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May 2016

Sorrow and Joy

A solitary magpie has been hopping about my front lawn the past couple of days.

Of course, I am much too modern and rational to be superstitious about magpies.

I am a positivist: I believe our attitudes create our reality. Buzz off, Sorrow! I say. You are but a perspective, a frame of mind; I know you fly but a couple of wingspans away from Joy. Go find your wife and children, Mr. Magpie!




It's just that I had this dream about Death on Monday morning. Five or six of my old school friends all died within a short space of each other. Then I spoke to a friend who was suffering a very sudden bereavement. My husband and I decided finally to draft some wills before we go away on a 'couple's trip' this weekend without the children. And then, my husband phoned me in the middle of the day to say he'd been having severe chest pains at work and was on his way to see the doctor.

'You can buzz right off now, Sorrow.' I told the magpie. 'Don't come back til you bring Joy with you.'


Losing my mother very quickly and unexpectedly 8 years ago brought home the suddenness with which life can utterly change. Gone.

The bereavement counsellor told me that, when people lose loved ones suddenly like that, they can feel a strong need to hold their remaining people very close. They may have a form of separation anxiety.

It flashed before me: the unexpected future that could suddenly be mine - and the children's. The magpie's silent song.


The doctor diagnosed heartburn, and prescribed a series of tests for my husband to rule out anything more serious. Eat little and often, she said, and avoid smoking, excess coffee and alcohol, and spicy food.

We celebrated with a large Indian takeaway. I raised a toast with our glasses of water to 'the best little family in the world - in my opinion.' This is it, I thought: one of those rare moments when you remove the blinders to your own perfect happiness.

Within hours, I was back to hassling over reading homework, shouting at bedtime, rolling my eyes over trivial chores improperly done, and fantasising over different shades of blue with which to paint the kitchen walls.

Life is here, in the mess and the chaos, the love and irritation, the trying again.

I want to be more organized, tidier, more patient, less shouty, more successful, calmer, wiser. But, mostly, I want to be very close to them, for as long as I can.



Do aliens count?

We were at dinner, discussing curry and popadoms, school outings and pottery classes, when my oldest said:

"There aren't many things that you can know absolutely for sure, are there? I mean, most things we 'know' are just what people THINK."

Ah, the subjectivity of knowledge, that old chesnut.

His little sister said, 'But, we can know that 1+1 = 2, can't we?'

'No, but,' he says, 'that's just a way that WE have found to measure and understand certain things. I mean, if you went and talked to some aliens from another planet, perhaps they wouldn't think like that, maybe they would measure things by SIZE instead, or something like that. We don't know.'


Aliens count


So I showed them this funny clip from Friends, in which Ross and Phoebe argue the toss on gravity and evolution. If you haven't seen it, watch it here - it's a good one.


And a bizarre by-thought I had was: maybe I should start watching TV with the kids? Our TV has been entirely made over to the Xbox and Minecraft - we never watch TV together, but it could be fun.

Any recommendations for funny/ thought-provoking/ original TV programmes?

And I think about all the things we think we know - or ought to know - as parents, and as humans.

And how, not so many years ago, they could barely pronounce their own names. And now here we are.


Have a good week.

Love Elizabeth



"The separation of the individual, as he grows up, from the authority of his parents is one of the most necessary achievements of his development, yet at the same time one of the most painful. It is absolutely necessary for it to take place, and we may presume that it has been achieved in some measure by everyone who has developed into a normal person."


Sigmund Freud, Family Romances