Candle Lighting, Ice-Skating & Honouring Thy Mother And Father

A painted chanukkiah on my window

A painted chanukkiah on my window

Tonight is the first night of Chanukkah (Hanukkah, Hanukah, Chanukah..whatever.. you know.. the Jewish holiday.. חנוכה), and thus time to light the first candle. The mitzvah of lighting Chanukkah candles states that one should not only light them, but that one should publicise the miracle of Chanukkah, thus it is customary to place your chanukkiah on the windowsill so that it can be seen by people walking past. Now, I would love to do that, but unfortunately where I live there are no windowsills, so I can’t do that.

Wanting to still fulfil the commandment, I did the next best thing; I painted a chanukkiah on my window. This is something I get from my mother, who used to paint advent candles on our kitchen window every year, “lighting” another candle each Sunday in the lead-up to Christmas. So, choosing to publicise my chanukkiah in this way feels doubly good, because it can also be seen as a way of honouring my mother. And that matters to me, not only because it’s a commandment, but because it is so easy to, when thinking back to my childhood, focus on all the things that were less than ideal. As much as there were a lot of things that were not right, there were also many things that were really good. Happy memories, which need also be allowed space in my heart.

Another happy memory came to life for me a few weeks ago, when I – for the first time in ten years – went ice-skating. Prior to going, and in spite of having not skated for such a long time, I was thinking How hard can it be? Growing up in the very north of Sweden, I got my first skates when I was something like two and a half, and I’ve been skating reasonably regularly every winter all the way up until I moved to London ten years ago and took on the shape and size of a baby whale.

Baby whale attributes aside, I really didn’t think skating would be a problem. Bit like riding a bike, right? Wrong! I stepped onto the ice and for the first time ever I felt aware that there was a chance I could fall. I mean, I was properly scared. I was like Bambi on ice, only less graceful. It was like learning to walk again. And yet, as surprising as this was, there was something else that also hit me straight in the chest, and that was an utter sense of freedom, of happiness. I felt like a child again, like the kid I used to be, when things were good.

I’ve spent a lot of time in my last few sessions with A., exploring this, because I genuinely can’t remember the last time I felt so free and happy. The closest thing to it is when I write or paint, but this was way more than that. It brought back the memory of going skating with my family as a kid. Either my mother or my father would take my brothers and I down to the rink, and it was the best thing ever. Often we’d go to one of the many outdoor rinks which most schools in my home town had at the time. These were rinks that hadn’t been Zambonied to perfection, rather, it wasn’t unusual for us to get to the rink and find it completely snow covered. So – as a family – we would have to clear the rink before we could even begin skating. It would be pitch dark all around us, even if it might not be late at all, only the floodlights at the rink cutting through the darkness, making me feel as if the only thing that existed was my family and I, and the sheer joy of speeding across the ice.

Happy memory trigger

My Beloved Skates
Happy Memory Trigger

Being back on the ice again brought all of this back to me. I remember how my father would have us do ten laps clockwise and then another ten counter-clockwise as a warm up, before we were allowed to free-skate, and how we kids would do it without questioning him, despite the fact that my father happens to be possibly the worst skater in the history of ever. It was, as I explained to A. in session, special – because – growing up I didn’t have very many rules given to me by my parents, and this, well, it allowed me to be the kid, rather than the responsible little person I had to be at most other times. Another ice-skating memory that came flooding back is from when I was really little, back when I was only just able to stand on the ice in my skates, and my mother would hold my hands to support me. It may seem like a very small thing, in the grander scheme of things, but – as I said to A. – it must be important, because I remember it. I have a million memories of worrying about my mother, feeling like I was the adult, and plenty others where the child/adult boundaries were blurred, to say the least, and this – in contrast – was a situation where my mother was unquestionably the adult, and all I had to do was to be a child, safe in the knowledge that she wouldn’t let me fall.

So, as I light my Chanukkah candles this year, at the very darkest time of the year, I am challenging myself to remember the brightest, happiest memories.

Happy Chanukkah!

xx

PS. Just in case you didn’t know, the Holiday armadillo – as introduced in Friends – is a myth. The Chanukkah GECKO, on the other hand, is clearly real. See photographic evidence below.

