Rainshowers sprinkled with some autumn sunshine: a perfect time for homemade cookies. I scoot our little one on top of the counter. Roll out the dough on a floured surface, the recipe says. So I need to clean the counter top then. The thing is, I worry a lot about bacteria, but also about chemicals in cleaning products. Maybe just a little bit then? What can survive 220 degrees, anyway? Right? Never mind, let’s just go to the store! Just take a deep breath, you got this. Looking at her cut out tiny stars, I wonder when something simple like baking cookies became an act of bravery. John Green describes the ever tightening spiral of anxiety beautifully in his novel Turtles All the Way Down. It made me laugh so much, because it is so freeing to hear someone else describe exactly what that feels like. Luckily some days are better than others. Going to the beach – bare feet in the sea, feeling the sand between my toes helps. There’s wisdom in this old recipe for children who are overwhelmed: just add water.
I will never forget the day my mum died. Arriving at her hillside home after a tear-filled journey, I passed underneath her beautiful roses and walked into her silent house. As I went up the stairs, the first thing I noticed was all of my silly drawings hanging next to each other on the wall. It struck me in that moment how much my mum adored them. So that day I made her a solemn promise in my heart: to take my art seriously. That promise has been in the back of my mind these past three years. Instead of creating art, I’ve been busy with creating life. After her funeral followed the arrival of a tiny unicorn, our midsummer wedding, and making a new home. How blessed we have been with all of these rainbows! But beside these life events, I have also felt really lost without my mum. She was my ideal reader and without her… whom am I writing for? The answer remained hidden until our little one fell in love with reading books and drawing together, and all of a sudden I´m back in business.
As with all rites of passage, it took me a while before I felt accustomed to my new role. There was no maternal instinct that kicked in on day one. As Lisa Marciana describes in Motherhood, the road was full of delays and wrong turnings. In the beginning I was overwhelmed with all the different parenting advice out there. I followed government regulations on sleeping, whilst reading books like Safe Infant Sleep that made more sense. So many people recommended sleep training, whilst a cousin referred us to the sweetest sleep coach. Over the course of the first year, I have figured a couple of things out for myself. I would sum up my approach as: What would the raccoon do? Would she lay her baby down in a crib, or do they sleep huddled up together, warm and safe, in a hollow oak? Would she let her baby cry so that she’ll learn to sleep through the night, or does she respond do their needs? Would she leave her baby with a stranger somewhere, or does she take them with her wherever she goes?
It took me a while to find the courage to write this, because I wanted to write that it was dream to have a baby. But it wasn’t. I didn’t know how to take care of a newborn, on top of recovering from giving birth and being sleep-deprived. My only preparation was sitting in my rocking chair in my beautiful, cosy nursery and reading Secrets of the baby whisperer. Needless to say, that didn’t suffice. There were of course rainbow moments that melted our hearts, but those first few weeks were really hard. Our friends and family came over to help and luckily some had babies with similar temperaments, because none of the general advice worked. After reading Raising your Spirited Baby by Mary Kurcinka I understood why our child struggled to sleep, fiercely crying every single time, and why we couldn’t get her to sleep in her cradle (i.e. a non-human sleep surface). So instead we carried, we rocked, we swayed, we BOUNCED, we danced to Capoeira de Besouro… until she would finally fall asleep on top of us.
It’s two years since my mum died on midsummer’s night. Not a day goes by that I don’t miss her. I try to find her sometimes in familiar places, but she is never where I expect her to be. But then on a random Wednesday morning as I make myself a cup of coffee, I suddenly remember how we’d always enjoy a fika together – sitting out on the veranda or cosying up on the sofa. She’s there when I look down at my hands and it feels I’m looking at hers. When the tiny unicorn and I can’t stop laughing together, just like my mum and I used to. She’s there when a moth lands on top of my glasses or when I spot a bright green spider on a blossoming buddleia. She’s there when I come across a field of poppies. It’s moments like these that I lose my breath for a second and tears roll down my cheeks. Whenever grief pierces my heart like that, I think of the poem by Ellen Brenneman: “Think of me as living in the hearts of those I touched, for nothing loved is ever lost and I know I was loved so much.”