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an essay on 5 words

I can haz wurds from badbookworm


Nothing has revolutionised my parenting, nothing has made me more in love with my son like the advent of language.

Looking back now, his babyhood stretches back like the Dark Ages. A barbarous time of shrikes and wails and despair (both of ours), with few redeeming features. And then lo! into that uncivilised mess venture his first meaningful syllables (tenatively strung). Just one to start with (YES! YES Nooooooooo!) and then two (kee-ttee! Ma-Ma!) and then syllable and sign (more! drinksfoodkisses! all done!)

I thought each syllable was the epitome of cleverness, and then and then and then at 19 months- speech! Halting and grave and mangled, but recognisable speech! I felt I was standing in the presence of genius when he turned a quizzical eyebrow at the sight of a bowlful of polenta at breakfast and said: "Soup?" I laughed heartily when the same expression accompanied a plateful of lovingly sauteed creamed leaks "Grass?", and I howled at the wholly unexpected:
- What should mummy do?
-Stay and cuddle.
-What should grandma do?
- Limp. (My mum has some nerve damage in her leg).

There was always so much character in his exchanges. From a dignified and magnanimous "I'm busy" in the direction of my voice on the phone, when he was apparently otherwise engaged piling conkers into trucks to important middle of the night announcements, sitting up in bed from apparently sound sleep after the passage of a bike on the highway.

"A motorkbike!"
"There's nothing there, go to sleep." And his reply, with all the offended dignity that a 20 month old can muster.
"Was. Went. Matei heard."

He is a treasure this child. I was so traumatised by his first six months and my inept attempts to keep us both alive and sane that I suffered something akin to post-traumatic stress disorder afterwards and would feel overcome with almost unbearable anxiety at the prospect of spending time alone with him, even after he had become delightful. FOr months I would feel like a person tasked with dismantling a live grenade flung into the room and in my panic I would throw together plans like ballast. But what shall we do together, what shall we do? It's okay, we can go for a walk, that will kill some time.

Matei's growing language has done much to allay that, so that now I tend to actively look forward to his exchanges because he makes me laugh almost constantly. Like this morning:

"Mummy my plum has a little hole in it! A tiny little bear lives there!"

Nowadays, he's like the smallest Health & Safety inspector and keeps issuing me with grave edicts about danger and good behaviour.

While eating plums: "Be careful, Mummy! It's got a stone inside. So you have to bite it carefully otherwise you might hurt yourself."

I have gotten very skilled at hushing my inner glee and replying i the same grave tone: "Thank you for bringing that to my attention, Matei. I will do my best."

As he has grown, this talking, this shared language has become more than just snippets of cuteness and unbearable genius. I collect them, I cling to them, I hoard them like talismans - because my anxieties haven't gone away - they have merely shifted shape. And I think: if I write this down, then I will remember it when you are a teenager. And maybe one day you will read this and realise how much I have always loved you and how I delighted in you. Perhaps enough of them will wipe away our rough beginning. Each of these fragments says, you were real, you were here. They'll be something to hold onto, if you ever go away.


I am first and foremost a tarotist - I could read cards forwards, backwards, hanging upside down- but I love astrology, especially psychological astrology.

Although this tends to surprise most people who've encountered my fluffy belief system, I started out as a skeptic. I wanted things to make sense. I wanted a solid thread of evidence that leads from cause and effect. Having been let down badly by invisible forces when I was a child (I had prayed, and I was innocent, and my father had still died) I had grown very frugal with belief.

But astrology... kind of snuck up on me. It was a string of seeming coincidences that caught my interest - how was it that 9/10 people I'd been most attracted to had a Sagittarius moon? (The moon shifts signs every 2.5 days, so this being a random thing seemed unlikely and I got curious. I wanted to know what a Sagittarius moon was and why I found it so damn appealing. So I started reading and researching and then I fell in love).

I love beauty and I love grace, and to me psychological astrology is an art with a powerful aesthetic.

I still can't explain how or why it works, only that it does. That as I see it, it is a vast and intricate metaphor for journeys of individuals, collectives and countries in the real world.

Although charts don't open up and come alive for me in the same unmistakeable, vivid way that Tarot cards do, I can very much admire what they do in the hands of others and I am a competent theorist and writer of psychological astrology. (I can see the parts, I just have a hard time fitting them all into a whole.)

I love studying astrology, and I love reading about it. I never stop being amazed at the levels of meaning which can be extracted from even the smallest parts - the nodes of the Moon, asteroids.

Astrology has been very useful to me in my own life. It's been a powerful tool of self-discovery - helping me make sense of the conflicts and paradoxes in my personality - and in a large way it has helped me make peace with them. They are still there to be sure, I am just not riven and driven by them anymore. (More prodded). Similarly, it has helped give me a context for understanding others and feeling greater empathy and tolerance.