Chanukkah 5773 - Day 1 The ACTUAL chanukkiah

Chanukkah 5773 – Day 1
The ACTUAL chanukkiah
..and the very real Chanukkah gecko..

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Reflections

Christmas has come and gone for this year. And I survived it. (As did everyone else, as far as I can tell). Still, being Family Occasion of the Year, it does rather hightlight the fact that I didn’t spend it with my family. At least not the family I grew up with. I spent Christmas with my More Than Family, and it has been a good one. That said, there is no denying it that celebrating Christmas away from your own mum, dad, siblings and so on – well, it is undeniably attached to some sadness. That sense of I wish things were different. That they were more stable and straight forward. Naturally, that’s not to say that things are bad the way they are; only that they could be a different kind of good.

Also, being away from home (home being London, for all intents and purposes) and more importantly, away from Dev, it makes it that much more clear how difficult it will be to get used to that change, too. Yes, we very much agreed that our separating is more or less a necessity, but it is still a huge change, and something that will take some getting used to. In short; I miss him. He is my best friend, and the thought of not seeing him every day – well, it’s hard to accept, not only intellectually but emotionally as well. We have been on a huge roller coaster this year, and now that the ride is coming to an end – well, it’s filled with complex emotions. There is a very positive sense that this will allow us both to move on, and at the same time there is an almost tangible wish to hold on to all the good things we have created together. The silly inside jokes, those special moments when everything felt absoltutely right. I really hope that, looking back, those memories will be at the forefront. Because I have learnt an awful lot from him. And I will always be grateful for the part he has played in my life.

Today is my mother’s 65th. I gave her a ring earlier today. Just to wish her a happy birthday. And although it was a rather stiff and awkward few minutes I’m glad I did it. Because, no matter how complicated things are between us, well, I do hope she has a lovely day. And I hope that, maybe another year, we will be able to celebrate together. I don’t think things will ever be simple, but I do hold a firm belief that we will – eventually – find a way to communicate better, and that that will lead to us being able to find some common ground to build on.

Being here, in my home town, it is quite emotional. Even though I may not have expressed or verbalised it, I think that it’s been pretty clear to those close to me. Thankfully I’ve had a lot of support, both from those who are here, and from my friends back home. In fact, I’ve had tons of sweet and encouraging text messages from my friends, and they do help. They remind me that even when I return to England I won’t be alone. That there are people waiting for me there, too. People who are looking forward to my coming back.

xx

Jag Ska Måla Hela Världen Lilla Mamma – An Entry About The Joy Of Being Creative

I’ve been painting this morning. A friend of mine gave me a blank canvass for my birthday and I’m putting it to use today. I haven’t really been painting much before, at least not on canvass with real paints, so it’s something of a new hobby, but I really really like it. There’s something so pleasing about messing around with paint. The freedom of it, the way the brush glides across the canvass, the way something is being created right in front of your eyes.
And, also, it reminds me of my mother.

My mother paints, you see. Lovely watercolours. And it’s something she’s passed on to me. Not necessarily the artistic talent, which she has an abundance of – but the joy in being creative.

As a child we were allowed to – no – we were encouraged to be creative. We’d paint on the window panes of our playroom with watercolours and soap (stops the colours from running). We could paint anything we wanted. No restrictions. Mother would paint a season inspired theme on one of the windows and we’d paint on the other window.

And when it was someone’s birthday, before the party started, she’d cover our enormous kitchen table with drawing paper and draw circles in front of each place and let us draw our self-portrait before sitting down for cake. Sometimes – depending on how messy the paper was after the cake eating was over – she’d cut the self portraits out and give them to each child to take home at the end of the party.

At midsummer she’d use the big roll of drawing paper and let it run right across the kitchen floor, so that my cousin and I could make a huge “Happy Midsummer!” banner. I still remember that feeling of laying or sitting on the floor, just drawing all around me, enjoying being in the painting. When we were done she’d help us take the banner outside and staple it to the front of the house (yup, she actually used a staple gun to nail it to the outside wall of our house!) so that people driving and walking past could see our artwork.

It was never about creating something aesthetically pleasing, it was all about enjoying what you were doing and being proud of what you’d made. For example she insisted on us alwayssigning our artwork, because, no matter what, it was something we had created ourselves and so it was something no one else could have made, something to be proud of.

