Sunday, 16 November 2014

Clearing the path for winter

Winter has landed with all its force and unapologetic power. The heavy rains that pounded down on us all this week - causing roads to merge with waterways and keep us all indoors for as much of it as we could - is a stark reminder that no more is the phrase winter is coming  (in all its Game of Thrones foreboding doom and gloom) apt, and once more winter has come. The towering beeches that line the estate walls are completely bare of their golden leaves - earlier that normal it feels, and spindly oaks are bereft of leafy crown for  another five months at least. And the dark is back and dark is the new black for the season that's in it. 

Winter's garden
I don't see how we can ever get used to this forceful annual event - one day sunshine and bare feet, and then the next hats and scarves and wellied up to the nines - it's an annual imposition ;)  And so this weekend I suited up and wellies were donned for the (literal) clearing of the path for winter. 

I don't get out into the Holly Cottage garden as much anymore, not since golden haired child appeared on the scene and the demands of motherhood that go with that. So when I do get out, it seems to me to be a rare treat and very much an event. And yesterday was the day for it - rain had cleared, sun was shining and a blue sky above to restore faith in the November sheltering canopy. 


Starflower blue remains to brighten our days
First there were the standing-dead forms of ornamental clover that lined the path to clear - how different they stood as skeletal lignin stems from the vibrant green and purple of summer. The grow-bags and falling down tomatoes of August and September were dismantled onto the compost heap. The tumbledown nasturtiums were forked away too, and the sturdy starflowers that bulged up between the patio slabs were ceremoniously taken away to the decaying pile of 2014 in the corner of the garden. Mint in disarray was ordered; withered oregano stems were chopped back and collapsing gladioli spikes dismembered - all traces of 2014's summer whisked away in the quick flash of a garden blunted scissors. And then the yard brush was brought forth to clear leaves and bits of sand and grit and bark that had spilled onto the path, and then my work was done. 

Inspector of paths
There are still a few things left out there, the stuff that doesn't mind the cold and most importantly, the stuff that's easily accessed in all types of weather: the protective green manure to feed the soil for next year - the colourful purple Phacelia; the hardy turnips; the leafy cabbage; the bursting brussels sprouts and the curliest, curly kale. These things will keep our vitamin levels up in dark days to fight off the colds that seem to be a much more frequent visitor to our door these days. 

And so we are ready. Ready for winter, again. Path is cleared. Wellies are off and packed away until spring time. Time for sitting by the fire. Time for winter to have its own way and do its own clearing and cleaning - changing the garden in the way that we can't, returning life-that-was back to the cold comforting, embracing earth so that 2015 can live its own new way. 

And just the time for us to do the same.



Thursday, 13 November 2014

Letter to Alannah: Part II (a year of mothering)


This article first appeared in Elephant Journal, September 23rd 2014

http://www.elephantjournal.com/2014/09/on-our-first-birthday-a-letter-to-my-daughter-catherine-wilkie/


Dearest Alannah,

Today you are one year old, which really means you spent one of our calendar years breathing on your own.
This past year I’ve been bound to you, as mother and observer, often too immersed in being mother to even consider being observer. But now you have taken your first steps, now you are starting to pull away and I can see that whole year for some of what it has been.
Me—catapulted into the role of mother—and you, from soft and helpless bundle to warrior of infant-hood.
Before these thoughts that seem so urgent to me now fade in the tiredness of the working week, I want to share a few things with you from my journey this last year.
I want to share a few things with you—sure, you’re way too young and far too blissfully unaware to want to know or even want to understand—but in time, maybe.
If and when you might have your own little angel to shake you into the sudden and utter awareness of the fragility and wonder of creating, and then sustaining life…maybe then you might linger over some of these words.
Keeping up with the world

1. Nothing and no one can prepare you for being a mother.

Or a parent, a father, whatever.
Being of the female kind, I can only talk about being a mother and that’s more than enough for me. I thought I knew. I thought that by watching my brother and sisters, spending time with a few close friends, by looking on from the side-lines that I had it figured.
I thought that I knew what it would be like to be the one wiping the nose, changing the nappies, delivering the endless hugs and kisses and soothing the seemingly un-soothable cries when they came. And I thought that I knew how I would do it better. Wow. What an awakening.
So when you see a mother struggling with a cranky baby, or you find yourself saying—oh, I’d never do that, or the classic—Oh my god, did you see what that woman just did to that child?—slap yourself and please remember these words.
Until you are in it, never assume you know diddly squat about it. Instead, please watch and listen, empathise, help out where and when you can, and be ready to wait your turn, for when your turn comes.

