Sunday, 31 May 2015

Seeing what isn't there

This photo, taken just over a year ago, makes me smile. It also makes my heart ache.

We had gone for a day out with my family: grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins. We found this fallen tree log and my mother suggested that the kids sit on it for a photograph. They duly hopped up.

At the time, I just thought it was lovely to capture a shot of the three of them together. It wasn't until later that I noticed the gap between my daughter and her eldest cousin. The space where my 18-month old son *should* be sitting.

To others, this photo is simply a memento of a happy day out.

To me, it is a reminder that there is always someone missing.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

B-b-b-b-build... (or why I dislike Lego kits)

One of my favourite things to do at the start of the school holidays, is suggest to my daughter that we build a Lego city. She is always keen to play and lays out road base plates and space landscape base plates, joining them together with small, flat pieces to keep them in place. My husband and I take turns to play alongside her. Usually, we are required to find specific pieces of Lego that she needs to build houses, bridges, gardens and vehicles. The Lego people move in and the city comes to life.

As a family, we have a large volume of Lego, much of it saved from when my husband and I were children. The vintage stuff has been added to with Lego Friends kits given to our daughter as birthday and Christmas presents. New Lego bricks come in different colours to our battered old Lego; some of it is pink and purple (our daughter's favourite colours) and orange. New Lego people are very different in style to the '80s spacemen with helmets and oxygen tanks. I consider the Lego Friends kits too twee and girly but try not to get hung up on the gender debate and focus on the fact that my daughter likes playing at construction.

I would happily buy buckets of bricks and windows and doors and wheels to add to our collection but I dislike the kits because they take away from our daughter's imagination play.

She is good at following the instruction booklets to make the kits as described but only plays with the finished items in a limited way. For example, the Lego camper van is 'just' a camper van with a little doll; the lusted-after Lego dance studio has never been played with but 'can't' be dismantled. I might as well have just bought another Polly Pocket set for her to play with!

So, now I throw the instructions away! We make the kits when we first open the boxes but then I put the assembled kits into the crate with 'gen pop' Lego. The next time we build Legocity, I quietly take the kits apart, strip them down to their components and mix the pieces in to the architecture that our daughter creates from her own imagination.

Because, after all, that is what Lego is all about: building from your imagination. Making and re-making things. Breaking things apart and using the components to make something better. Learning how to form a strong brick bonding pattern. Trying new things, some of which work and some of which fail. Not being afraid to make mistakes; being willing to have a go, to test the limits, and to look at the world from a new perspective.

I don't want my daughter to grow up to be good at following IKEA-style instructions for flat-pack furniture - I want her to design innovative new buildings and machines and furniture for someone else to assemble.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Counting conundrum

The passage of time does nothing to ease the burden of answering the seemingly innocent question: how many children do you have? In the past week, I have encountered this question three times in situations where I have not wanted to disclose the 'right' answer.

In general, my rule is that I will talk about Monty with people I am likely to form a friendship with or with whom I will come into contact often in the future. I have told other parents in the school playground, for example, as I don't want my son to emerge like a skeleton from the closet.

I don't tend to tell people with whom I am making a fleeting acquaintance because the revelation that my son was stillborn is usually met with an apology and condolences, followed an awkward silence. Then, I find myself saying that it's OK...

but it's not OK and it's never going to be OK.

It isn't that I dislike talking about Monty. In fact, the opposite is true. I love talking about him because I love him and talking about him preserves his memory and reinforces his place in our family. It's just that I prefer to talk about him on my own terms. Memories of him are all I have and to share them is extremely personal.

I am a mother of three, with two surviving children. I like to talk about all of them and to omit Monty feels wrong. Besides, I believe that being open about my experience of stillbirth helps to break down the stigma and taboo that persists around baby loss.

I still hesitate, though, each time the question is asked, when I try to decide how to answer. A moment during which I have to choose whether to be truthful or not.