Parent and Child Space…

Dear owners of vehicles who park in parent and child spaces when they do not have children: please reconsider.

It takes you a matter of moments to put on shoes and coat, pick up your keys, and leave home. On a good day, it takes me twenty.

You can visit the supermarket relatively flexibly. I must plan my visit with the cunning of a military strike, poised precariously between meals, nappies, naps, and general willingness to cooperate.

You can slide out of the gap between your vehicle and that parked next to you like a ninja. Even when I have a wide berth, getting myself and my offspring in and out of the car is like maneuvering a severely pregnant heifer – even when I’m not pregnant.

You lock the car behind you with the slickness of John Travolta’s sexiest dance move. I am lucky if my Michelin-man hands – which clutch between their fingers the contents of Mary Poppins’ entire bag – can find the car keys before my toddler bolts.

You can stroll across the car park at your leisure, come rain or shine, and have a hand free for an umbrella. I cannot haul my toddler, infant, changing bag and shopping bags from one end of a busy car park to the other, dodging traffic.

You can choose a trolley from any trolley station. You can even choose the skinny-latte of carts, the slim one that has a turning radius. My choice is limited to the bloated metal beasts that you can’t see around, let alone steer – especially when there are two screaming children inside. These exquisite models are only available at the parent and child bays – where you have parked.

It might seem like a decision of no importance when you pull into those bays, knowing you have no children and seeing that there is a frazzled mother behind you in need of parking. But when you take those spaces – especially at this time of year – know that a mother like me then has no choice but to go home without shopping. When you take those spaces when you do not need them you epitomise a conceitedness and individualism that is damaging to society.

When you take a parent and child bay, the person who then spends the journey home enraged beyond reason, and quite possibly in hormone-induced tears, is not my tiny passengers – it is me.

Like my writing? Check out my sister site www.annathayer.wordpress.com to learn about my award-winning fantasy trilogy, ‘The Knight of Eldaran‘, and my work on Tolkien and Lewis. Yes, you got me: I’m a geek.

The Most Wonder-full Time of the Year

This week, in preparation for that Cambrian Explosion of the toy box that is Christmas, I did a bunch of wrapping, and I shared a really special time with my family decorating our tree. I feel smugly prepared, but something gnaws at me:

Everywhere I go, images of Santa abound, and he’s to be visited/assisted/rescued in every festive episode of every children’s programme that my son grazes at.

As a mother to young children, I am in the thick of what I’m dubbing my ‘Santa Quandry’: Santa isn’t real. And, at age three, what mummy and daddy tell toddler about the origins of his presents this year will stick. Do I really want to tell him that they came from a fat man who would find himself blocked at the bottom of our fireplace by a large, draft-excluding piece of cardboard?

Let’s examine this Quandry. Of course, there’s real wonder and excitement at Christmas time, especially if there is something a little bit mysterious about the gifts. The mystery opens the door to traditions that can be tenderly kept down the generations. One that captures all the magic and wonder for me is listening outside the living room door for the sound of the angel chimes that would signify that Father Christmas had been. I now have my own chimes, and want them to be part of the fabric of Christmas with my children. But, to put it bluntly, I don’t want to lie to them. Does that kill the magic? Worse, does it put my children in a position where they kill the magic for someone else’s children?

It seems to me that by being honest with my children from the outset, I can shield them from that awful mark of passage – discovering that Santa isn’t real, perhaps at the hands of peers who will not be kind or generous about it. Will that rob them of the season’s wonder?

No, because the real wonder of the season is the nativity story that we remember. Baby Jesus is all to easily relegated to some quiet suburb of the heart, crowded out by the lights and gifts, the overpowering ‘Santa’, the pressures of wanting family and friends to really feel how much you love them, the crush of preparing the perfect festive treat, the bite to the wallet as the day approaches.

Silently, so silently, the wondrous gift is taken – even in Christian homes, like mine. How often do I really stop to think about what we are celebrating?

I am, of course, au fait with Saturnalia and all its winter festival associates, and that arguing for a return to ‘the real meaning of Christmas’ is repeatedly attacked by those who -quite correctly – say that other feasts came first. That’s not the point. If Christmas is, for me, the time to think on the infant  who was given to us as the most costly gift of all, then isn’t that the story that should take centre stage with my children? It’s much more serious than “Where did my presents come from?”; it’s “Why do we give presents?” In fact, it’s much more important than the presents I’ve bought and wrapped, the tree I’ve decorated, the social calendar I’ve filled or the meal I’ve planned.

Perhaps, then, the answer to the Santa Quandry is simple: don’t lie. The gifts under the tree are from family and friends. Giving them – as you discover as parents – is a blessing, a token of love in a world so desperate for it. That is, in itself, wonder-full, and needs no further wrapping to make it so. But it is also in receiving gifts and returning to the hearts of our families at Christmas time that we remember the unspeakable vulnerability, tenderness, and grace of a God who lay, that first Christmas, in his mother’s arms as warm and as close as my 7-month old daughter does to me now. That is the true wonder – and it is a story worth telling.