2. Forget about your previous understanding/definition of a good night’s sleep

Ah, sleep. My old friend.
Get as much of it as you need, when you can, while you can. On those first two days of your life that we spent in the hospital, we (your father and I) wondered why you weren’t waking and wished that you would open those amazing bright blue eyes and share with us the story of your life so far—even though we knew more of that than you did, what with scan after scan and the solid kicking I was getting for the last month of our pregnancy.
Maybe we should have just slept as you slept instead. That first night home in the Holly Cottage was the first and only night I didn’t wake to your call. And that first night at home when I did eventually wake, I realised that my love affair with a good night’s sleep had been eternally dissolved.
You still wake at least once, if not three times, in the night—and you curl into me with your need for warmth and assurance and I am more than happy to respond and pull you into me. I know it won’t last forever, but I wish people would stop asking if you’re sleeping through the night, like it should be happening. Ah yes, there’s that word.
We’ll get back to the damming should later.

3. Be open to a greater awareness of your body

When you are pregnant and when you have a natural birth, your body is no longer your own.
It is working for two in those times and apart from the really important things day to day things like breathing, healing, self renewal, etc. etc., it is in the serious business of growing, forming, nurturing and stretching/squeezing to accommodate the smaller version of yourself—which is indeed a very precious cargo.
It’s absolutely amazing how it happens and for the most part you won’t be aware that you are doing anything. Life takes over. Stretching and squeezing can be alleviated—the body is more than capable.
My advice? Do pelvic floor exercises as often as you can. Do breathing exercises. Do yoga. Embrace the changes and embrace the challenges. Welcome every pain and moment of nausea. Go with it. There is no room for fear in this. This power, this magic—it is there in all of us, in you and in me. It’s been there since we started to walk upright.
Be in awe of the ability to grow life, deliver it into the world and the stupendous and miraculous healing power within you. And yes, you will want to do it all again. Even the bits you thought might never be possible again! But take your time. The body of a woman is a power house but it needs to recover. And maybe this power is the reason why in some cultures we are so feared and so repressed.
I repeat, your power is amazing. And to a small baby that is a wonderful thing. Rejoice in it. And if and when you feel tired of waking up for yet another late night feed, or changing a nappy from hell, try to remember that you are not alone. You are one of millions, and all power packs need recharging (see number 7).

4. Be grateful for the little things (they are not all that little)

Every breath you take is a blessing to me. Every day that you grow and change and develop and grow more is a miracle.
You have grown and changed so much in this last year I barely recognise you from the baby that tumbled out from me onto the labour-ward bed. From the first smile, to the first gurgles, the first steps and the first signs of growing awareness – pointing, recognising names and words—each moment has been a wonder, and I am grateful to still have one of the best seats in the house to watch you.
And when I think of all the things that might happen and could have happened I bow my head in humility and I give thanks. To the universe, for the wonder of it all. And these things may seem small to you now, but you will understand when you see it for yourself. As I watch you, you have this ability to scan the room and find the smallest grain of sand or dirt or rice cake or hair and you are enthralled by it. Enthralled by the smallest things of all.

5. Cherish the wonder of it all

Take stock as you go. Appreciate the moment as it happens. Time only goes one way—that I know of—and there’s no going back.
I look at pictures of myself at your age and it is a different person looking back. But that was me, the one who looked like you. The one in thumb sized socks and curls that mock gravity. The one who loved to be held in her father’s arms, to know the comfort of the smell of mother’s bread baking in the oven and the closeness of brother and sisters. Life is precious. If you ever doubt that, look at your own child and think on all the stars and planets and events and moments that had to align for that child to happen. And, sure, there were all the boyfriends and heartbreaks that had to be suffered, that you may suffer. But cherish even the most difficult of moments—those are the moments that you are most alive.
And so, I wish you joy and sorrow. May the depth of each be reflected in the depth of the other so that you understand and know the difference. Like when you lose someone you love—because that will happen.

