there is joy in every moment.

Goth never did suit me.