How do we live out love?

Three young boys smiled up at the camera. Victoria Terminus, India, was their home and they chatted easily about life there: which children made their living begging, who picked up bottles for a few rupees and who scoured the rubbish for discarded coffee cups to lick. One boy was very matter of fact about having his leg beaten until it broke.

Every now and then, we were shown a child sleeping in the road frighteningly close to a passing truck or bodies strung out on drugs and covered in flies.

But most shocking to me was the boys’ laughter about which of them had been attacked for sex, often by random men. They were street children. They were easy prey. This was just another part of life. As the narrator said, and as was fairly obvious, they had no pity for themselves or for anyone else.

I’d gone along on a whim when an email asked for a STOP THE TRAFFIK supporter to exhibit literature on behalf of the organisation. Street children’s vulnerability makes them prime candidates for human trafficking. Poverty makes people vulnerable to exploitation.

The last time I did anything public for STOP THE TRAFFIK was a few years ago when a friend organised an anti-trafficking week at our university, getting societies to put on events to raise awareness of human trafficking issues and raise funds for the organisation’s work. Another friend and I put on a poetry night and I performed one of my songs at another society’s acoustic group.

We felt motivated, mobilised, part of something big. Our chocolate was Fairtrade. We were clued up on the “issues”.

But as the noise died down since, I feel like the bridge from the song I’d written became a self-fulfilling prophecy:

“Paralysed by the sense of not achieving what I said I would
Wishing I hadn’t made promises when I can’t
Or is it can’t?
Or is it won’t but should?”

Though my sore pelvic girdle doesn’t thank me for lugging a heavy backpack of STOP THE TRAFFIK leaflets across Bristol for the Unchosen film campaign, I am grateful for having been there. It reminded me of my responsibility toward others, locally and globally. It was a chance to be pushed out of paralysis.

It’s made me continue to think about the things I want for the creature as she grows up. I want her to be informed about and sensitive to the suffering of others. And I want her to do something about it. This inevitably means her father and I need to think about what picture of humanity we’re giving her, what we show her is important. In short, what we do.

Little could beat the picture of humanity my mother gave me. I think of her decades dedicated to working with people from “disadvantaged” backgrounds, noticing their strength and simply trying to build relationships where they can take hold of their own power. Money has never been a motivating factor for her. Love has.

For my own life, I’m going back to the chorus of that song I wrote in twenty-one-year-old excitement:

“I still think silence is worse
Too many sounds across the earth compete to be heard
I still think there are things that we should all believe
Call it naïve but there’s little excuse for apathy.”

It’s very easy to think these issues through in abstract terms. I’m still trying to work out what it means in practice in my own life – how do I tangibly live out love in my context? It’ll be encouraging to hear what others are doing. How are you trying to live out love?

Images from the film Victoria Terminus, directed by Gerard Vandervegt and shown as part of Unchosen’s film campaign.

What only rotten apples could teach me

I’m struggling to put the weekend into words. It’s been such a revelatory one that I don’t feel like I can move on to talking about anything, whether deep or inane until I write about this. So, instead of making this a week of silence at Circus Queen, I’ll try to explain it, to myself as much as to you, in objects.

This is Friday’s spoil. It’s a pencil eyeliner by Barry M that I hunted down. I always have to go to at least two stores to find it in black. But it’s so worth it, with skin as oily as mine.

I spent the day up to my armpits in serotonin. I hadn’t had a proper day out in a while. SPD has made walking reasonable distances something I always pay for later and as my work becomes increasingly doable from home, I’ve less incentive to leave the house.

But after a little fight with myself over whether to go to a possibly mythical women’s group meeting at my church or to clean the kitchen, I was out and about. It ended up being a day of socialising, writing, lunching and shopping which did me more good than I could have predicted.

Imagine this space covered in rotten apples. Everywhere. I should have take a before picture, I suppose. I’d been meaning to pick the apples up since we moved in a month and a half ago but there was always an excuse. Laurence and I finally did it on Saturday.