Knowing that Z has a 12th house moon has done a lot in helping me understand why he is wired so differently than me, why we have such opposing approaches to the discussion and processing of emotion and need. (I like to articulate mine, he doesn't). Similarly, thinking about my Aries father, and how frustrating and painful it was for him to live with a Mars-conjunct-Saturn in 4th house in Cancer (Mars is the ruling planet of Aries, it's all about action and fire. Saturn is like a brake, the great inhibitor and repressor of the Solar System. So having them in conjunction basically meant living with his ambition, his fire in a constant stranglehold. Since it was in the 4th house, the headlock comes from the family, and was adminstered by his own father). And seeing this like that, and understanding them for the profound, unhealable wound that they are really helped me put into context his struggles and difficulties, and helped me understand his drinking and his running away. Helped me really get that it wasn't personal, it wasn't about me but about things that had happened long ago. I'd already known this stuff on a level, but seeing it in the chart made it incredibly vivid.

Because the thought of randomness in the world frightens me, I find it very soothing to have an overarching schema of happening and to think that I am being swept along in the current of larger processes and collective journeys. Helps me keep calm and carry on.


I.e. The thing I technically ought to be writing right now, in the place of liverjounal posts. ;)

It's nearing the end. I am tidying it, and I am very pleased. I did it on a subject I was very interested in Women's Experiences of Postnatal Depression and What Helped In Carrying On. It's a qualitative study, which has meant that instead of the hated statistics I got to conduct some in-depth interviews with individual women and I've felt moved and inspired by people's generosity in sharing their stories with me. Consequently, in the writing I've tried my hardest to do them justice.

I've written two dissertations in the past (one undergraduate, one for an MSc in Addictive Behaviours) and though I did all right (got a 2:1) both were nightmarish and felt inauthentic to produce because the stats weren't brilliant and I felt I wrote both in a rush of despair - driven by the looming deadline more than by actual planning and love.

But I love this dissertation, and I have been birthing it slowly. I've put a lot of thought and planning into each section - I want the writing to be both elegant and clear- and I've been lingering over the product as I've gone - re-reading and re-writing until I am sure that it is as good as I can reasonably make it. I've got today and tomorrow to tidy it, since Friday is the hand-in date. The plan is to blitz the missing section of the introduction and the lit review today and to finish tidying tomorrow (type up the references, the title sheet, contents etc.)

Although I am actually quite fond of academic writing (especially systemic therapy writing) I find it quite hard to get into initially. I get easily distracted, but once I'm in then I go into a trance for three, four hour chunks at a time and emerge with many words and a sense of accomplishment. Writing this dissertation, I've thought longingly more than once of how I'd like to be able to lock myself into a hotel room with room service and all my papers for two weeks and just immerse myself in the thing.

It's like entering cold water. I dread the transition, but once I'm in, it's heavenly.


My favourite animal.
Incredibly beautiful.
I worked in the zoo long ago, and listening to packs on opposite sides of the zoo calling each other was one of the favourite parts of my day.
Many people I like best have what I think of as wolf eyes- clear, startling blue of the sort that sends a shiver of excitement and a tinge of chill up the spine.

Wolfs are also the favourite familial and Eastern European scare tactic for ensuring the good behaviour of small children.

(I used it to scare my little brother into compliance when he was a toddler, until our dad told him that he had thrown the wolf over the hill and my brother refused to be frightened from then on. I can still remember the summer sun on my back and his resolute two-and-a half year old face while he was informing me that "Wolf was gone and wouldn't come back").

Although I have been reluctant to embrace Z's tactic of using wolfs as measures to ensure the quietness and good behaviours of our son, especially outside the house, I have recently decided that his fearlessness needs to be balanced out by something that gives him pause lest he leap away into traffic, or roll around on pavements, or charge into the company of strangers too readily.

It's worked. The mention of the wolfs is enough to make Matei stop in his tracks and though most of the time he doesn't seem to be particularly apprehensive, at other times it breaks the heart, a little. E.g. on a recent evening walk, we pass a lovely Church garden full of flowering trees and shadowed doorways but Matei clings to us and refuses to set foot in it.

"No No, Mummy. The WOLF works in there."
"What does he do?"
"Looks for children."

I do feel a bit guilty sometimes, frightening him, but at the same time when confronted with an aching back and a cold wind, and a child refusing to leave the playground - knowing that I just want to be home and I don't have the strength to physically drag him - one mention of the wolf is enough to have him holding my hand and marching home at a brisk pace.

So double-edged parenting sword to be sure, but oh so useful sometimes.


My ambitions appear to come in two sizes: Very Big and Very Small. Whether it is laziness or disinterest or fear of failure, I tend to keep my personal accomplishments small and lack the drive and the competitiveness to change that. I prefer to let my work speak for itself rather than go out and aggressively network which ensures that a) I have a small and slowly-growing body of clients who speak my praises and b) this population is still small and slow-growing.

