Tending one’s garden

My mum used to love the onset of Spring. Watching ‘old friends’ find the courage to pop their heads above the surface (following months spent shying away from the harsh winter elements) seemed to provide her with a renewed sense of energy and optimism. Indeed, she greeted each flower with the same level of affection that she might have bestowed upon a family member following a prolonged period of absence.

As I looked out of the window this morning (marvelling at the many vestiges of new growth that met my gaze) I was reminded firstly of Mum, but also of the huge responsibility (that we must all shoulder) to look after our world, and to preserve the many wonders that are contained within it. And much like the plants and shrubs that adorn our gardens, our relationships need cultivating too because it is only by furnishing them with care and nourishment that we give them the best possible chance of survival, and the opportunity for future growth.

Put simply, there’s no point in complaining that someone else’s ‘grass is always greener’ if through neglect (wilful, or otherwise) you have allowed your own ‘lawn’ to wither and perish.   

‘Optimal growth’ by Gaynor Hall

I’ll keep you fed and watered, point you gently towards the sun,
I’ll shield you from the harshest winds lest you be overcome.

I’ll provide you with the nourishment that permits your features to shine,
Whilst remembering that your sheen might fade with the inevitable passing of time.

I’ll allow you the room to spread your roots, so you don’t feel as though you are trapped,
I’ll help to preserve your identity, so your spirit will never be sapped.

I’ll lend you support when you need it most, once your limbs become flimsy and frail,
And laugh as our heads gently nod in the breeze and we write the next page of our tale.

And when we’ve finally ‘gone to seed’ and our (once green) leaves have turned yella,
I’ll remember the memories lovingly made and be grateful that you were my fella!

The rise of the emoji

Words have always been a source of fascination for me and I often attribute my passion for language to the many hours that my dear old mum spent reading to us as children. Quite apart from the traditional bedtime story slot at home, she would often have a book stowed away in the glove compartment of the family car, to be brought out on long journeys and read by torchlight as my dad drove us to our destination.

Seeing a similar level of enthusiasm for books beginning to develop within my own boys gives me indescribable pleasure and it is for this reason that I continue to make time for sharing a bedtime story with my youngest. This has always been our opportunity for spending quality time together (not to mention my best chance of managing a good old snuggle!) the only difference being that the rather simplistic picture books of early childhood have given way to gripping adventure novels whose chapters provide the perfect conditions for allowing the imagination to run wild.

And boy, does it run wild!

One thing that took a little time for him to grasp, however, was that words can be used figuratively. Indeed, it would often be several days before I’d realise that he had taken a particular phrase absolutely literally and then spent hours desperately trying to decipher its meaning. And, if I’m honest, I can see just how such confusion arises.

The English language is by no means straightforward – with seemingly many more exceptions than rules. Add into the mix our almost addictive penchant for using a range of metaphors (mixed or otherwise) and non-native speakers must frequently risk finding themselves in a linguistic minefield. I can see why the (not so humble) emoji holds such appeal! Furthermore, just as you think that you have found a saying that aptly supports the case that you are trying to put forward, some ‘smart Alec’ (rather infuriatingly) manages to come up with a gloriously contradictory one!

I seem to have spent the last few days ‘checking in’ with various friends, being all too aware of just how easily the busy daily routine can prevent us from nurturing our relationships with others. I have genuinely struggled to find the time to commit my thoughts to (virtual) paper of late either and this got me thinking… Would the absence of something to read (amongst my loyal followers at least) ‘make the heart grow fonder’ or would it simply be a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’?

I concluded (rather grudgingly) that it is probably a case of the latter. After all, ‘Time (or at least the world of social media) waits for no (wo)man’ and anyway, (as Robert Half rightly observed) an ego trip is ‘a journey to nowhere’.

Be sure to pay it forward!

My dad was a firm believer in treating others as you would wish to be treated yourself and this is certainly something that I have tried to put into practice over the years. And should you find that the truism ‘kindness costs nothing’ lacks resonance for any reason, then ‘be nice to the people you meet on the way up, for they are the same people that you’ll meet on the way back down’ might just help to focus the mind!

