Noli me tangere (Don’t touch me) (But please do)

Something that stresses me out about every day life is how to greet people. Who do you kiss on the cheek? Who do you hug? Is it an insult to shake hands? Half the time I just stand at a safe distance and smile, my body language making it very clear that I have no intention of touching anyone.

If you know me in real life, you could be forgiven for thinking that I dislike touch. That I recoil from physical contact and would prefer to conduct my friendships at arm’s length. Nothing could be further from the truth. Touch is very significant to me. I remember a hug from a friend for ever more. One of my most treasured hugs was from an extremely un-touchy-feely friend, when we had just had some bad news. She spontaneously threw her arms around me and told me how sorry she was. It meant so much more because it was so rare. I love feeling physically close to the people I care about. Nothing is more wonderful to me than cuddling up on the sofa with my family.

So what is the problem?

I overthink things. I don’t spontaneously touch people. I always think about it first. By the time I’m done thinking the moment is gone, usually. Or it has become extremely awkward.

I can actually remember the exact moment this all became a problem for me. I was about ten and I had very recently become properly aware of the facts of life. I now understood, with burning blushing embarrassment, that kissing and cuddling had meaning beyond friendly platonic affection. At my parents’ annual Christmas party, a family friend came up to my Mum and me and offered to give me a kiss. This was purely meant as a friendly greeting, but suddenly everything clicked together in my head, in a totally paranoid way, and for one small moment I thought he must be wanting The Other Kissing. I was terrified and fled. He laughed, unaware of what had gone on in my head, just thinking I was his friend’s daughter being shy.

From that moment, I shied away from hello-kisses.

This is a long introduction to today’s poem, but I wanted to give you the backstory, otherwise you might read it and think I was molested as a child, which I most definitely wasn’t!

Awkward

It was on the stairs
the offer of a kiss
a new awareness
coursed through me
cold fear
I turned and ran
from the friendly greeting
then and after
no way of unknowing
what I had learned
every touch now
laden with meaning
preceded by thought
by exclamation marks
neon signs
a spotlight.

If I could
I’d throw my arms around you
hold you safe from world and grief
show my love and friendship
cushion all life’s blows

If I could
I’d silence all these whispers
of too much, not you,
hold back, best not,
that keep me bound, away from you.

Until I can
could it be you?
Could you be the one
to open up your arms
to spell it out
“I need a hug
from you”
?

(c) Judith Kingston, 2013
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Ode to Weetabix

Ode to Weetabix

Squatting, quietly contained in the bowl
These two woven wheaty biscuits
so innocent you look
but add milk
and mix
see
you stir
into a paste
more potent than cement
congealing in hair, on pyjamas
Weetabix, you glue our lives together.

(c) Judith Kingston, 2013

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Also linking up to Shoulder to Shoulder Today, hoping this will cheer Emma a little.

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– See more at: http://www.3childrenandit.com/#sthash.zGM3XbMP.dpuf

More precious than gold

She fooled us. We boasted at 7 weeks that she was ‘such an easy baby’, that she slept through and would re-settle with a single “shhhh” from a parent. I guess she got bored of that nonsense and has since realised ‘easy babies’ don’t get as many midnight cuddles as wakeful ones. Besides the occasional 11pm to 5.30am just to keep us on our toes, the Baby continues to wake up at night. Sometimes once, sometime many times. Always at 3am – a magical time when all babies are programmed to wake screaming, I think. Whatever she does at night, the day starts at first light for her, when she is cheery and chirpy and ready to play. More often than not I sneak her downstairs at that time, hoping she hasn’t woken the Toddler yet, and try to persuade her to have another hour’s kip in my arms on the sofa.

What is more precious than gold, you ask? Is it Love? Is it World Peace? Is it Babies? No, dear reader. It is sleep.

Dawn Chorus

You do know
this is classed as torture
sleep wake sleep wake
shrill crying in your ear
the grey dawn
day after day
lying cramped and curledsleep
neck and back
aching
holding you
precious you
as you snatch a little more
of that sleep
that I wanted
your lashes resting lightly
on your soft cheek.

