I had such high hopes for September. The summer holidays over, and a stretch of uninterrupted time weaving ahead of me, a lovely long road, with all the possibility of the words I would write, and the things I’d get sorted. Getting sorted is a key preoccupation, getting ahead of every little thing. If I am ahead, then there will be time to write. If there is time to write, maybe I will make some headway with the book. During my Masters degree, when I had submission deadlines, I would take myself off to work and of course it all got done, because it had to. One of the hardest parts of post-academic life is that the deadline is one I have set myself, and it is my self-discipline which dictates the word count. All the best intentions…
My daughter and I are doing university tours. We visit on open days, speak to undergrads and talk about course structures and her suite of worries are entirely different to my suite of worries. The prospect of packing her off to university seems far-off and implausible, but of course, I know it will come. The excitement is counter-balanced with a sense of…not regret…but a bittersweet awareness that her childhood is drawing to a close. Conversely, as my son enters his teens (like a marauding rhino), I recognise the same feelings I used to have about her. The parental readjustment required to at once allow growth, but to also provide boundaries. The conversation on boundaries revisits with alarming regularity, and I find myself thinking: didn’t I explain this last week?
Last week my son was injured playing rugby. All my years of being poker-faced on the sideline came to an unceremonious end as I stood, striken and peering through the rain, waiting to see if he was going to get up from the mangled pile he had been at the bottom of. It’s a curious thing to see your child injured and to see others administer to him, and after some time, when he did get up and was clapped off by the opposition – keen to get on with the game – I felt grateful he was OK. Later, sitting in ‘Accident and Emergency’ in hospital waiting for X-ray results, the feeling persisted. Acute worry, and the love, and the incredulity of how danger and threat can come for you, unannounced. And always in the knowledge that there are other families, other mothers, whose children are more injured or more sick, and a swathe of gratefulness floods over me again, rendering me quiet and vacant. A few days later and we see a surgeon, after the swelling subsided. He’s fractured his cheek bone in three places, and I find myself wondering whether it was my fault that he was raised to love a game that is so fraught with injury. We are a rugby family and I married a rugby player, and I’ve never known any different. To us; the merits of the game far outweigh the risk.
There’s a reluctant medicalisation. Ironically, I had been reading ‘This is Going to Hurt‘ by Adam Kay, the memoir of a junior doctor, which describes the ailing NHS and what it’s like to work within it. I sit opposite medics, on the receiving end, and wonder how long they’ve been on their shift. I have an urge to be kind and polite to them, as we sit and read posters on the wall that say: ‘physical abuse against our staff will not be tolerated’ and I wonder who on earth resorts to physically abusing staff, those whose job it is to help? We observe the other punters and how everyone tries, surreptitiously, to deduce everyone else’s symptoms. It’s not always obvious.
It struck me as we waited (another waiting room, another part of the hospital) that it’s these sorts of events that inform my writing. Writing itself doesn’t happen in a vacuum, but instead is – for me at least – an after-affect of life. It was Anaïs Nin who noted: ‘we write to taste life twice.’ My children, and my observation of them has always been a source; there’s an event, a feeling, the witnessing of a moment. Then there’s my musing afterwards.
Meanwhile, there are breezy, brisk Autumn days. Crane flies cling to the outside of the windows, their spooky legs stretched wide, in contorted squats. Everything seems to be drawing inwards, homewards, ready for the winter months. Maybe I am a winter writer? Maybe the introspection of cold and darkness is what is needed? Or maybe, life just gets in the way of my words? Maybe I make too many excuses? Whichever way, I am good only for dog walks and quietness this week.