There are clouds over London again. But if you stop and look up and squint, you will see a tell-tale pearlescent lining that was not there before.
The trees along this street stand tall and bristle-dark as they have through the winter months. But if you stop and look up and squint, you will see small, white buds that were not there before.
When the mornings come now, they arrive a little earlier on a bobbing melody of birds.
The children wake more easily now, and swing their bare legs out of bed without a wince.
Outside, the people at the bus-stop at the end of the road turn to each other and smile and nod before they board the fat red double-decker that bears them away to the city.
I feel a lightness in me that has been absent for a while.
At home, I unlatch windows that have stiffened and swollen over the last few months. They groan, then give, suddenly, in my hand, and swing open. The outside air rushes in. It smells different.
In the back garden, my birthday rose is turning green.
I stand quietly then smile and give thanks.
Other people’s words come to me. I think of e.e. cummings’ poem in Just, which sings of a world that is “mud-luscious” and “puddle-wonderful.” I think of Philip Larkin’s Trees and its whisper: “Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.” And I think of Gerard Manley Hopkins asking: “What is all this juice and all this joy?”
What is it? It’s Spring. The seasons have turned, at last.
How will you celebrate?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Sophie Walker of the United Kingdom. Photo credit: Karen Arnold. This picture has a public domain license.
I’m driving my daughters to school through a windswept city. The storm last night was long and loud and its effects are everywhere, from turned over bins to broken branches. The traffic is moving slowly.
On the radio, a presenter reads a list of bleak news headlines. Britain, with its large Muslim population, is still parsing the consequences of the Charlie Hebdo shooting in France. Ahead of May’s general election, the main UK political parties are making economic promises. Two climbers have scaled a 3,000ft mountain in America without aids.
The girls yawn – tired from a night of listening to roaring gales – and ask for pop music.
“I’m trying to listen,” I say. “I’m trying to figure out what to write about today.” “What do you mean?” asks Grace, who recently turned 13.
“I have to write an article for World Moms Blog. What do you think I should write about?”
“I think you should tell them that I’m 13,” says Grace.
From the back seat Betty, who is 5, says: “I think you should write – ‘Dear World Cup – ‘ “
“Not World Cup, you idiot!” interposes Grace, who at 13 takes offence often, now. “Don’t call her an idiot,” I tell her, and steer around a large chunk of tree on the road.
To Betty I explain:
“It’s not the World Cup, darling. It’s a website for World Mums to write about their lives.”
“Oh, okay,” says Betty. “Then you should write: ‘Dear World Mums – ‘”
“It’s not a letter!” splutters Grace, who by now a really rather indignant 13-year-old.
“Go on Betty,” I say.
Betty clears her throat and gives Grace a glare, then says, “I think you should write – ‘Dear World Mums, in all of your countries, the world is not just about your countries.’”
Grace opens her mouth to protest again. I shush her.
“- it’s also about lots of planets,” Betty continues. “For example, there’s Kewpicker – “
My eyes meet Grace’s. She mouths: “Jupiter.” “ – and there’s the Moon. And – there are all the stars,” Betty ends with a flourish.
“I see,” I say. “And what do you think is out there among all those planets?”
“Well, there’s aliens, and lots of dark, and lots of rocks,” answers Betty, ticking the answers off on her fingers. “And you have to be very careful not to take your space hat off, cos then you won’t be able to breathe.”
Grace sits up, interested now.
“I used to want to be an astronaut. But then I saw that film, Gravity, and thought – no way!”
“Really? Why?” “Because it was so scary! I realised how dangerous and difficult it is!”
“Yes,” I nod. “But she – the astronaut – still succeeded, didn’t she? How did that bit make you feel?”
“Well….” Grace scrunches up her face and considers. “It was cool that she was a woman. And I suppose it made me feel like it’s worth trying really hard. And that sometimes you have to see past how frightening and difficult things can be, and just keep going.”
There’s a moment’s silence in the car. I look at Grace and smile at her and she smiles back at me, and sits back in her chair, pleased with the thought. I can see her turning it over while we drive in silence for a few moments.
Then, from Betty: “Pleeeeeeeese can we have some songs now, Mummy?”
I turn the dial and a current favourite bursts out of the speakers, all horns and funky guitars and a silly, strutting lyrics. Immediately the girls both start singing along.
When it’s finished, Betty asks: “Do you think there’s music in space?”
What profound moments have come from your fun conversations with your kids?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Sophie Walker of the United Kingdom.
Do you know who Dr Stella Ameyo Adadevoh is?
Don’t worry. I hadn’t heard of her until just a day or two ago.
When I read about her, my first thought was how wonderful she was. My second was how glad I was of the opportunity to find out about her. My third: what a strange week of news.
It’s largely thanks to Dr Stella Ameyo Adadevoh that the World Health Organisation was able to announce recently that Nigeria – that chaotic, corruption-riddled country – was free of Ebola, the deadly virus currently killing thousands across west Africa in the worst outbreak of the disease known so far.