Perhaps one of the few positives to be taken from the ongoing pandemic is that there have been countless stories of people (from all walks of life) ‘pulling together’ and that the dying embers of community spirit have, to some extent, been rekindled. As we move forward into a period of recovery then, let’s try to hold on to those desirable behaviours, casting aside the all-consuming self- interest of before.

‘Be sure to pay it forward’ by Gaynor Hall

For every act of kindness, however great or small,
For every ounce of encouragement that helped you stand up tall,
For every time you very nearly let the demons in,
For every time you fought a battle you had no right to win,
For every time the road seemed tough, and strained at each small sinew,
For every time a friend endorsed the strength that lay within you,
For every time a passer-by their smile on you bestowed,
For every time a colleague helped to ease your heavy load,
For every time the sun still rose in spite of deep despair,
For every time that someone showed you just how much they cared.
Be grateful for each kindness, there’s no need to feel awkward,
Just remember the difference each one made – and be sure to pay it forward! 

Striking out

The start of any new chapter inevitably brings with it a glut of conflicting emotions, but it’s how we channel those emotions that ultimately sets the tone for what happens next.

I’ve mentioned before that (rather regrettably) my default setting would seem to be that of a ‘glass half empty’ sort of person. This is possibly why I am prone to dwelling upon all of the things that didn’t go so well, rather than simply deriving pleasure from those that did.

With this in mind, I am trying hard to gradually adjust my mindset, in the hope of becoming a better role model for my children whilst also improving my own sense of wellbeing. [I’m also painfully aware that the saying ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ (quite apart from being laced with hypocrisy) seems woefully inadequate – and would only invite all sorts of unpalatable comebacks, the likes of which I am eager to avoid!]

‘Striking out’ by Gaynor Hall

Dwell not upon what went before – it’s better left behind,
You’ve got a bigger project now, an exciting future to find.
By all means use what you have learned to fashion out a path
That furnishes you with everything you’ll need to help you laugh.

Hold close those friends that matter, be mindful every day
Of those who’ve had a part to play in helping you on your way.
Be brave and view each challenge as a chance to show the world
That you are like a silken flag just waiting to be unfurled.

Don’t shy away from difficult tasks, use every ounce of wit
To meet each obstacle head on, until you’ve conquered it.
Try to view each worry, each failure or fresh doubt
As a means of growing stronger – success turned inside out.

Follow your convictions, hold true and don’t be swayed
By those who’d see you falter just to quash their own malaise.
Extend the arm of friendship to those who need it most,
Be proud of your achievements but reject the need to boast.

Approach each day with honesty, compassion, and good humour –
Resist the urge to inflict harm by fuelling vicious rumour.
Remember that your legacy (when all is said and done)
Is the meaning that your life has brought to the memories that live on.

Is social media your new best friend?

I sometimes wonder if we, as a society, have lost the ability to really engage with each other. After all, the growth of the all-encompassing world of social media has meant that we can ‘friend’ (or ‘connect’ with) literally thousands of people, many of whom we have never actually met. And whilst this has enabled us to grow our business networks, expanding our virtual ‘audience’ with relative ease, I suspect that it has done nothing for that humblest of relations, Friendship.

When was the last time that you rang the friend who recently lost their partner to cancer? Or checked in on the mum who was worried sick over a recent spate of bullying at their child’s school? Or asked after the colleague who was struggling with mental health issues to the point of leaving their job? And yet, like me, I’m willing to bet that you have ‘liked’ at least five posts on Facebook today, without truly stopping to consider whether or not the author of that post might simply be putting on a ‘brave face’.

And so, in honour of my many wonderful friends (who frankly repeatedly put me to shame!) this poem is for you. Thank you for all that you have done for me (during lockdown and beyond) and I hope that you know just how much I have appreciated every text, every phone call, and every frantic wave that I have glimpsed as I have rushed about the neighbourhood trying to darn the holes that have inevitably appeared in life’s rich tapestry!

