The other night, bedtime at 7pm isn’t looking too realistic, after a late afternoon snooze and so after supper, instead of heading upstairs for the usual bedtime routine, Little Human, dog and I head outside instead. Outside, into the night on a Sunday in November.
All around us, is the sky swirling dark. When I look upwards, not even one twinkling star is visible. There's something thrilling in that. As if the world is closing in on itself and yet, so much broader and expansive and wild and unimaginable then we so rarely conceive.
And so we walk, Little Human carrying Basil the cuddly toy who we’d discovered hiding in an upstairs cupboard. It's a reunion, as the last time I saw him I was 7 years old. Little Human is delighted with him. I wonder if this will be the toy she becomes attached to, but a couple of hours after I've had that thought, and my daughter is falling asleep in her bed, Basil lies abandoned on the floor. But for now, he matters. He matters gloriously. And so he accompanies us, as we head towards the tree house, me carrying a bowl of food, remnants of a supper mostly untouched.
When we got to the tree, it was blooming with light. Someone in the house had turned the floodlights on, it was a thought appreciated. First Little Human scrabbled up the ladder, then me carrying Basil and food. Then back down to carry dog. He was unsure. Perhaps one of the only times I’ve ever known him to be scared. When we got to the top ledge he awkwardly jerks away from me, and then walks into the little brown tree house. We go into the tree house and sit at the little table there. There's lights on and it makes me think of my mother. I hadn't known that the tree house could be lit up at night and the discovery that it does, makes me appreciate mum. I can feel her here. Her sweetness. And so Supper Part II commences; an event Little Human ignores completely. As a result, dog is rewarded for his valiance with 5 beef croquettes. Some carrots too.
Then a game commences, Basil is escorted outside, Little Human retreats back into the tree house, door is closed and then knock knock! Someone is at the door! Oh look; it’s Basil! Come in! And so on and so on.
Parenting: A Zen Adventure
Children are the most amazingly merciless Zen masters. Again and again, repeat and repeat. Dressing up sequences are repeated ad infinitum. The same scooting sequence, up and down, down and up brings all the more joy, perhaps because it is being repeated. Again! Lets do it again!
Until somewhere in all the repetition, it’s okay. As if the repitition is a conduit to something else, a portal that leads you to a tender hearted experience of equanimous joy.
Oh hello there.
And then right there in the middle of the game, the lights went out. It was 6.30pm on a Sunday night and I was up a tree with Little Human, dog and Basil the stuffed toy. And it felt wonderful. Wonderful to be outside, and specifically, wonderful and enriching and enlivening to be outside in the night.
And because we weren’t marooned in the depths of the woods with bears and snakes and wolves prowling nearby, we were okay. Because, well, nowadays there’s no wildlife really at all anymore. Because that’s the world we live in; tamed, cultivated and greatly reduced.
Nonetheless, hanging out in the pitch dark black has a limited appeal to my diminished imagination and so we start the evacuation. Pink plastic bowl gets thrown overboard, followed by Basil, then down goes dog and I, all the while my voice marginally tensing as I try and encourage my daughter to stay back, behind the closed fence “because it’s safer.” But she’s so interested by the whole thing; she wants to stand right there, on the precipice of the entrance to the tree house, peering over the ladder. I come up again for her, and she launches herself into my arms. It's something precious to carry your child in your arms.
We head over to the swings, the silhouettes of which we can just make out in the dark night’s bloom. Basil is placed in one of them, Little Human is the mother, swinging her baby. She's gentle and tender with him.
After a while, we head to the donkeys and Shetlands paddock. A pack of 4: Mikey is the chief, Toggles, a wee fabella is the one that packs the least influence, he's also the one Little Human most adores (photo below, not this night time that I am talking about, another time. Then there's Smokey Joe and Zotlie, the second equine, a portly but handsome Shetland. We walk towards them in the dark and can just make out their faces. They’re curious, hopeful too, mistaking our presence for a second supper. But we’re not here with carrots, just hugs and rubs. And as Little Human starts building a sand castle in their shavings in their stable, I sit on the ledge and rub Zotlie’s withers. He curls his top lip in delight. “He’s laughing!” laughs Little Human and we both grin and smile and Zotlie carries on with his big top lip rolled back, and his grimy yellow teeth exposed. The unbrought carrots forgotten.
It’s moments like this, that I feel an absurd amount of happiness. Sitting here in the dark, outside in the night with my daughter and hanging out with these codgery old donkeys and horses. Generally they’re an absurdly rude quartet. A merry band of broad bottoms and irresistibly gruff demeanors. So that Zoltie, who at first you think is a foul tempered bandit, softens as soon as he realises that you’ve the potential to be a chief too. He pushes his weight around, but like all pushers, once he knows that there’s no need to do that, he relaxes, relents and al this innocence and sweetness and softness tumbles out of him, that you can’t help but soften.
And we stay for a little bit, but we still have to get ready for bed and so I tug my daughter away, even though I am sure she would like to curl up on the stable floor and sleep with her “friends.” I remember that love and joy of animal friends, of wanting to be with them always and anywhere. I remember as a child wrapping around the little puppy that was Daisy, a Cavalier Kings Charles puppy that my mother brought into the home after my father died. And I remember waking as soon as a I woke and hurtling on my bike to the stables to muck out my horse. The joy of poo picking for my beloved animal being a joy, that then, so few things could surpass.
So we head back to the house, me making good on a deal that Little Human and I cut earlier: if she walked to the field, I’d carry her back. And so we walk back, Little Human in my arms.
I’m always amazed that when she’s with a friend, the distances they travel are at least 98% more then when Evie walks with adults. When she's walking with grown up's, she'll turn and those small arms rise up and a look on her face appears: carry me mama! And sometimes I relent and scoop her up and sometimes, when I'm tired an grouchy and my back is sore, I don't. Tonight though, the cells in my body know they're alive and so I do. Chatting with Little Human as we make our way back in the dark. Because it's a precious thing to hold your daughter in your arms. However brief this time may be. When it's here it has a thickness that makes us think, ah, this will be like this forever. Except it won't. It can't be and truth is, it doesn't want to be. Life's going on and changing. So that these sweet moments with our children, our friends, our family, our colleagues, our animals, and our land. Nanu nanu and it's gone.
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