Dr Adadevoh was the doctor who took care of Patrick Sawyer. Sawyer was the Liberian man who brought Ebola to Nigeria. Nigeria had never had a case of Ebola before. Sawyer denied having had any contact with Ebola, despite his sister dying of the disease. He fought to get out of the hospital. His employers fought to have him discharged.
Adadevoh not only diagnosed a disease previously unseen in her country, but she resisted huge pressure to let it go, according to accounts from the doctors who worked with her.
She quarantined Sawyer – no small task, given his violent attempt to flee – “He pulled his intravenous (tubes) and spilled blood everywhere”, said one witness. She rebutted accusations from the Liberian ambassador that she had kidnapped Sawyer. She contacted the authorities, and she got hospital staff the training and materials they needed to treat Sawyer safely.
Sadly Adadevoh herself contracted the virus and died on August 19, one of eight deaths in Nigeria from Ebola. Not long afterwards the Nigerian government released its National Honours list for this year. Adadevoh was not on it because, as a government spokesman explained, the awards are never given posthumously.
I’ve seen two stories this week about Dr Stella Adadevoh. She did a great thing, and died for it, and too few people noticed.
In contrast, I’ve seen at least twenty-two stories this week about Rene Zellweger, an actress who changed her face and prompted acres – and acres – of media coverage.
I have nothing against Zellweger. Indeed, I have a degree of (angry) sympathy. I recognise the pressure on actresses over forty who are looking for work.
But what a strange week of news, when a woman who has done so much was unseen by so many, and another woman was not just seen but ripped apart for being far too visible.
I’m a journalist by trade. I accept that much of this disparity is down to skewed ideas among major media outlets of what makes news.
But we too – by we I mean us women – bear a responsibility for the way in which women’s lives and achievements are reported. Too often we read and comment on the scandalous stories. Too often we’re boosting the click rates and thus telling those media outlets that yes we are interested in reading this stuff. We are perpetuating the myth that it’s ok to pass judgment on other women purely because of the way they look. We are contributing to the noise around the non-stories that is stopping us from hearing the real ones.
I want to read about more Stellas. Don’t you?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Sophie Walker of the United Kingdom.
I made a mistake this week, and bought a Women’s Magazine.
I know, I know. I have only myself to blame. Turkeys voting for Christmas, and all that. I haven’t bought one for so long. I’ve been doing really well. But then. Oh then…
In my defence, it looked so – fun. So cheerful and chatty and colourful.There were healthy recipes inside, it said. And – I admit – my eye snagged on a headline about summer dresses.
So I picked it up. I was at the cash till. It only took a moment to grab it, bleep it, bag it. And before I knew it, I was driving home with it.
At home I unpacked everything else first, aware of the magazine in its untouched bag as much as if it was emitting a radioactive glow. I made myself work slowly – stacking the tins of beans straight, organising the refrigerator drawer. Then I called my children and gave them snacks, and sent them out into the garden to play.
After that, I made myself a cup of tea, as though I had nothing particular planned. And then – and only then – I took the magazine out of its wrapper, and sat down to read it.
The first couple of pages were harmless. Or at least, they were nothing I couldn’t handle. Adverts, mainly – twenty-somethings draped in overpriced clothes that could only look good on them. Nothing to see here. Then a couple of placements for age-defying face creams. I read a few lines, caught myself, and moved along again.
The next page provided an unexpected giggle: beneath the legend “Coolest hot-weather buys”, an exhortation to try the latest offering from a diamond company – some sort of twisty ring from just £1,950 ($3,320) each. I made a mental note to ask my husband what he thought when he got in from work, just for laughs.
The next few pages provided tidbits on shoes, celebrity tattoos, and the new King of Spain. I flipped faster, half-aware that my kids’ voices below the window had taken on the whine that suggested some immense unfairness was about to be brought inside and laid at my feet. Sort it out between you girls, I urged them mentally.
Then I turned the page and found an article on being skinny.
I tried to turn the page but I couldn’t. My eyes were fastened on the headline: The Disturbing Rise of the Triple Zero.
I read on.
Somewhere at the back of my mind, a protest went up: Damn it! Suckered again!
Still, I read on.
So disturbing was this new trend for extreme, extreme thinness that the magazine had devoted four pages and fifteen photographs to it, along with such insights as: “It’s no secret that stars can make headlines out of being scarily skinny” (Um, Q.E.D., I think.)
I read the whole article, wanting to stop the whole time. I felt like I was standing in front of my kitchen cupboard in the middle of the night with a jar of chocolate spread and a spoon. Stop it, I told myself. It’s not good for you and you know it. Also, it’s making you feel sick.