6. Throw the word should out of your lexicon

I won’t bore you with examples, but when somebody—especially another member of the motherhood—even begins to form the word “should” with their mouth, close your ears, smile and nod if you have to, but don’t listen.
“Should” is the curse of well-meaning others. And just because they think they should, and they say you should, doesn’t mean it’s true. Close your eyes and think of a waterfall or a rose in bloom. Like the one that covers the back wall in autumn—the dusky pink rose that rambles there now—hat heralded your coming into the world this time last year.

7. When you’re exhausted, allow yourself to fall in a heap (preferably onto a soft bed)

Being mother, in my experience, is demanding. There are times when you’ll feel on top of the world, full of energy and full of readiness for what may come your way. This probably won’t happen often. Be prepared for being tired and be prepared to feel at sea from time to time, and by that I mean most of the time.
If, like me, you are somewhat used to being on top of your game,” please be kind to yourself. Having a baby changes the way we live and the way we used to live. Go with it. And when you need to rest, find the means to do that. Which brings me to the next bit.

8. Don’t forget those around you

My wish for you is that you are surrounded by love. But not just any love—the love that lasts.
The love that will carry you to the bathroom when you can’t carry yourself anymore, and hold you and mind you and take you for what you are, wherever you are. In the moments that matter. Don’t pretend to be too strong to need that sort of love, but don’t pretend to be weaker than you are to find it. That just leads to problems, and imbalance.
You have the strength of generations of women within you and you can move mountains if you have to. But in those times when you find yourself falling, don’t be too proud to call.
I will move the mountains to be there with you. And I am only your mother.

9. Follow your instinct

The more I live, the more I learn, the more I know that this is one of the strongest pieces in my daily armour. If you sense something is wrong, then you are probably right. This is something that you will have to learn to interpret and rely on for yourself. For instinct is very different from what you will see all around you, and what you will be told and what you will hear all around you. But remember, it is your movie, your experience. And everything is unique to you.
Learn from others but don’t underestimate your own understanding and knowledge. Everything you need is within you, you just need to learn your own language. To do this you need time alone, you need time in silence. Find the silence. Do yoga. Do meditation. Do breathing. Do hill walking. Do mountain climbing. Seek out inspirational people. Seek the ordinary. Find it in yourself first and then you will recognise it in others.
And when your small baby cries, trust that you will know what to do. And that may be as simple as a kiss and a cuddle, or a walk around the garden on a fine autumn day to watch the beech leaves fall, or a nursery rhyme sung for the 1000th time that never loses comfort.

10. Forever begin again

I would like to say that I will have the answers for you when you come—I wonder, will you come?—to ask me, and I would like to spare you some of the mistakes and tumbles that I’ve taken in my time of living, and my one precious year of mothering. But everyday you change and even though it may not be so obvious, I know that everyday I change with you. And for that reason, we must be ever ready to begin again.
Every time you stumble and fall back on your cushioning nappy, you get straight back up and you don’t look back. And I watch you and I draw strength and inspiration from the determined spirit that refuses to recognise obstacles like chairs, tables, doors, mounds of toys and blocking (yet well intentioned), cushioning arms. Don’t lose that spirit. You have no idea how it lifts those around you and those who will come to know and love you. When you do encounter limits, be wise, choose your approach and your strategy carefully. But don’t let fear turn you back. It is up to you to turn fear around into something of use—a stepping stone to the next level. Take the fear as a sign that the comfort of the level you are in is starting to stifle and the experience is becoming stale.
And there I will stop, for this year. 
My dearest Alannah, there is so much to learn and I see it in you with every breath. When we sang your birthday song to you the other day I fought hard to hold back the tears, not wanting to appear too soft, too motherly, and too enthralled by your innocence and beauty, and blissful ignorance to what was going on. Only once around the sun and already a blazing star.
I stand in awe, and I am honoured.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Once around the sun

September is back. And stuff always seems to happen for us in the Holly Cottage in September. Maybe it's the palpable return of winter that makes us want to squeez one last drop of happiness out of the summer, or maybe it's just the way it is. But, as a rule of thumb, when I see blackberries I think of 'stuff happening'. Like far flung trips to Nawlins and Memphis, Barbados and Cuba; a whirlwind wedding (thankfully minus hurricane) under a Caribbean sky; a little one lost; and a not-so-little one gained. And then Holly and the man's birthday celebrations sitting on top of all that. Yep, stuff sure seems to happen in September.

