Resilience sparks

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‘It’s like an episode of The Middle’ marque 2 declares as our holiday falters and shudders to an end. Ah yes, The Middle, how I used to love to sit and watch that with the kids. The excuse was that a baby or toddler or somebody around the place needed to be breastfed just as an episode was starting. Any takers? Then we’d all sit down and laugh our way through the all too familiar chaos of quirky family life, the topsy- turveyness of it, the high octane domino effect when some small little thing goes wrong. Sadly my excuse days are over, no one seems willing to be breast fed any longer, and I’m not sure if the show still runs, but my identification with the ever ascending cortisol levels of the mother is alive and well. There’s a twist now though. Now, for some unknown reason I can see every little thing that goes wrong as a lesson. A resilience building lesson. I’ve no idea what’s fuelling this, but I’m going to run with it. The kids may already be getting a little tired of my evolving mantras which seem to navigate around the idea that, while this may seem bad, just imagine if it had happened when…

It seems to have begun in the middle of the summer. There are a couple of really good Irish short story competitions I like to enter. I don’t have the time to focus on shorts much at the moment, the bigger project has to take precedence, but entering the odd short keeps it all fresh and exciting. There’s an immediate adrenaline hit when you press send. I was super organised this year, entering my favourite competition – RTE Guide/Penguin Ireland – a full week ahead of the deadline. Then some weeks later, mid summer, I couldn’t remember whether I had used the second or third person voice for the story – the you voice or the he/she. Often when a story is almost working but something undefinable is niggling, a change of voice, a change in the point of view from which it is told, can make all the difference. I went to my sent mail box to check. No sign of the story. Maybe it sent from Outlook instead of Gmail? Nope. I did a complete search and found it, in the end – and if you’re a fellow writer you may need to stop reading now, such is the pain – in Junk. Yes, there it was, utterly unsent, in my Junk box. I waited for the panic to strike. For the scream to come. Nothing. Instead I walked calmly upstairs and accosted a couple of computer whizzes to confirm what I had seen. 

‘Is there any way that it did actually go and also ended up in junk?’ I enquired with a low serene voice as if it didn’t much matter at all.

‘There is no way, no, sorry’ one of them said, waiting for the fallout.

‘Well, that’ll teach me not to check my sent box at the time’ I heard myself say in a slightly out of body ish way.

‘There’s always next year’ I continued, waiting along with everyone else for the real me to step forward. I didn’t arrive. Instead I came up with another plan. I submitted it to a literary magazine – something I’ve never dared to do, the chances of publication being depressingly slim. If it isn’t selected by this one, I’ll just send it in to another, I thought. I was behaving very much more like my husband than myself, a person who sees every mistake as an opportunity to learn something and turns things to the good when others would throw in the towel. Perhaps I’m morphing into him or I’m being hypnotised or drugged  by him – whatever it is, I think I like it.

So it came to the end of the holiday and we had been rained in for three days solid and we needed, desperately, to get down to the beautiful bay for one last swim. We shopped, we tidied, we packed the togs and towels, we timed high tide so they could all jump in off the rocks. A last blast. We went to unlock the car and noticed how the lock was slow, stiff, not responding. We put the keys in the ignition and turned. Nothing. Nada. Dead. We called the AA and two hours later we were told there was nothing for it but a new battery, otherwise we would not be returning home to Dublin for the new school year. This notion held some considerable appeal. There was one battery in a garage which was closing ‘out the road’ and he took off on the 30km trip with marque 1 and marque 4, clasping the end of the holiday budget brown notes. 

My resilience lessons with the disappointed ocean-bound jumpers were about to begin.

‘I was so looking forward to that last jumping in at high tide’ marque 3 declared. 

‘It would’ve finished off the summer so well, and now, now, it’s just so disappointing’.

‘Yes I know it is, but imagine if that had happened, if the car had broken down while we were miles off over the commonage, stuck out there we would have been. Or if it happened on the journey home, or…’

‘But Mum, I’ve had the anticipation of the adrenalin all day and…’

‘The what of the what?’

‘Looking forward to the jumping and swimming, there’s a build up to it Mum, and when it’s suddenly gone, well it’s hard to explain, it’s more than disappointment’.

Uh-oh. Think brain, think. Maybe tell him how lucky we are that there is a battery ‘out the road’ because tomorrow is Sunday and we’d have to wait until Monday, when Daddy is supposed to be at work, to get it sorted. Or maybe say nothing, nothing at all. Acknowledge it with a nod. Permit him to feel it. Revisit later, if needs be. 

On Sunday morning I whisk around, packing and cleaning with a bit of extra zeal with the luck we’ve had. There’s a car that can now take us home, after all. With a couple of hours before we’re set to leave I decide to wash some of the bedding. Yes I’ll wash it and drape it around – one less chore for next time. It is then as we stand in the kitchen and watch the smoke curling out of the powder drawer on the machine that marque 2 declares that it’s like an episode of The Middle. I open the door to the drum and the smoke billows out. Smoke perfumed with poisonous burnt rubber. I haul the sodden lead-heavy bedding, complete with suds, out onto the balcony and drape it around in the rain.

