Sunday 25 January 2015

A big girl and a busy mama

She had been talking about it for months. Pleading. Whining. When, o when can I start big school? When the big day finally arrives her pluck has shrivelled.

She hides behind my skirt, hugging my leg. I take her around the class, looking at the home corner, the books, the building toys. We put her bus chain on the peg, her coolbox with lunch and snack in the locker, and her water bottle in its crate. I point at a chair that has a picture of a bear and her name: Jasmijn. She loosens up, and agrees to sit while the rest off the class trickles in. I chat to the teacher.

When I want to take a picture, for papa, for the archives, she runs away, waving an angry finger to her mama who should know better.
‘Don’t take a photo, mama.’
That’s my girl, and I know she is her own self today.
‘I’ll go now,’ I say quietly. She looks unsure.
A hug and a kiss later, she lets go, reluctantly.

I, on the other hand, am keen to go. Jasmijn starting primary school is a milestone I had been looking forward to for years. Four years. Not that I don’t like my kids, but I have found that I enjoy them more when I spend some time away from them, doing something that challenges my brain more than a game of monopoly- the junior version.

On my fingers I had counted that I would have two afternoons and one full day more childfree time than when she still went to pre-school. Twelve hours. Hours that I had already allocated to additional projects at work, a new book, more blogging. I forgot that I was usually ten hours short every week. And therefore, in reality, it would be a meagre few hours more.

These thoughts make me more stressed than I already was. I decide to take it easy, this first day of the rest of my life, and after I finish all my urgent work emails, I opt for a soothing massage.

That afternoon, when I pick her up she walks out of the class, on the hand of the teacher. I bend for a cuddle.
‘How was school?’ I ask.
‘Fine,’ she replies.

In the car I try more, what did they do all day?
She needs some time to think.
‘I played outside,’ she then submits.
‘Nice. Anything else?’
‘I played inside too.’
‘Was the teacher nice?’
More thinking. ‘Yes.’
When my next question gets no answer, I turn around to the back seat.
She has fallen asleep.

Saturday 10 January 2015

Winter flower

It seems at the same time a lifetime ago, and just yesterday when I wrote this piece. The flower in the photo is called 'winterjasmijn' in Dutch, winter jasmine, and it flowered on this day four years ago in our cold, bleak English garden. Something else flowered that day too:

Tijm is at preschool. Linde’s asleep. I lie on the sofa and contract. Again and again my eyes wander to the hands on the clock. I count the minutes till the next cramp. Ten minutes. Again and again, all day long. Never speeding up, never getting on. We won’t get there this way. I sigh. I look outside, at the dreary grey day. It’s not raining, but the branches are heavy with big fat drops. My eyes wander over the wet, barren plants, dull and dark. Then, suddenly, I see a flash of colour, a bright yellow star. Last summer I planted the bush. But it has struggled, in it’s arid, bleak corner under the fence. I didn’t water it enough. The rabbits munched on it. Only one stalk remained, it’s half dead buds drooping down. I had given up hope. But now, on this rainy January morning, a lonely star flowers in the winter jasmine. I rub my aching bump. This is a sign. It will be a girl. And she’s on her way.

But the contractions keep messing about. Slower, then quicker, sometimes painful, then less, it goes on and on, through the weekend. Until Tuesday morning, when I wake up with a jolt. Pain. Real pain. But not enough. Too slow, every ten minutes, again and again. Roel heads off to work, me to the order of the day. Play group, laundry. Tijm to preschool. Linde in bed for her nap. And then, suddenly, slow becomes fast. My brain and body barely keep up. I do. Tidy up. Call Roel. Set up birth pool. Call hospital. Line busy. Call again. And again. Roel arrives, takes Linde away. He is back and I won’t let him go. Rapids of hormones grip my body. The doorbell rings. I still won't let go but Roel frees his hand with a yank. I feel a plop. A gush. The midwife comes in while I stare at the puddle around my feet.

‘This baby is coming,’ I shout. ‘Now!’
The contraction eases down and so do I. ‘Do you need to check me, look, down there?’ I ask.
She looks into my eyes. ‘No,’ she says calmly. ‘Do what you have to do.’
I feel a new contraction welling up. I groan. ‘I won’t make it to the pool.’
She takes my hand. ‘Come,’ she smiles. ‘Let’s make a dash for it.’

I am in the pool and my body pushes. Not too fast, my brain thinks, I will tear. But it’s too late. She is already out.

I am back on the sofa. Outside it is getting dark but I don’t need to see the flower anymore. She is on my belly now. My daughter. My second daughter. Jasmijn.

Slow returns. We have a cup of tea with the midwifes. There’s no rush, they just got here. Jasmijn is weighed, measured, checked. Approved. She drinks. She drinks greedily. Leisurely Roel tidies up, empties the pool. We call grandparents, aunts, uncles. Then it’s time for Tijm’s pick up. I lie on the sofa and wait. I hear the door. High pitched voices in the hallway.

‘Mummy, mummy. Baby. Bath.’
I smile. We are all here.