...there's now.
Budding geologist.
Then...
And so it's once around the sun for our little star Alannah. She tumbled out a year ago, wide eyed and full of warmth and full of wonder. And we're still here, thankfully. If only I knew then what I know now, but where would the fun have been in that? I still can't believe that they let us out of the hospital that calm September afternoon. We couldn't even get the car seat working so I sat in the back seat with her held close to me all the way home - praying not to meet a garda - and the man driving at a snail's pace for fear of doing some harm to her. It took me at least three weeks before I would take her out on my own in the car - that damn car seat would challenge Houdini. 

Anyway, we made it. We spent most of the first six months walking back and forth between the Holly Cottage and the Charleville woods - Holly minding us as I took care not to slip in my specially purchased Hunter wellies (every city slicker wears them in Stockholm). I didn't know it then, but the baby phase is probably the easiest in so many ways, and for sure the hardest in others. The easiest in that she really just lay there, or sat there in her chair, or fed, or slept, or tried to sleep. Now that she's on the move....well, it's a different story. I have considered getting eyes in the back of my head but decided it might cause problems in our relationship in the future ;) She's into everything, and especially anything that may have dirt written all over it. Sigh. I have surrendered to her fascinations - within reason of course. And she has finally accepted that stones are not for eating. Holly is still going through that phase mind you. Oh well.  


'What you mean you don't
speak russian?'

Once we had hit the six months and emerged from the cloak of winter it was time for Mammy to step out of the slippers and wellies and well - um - back into the wellies full time. Thankfully the work of an ecologist is never done and instead of twiddling my thumbs and having time to miss her, I was back in the chase of building dams and making wetlands and making trouble before the man even had her pushed down the road to the childminders that first day. Amazing how we adapt. As the great bard wrote so eloquently 'the readiness is all' or perhaps the wild abandonment of worry is more appropriate. She is as happy as a pig in muck with her childminder and she is well on the way to becoming number one tomboy on the road. After her mother of course. 

Easter came and went and then it was time for hollydays and she ran into the waves on the shores of Donegal, she swallowed the sand on the beaches of Clare, caused a riot in Limerick before charming all the shopkeepers in Killarney and rolling off the bed in Kenmare. All with Holly in tow. Holly didn't make it to Latvia though, and we were sad about that at times. But we tested and tasted Rigan delights and lounged about in coffee shops and city centre parks, and Alannah loved every minute of it. I'm sure she knew everyone in Riga by the end of it, she certainly waved at most of them and even had a television encounter - part of the Latvian 25 years of freedom from Soviet tyranny celebrations. It was a good time to be there, and we were treated to some of the best open air classical and operatic music I have ever heard. Thank you Latvia. 

But now summer has come to an end and we are officially once around the sun, mother and daughter, father and loyal madra. I'd like to say I still had no gray hairs but from time to time I see the odd one poking out from a post pregnancy re-growth fringe (they don't tell you about that shit by the way). But hey, all those sleepless nights had to find their expression somewhere. To be honest, it feels like a lot more than one year but I guess that's because we packed so much in. I'd love to have captured every moment to play them back in the decades to come as we all grow together, but we have plenty of postcards and scars to remember. And sure we need to keep plenty of space for all our solar revolutions that have yet to come. 


Happy Birthday Alannah and here's to many more (eventful) trips around the sun.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Summer delights in the Holly Cottage garden

It's August. And despite the slight chill in the air since the start of the month beckoning the dawn of autumn, here in the Holly Cottage we are still hanging on to the notion of summer. And I have to look back over the last couple of months since I wrote here and wonder where did the time go? And what of the delights of summer that are now packed away in a 'full to the brim' freezer and memories of brightly lit evenings locked in digital memories in the shape of pictures on a smart phone?

You could swear
you were in...
Well. Most of June was spent keeping up with the bounty of strawberries. Every year - for the last four - I have to stand back in awe of how six strawberry plants came to be over a hundred, and are still multiplying. And every year there are more and more soft, sweet, perfectly shaped strawberries presenting themselves for nourishment duty. The fruits are put away in various forms - in the belly of course (straight up strawberry, strawberry cake, strawberry sauce, strawberry yogurt, strawberry ice cream.....), in the freezer and a in few pots of jam mixed up with raspberries and blackberries. The tops of the plants have been cut back for new leaves to form for next year. Not too late to do that still if you're wondering. 