After the life-rush of Friday, I had a crash looking around the mess that was our house. I’m not a tidy person by nature. I don’t see the point in folding laundry. But for whatever reason, I’d let things get particularly out of control last week. Carpets needed to be hoovered, floors mopped, dishes done, boxes unpacked rather than lived out of.

It’s not that I feel ‘homemaking’ is my primary responsibility as the woman in our relationship. If anything, that’s probably why I’m not better at taking it in hand. When I was growing up, I saw too many men watching television while their wives rushed about making nice with broom and stove. I knew I didn’t want the same for myself. I also feel it’s important for both partners to take ownership of the home by being involved in caring for it.

At the same time, as the one who’s home most often and therefore has more opportunity to sort things out, I feel guilty when it all goes awry. Laurence doesn’t see it that way. He always reminds me that though he goes out to the office, a day spent writing in the spare room is equally work.

Still, as is often the way, I let my upset about my apparent ‘failure’ connect itself to much larger themes in my mind. Mothers are tidy, or at least clean, aren’t they? Will I be a good mother? You can see where this is going.

By the time it was lights out, I’d worked myself into a state of stress that carried well into the next day. It culminated in the fear, guilt and rage that left me paralysed on the garden porch.

I couldn’t tell Laurence what was wrong. I didn’t even understand it myself. I couldn’t talk to God. I had no words. So Laurence wisely left me alone and let me do the only thing I felt I could. Cry.

When the tears were gone, we got our garden gloves and together we picked up the apples. For the first time, I appreciated how we’ve come to know each other. We don’t really need to explain our frailer bits anymore.

I asked him last night if he ever feels like he lives with a child. It seems I crack at some point every other week. He said he likes feeling needed. I suggested he should start crying too so the roles could be reversed, at which he laughed and mock-cried.

“Do I cry more now, since I’ve been pregnant?” I asked. He shrugged. “I don’t remember how much you used to cry,” he replied. It’s strange how time can make just about anything normal.

This is the jewelry board I’ve been meaning to put together for the past four years. An ex-boyfriend suggested I do this and I was instantly offended. Was he saying that I was messy? Well, I am, but was he saying it? Was he trying to change me?

It’s taken me all this time to get over my self-righteousness and stop procrastinating. But here it is, made with cardboard from the box something or other got delivered in and tacked to the inside of our wardrobe last night.

It’s a little thing, I know, but every pair (and lonely only) reminds me of someone I love and displaying them not only makes me more likely wear them but it feels like a small step of progress in the ‘taking care of life’ department. It’s a simple reminder that growth takes time.

Please excuse the bad photography. I’m not feeling particularly techie this morning.

The day I beat the twisty thing in my garden into submission

There is a devil in my back garden. It stands there in the centre, taunting me, especially when the sun’s out. Its tentacles hang down all reproachful and that. But today I’ve made a small victory.

Laurence doesn’t get what the big deal is. He doesn’t understand why I have spent well over an hour of my life prodding it, staring at it, twisting it to try to work out how to get the metal demon to obey.

Well, this time he wasn’t around. So I had a fight with our airer or whatever it’s called. I’m partial to calling it the evil-umbrella-washing-line-twisty-thing. I tend to get physical with misbehaving household items when the “real adult” isn’t around. The sorry-looking smashed pieces of smoke alarm would tend to agree.

The washing was done and in the basket, smelling all fresh (I’ve recently discovered fabric softener and am a little obsessed) and I was about to take it upstairs when I noticed the glint of the sun on the twisty thing outside.

I can do this, I thought, After all, you don’t need a man to do it and what happens if, God forbid, there comes a time when Laurence isn’t able to do it and as a matter of fact he’s not around to do it now, so there. He’s probably more worried about the conversations I’d have with myself if he weren’t around at all.

I pulled, I pushed, I swore, I cajoled. The twisty thing would not become erect. I just want to hang my washing! I lifted it out of the earth and turned it upside down. It was surprisingly heavy and fell into the mud. I lifted it up, put it back in the earth and wiped the mud off.

