Freya, Freya, Quite Contrary (Why Didn’t I Name Her Mary?).

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At three years and nearly eight months old Freya definitely seems to have climbed aboard the rollercoaster taking her from being a toddler to a child – and what a wild ride it is.

Sometimes she seems so grown-up, especially when she’s in her school uniform, racing into nursery without a backward glance. I always stand still and wait for a few seconds, amid the hustle and bustle of drop off, trying to catch a glimpse of her through the door, just in case she suddenly remembers she hasn’t said goodbye and comes back.

She never does.

At other times there are little reminders that maybe the train is still trundling its way up that final hill before hurtling down the other side.

She often pretends to be a (crying) baby and asks me to swaddle her in a blanket (not that she liked that when she was an actual baby, always preferring her arms free).

“Sing me a lullaby,” she pleads while I cradle her on my knees, with her legs now dangling almost to the floor.

As a pretend baby she’s quite the tinker. Her first words appear to be “poop” and “bum” at which I act horrified, sending her into fits of giggles.

She’s not the only one laughing. I know every one thinks their child is hilarious but some of the things she comes out with have me either in stitches or make me want to roll my eyes.

At the moment she’s taken to calling me “buddy”.

The conversations we have now amaze me almost as much as they bemuse me.

“Is the sky a book?” She asked, after we spent some time looking for animal shapes in the clouds.

I love her sideways (sometimes upside down) take on various things. I probably get as much out of our chats as she does.

However, if I had to pick one word to describe her right now it would be contrary (I knew I should have named her Mary).

No matter what I say she will disagree – even when it’s for her benefit.

Nothing is too small to be argued about, which makes everything a billion times harder.

The other day she was even arguing with the SatNav and was genuinely furious when we decided not to follow her instructions – that would have sent us completely the wrong way.

She’s three going on 13.

So. Much. Attitude.

I mostly try and sympathise or look at the bigger picture and quite often I just take Elsa’s advice and let it go.

It’s just a stage. A hard stage (for her and me). Hopefully it means she going to grow into a confident and assertive child.

The one good thing about sleep deprivation is that my parenting style is more relaxed than I think it would be if I were running at full speed/not so knackered.

Some days I do worry that saying yes much more than I say no is not doing her any favours (especially now she’s at nursery).

Some days I also know I am not the mum I want to be.

I snap at her when I should explain, demand when I should ask. I long for bedtime (only to miss her five minutes after she’s asleep).

When she tells me “You’re the worst mummy I’ve ever had”, ironically usually when I feel like I’ve not done too badly that day, it hits its mark.

Guilt comes trotting up telling me she’s like this because I’m doing it all wrong.

“She’s a reflection of you.”

And then, every now and then, something happens and I see a glimmer of light. A flicker of what I hope she might be like in the future.

We were in a shopping mall recently looking out of the window while we waited for Mark and she spotted a man going through the litter bins.

“Why is he putting his hands in the bins?” She asked. That is a definite no in our house.

I try and answer all her questions as honestly as possible – while remembering she’s three.

“He’s looking for food. He doesn’t have a home, so he doesn’t have his own kitchen, which means he has no food and he’s hungry.”

“That’s really sad,” she said, frowning.

“It is really sad. It makes us really lucky because we do have a home and we have food in our fridge.”

“I know! He could come and live with us,” She said, ready to dash down the stairs and invite him.

I felt a lump in my throat.

“That would be a nice thing to do but we unfortunately don’t have enough room. Where would he sleep?”

“He can have my bed.”

“Your bed is only small though. How about this? When we go shopping we can buy some extra food for people like him who need it.”

I try and do this anyway but I’ve never thought to explain why I’ve put the pasta and soup I’ve just bought as part of our shopping into the wire basket by the check out for the food bank. It’s not enough, of course, and her kindness made me realise that it’s not a very personal approach and that maybe I need to do more.

She seemed somewhat satisfied with that (she told every one we know that she had something sad to tell them and then explained homelessness for days afterwards, so it was clearly still playing on her mind). In the next moment she had taken her shoes off and was refusing to put them back on.

Even as I thought “here we go again’, I smiled.

I’m not claiming any credit for her compassion, as I feel like maybe that has to be something within you, but it makes me excited to see who eventually steps off that rollercoaster (and start bookmarking blog posts like this to see me through her teenage years or maybe four, five, six etc, which friends tell me also have their challenges).

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How did you handle the contrary stage? Did you just hold on tight and enjoy the ride?

Little Hearts, Big Love

Keep looking for the helpers.

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It is usually when things are at their worst that I need to write the most.

At the moment, though, with all the awfulness going on in the world, I haven’t known what to say – and, rightly or wrongly, I took a step back, retreated into work and fiction where it feels safe and familiar. Where it feels like I have some control and everything is not just in free fall.

Maybe I hoped I would wake up and it would all have been a bad dream but my eyes are open now and here is what I see:

This country feels ever more divided. Overly dramatic? I don’t think so.