‘I owe you one!’ by Gaynor Hall

For every time you’ve texted, to see if I was OK,
For every time you’ve offered to have my boys to play,
For every time you asked me if there was a reason why
A tear or two had inexplicably formed and leaked just outside my eye.

For every time you’ve remembered an important family date,
For every time you’ve forgiven me for arriving a little bit late,
For every time you’ve invited me to unburden myself at leisure –
Or arranged a breakfast at ‘Wetherspoons’, indulging my guilty pleasure!

For every time you’ve allowed me to simply tease you rotten,
For every time you’ve allowed the odd cross word to be forgotten,
For every time you’ve offered me a friendly shoulder to cry on,
Showing me (time and time again) that you’re someone whom I can rely on.

Thank you, most sincerely, for all that you have done,
For supporting me, and celebrating each small battle won.
If I can return the favour, then you only have to say –
I’d be ashamed to take for granted those who’ve helped me along the way.

Trailblazing (of sorts!)

We’ve all come across them. Those individuals who demonstrate an enviable flair for coming up with ingenious ideas. Or those for whom pushing the boundaries to the absolute extreme, is nothing more than idle sport.

For most of us mere mortals, however, we learn to content ourselves with exhibiting professional competency, and a good day at the office tends to equate to the conquering of one’s inbox (albeit only fleetingly) whilst perhaps managing to snaffle the last Dairy Milk Chunk from that rapidly depleting tin of ‘Heroes’!

Small victories, and all that…

Imagine my surprise then, when almost 12 years ago I unwittingly found myself poised to become something of a trailblazer amongst the ranks of my burgeoning NCT friendship group.

We’d all met during the summer months of 2009 and our babies were due to make an appearance in the autumn. Our group was an impressive mix of professionals, all eager to excel at the next assignment – Parenting. We’d sat through sessions on birth plans, pain relief, relaxation techniques and feeding and we were all now raring to go.

One by one the various bundles of joy arrived (delivered, I seem to remember, with wildly varying degrees of grace and composure!) and the journey began in earnest.

Many an afternoon was spent exchanging tips, sharing concerns, and I don’t mind admitting that a wealth of delicious biscuits and cakes were consumed along the way too. And very quickly, each new mum assumed their vital role within the group. It was almost as if we’d been cherry-picked to provide as broad a skill set as possible because (rather conveniently) we had two teachers, a surveyor, a designer, two amazing creators of ‘all things delicious’ and even a readymade parent in our midst. Surely, we were collectively ‘holding all the aces’…

Now as any new mum will know, the value of having a support network (particularly of friends who are going through similar experiences) should not be underestimated. After all, there is no postpartum handbook (and each ‘model’ seems to throw up sometimes quite literally its own unique challenges!) so being able to talk things through, surrounded by sympathetic company, was an absolute blessing.

Any chance of losing those post pregnancy pounds was looking pretty slim though, my little man being only too content to sleep soundly in my arms whilst I chatted away happily – and indulged (utterly unstintingly) in a wide assortment of pastries!

In the weeks and months that followed, there was plenty of laughter, a few tears and much soul searching over what would be best for our little ones and it was an unexpected honour when I began to sense that my friends might be starting to look to me as a sort of ‘benchmark’ for parenting. My baby had been the last to arrive, and yet it seemed that all eyes were on me when it came to feeding, nappy changing etc.

Was this my chance to shine? Was I to become a much-revered model of motherhood?

Of course not! For when the cake-induced vanity eventually wore off I realised that, far from setting the gold standard for parenting, it was more a case of “Well, Gaynor’s already done that (and her baby is still alive) so it can’t be all that bad”! And so, the gradual shift from breast to bottle, cotton wool to wipes (and oh so many other guilt-ridden adjustments) began.

Trailblazer?
No.
Source of reassurance – albeit tinged with mild dismay?
Let’s hope so!