Thankfully the raspberries present less work and we always leave the lion's share to the blackbirds and the sparrows. They have been cut back also - and careful they don't take over your garden! There's a few autumnal raspberries out there yet, waiting to surprise us in colder days. This year we managed to lock away some of the raspberries saved from our feathered friends in a few precious jars of jam (and cake - recipe available on demand, and yogurt and....), along with a few jars of the blackcurrant neighbours which are just way too delicious to be real. Again, they have been cut back too - I only wish we had space for more. One tip - the bountiful blackcurrant bushes that we have all came from cuttings from the Cappaduff homestead - no need to be buying plants if you know someone with a good stock nearby. 

Peas are packed away also and a delicious pea soup recipe developed by head chef in the Holly Cottage kitchen (I've been demoted to sous chef since Alannah came), and despite a bounty we are down to the last few. We were surprised at how excited Alannah was about them - she would stand in her play station watching us harvesting - One for Alannah, one for Holly. Poor Holly only got the ones that escaped her though. And she was so careful not to drop one in her pincer like grasp that has all the intensity that only a 10 month old person can invest. Again, I wish we had space for more (peas that is ;)), but we have new plants coming on and we might be rewarded with a few more autumn peas if the weather delivers. 

And what else? A bounty of rhubarb packed away - some in promising jars of rhubarb chutney (recipe still being developed, and an easy rhubarb cake recipe also developed), but most in the freezer for working on in darker days. Broad beans are also packed away - one hint - this year we just froze peas and beans direct, with no blanching. Much tastier when they are defrosted ;) 

As all fruit cakes should be...
Spuds are still in the ground, most of the Orla earlies are devoured and we are breaking into the Colleen and Sarpo Mira now. Disappointingly, despite the promise of 'blight free', all were touched a bit and we shall await and see if and how they have been affected, but not so bad yet. Beetroot and carrots are still sweet and full of earthy flavour. Sweetcorn, turnips, cabbages, kale and brussels sprouts are left for the cooler days while tomatoes and peppers are still 'coming on' in the greenhouse. I have to say that I think the tomatoes outdoors are always a lot healthier, but maybe that's down to our inexperienced and still, pale green fingers. Courgettes on the other hand, well - do they need any looking after at all I wonder? They just bolted from early summer - small baby courgettes were savoured first followed by later brothers and sisters of gigantic proportions. Still tasty despite the size and I recommend growing these to everyone - especially those who have little time to be worrying about more delicate species!

And so, just this week I spread some of our green manure seed onto the ground left bare by peas and those spuds devoured. We'll invest more time this year - I think, I hope - in getting more winter crops going. But in the meantime, we shall await the coming of the two tiny pears and the dozen or so apples that are slowly ripening down fruit alley. 

Summer delights
It's funny, but this summer seems to have passed in the blink of an eye. Not to worry, still plenty of nasturtium colour and lavender scented pathways to keep us happy. And shur, autumn is always a crowd pleaser despite its more fickle summer predecessor. Enjoy the last days and be sure to pack in plenty of sunshine to savour in the darker days. 



Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Growing Time

Caught.
And so the year has become June - growing time - and May has disappeared in a flurry of the residents of the Holly Cottage keeping pace with the demands of life as we know it. Phew. We made it through. And somehow we managed to maintain a productive kitchen garden, grappling for bubbles of gardening air in the precious time wedged between criss-crossing the country sticking band-aids on bogs and wetlands and woodlands and things in between. And lest I forget, we managed to build a patio and obliterate all traces of lawn from the garden. Or should that be 'he' managed to - as Alannah, Holly and I expertly supervised and micro-managed. And brought the tea ;)  

Of course, it's not just the garden that has been growing. There's herself. Instead of the soft benignly cute bundle of Alannah gurgling and cooing on a mat, maintaining a comforting and safe location on the cushioning-colouredy squares (with obliging alphabet embedded to reassure us not a moment is wasting on her learning - no we're not that intense;)); instead of being sure where she may reside at any given moment, instead of that now passed peace of mind and security of knowing where she is enthroned at any time - instead of all of that we have an extremely mobile though very cute nine month old bundle that is slowly, but surely becoming covered in the blue black bruises that tell stories of head first falls and backward rolls. Yes, she is attempting the solo stand. And the solo walk. Not quiet yet the solo run but she sure likes to move those feet in something not too far from what might be called a solo reel. Or even a jig? All that spells trouble. And in between trial stands, runs and walks, she crawls. Time to lock the doors and presses and cover the floors in cotton wool ;) 

Time to let go. 