Now it stood there reproachfully with all its tentacles messily tangled. Carefully I put them aright. Then I went inside to have a cup of tea and to calm the lemon chicken salad down. I went back outside, convinced that I would not take a hammer to it or – and this was more likely – hurt myself in its abuse.

I pulled again. As if it had never been a mystery, the twisty thing came alive. I pushed it with more force than my stomach muscles were happy with but it gave. It was a moment of triumph. I was even able to take it down and put it up again to make sure it wasn’t a fluke.

It’s a small victory, perhaps, but I’ll take them where I can.

PS: Yes, I know the garden’s a mess. Do not rain on my parade.

Consuming life instead of living it

Last Sunday in church, someone described consumerism as a system in which we are valued based on what we can afford to buy. It wasn’t the focus of what he was talking about but that hit me so hard, I got my pen out and wrote it down. It articulated the trap I often get caught by.

For me it’s not really so much about buying things to match other people. I’ve mentioned before that I don’t often buy things and certainly not new things.

Most of my clothes come from charity shops. Apart from the buggy and the car seat everything we’ve bought for the baby so far has come from Freecycle, Gumtree and the NCT Nearly New Sale. Although I’ll occasionally buy books, I’m far more likely borrow from the library. We’re also all about the re-using around here.

None of this is some bizarre type of eco-thrift boast. If anything, these little efforts have successfully blinded me to the places where consumerism has its grip on me.

We’ve been talking through our finances recently and I often sigh over “When – if ever – will we be able to buy a house?”, “When will we be able to go to India?”, “Will we be able to afford ballet or football lessons for the creature?” and the list goes on.

But the question that trumps all of those is: “What will happen to my career?” Like so many of us who graduated in the last two or three years, the going’s not been easy. To be sure, I’ve been fortunate with a lot of the opportunities I’ve had but I hardly feel like my writing career is firmly established. And now, I’m getting ready to take a break!

I applied for Maternity Allowance this week and it put me in a foul mood. At first, I couldn’t work out why. I know it’s necessary (I’m going to be bloody tired those first few months) and actually, I want to stop working for a bit because I want to concentrate my energies on the creature. For me, the consumerist trap isn’t about actual items I can buy so much as it is about commodifying my life. It’s about image. It’s about wanting to have it all – right now. It’s about consuming life rather than living it.

I can hear people saying that maybe I should have waited until I was older and more firmly established. But I hardly see how that’s the answer. Surely that would have only given me more time and ammunition to boost my consumerist obsession. The problem is buying into a false idea of how life is supposed to be. It isn’t not having enough money or a settled enough career.

Despite my worries about the future, I am just as convinced that this is the right time to welcome someone new into our family. While I fully respect the decision of those who do wait, and maybe I envy the things they’re able to afford that we won’t, I do think some things might be easier for us in not having waited.

Having a baby can be an unsettling thing. But then my life was pretty unsettled to begin with.

Image: Milena Mihaylova

Buying a pram: the moment of truth

I woke up on Saturday raring to pick up our pram and car seat. I didn’t know how symbolic these objects were or that they’d freak us out.

My in-laws bought them for us a few weeks ago and had them delivered to the store so we could leave them in storage. That was never going to happen.

It was bit like the Saturday before last when I pleaded with Laurence as soon as his eyes opened: “Please can we get a kitten today. Please?” He said yes but the internet and newspapers let us down.

People of Bristol, have your cats stopped reproducing? Isn’t spring when all the baby animals are supposed to emerge? That’s what Bambi taught me.

At least the pram and car seat were a sure thing. Once Laurence realised the injustice of suggesting we collect them “tomorrow”, we were off to Mamas & Papas.

I had tried to approach pram shopping like my father would: methodically researching, making notes and comparing to produce a highly detailed list to choose from. He’s done this with anything remotely technical he’s ever bought me.

