My resolutions for this year were minimal. Having ended an arduous 2014 in a state of exhaustion, my commitment to myself was to take time for me –one day a week where I do NO work. I have taken to “pottering” with a little difficulty – the decision to switch off seems much simpler than its execution. Spending my days with distress, trying to launch a business, juggling tasks and ideas – how am I supposed to just switch all that off? I know – why not scout the “What’s On” section for some ideas?
So yesterday I dragged myself away from my laptop to Middlesbrough Town Hall to watch Yangchin, a musical ensemble playing instruments from around the world – £3 plus coffee and cake. Not my usual thing, but in the spirit of adventure (about as adventurous as I get), I adopted the “why not?” attitude.
As I sat with my friend before the event drinking coffee and eating cup-cakes, I felt myself become heavy with thought and emotion. Giving myself time “off” seems to have had the effect of allowing those existential thoughts to creep in – my life, its purpose, my accomplishments and failures, my relationships. On reading the program I noted that this ensemble was a group of children and young people – aged 10-18. Almost instantaneously, I became quite overwhelmed and tears started to well. Thoughts of old age, ill health, death, loneliness jostled for prominence in my mind.
I realised that I was starting to anticipate my “empty nest”. My assumption had been that I would relish the freedom and opportunities brought by living alone. But over recent months, as my 17 year old youngest has become more and more immersed in her friendships, I have begun to feel side-lined, almost superfluous to requirements. My logical brain tells me this is the way it should be. I have been a good mum, prepared my children for life. They are independent, resilient, confident in their individual ways; they know that I will always be here for them if and when they need me. Emotionally, I feel rejected; abandoned.
As the tears continued to prick, and thoughts whizzed around my head, I desperately tried to compose myself – the performance was due to begin. A few deep breaths, focus, calm down, this is ridiculous…… By the end of the first couple of bars I was sobbing uncontrollably. The thoughts, emotions and reflections were unstoppable.
Music is important to me – more than anything else it has the power to influence my mood. I have an eclectic taste, but I am not knowledgeable or snobbish about my music. Paul Weller’s “Hit Parade” was the soundtrack of my recovery from depression. The music that Yangchin played touched me in a way that I cannot express in words – I know only that I was overwhelmed with emotion. Yet it was not just the music itself, it was that it was being created by these young people. The music, the performers, my existential thoughts, the work I do – all melded together and overwhelmed me.
As a mum, I had been to many such an event to watch and support my three children. Many a day at dance lessons, competitions and shows. Chess competitions, tennis lessons, gymnastics, orchestra, choir, guitar lessons, kick boxing, football. I can remember vividly my son’s first try – playing out of position in the backs; and my daughter’s too – scored from a driving maul from beyond the 22 yard line. I remember my tears at my daughter’s first dance solo; my anger at the parents on the side line as they heckled my son refereeing his first football match at the age of 16; the incredulity of my friends when I gave up tickets to a Who gig to watch my daughter swim 25 metres in a race that she could never win. I have such amazing memories – I am so, so lucky.
As Yangchin’s music continued to move me, thoughts of my fortune were juxtaposed with thoughts of misfortune of the parents I work with on a daily basis. Parents who do not see their child perform music, dance, play sport – who may not even know what their child’s interests and hobbies are. Parents who would give anything to freeze on the touchline to glimpse their child at football training; to watch their child’s performance as the third sheep in the school nativity; to experience the anxiety and pride as they crack riding without stabilisers for the first time.
I had just about stemmed the tears by now, but the thoughts of parenthood snatched away and denied were still swimming around. Perhaps it was the acknowledgement of how privileged I feel to have had the opportunity to be a mum and how easily that special relationship can be stolen. The loss, the isolation, the loneliness of alienated parents dominated my thoughts when a young performer, Natasha Graham, took up her guitar and performed a piece that she had written herself – Shadowman. I have no knowledge of her inspiration for this piece – but in me it stirred such deep emotion and thoughts of my impending empty nest alongside the emptiness and loss that parents apart from their child inevitably feel.
As we left Middlesbrough Town Hall and stepped into the dusk, the huge, soft, fluffy snowflakes danced around us and settled on our hair. Our footprints meandered behind us as we took selfies and giggled, just like two children. Does snowfall not always take us back to our own childhood? It had not been the afternoon I had anticipated. I’m not even sure it fulfilled my need to “switch off”. But it is an afternoon for which I am immensely grateful. It reminded me of how lucky I am to have such amazing memories. Whatever the future holds – they will always be there to sustain and fortify for me. It reminded me that I am on a path I choose to follow – even if I did not seek it out, much as the families and people I work with did not seek out their path.
Thank you Yangchin. Never underestimate the power of music and your talent to move and reach that which cannot be expressed in words.