But then there's the teeth. The two up from the bottom are calling to the two on the top and they are meeting teasingly as sore gums give way - painfully slowly for Alannah - to the excruciating buck teeth. She lets us know what's going on, in her own sweet way. My own memories of wisdom teeth erupting - now there's the right term for it, a painful eruption - are less than happy, so I have great sympathy for our soft, golden, curly haired, baby bundle of wobbling wonder. The trials of life eh? And if we only knew all that was to come before we ever started. Would we believe that we could do it? I promise myself that by the time she walks I will be able to do full scorpion pose in my own yoga practice...and oh yeah, achieve world peace ;)

Holly bouquet
Meantime...Outside has taken on the mantle of green and the mantle of summer, albeit a cold and gray one, more than that of high powered sun-kissed one. We shall wait and see. The signs of growth are still there - strawberries are rising to the occasion, flowers are on the Orla spud plants, and baby carrot-turnip-beet seedlings are pleading with the sun to come out and give them some warm and encouraging loving. 

We did have some nice days though - the tulips of May were striking, the apple and cherry blossoms simply delightful, and the magnolia flowers of re-assuringly ancient and mesmerising beauty. And the bluebells..well, if a picture paints a thousand words...luckily, May comes every year ;) 

The blues,
one sweet May morning. 



Saturday, 12 April 2014

An ecologist returns to work

Spot the first Bluebell..
it's there under holly's nose..
Saturday. How sweet the word. No rushing around to pack the bag for the baby for her day with her new mammy. No frantic trundling of an over excited Holly into the car to go to the bog. No fumbling with a collection of keys to make sure I have the one for the door of the office. No updates to the man on what's in the bag and why, and the key messages for the day's agenda. None of that order. Let mayhem reign today and let time flow without punctuation points. 

By this time already, after a few hours already of Baa Baa Black Sheep and much gurgling and wriggling, all are back sleeping again (one never actually woke up, yet ;)) and I am blissfully reunited with a sweet silence that hangs over a far too neglected writing platform. Oh dear laptop, oh what a week!

Working as an ecologist in this world is challenging. For reasons known and unknown, the ecologist always seems to be on the back foot - always struggling to find a voice within a world that is pressurised on all sides by social and economic needs. For sure, there is a welcome heightened and heightening awareness of the benefits of the natural world - our natural capital - about us, and certainly it's not all about drain, develop and harvest. But you - the ecologist, or the one who cares - really has to keep the foot to the floor and keep pushing those values, reminding all of the responsibility we bear to preserve and maintain that value, and keeping that message to the fore of all thinking. For what value a sterile and empty space devoid of life to anyone? 

This week I was back out, walking over an Irish bog, meandering through edges of tranquil birch and then to be surrounded by sky larks in full song. It was great to be back - back in the wild - whatever patches of wilderness that remain. But there, combined with the elation of re-uniting with all that orchestra of wild song, there was the sadness that comes with the sharp and painful reminders that sometimes despite best intentions, the human need to develop, drain and harvest, still wins over the astounding value of nature. 

The future
Time to get back to work indeed. We get to explore some of these ideas next Tuesday in the Mansion House in Dublin - Paddy Woodworth will be talking us through the ideas behind his book Our Once and Future Planet, and some of us will be commenting and debating the ideas contained within. The discussion is for everyone - not just misty eyed and well-intentioned ecologists and nature lovers - because the issues of restoration, conservation, nature management will affect us all. Not least the small ones that come after all of us. Sadly, no skylarks in Dublin's fair city but there'll certainly be a few seagulls ;)




Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Bye Bye Baby-moon

September's baby
Today marks a new beginning for all of us here in the Holly Cottage. And no, it's not just that the spuds have gone in. It's not just that the pea and bean seeds for 2014 are cosied up in their seed trays. It's not that the first daffodil has unfurled its golden locks for us in the front garden. No, none of that - though in any other year these events would be (and still are to a certain degree) the most telling and most significant way marks in the years as they unravel before us here in the Holly Cottage. No. It's the silence in the house that gives the game away. No hushed tones as the smallest of us sleeps. No banging out of baa baa black sheep on the 'play-station'. No audible, infant testing of sounds or screams from the play mat. No Alannah. The little boss has left the building. 

