Love builds cathedrals that hate can never tear down

Last Sunday I took Kate to the optician. It was one of those days where the sky burns blue, and wisps of cloud drift over every now and then just to keep things interesting. The boys went to the green to play football, and we went for an eye test.

As I watched Kate answer the opticians questions – can you read these letters, these tiny ones, are they clearer on red or green? – I suddenly caught myself and gave a little laugh. I was watching her and smiling at her earnest six year old eager-to-please face. I was so in love with how she was trying her hardest to understand what was being asked of her, and sometimes, very sweetly, getting it wrong.

And that’s why I laughed at myself; because I realised that there was nowhere else I’d rather be in the whole world than sitting in a dark room on a beautiful sunny day, watching my daughter talk, smile, and just be entirely herself at 6 years, 11 months, and 3 days.

I think that’s what being a parent does; it makes of us spinners of dust into purest gold. Children turn the most humdrum moments into something that you want to gather to your chest, and begin quilting into your memories immediately.


The mothers and fathers and grandparents and sisters and brothers in Manchester have those moments too; stacks of them, armfuls of them, more than they can carry, but none that they’ll ever be willing to let go of.  Their hearts and lives are full up to the very brim with love, teasing, music, laughter, homework, chip shop chips on a Friday night, bickering at the kitchen table, tidy-your-room-or-you’re-not-going-anywhere, watching their children at the optician and being enchanted moments.

Those families had everything and they still have much to sustain them. You weren’t human enough to realise that there are very many things that you can’t take away, no matter what you do. You can’t erase the hundreds of mornings of watching the sunrise together, surrounded by emptied bottles of milk and soggy bibs. You can’t take away the thousands of times you read The Gruffalo and never got bored of doing the voices. You never understood that towering cathedrals are built on shared lives, that love is capable of building spirals that soar up into the air, far above the dirt, fear and jealousy that kept you tethered to earth.

You – you had nothing. Your heart was never full of love; you never learned that it’s those tiny moments that that make your heart grow fat and heavy with the delicious weight of the life that you’ve built up around you. Your heart was no more than a casing for the bitterness you dragged around with you, no more full of humanity than the balled-up tinfoil that my cat bats around the kitchen floor.  Any memories your family had of you are ruined, gone, erased – or stuffed down the back of the sofa where no-one has to look at you ever again.





I’ll hold your hand if you’ll hold mine…

The first time I held your hand was the day after you were born – the first full day of your life. I think. If I’m honest, I was drugged up to the eyeballs, attached to a catheter and half-crazed with exhaustion on your first day, and I struggle to remember all of the details. I do remember a nurse sticking a massive needle right into my thigh muscle without warning, and rolling her eyes when I cried out in pain –that, I remember.

But back to you. Truthfully, I was a little bit scared of you. You weighed less than eight pounds, smelled like strawberries, and had the tiniest pout I’d ever seen, but at the same time you were the human equivalent of a nuclear bomb that had just gone off in the centre of my life (and other places, but let’s not think about that right now.)

So, Day Two. Your Dad had gone home, laden with bags of washing, to get the house ready for us. You were in your little plastic box, blinking and stretching. I contemplated you from my bed. What was I supposed to do with you? You didn’t seem to want anything in particular. But in that moment I recognised the need to take control of what was beginning to seem like an overwhelming new life, so I lifted you up, sat back and rested you on my chest.

I said your name, over and over, until it really felt like yours. It’s a strange thing, naming a human, and I needed to embed it, both in your heart and mine. And so we just lay there together, quietly sowing the little seeds of your life, and of my life as a mother. I rested my finger in the curled up palm of your hand, pink and delicate as seashells, and you grabbed it.

Looking right into your eyes, I actually gasped – I remember it still – and I felt the connection that I had been evading since the moment you arrived. We held hands, that first time, and it meant everything to me.

We’ve held hands a million times now. Taking your first steps. Walking on the beach. Holding you up as you skate around the garden, always landing on your bum with a shout. Walking the hospital corridor with you after you’d been to visit your new baby brother. Every day. Going to the shops. It’s nothing special, but it’s forever special.

And so tomorrow, I’ll take your hand again, and walk you to school. School! When you were a baby I’d stand outside those gates, watching the mothers of giant children in bedraggled uniform, and look forward to your turn.

Now it’s here, I’m so full of pride that my throat feels like it might burst. I’m so full of sadness that you’re not that tiny baby any more, looking to me for everything you could ever need. I’m so full of excitement for everything you’re about to learn. I’ll hold your hand if you’ll hold mine, and that’s how it’s always been.