I saw these two pictures on Facebook earlier today and they made me smile, because their messages resonated with me.
I have talked about my friends and how lucky I am on my blog before. I don’t make friends easily, partly by choice, I should add (or maybe I’m kidding myself!?) – I am fussy and precious with my time and I am wary of people too – I think traumatic school days and teenage girls might have left their mark. It has always been a topic of hilarity between me and one of my oldest best friends Ailsa, whom I have shared several girly holidays with throughout our youth and whom always, with absolutely no exceptions comes home from our trips with addresses and telephone numbers for handfuls of new friends she has made. People she will never see again, but with whom she believes she has a close connection with. It is a skill I admire but one I have never had the patience for. Ailsa collects friends like she would a beautiful and treasured stamp collection – the collection getting ever bigger and more intricate, complicated and valuable all the time. She genuinely loves people and people love her; she is a giver of her time, her emotions and her love and those that meet her are generally instantly smitten. We laugh about how different we are, about how rude I might appear sometimes as I emotionally stand back from new people, about how I have never made a new friend in a park just because we are walking the same way, or how Ailsa will invite mums she meets when out walking her enormous (but gorgeous) dog round for coffee the next day. I couldn’t think of anything worse! I let people in very slowly, giving a bit of myself very gradually. I am polite and friendly (my parents’ teachings of manners are well instilled in me) but I could never be like Ailsa.
So, the friends I do have I treasure and they, unknowingly help me constantly. The text messages I receive, just letting me know they are thinking of me or sending love to my dad. The flowers I received a few weeks ago from an old Uni friend, whom I haven’t seen for ages, but whom I now know is reading my blog and thinking about my family often. The offer of help from some of my lovely school mums who never hesitate to offer to have my children if it will help me to visit my dad. You realise when you are going through a shitty time how lucky you are to have true friends in your life – they are an extension of your family, people who are not stuck with you because of family ties or blood connections, but people who have chosen to stick with you because of the person you are. People who have chosen to stick by you through the shitty times as well as the fun, can’t-breath-for-laughing times.
My mum didn’t have many friends and was always quite happy that way – with a handful of friends she felt able to be herself with completely. That was enough for her and maybe that is where I get it from. I know my mum’s almost daily Facetime calls from Freda (one of her oldest friends from when we were tiny children) has helped both my parents through some very dark days; offering support to my dad and allowing him to leave the room and walk away for a few moments, whilst offering comfort and reassurance to my mum. She has been so giving of her time and her love and that is something you cannot buy, something a true friend does without thinking.
The school playground is a funny place. As a young child it is a magical kingdom, your palace or ice rink, your spaceship or battlefield. It is somewhere imaginations can flourish and friendships can be made and broken. As a teenager, it changes, it becomes a catwalk where girls prance and display their assets, whether that’s their hair (perms back in my day!), newly grown boobs, tiny skirts showing off young legs, new shoes, new bags – anything really to be able to prove yourself equal to everyone else. It is also a hunting ground, somewhere the weak are potentially vulnerable and the strong can flourish and feed. It used to terrify me and even as a new mum, dropping my children in at nursery was initially very daunting. It very weirdly brought back all those teenage insecurities and fears and it took a while until I was able to shake that feeling off.
Lovely things happen in the school playground for me now. I see my children come running out of class, always happy to see me (Martha) or trying to look cool, but offering me a warm smile anyway (Archie). I see them interacting with their friends, coats flung at us waiting mothers as they run off, desperate to stay and play, rather than head home for tea. A few days ago, a friend passed me a white envelope, “open it at home,” she said. Inside was plain white card and inside that was a real four leaf clover, very neatly sellotaped to one side. She had read my previous blog post “Luck” and her gesture that day was so lovely and it made me smile (and cry) and I will treasure it and its beautiful intention forever. Then today my middle child, Martha came running out with a beautiful picture she had drawn me. It was folded in half and she urged me to open it, which I did, obediently:
It brought a smile to my face and a tear to my eye. I know I am lucky, with or without my beautiful four leaf clover, to have the friends I do as well as my ever-loving children. Sensitive and caring beyond belief, I know Martha will grow up to be an amazing friend to many and they will be damned lucky to have her.
This roller coaster of a ride that is dementia has left me speechless yet again today. I spoke to Mum yesterday and the day before and she actually sounded like Mum! Yes, she was forgetful about the names of people she had seen that day, but my God, she sounded upbeat; she was talking about playing golf again and going back to her dancing classes on Monday evenings. She talked about feeling better and at last feeling like she was out of a fog and that she wasn’t going to let this beat her. I have spent the past two days feeling quite confused yet relatively upbeat. I was also wary, wary of feeling too positive as I have been here before, we all have, when she has had a good day or a good few days and we start to relax and feel more comfortable about how things are and how manageable she is, only to be completely and utterly floored the next day as she rails against everyone and anything, agitated and angry, aggressive and incoherent. I dared not raise my hopes. Pleased, with a slightly lighter weight bearing down on me was all the positivity I could muster.
Tonight, Mum is sad and confused again and doesn’t understand why the chap she spent her teenage years with ignores her when she sees him. She tells me they used to spend all their time together and now he won’t have anything to do with her. How do I answer that? What on earth do I say? I don’t sodding know. I want to tell her to stop being ridiculous, Dad is there in the other room and has just tidied up after dinner. He talks to her all day and looks after her with patience and kindness and a gentleness I am in awe of and I want to scream at her and tell her to stop being so bloody selfish! I don’t though. Of course I don’t. Instead I ask her if he’s there with her now, this chap who I dare not mention by name. “No, he’s not here now,” she tells me. “He comes and goes.”
“Is Lily still with you?” I ask her, trying to change the subject. Trying to focus on the positive and talk about her sister who has been such a comfort to her over the past week.
“Who?” she snaps.
It’s a bastard disease. It gives you a day or so to breath again, to get comfortable for a few hours and believe that things are manageable and then it swipes your legs out from under you in a split second. I just wish Mum could still take comfort in things like hand drawn rainbows and four leaf clovers – tokens of friendship and love that are so important in life and mean so much. For now at least, she usually takes some small comfort from daily phone calls with me, Emma and Clive and her regular chats with her friend Freda sometimes make her smile. I only hope that lasts for my poor mum – life would be pretty bleak without friends.