Six months have disappeared in the blink of bleary eyes. Somehow last September we managed to steer our way through the 'baby arrivals area' - bedazzled as we were by that new world of nappies, sleepless nights and squirrel-sized sleep suits. I fumbled through the bewilderment and completely unfathomable nature of the breastfeeding non-schedule. We marvelled at the changes and growth from week to week. We were spellbound by smiles and the new sounds that still come daily. And that first time that she pushed herself up on her  own two tiny arms on the changing table - well, it was just another one of those things that you never thought could be so important as you watched friends and families reacting to their own children's milestones. 

It's a fantastic and wonderfully fulfilling journey experiencing everything for the first time through her eyes, through her senses, through her infant perspective. And it's exhausting too. And challenging, and intense, and isolating, and frightening and the whole array of other emotions that you could easily go through in the space of an hour in the shoes a freshly born mother's/parent's life. it certainly ranks up there with the experiences that you thought you'd never be able for. But before you knew it you were immersed in it and somehow from that bottomless pit of primeval humanness, you were doing it. 

And when it comes to babies, you can certainly forget about self. Being the primary caregiver is a great leveller in that sense as you must (there is no choice) forego all those essential habits and routines that you thought were instrumental to your day. Like getting a full night's sleep. Like having more that two hours unbroken sleep. Like relaxing through your cup of favoured beverage undisturbed - it might happen but it's certainly not guaranteed ;) Like going for a run at the drop of a hat. Like wearing a clean top for more that five minutes.  Like your time being your own to do with as you so please. Like getting your pelvic floor muscles back in shape in an instant - the ladies will understand this one ;)

This morning I dropped Alannah Marie to her childminder. Just for a play date mind. Better to call it that instead of the dreaded first day at the childminder's. Not for her benefit of course, more for the benefit of the distraught mother that left her behind and that never really thought that this day would come. And the silence is deafening. And sure, I got to get those things done that had been screaming at me for an age but I physically couldn't get to because she was wanting or needing me. But it's not the same. Her chair is empty and there isn't even the need to tiptoe for fear of her waking. She'll be back in an hour so there's no need to panic or stress. But the question keeps popping into my head as I prepare to return to the old world that came before - what did we do before her

March's infant.. "lemme at 'em.."
Anyway. We'll be okay. We'll all adjust. Mammy must go back to being an ecologist and championing the plight of habitats that need to be restored and plants and animals that need to be given the freedom to live in sustainable populations. And that's important enough for me to want to go back to work, to make it feel necessary for me to hand over our tiny little baby bear to someone else to care for. And the 'childminder' is a not just a thing - she is a mother and has been there before herself with twins so she is doubly experienced ;) It doesn't make it easy though. And as I look out into a world and a business community that is largely the construct of men, for men and dominated by men, I don't have to wonder why the men wonder why so few women can join them. Not as I have to acknowledge the wrench that is of leaving your beloved offspring behind you. That unnatural feeling of leaving the ones that rely on you, the small people that trust you completely, with another - and usually another woman. It's a tough one. And one that feels more than slightly off balance. One that needs to evolve, along with all the other imbalances in our social and natural world. 

In the meantime...it's bye bye baby-moon here. Onward and upward, no looking back. Except of course to linger on the precious memories of my six months spent solely caring for the needs of our beautiful Alannah Marie. She will remain central of course, but now comes the task of piling back on the layers and layers of responsibilities that were put on hold as I focused on her for the last six months. I wonder how will all those layers sit on top of this new building frame? Interesting times ahead. 

One thing's for sure - there will be plenty of change and plenty of growth and  plenty of new experiences and ample amounts of heartache and exhaustion mixed with immeasurable quantities of joy. Sounds like just another day at the office ;)