I could hear my girls coming inside now. I pictured them arming sweat off their foreheads and tugging off dirty sneakers; saw their strong young shoulders and sinewy legs. In front of me, female skeletons struck ghoulishly sexy poses while the text explained how new ‘skinny apps’ can slim photos for Instagram by five to 15 lbs.
I realised as I read that I was thinking back to my lunch, to my breakfast, to dinner the night before, computing how much I had eaten and how many calories it might have amounted to.
Then a hand landed on my shoulder and I jumped, guiltily.
“Mu-uuum,” Betty began, flushed and aggrieved. In the other room, Grace called out a preparatory defence: “I didn’t!”
I turned to my five-year old daughter while simultaneously turning the page of my magazine. She wasn’t fooled.
‘What’s that? What’s that? What are they doing?”
“Nothing.” (The line that never works.)
Betty grabbed the magazine and pulled, and my heart thudded with horror until I saw that on turning the page I had moved us along to a feature on – ha! – learning to be brave.
“What does it say?”
“It says how you can be brave.”
“Like fighting things that frighten you?”
“Something like that.”
“Come on, let’s wash up for tea.”
Later, when the girls had gone to bed, I threw the magazine in the bin. I felt immediately braver. And healthier. And saner.
If only there was an app for that.
Thus is an original post by World Moms Blog contributor, Sophie Walker, of the United Kingdom.
Photo credit to Ian Mackenzie. This photo has a Creative Commons attribution license.
Betty and I are walking to school in the rain. It is a miserable morning – grey, cold and squally. We are tilting our umbrellas sideways to shield ourselves from the gusts of needles thrown at us as we progress along the avenue. I am forcing bright chatter and thinking of the warm cup of tea I will have when I get home.
Betty’s umbrella is white and pink and round like a daisy. It has pretty little petals and yellow stripes, and a bumble-bee attached to the top. The bumble-bee is looking very sorry for himself this morning, buffeted hither and to. I can’t see Betty’s face but I can tell by the drag of her toes that she is feeling sorry for herself too.
I lean down and enquire: “How are you doing, darling?”
A woebegone voice answers. “Ok.”
Then she asks: “Mummy, did this umbrella used to belong to my big sister?”
I tell her yes, it did.
“And Mummy, did she used to walk to school with it too?”
Again, I aver, she did.
A pause. Then, cautiously: “Mummy, did my sister ever used to not want to go to school?”
I can see where this is going now and I give her hand a sympathetic little squeeze. I say yes, there were days when her big sister didn’t really feel like it either.
At this Betty stops and tips back the rim of her umbrella to look up at me. Her eyes are welling with tears. She asks: “And did she used to worry about making mistakes too?”
Betty started school last September at the age of four. She is now four and a half and a month into her second term. She flew through the first twelve weeks with ease – enthusiastic, inquisitive, and keen to try new things. This term, she has cried often on leaving me in the mornings. Afternoons start with jubilation at being home, then slide slowly from relaxation to upset as night approaches.
As soon as I call her for her bath it is her cue to start an hour-long conversation about whether or not she will have to go to school again in the morning.
Now I look at her, looking up at me, her face a mixture of rain and tears, and I think: She’s far too little for all this. I bend down to her and put my umbrella down and hug her. I tell her: “Everyone makes mistakes. It doesn’t matter about making mistakes. The thing is just to try your best. Have a little go.”
But as I’m saying it, I’m thinking that really, I just want to put her in my pocket and take her home. She is not yet five. She shouldn’t be afraid of new things in case she finds herself unable to do them to a standard that will make her happy.
Last term, she learned phonics – how to make the sounds of the alphabet. This term, she has realised that those phonics are letters and that by putting them together and sounding them out she can both read and write. And it terrifies her.
It is Learning with a capital ‘L’. Every day now she wonders what Learning she will have to conquer next.
The British education system is under huge scrutiny at the moment. The coalition government’s Conservative education minister Michael Gove has decided that it needs an overhaul. There is too much emphasis on coursework, so he has decreed the system should revert to a grand slam of end-of-year exams. There is not enough emphasis on rote learning, so reciting dates and times-tables are back in.
So far I have reacted to Gove’s decisions with horror mainly because of the impact they will likely have on my elder daughter, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, and will struggle even more under a system that removes the chance for her to shine via project work. Gove’s reforms are a disaster for Grace.
Now, looking at Betty, who I had expected to skip through the system, I find myself wondering how she will cope. Recently Gove said he was thinking of introducing formal assessments for four and five-year-olds when they enter school in England, in order to be able to monitor their progress.
I care that my children should progress well through the education system, and flourish in their chosen careers. But as I kissed Betty goodbye in her classroom that morning, and watched her teacher take her gently by the hand to distract her from her upset, I thought: there must be a better way to do this.
So – how do you do it, where you live? And do you think it works?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog from our writer in England, Sophie Walker.
The picture used in this post is credited to Roger McCallum. It holds a Flickr Creative Commons attribution license.