Last week I took delivery of a jumper. A new jumper. It’s beautiful. Black, and gold, and super-cosy. And entirely seasonally appropriate for the first week of summer. At least it is in our corner of the world, anyway. Seriously. What’s with all the rain?
It’s a statement jumper. And, disregarding the fact that I am, by all accounts, far too old for a statement jumper (even Elvie told me that it makes me look like a teenager), I love it. Besides the fact that it’s not so much a statement as just one super-important word. ‘Strong.’ I know, right? Strong? On a ladies jumper? Feminist me up, buttercup.
It comes from the wonders over at Selfish Mother and I love it. (Disclaimer: I totally bought it myself – nobody’s bribed me to say this.) So much so that, as soon as it arrived, I had to try it on, and take the obligatory slightly blurry selfie, complete with muscle-baring five year old. You’re welcome.
Strong is a funny old word. It’s not one that I really like to use about myself. It feels a bit cocky somehow. Certainly, if you’d seen me last night, curled up on the sofa under a blanket with a bowl of ice cream after a serious pre-menstrual dizzy spell, it wouldn’t have been the first word that came to mind.
But I’m coming round to the idea. Which is why I bought the jumper. As a reminder. That I can wear on my chest, to jog my memory on the days when everything feels too much. Because we are strong. All of us. All of us who fight the demons in our heads every single day. All of us who get up and show up and parent every day, regardless. All those of us whose anxiety, driven to absolute fever pitch by the relentless and ridiculous referendum campaigning, needed to make an emergency escape plan before we could go to vote this morning. In case of rogue shooters. But who went and voted anyway. For instance. We’re warriors. All of us.
Last weekend we went to church camp. In the woods. But, mercifully, not in a tent. There was tea. There was cake. There was even a puppet-tortoise wedding, where the ‘bride’ came down the aisle on a remote-controlled car and we laughed so hard that we were actually, genuinely, weeping. There was community with some of the most precious people I have ever had the privilege of knowing. And there was absolute bucketloads of strong.
Teenagers who got up and sang, acapella, in front of the entire, enormous group of us. People opening their hearts, having conversations and sharing tables with others that they’d never spoken to before. Grown women, and men, letting three year-olds paint their nails. With real nail varnish. And not wiping it off straight away. That’s a special kind of strong, right there.
I wore my jumper. A lot. To remind me that actually, I can be strong too. Because solo parenting at church camp when your husband’s new client needs him in France for the whole weekend, is mighty hard going. Particularly when my last few church camp experiences have involved a) camping in a tent in actual zero degree temperatures, with an 8 month old, b) a full-on nervous breakdown and c) more tears and tantrums than I care to remember. Some of which came from the children.
But we did it. This time. Just the three of us – and everyone else. And, whisper it, we even had some fun. I held it together, the kids got just about enough sleep to function, and we only lost Joel once. Totally found him again too. Winning. Some of it even got caught on camera. (Thanks Becky.)
I love this picture – mostly because you can’t tell at all that Joel’s sweet head resting in my lap is actually mid-enormous-tantrum because I wouldn’t let him go back for yet another cake before everyone else had chance to get at least one. And they say the camera never lies.
The biggest surprise of the weekend for me, was Elvie. Usually, in these situations, she has a tendency to withdraw herself. To run off in another direction, refuse point-blank to join in, and occupy herself underneath a table, or a puddle, or by ‘cleaning’ the bathroom floor. This year was different.
This year she blossomed. Before my very eyes. She played frisbee, and volleyball, and sardines. Despite never having played them before and not really knowing the rules. She ran off happily by herself to her kids group – helped enormously by her huge girl-crush on the leaders. She walked down the aisle as a bridesmaid at the tortoise wedding, turned cartwheels in the field with the big girls, ate the food at every mealtime, and even stood up by herself in the final meeting to tell everyone, through the microphone, what a brilliant time she’d had. She was fierce. She was brave. She was strong.
It struck me, afterwards, that it was all connected. All this strong. She’d seen me be brave. She’d seen me be vulnerable. She’d seen me let myself go, and have fun with my friends. And she’d done exactly the same.
She mirrors me. A lot. Almost always. And it’s not often so positive. I’m grabbing hold of last weekend, with both hands. As a reminder of what we can do. Of who we can be. Me and my Elvie girl. When we’re real, and we’re brave and we’re strong. That jumper’s for both of us. For all of us.
This week has been harder. Reaping the rewards of the hours of sleep we missed. More tantrums. More dizzy spells. More rain. But the memories are keeping me warm. As is the jumper.
Because we all have it in us. However deep it’s buried. That real, that brave, and that strong. Dig it out today. And act on it. Be strong. Go on. I dare you.
You never know who’s watching.