A few years ago when he offered to buy me a camera, I unwittingly let him down by quickly glancing through the options and replying seconds later: “Oh, I like that one. It’s little and pretty.” He tells everyone this story. I’m not sure if it’s my impatience or technical disinterest which amuses him more.

In the end, I produced a fairly thorough list but admitted to Laurence: “But I like this one because it’s pretty.” It was the Mamas and Papas Pliko Pramette – so feminine and classy while agreeing with our practical requirements. I don’t think I could have gotten more pleasure from choosing an evening gown.

The traitor had been looking behind my back. Which? gave the M&P Sola their vote and he was pretty sold on it. I had to agree, it looked a good match. We decided to be open-minded and went to the store.

My poor brother skulked in a corner with his HTC Desire while a sixteen-year-old demonstrated every single buggy in the joint that would do for a newborn. We got our heads around the Luna and the Sola, momentarily drooling over the Urbo.

As it turned out the Pliko Pramette actually did tick our boxes. It was parent-facing, converted between pushchair and pram, the right size for our trunk (alright, boot, you Brits) and folded up completely. We left satisfied. Laurence felt like he’d picked a car and I a handbag.

But after he assembled it, and demonstrated it to me, he gave me a crumpled look as if to say, “My God, we’re having a baby. What are we doing?”

I found it funny. It’s not as if I can successfully forget the reality. She’s constantly sitting there around my middle, sometimes sticking a foot up my ribs.

I had my turn last night when we closed up everything to head to bed. I stopped in the hallway to look at the little car seat that would hold the creature. I imagined her head laying back, her eyes closed in sleep and wee toes peeking out.

I looked at Laurence. This time three years ago, I was an undergrad writing a dissertation, longing for him to notice me. Now we’re married and having a baby.

The sight of the car seat made me dizzy. All this and I’m not even twenty-five yet.

When I told him about it, he said: “At last. It’s good to know I’m not the only one who’s scared.”

Thou shalt not wear a dressing gown in public

When I mentioned the uni-boob scenario the other day, it was an attempt at being amusing. My mother read it and all she could think was: “Good grief, my child needs to be clothed!” She speedily got in touch, in her worried mother way – a way I shall soon learn, no doubt.

Although I may have been guilty of slightly exaggerating – I do tend to do that – I am genuinely grateful that she’s offered to buy me maternity clothes. I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that my vague hope that I could keep wearing my pre-baby clothes throughout my pregnancy was laughably unrealistic. This only works for women who wear oversized jumpers to begin with, I think. Looking at my wardrobe now, I’d never noticed before how waistline centric so many of my things are.

As I’ve said before, I’m not good at buying things for myself. I attach guilt to the prospect. But Mummy’s right, as mums often are. Even if it feels silly to buy things for the next few months, that’s a long time to wear pajama bottoms and a dressing gown.

This top was the first thing I outgrew and this picture was taken the weekend the creature was most likely conceived (you're welcome for 'too much info')

I do wonder if I’ve resisted buying maternity clothes for reasons beyond the state of our bank account. I’m shocked every time I look at myself in the mirror with my top off or rearrange my boobs into a comfortable position for sleep. Perhaps there is an element of denial at play here. Though I’m heavy and ill at ease, I do forget that I am pregnant from time to time. So maybe, when I look down, I’m expecting to see the body of the woman pictured above.

But there is something I like about being obviously pregnant. Even with my coat on, there is now no mistaking that I’m pregnant, whereas before I’d mention it and people would be surprised – as if we blow up overnight. It’s a public thing now. A public and private happiness.

Mompetition beats the competition with “Date Night”

I tweeted about this video a while ago, hoping that followers would give it lots of views, because I think Valerie Stone Hawthorne’s blog The Mompetition (especially the videos) is a brilliantly humorous and affirming depiction of motherhood. And because the video itself was clever and made both Laurence and me laugh.

I’m so glad she won the Xtranormal February Contest with this entry. It also makes a great follow-up to yesterday’s post about facing the saga of going out while pregnant. We behold our future.