Like my writing? Check out my sister site www.annathayer.wordpress.com to learn about my award-winning fantasy trilogy, ‘The Knight of Eldaran‘, and my work on Tolkien and Lewis. Yes, you got me: I’m a geek.

Slow-Writing

I’ve always written the way that I read – fast, almost breathlessly. I read the whole of ‘Paradise Lost’ in an afternoon. When I read articles online with others, I often hum a tune to myself while I wait for them to catch up.

My writing is – or has been – by and large, the same. The whole of my fantasy trilogy, ‘The Knight of Eldaran’, was written at high speed; I was capable of getting down several thousand words in half an hour, and of polishing off several chapters over a weekend. (These ‘chapters’ were often 10,000 words or more long!). This speed has been a hallmark of my academic and writing career, and a genuine boon.

But something has shifted. It perhaps began when, in my capacity as a teacher, I organised several outings to the Arvon Foundation for my creative writing group. In these intense weeks away – often in places with no internet and very limited phone reception – workshops with professional writers and poets enforced a retreat from the speed at which I am used to living – and writing. I relearned how to lavish attention on a handful of sentences. And then promptly forgot it.

Although I have spent a lot of time editing both ‘The Knight of Eldaran’ and ‘Out of the Darkest Place’ (which I co-authored with Peter Gladwin) over the last few years, time to actually write creatively, freshly, has not existed. So when I sat down to begin work on a new novel yesterday evening, it was a thrill to feel that flush of excitement.

The creative part of writing is rather like the emotional whirlwind of falling in love – there is newness, anticipation, sparks fly (while editing is like the commitment it takes to keep falling in love throughout your marriage). You can’t wait to get back to that story, and perhaps it is that adrenaline that makes you write so fast. And, last night, I was expecting to write fast.

I didn’t. In fact – meaning no disrespect to them – some of my weakest students could have written more in the hour and a half that I wrote last night than I did. That I was typing one-handed whilst holding my nursing/sleeping/nursing again seven-month old was actually by-the-by. I was slow-writing, taking the time to weigh and consider the words, structures, images, pauses. Taking time, rather like one would take time to enjoy a glass of fortified wine. Enjoying the nuances and flavours, having the opportunity to really savour them.

Being one-handed certainly impacted my speed, but in the end, I was proud of those slow-written words (about 346 of them). When one has young children, slow anything is a delight. And it struck me that, just as fortified wine is complex and concentrated so, too, is the slow-written word.

My decade-younger self would probably turn up her nose at how little I wrote last night. But older, wiser me will relish it – and hope for much more slow-writing time to come, even if it comes slowly.

Like my writing? Check out my sister site www.annathayer.wordpress.com to learn about my award-winning fantasy trilogy, ‘The Knight of Eldaran‘, and my work on Tolkien and Lewis. Yes, you got me: I’m a geek.

A Worthwhile Verse

Having a 7 month old and a nearly 3 year old is an adventure.

When the first thing I hear at 06:04 is the crash of the lego box being tipped all over the living room floor when I was just dropping off to sleep, this verse flits through my head: children are a blessing from the Lord.

When my daughter’s in her third change of clothes in two hours and then she and her brother coordinate poopocalyptic nappies but still can’t nap at the same time, I remember: children are a blessing from the Lord.

When the washing machine has been running non stop and I’m still behind on the laundry… when they get into a fight over a piece of track that’s identical to 27 others (but only that one will do)… when they’re colouring the kitchen floor (and each other)… when they’re hungry and supper is being prepared in 3 second intervals… when my car journeys are judged by how many times I can listen to their current favourite song (and nails on a blackboard would be exquisitely better)… when I finally get a shower but all I can think of to sing is the theme to ‘Peppa Pig’ or ‘Team Umizoomi’ (“La la la la la… they are a tiny team!”)… when I look at myself in the mirror and think “Just begone,  bump!”or mournfully walk past the nice bras in M&S because no such thing as a sexy,  supportive nursing bra exists… I say to myself,  perhaps through clenched teeth: children. Are. A blessing. Not a trial, a blessing. From the Lord.

And when they’re sick, or fall, or are sad, I hold them close. When I feel their pain like my own, and pray they should never know more of it, I remember it: a blessing.

And when they’re lying on the bed in just their nappies tickling each other,  covering me in kisses, applauding me for ‘a good job, Mummy!’, telling me it’s the best supper EVER (when it’s just fish fingers again), or racing to the door to greet daddy, or being wondrously and spontaneously caring,  gracious, or tidy… they’re a blessing.

And when, God willing, my son phones me (probably via skype on something smarter than I am) with the news, or my daughter smiles at me over a coffee and lays one hand on her belly, then I’ll share this worthwhile verse with them: Children are a blessing from the Lord. And I shall pray that they – and I – never forget it.

Like my writing? Check out my sister site www.annathayer.wordpress.com to learn about my award-winning fantasy trilogy, ‘The Knight of Eldaran‘, and my work on Tolkien and Lewis. Yes, you got me: I’m a geek.