‘Isn’t is just as well that this happened while we were here, not out somewhere, the place busy being set alight. Or while we were asleep. And now at least we know. At least we know for the next time that we will need a new machine’.

A collective vibe of ‘yeah Mum, whatever’ seems to permeate the air. 

(P.S. Just received the magical e-mail below. More fuel for the burgeoning resilience fire.) 

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Holiday Quandaries 

AnchorThe sirens blast through the town and then, some minutes later, the roar of the helicopter. It circles your house, getting louder and then fading, then louder again. You catch a glimpse of it. A great big dark military style yoke. Something is brewing. Your kids run out to see it, clasping cameras. You let them go. It gets a little quieter, the roar, but it’s still there. Somebody shouts ‘it’s landed’ and you look out the window to see your youngest child, laces untied, running around the corner, following the others. You must run too because you’ve no idea what they are running towards. There’s a road to be crossed. Will they just run straight out, the sound of the cars silenced by the whirr of the blades, the shout for them to stop drowned out? You run, faster than is respectable for a woman your age wearing flip flops. You see his new Messi football boots first, all luminous orange and black. He is across the road, upright, kind of, but bending now to tie. You breathe. They are all there because the massive helicopter has landed in the field where the pony show usually takes place. Your children are on a collective whoop of a high. It’s like the moment when you set the Christmas pudding on fire, only now it goes on and on. They snap and they video it. An army guy stands guard. It is then that you see the police car. Then the ambulance. Somebody is very ill or very injured you think. Others have gathered now too for this spectacle but what do you do? Do you turn your own away now, ask them to stop with the excitement and the pictures of the copter because some poor soul is to be airlifted out of here? The doors of the ambulance open. Tears sting your eyes. You cannot look and you say a little prayer of sorts for whoever it is. Then something breaks the tension, little murmurs all around. He’s talking and breathing, the man. Heart, somebody says. But he looks okay. Arms crossed over his chest as if to protect him. A young woman comes over to your husband to stroke the dog. Smiling now. She knows him. This man to be airlifted. And he’s talking so she can talk now too and talking to your dog is perfect relief. Her boyfriend joins her, stroking and talking. It’s going to be alright now. More than alright for your own kids. A highlight. 

The funfair has been spotted in another village at the set up stage. It begins. You know you’ll not get away with it now. It’s Friday and you’re heading home on Sunday and it’s going to rain between now and then. Do you take your kids to the funfair in the rain? You sit in the bar consulting the forecast, again. The bar man offers you a drink. You decline. You tell him you’d love one, but the kids think they’re off to the funfair. He looks out the window, raises a brow, laughs. It’s to be worse again tomorrow you say. 

You get there at night in the persistent soft drizzle. The potholed carpark ground is all puddles with a grey concrete milky mix. You must step into these puddles, too numerous to avoid, to get at the rides. Your dog’s white paws turn grey. You think about electricity and rain. Safety tests. How it’s only really you and your kids mad enough to come along. Your kids are the safety tests. You watch as they are spun on the waltzer for far too long. No one else waits. Then as the three older ones go to the big attraction. The Terminator. The one that spins them up into the air. You watch as they use a cloth to wipe it down for themselves. It’s only after they are raised up that you notice the duct tape holding the hinge beside your child. You see him notice it too. What do you do? 

The money flitters through your fingers. You stand beside a woman at the bumper cars. She has a dog that could swallow your one whole. She looks fumingly on as her husband and child collide with yours sending them crashing into the step where you are. They smile at you with a pinch of terror in their eyes. Keep your hands in, you think but try not to shout out. You are hating every minute of this as you knew you would. You put your thumbs up to them. The woman points to her feet. Destroyed she tells you. You look at her formerly white plimsolls, fully soaked grey. 

You pick your wet shivering dog up and wrap him in your hoodie. The youngest has noticed a ball throwing game and you wander over. Toilet lids flap at you. Get the balls into the toilet and win a prize. His aim is good. All balls in. Which prize would you like? The goldfish he says, eyes lit like stars. A brother tries to tell him there’s no such thing as winning a goldfish, maybe in the olden days or in the movies but sure enough there they are. Little fish shimmering in translucent buckets. You widen your eyes and shake your head at the woman, conspiratorially. You do not want one at all, at all. You’d have to play twice and win twice to get a goldfish she tells him. Phew. Good woman. Okay then, I’ll play again he says. Or what about me, his next up brother says. If I play we can combine and win the fish. He hasn’t gone on many rides, this child. He’s due a turn at something. It is somehow agreed. Everyone gathers. His left handed aim is not along the lines of his younger brother’s right. The pressure is on. The brothers will him along as the flapping lids trick him each time, just. Awww. There will be no fish (phew, but your heart sinks for him too, maybe you should not have set him up for this fall). Then the woman reaches behind her, grabs a bucket, hands them a fish anyway, and winks at you. What do you do?

You buy five rounds of pink fluffy candy floss, which dissolves efficiently in the misty rain, and you listen to the squawks of delight as they place a name upon their prize. Then you drive back to your own holiday town, a little faster than you should, hitting the supermarket just as it closes. You emerge clutching a half decent bottle of red along with the little tub of fish food. That’s what you do.