Families and friendships have fractured as a result of Brexit; it pit father against son, wife against husband, life-long friends in direct opposition. People often disagree, of course, but it’s the vitriol that has accompanied it that has splintered relationships.

Neighbours are turning on neighbours, with those who should feel safe being abused in the street or even in their homes.

Our politicians are in chaos – many out of touch with the wants of the people they represent, the people who elected them.

Every time I watch the news I’ve been repeating a phrase from the Fred Rogers quote: “look for the helpers, look for the helpers”. They might be harder to spot at the moment but they are there.

We don’t need to agree on everything but the fundamentals of how we behave towards one another should be clear.

Whenever I need confirmation of what they are I look no further than article one of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

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Adopted on December 10th, 1948, the declaration came as a direct result of the second world war.

The first time I read it, it gave me goosebumps – and I still feel the power of it today.

Its supporters have struggled for six decades to make those words a reality.  To me it seems like we’re heading backwards now, which is why it feels ever more important to continue to promote them, to push them (although perhaps with a more inclusive word than brotherhood at the end).

I didn’t bring Freya into this world. I don’t want her growing up surrounded by ever more hatred, inequality and violence. And hiding from it, no matter how tempting, is not going to change anything.

So, I’m going to do my best not only to believe in helpers but to try and be one too.

What do you think? Am I alone in feeling like the world is in chaos? What can we do to help make it better?

 

Tales from an East Anglian Childhood: Edith Cavell.

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Picture of Edith Cavell taken from information outside The Forum in Norwich where an exhibition about her life is taking place.

“Her name liveth for evermore,” reads the inscription on nurse Edith Cavell’s grave at Norwich Cathedral but sadly over the years her name, together with her bravery and the sacrifice she made, has faded from the public eye, as so often happens with the passing of time.

It is the 100th anniversary of her execution during the First World War on Monday and commemorations are taking place around the world – particularly in her home county of Norfolk – so I thought I would add my own by sharing her story as part of my East Anglian tales.

Like many little girls (and maybe boys) I went through a (short-lived) phase of wanting to be a nurse when I grew up.

My dolls, friends and even older brother, on rare occasions, became patients and there wasn’t a single ailment that couldn’t be cured with bandages (lots of them) but then I discovered that you could write for a living and the rest is history.

In Edith Cavell’s case she didn’t discover her calling until much later in life after she’d come home to Norfolk, where she was born in 1865, from working as a governess in Brussels, to care for her poorly father.

He was the vicar of Swardeston, a village just outside Norwich, and had instilled in her not just an unwavering faith but also a caring attitude and strong sense of moral obligation.

In the course of nursing him back to health Edith was inspired to take up a new career.

She was 30 when she was accepted to train as a nurse at the London Hospital and once qualified she worked at various places over many years before she returned to Brussels in 1907 to look after a poorly child.

While there she was recruited to head a pioneering new nursing school which she helped to turn into a success.

When the First World War broke out she was visiting Norfolk and was tending her now widowed mother’s garden in Norwich when she heard the news. While many might have stayed put she quickly returned to her school.

She is quoted as saying: “I must return. At a time like this I am more needed than ever”.

Her grave at Norwich Cathedral.
Her grave at Norwich Cathedral.

Her school was turned into a Red Cross Hospital and she looked after soldiers from both sides, impressing on others that their duty was to care for all, before it was taken over by the Germans when Brussels fell.

In November 1914 she began secretly sheltering allied soldiers and helping them to escape to the neutral Netherlands despite the fact that she knew she was risking her life to do so.

She helped some 200 allied soldiers in this way but the following year, in August 1915, she was arrested and under interrogation admitted her guilt at aiding the men. There is some suggestion that she also implicated her colleagues but opinion varies as to if and why she did so.

Despite widespread calls for mercy she was sentenced to death and on October 12, 1915 was shot by German firing squad, aged 49.

The night before her execution she said: “Patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.”

She wanted to be remembered as simply “a nurse who tried to do her duty” but the British government at the time used her story in propaganda material, turning her into a martyr which caused recruitment to double for a period after her death.

The Cavell Van on display outside The Forum in Norwich.
The Cavell Van on display outside The Forum in Norwich.

When the war was over her body was returned to Britain and after a service at Westminster Abbey her remains were brought to Norwich by train, in a carriage now known as the Cavell Van, where she was reburied at the cathedral.

IMG_7528In the run up to Monday’s anniversary, I was commissioned to write two stories about her for The Eastern Daily Press and while I already knew who she was it has been fascinating learning more about her and her legacy.

Her name is very much back in the public eye now and a new generation of children is learning about her and perhaps even being inspired to become nurses.

  • For more information please visit this site, which brings together the details of all the events to commemorate her death as well as a very detailed history of her life.
  • A trust in her name was set up after her death. Now known as the Cavell Nurses’ Trust it supports nurses, midwives and healthcare assistants in times of need. You can find out more here.