I hope your dreams are gentle
and you feel warm
safe
and loved.
Although I ache and
my brain feels dead and
the day is dull-
I guess
I do feel
warm safe and loved
too.

My daughter,
I would suffer any torture
to spend this time with you.

(c) Judith Kingston, 2013

Okay, so maybe it was love and babies after all. Leave me alone, I’m really tired.

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Impromptu Portrait

It was nearing the end of naptime. The Baby was already awake and sitting up on the bed with my husband and me, being utterly adorable. My husband quickly got his camera to take some pictures of her, just as she is now, with her new little-girl-hair, her broad gummy smile, her big blue eyes. Soon, the Toddler was up too and came to join us. My husband took pictures of him too, and showed them to him on the screen, which the Toddler loved. Then he sat down next to his sister and held her hand. I stood to one side, watching my husband taking pictures of the two of them and chatting to them. I had a sudden jolt of realisation then: this is us now, we are parents, these are our children. We are the grown ups. This is their childhood. When I was young, it was my father who was always taking photos. Now, he is Opa, my husband is Daddy, I am Mummy. It all sounds rather obvious, but I think after 2 and a half years, I am still not quite used to being a parent.

Impromptu Portrait

A moment, here, on the bed
the smiles and giggles
“You are beautiful,” you said
to that tiny person, adoring you,
she reaches for you, flaming red,
the world is exciting and everything new
she grabs for your camera, smiles and wriggles
here on Mummy and Daddy’s bed.

Our son, sometimes still and wise
sometimes shrieking, laughing wild
looks back at you with your own eyes
wants to learn and see and know,
rehearses here his family ties
the soil in which he can safely grow
from loving toddler to confident child
Growing ever more wild and wise.

The lens captures and draws a line
Looking in: our children, hand in hand,
Looking out: our faces, yours and mine,
seeing that now we are a family.
Sometimes we wish we could turn back time
to when it was only you and me
but life has moved on and now we stand
unsteady but ready to cross this line.

(c) Judith Kingston, 2013

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Crying

I usually have a little ‘debrief’ with the Toddler about special fun activities we have done. Birthday parties, days out, visits to grandparents, toddler group, stay and play at the children’s centre – on our way back to the car I will ask him: “Wasn’t that fun? What did you do at [activity]?”

First, the Toddler will tell me about everything he has eaten. Then he will tell me about all the times he cried. Then, if I’m lucky, he will tell me about some of the fun activities that one would more usually include in a report of a special day. His reflection on a friend’s third birthday party went a bit like this: “Yummy food! And sausages, and chicken, and cakes, and squash. And slide, and fall over, and S cry. And big ball. Little boy take. S cry.” When prompted about some of the fun he’d had, he added: “Bouncy castle! Heeeeeeel leuk! [Looooooots of fun]”

It makes me quite sad to think that his distress at these little mishaps must be so deep that they are in the forefront of his mind when asked about his day. What really gets me is when he tells me about all the times that he didn’t cry. One day we were playing with chalk on the pavement outside our house. Predictably, I had to write all the numbers from one to ten for him. There were some other little boys playing outside, and they came riding past on scooters, one of them accidentally driving over a piece of our chalk. It was completely squashed. The Toddler stared at the broken chalk. I looked at the Toddler, holding my breath.

He didn’t cry. He did exclaim about it a lot. And then he started telling me, over and over: “Little boy squash chalk. S not cry.” I can’t quite describe why this was so heart-breaking: something to do with his awareness that he might have cried, but that it was an achievement not to, even though he wanted to very much.

Long preamble, but my poem today is about how very real and deep toddlers’ feelings are.

Not Cry

Your life is on a different scale
you cry
you wail
when the breadsticks have gone stale
when your plans and projects fail

A snatched toy causes genuine grief
its return
real relief
Childhood sorrow – is the adults’ belief –
may be intense but it’s only brief.

But we are wrong and you recall
that wrong
that fall
the time you almost lost your ball
or I didn’t answer to your call.

Your body may be only small
but your feelings are life-size
your spirits plummet
and they rise
and any grown-up would be wise
to comfort a toddler when he cries
to soar with him whenever he flies
so to win the precious prize:
to be an equal in his eyes.

(c) Judith Kingston, 2013

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