Unfortunately that is something we often lose as adults: the natural ability to be proud of things we have made. Rather than saying that Yes, this is something I’ve done and I rather like it we tend to quickly brush it over with an embarrassed It’s not very good, is it? Too afraid that people will think we are boasting or blowing our own trumpet, so to speak. It’s sad, really.

The last few days I’ve been working on the cover and layout for a poetry collection. I’ve been really thoroughly enjoying it – it’s been a creative outlet for me – but when the person who is running the project said I should put Cover & layout by Ssomewhere on the booklet I immediately went into Adult Mode and thought that No, I can’t do that. People will think I’m showing off. But then, yesterday, while finalising the layout I thought of my mother and how, despite all of our differences, that is something we do have in common; the joy of creating. And how, no matter how many other things were going wrong, she’d always encourage me to be proud of my art. So there it is now, on the back cover, in black and white: Cover & layout by S. Because, in actual fact it was made by me. And I am proud of it.

So, here’s to the joy of creating and letting your inner child rule the adult you every once in a while!

xx

Closer To Free

Yesterday I was feeling a bit down.
Save the day I was told I can’t do psychotherapy it’s been a while since that happened. It just kind of came over me when I got in from work. Some sort of heavy, foggy sadness that I couldn’t quite make sense of.

Initially I felt ever so slightly panicked by it. Not only because it came on so suddenly, but because my first thought was naturally Am I getting worse again? But then I sat down on the bed.

With my tiny green backpack still slung over my shoulder and my Doc Marten clad feet dangling over the edge, I probably sat like that for about ten or fifteen minutes, trying to stay in the moment, doing the exact opposite of what I would normally do; I allowed the feeling to just wash over me, engulf me, and although I didn’t actually cry I felt like I could have.

That probably doesn’t sound like much to you. But to me that’s absolutely huge. The last time I cried was in November last year. Around my birthday. With my sisters and some very close friends around. Before that was August 5th. A year ago today.

This time last year was my last evening in Sweden before returning back to London. I had had a really lovely time. I’d collected a lot of happy memories. I’d done things I’d been looking forward to all year.

And then it all fell to pieces.
I had a long conversation with my mum that night. About a lot of things. About the reason why I had chosen to spend so much more time at my sisters’ than at my mum’s house. About the fact that I feel my family don’t understand how incredibly difficult it is for me to know that whenever I go home it means I’ll have to put up with seeing my oldest brother. How near impossible it is to go back to playing the role I’ve played for so many years of my life. The Everything Is Fine role. The Of Course I Understand How Hard It Must Be For Everyone Elsegame. To pretend that the non-verbalised Can’t You Just Get Over It? attitude doesn’t get to me.

That night, a year ago, I tried my very best to explain it all to my mum. I tried as hard to explain to her as she tried to understand. But, unfortunately, the two didn’t meet.

It’s very hard to write this. I keep wondering if I’m being unfair, if I’m being too hard on my family. But, I guess, in short what happened during that conversation – even though I didn’t come to realise it until several months later – was that I understod that I simply can’t move on as long as I’m tied to my family the way I have been. That the chains can’t be replaced by loving ribbons until I find a way to heal. And that I can’t heal unless I allow myself to feel how I really feel, both about what actually happened – the abuse – and the way my family has (or rather hasn’t) dealt with it. And, probably most importantly, how I feel about them. Each one of them. Individually.

Because, the truth is that right now I can’t honestly say how I feel about them. I love them and I hate them and I care and I don’t care, and it keeps changing all the time. And I need time to figure it out. Figure out what they mean to me, and what I mean to them.

All of these things I was thinking about yesterday, sitting on the bed.
And it dawned on me that maybe this is it. Maybe this – me sitting on the bed, just feeling – means that I am coming closer to healing? That feeling sad, or angry, or scared, or confused – maybe that’s a sign that my journey back to myself has finally begun.

I have no illusions. I don’t for a second think that dealing with my complicated feelings will be easy. I know that it will be damned hard work.

But – and I’ve said this more than once – I don’t think it’s meant to be easy. It’s meant to be worth it.

So, I leave you with a few lines from a song by Melissa Etheridge:

“..I will crawl through my past
Over stones, blood and glass
In the ruins

Reaching under the fence
As I try to make sense
In the ruins

But if I am to heal
I must first learn to feel
In the ruins..”

xx