By nature I am not really a competitive person, so I think I'd never succeed in any sort of back-stabbing dog-eat-dog business. As such, I've happily existed in the same job without particular wish for distinction or promotion for more or less six years and when I think about blogging things like "developing and selling my brand" then I develop a case of cold sweat and profound disinterest and make peace to just not having what it takes to make it big in the world, on my own two feet.

(If I do make it big you can be sure that it will have been because someone spotted me and encouraged me and held my hand while I went I'm just not sure about this...

So, while my personal dithering ought to be enough to make an assertive person give me a slap on the head for my own good, my ambitions for the world are absolutely vast and I hold onto those without the least little bit of conflict.

Fundamentally I am an optimist. I believe things and people change, work out. That desperate as things may seem when I spend too much time reading the papers or watching the news, that ultimately things can get better and work out. That for every corrupt and revolting person out there, there is at least one (if not more) person making the higher moral choice.

Beyond outliving my children and continuing to create a fulfilling and happy marriage with my husband, I think my ambition is to live by the edict: "My religion is tolerance; my nationality is mankind". I've spent enough years observing the effects of rigidity and small-mindedness and pain and hatred to want to spend my life doing the opposite.

I am a Virgo rising after all, and nothing speaks to me quite as much as the thought of service to others. My most powerful, deep ambition is to make a difference in the world through small and often invisible acts of charity and kindness. I'm uncomfortable with limelight, so I prefer to make giving to others happen on a one-one level, but I keep trying to do it constantly. Sometimes it's the really small stuff such as letting people go in front of me in queues, or giving a genuine smile to someone who looks like they might need it, or being courteous on the phone even if it's the 50th inane phonecall I've answered, or helping someone lift heavy shopping onto the bus, or deeply listening to a client to honour and be honoured by a contract of trust.

Even if nobody knows it but me, I want my life, my being here to have made a differnce in the world. Not because I have written works of staggering and poignant genius (though one can dream), not because I have been a brilliantly insightful therapist (though I could live with that) but because I want my life to be, as much as I can as a flawed human, to be an ongoing testament to my attempts to make the higher choice, do the decent thing, be kind.

On the other hand, I do sometimes have the tendency to get caught up in this grand plan and consider my actual living, breathing family as a nuisance in its execution, so the two need to be balanced obviously otherwise Z accuses me of never listening to him.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
May. 10th, 2010 12:36 pm (UTC)
I wonder where the Universality of the Wolf as Child-Subduing device comes from... probably fairy tales.
May. 5th, 2010 02:58 pm (UTC)
That was amazing writing about your little boy. What a joy to finally have your wee one be able to express himself, and I'm always tickled by the way those learning language fit it all together, as in the "Grass?" question.

My ambitions are like yours. I'm just not that competitive a person. I'd be happy if somehow I magically made a success of my painting or movie makeup, but I just can't see the point in being ruthless about it if it means making me a lesser person. Like you, I also like to try and do small acts of kindness nad courtesy whenever I can. Unfortunately, I'm also far too sensitive, and so when I come across someone being an absolute jerk for no reason it cuts me to the quick and brings me nearly to tears. Alas!

A lovely post indeed!
May. 10th, 2010 12:34 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much! :)

Maybe we should form a Coalition for the Diminutively Ambitious, with giant visions and demure advertising.
May. 5th, 2010 09:05 pm (UTC)
First pic - very familiar expression, love that TRAGIC lower lip of weep :)

So obvious where Matei got his words from!

But what shall we do together, what shall we do? It's okay, we can go for a walk, that will kill some time.

Hehehe. I don't think I had PND but oh yes, the prospect of spending a very long day with the power-napper alone brought me in hives (he woke up at 5-6 am and I was counting every second till husband came home at 8-9pm) (and trying not to yell if he was 1 min late!). (I do have sweet memories of him being nestled against my bosoms and his greedy helpless face, but can you really call it enjoying day-to-day level?!)

It's wonderful that you could enjoy the dissertation and actually put a bit of soul into it.

Quite interesting on astrology too. Sagittarius do really stand out - they have that rare magic joyousness and fearlessness even if their outwardness is more normal. I started to secretly love astrology because could I could easily tell people's signs - even if a person is all jovial and convival outwards, I can still easily tell his withdrawing and hiding - hey presto found out he was Cancer! Typical...Not to be crude or to make crudely sweeping statement, but it's quite cool that Sagittarius and Aquarius have very opposite quality.
May. 10th, 2010 12:35 pm (UTC)
the prospect of spending a very long day with the power-napper alone brought me in hives (he woke up at 5-6 am and I was counting every second till husband came home at 8-9pm) (and trying not to yell if he was 1 min late!).

For the record, I think you are a hero for how you made it through the High Needs Child circle of hell. I really do.
May. 11th, 2010 09:19 am (UTC)
Can I speak same of you, this, on top of PND as well?! Now looking at Matei, no one would have guessed!)))

Ambition can go with passion trying to be better (does not hve to be all fiscal - yes, I am talking about you, doing a course and being able to pour soul into something as cold as dissertation on top of having a toddler clinging to your leg!).
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )


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