Today is a very special day for me.
I have five daughters, all born within six years. Bringing them up was definitely hard work – we were not rich, we lived in small houses, and our chosen way of life was not really mainstream. In the days when natural childbirth, continuum concept, compassionate farming, vegetarianism, home education, organic wholefood, Steiner education and alternative therapies were still all on the wild side of eccentric, that was the way we chose. Our next-door-but-one neighbours used to line up kitchen stools outside their back door for their grandchildren visiting on the weekend to watch the weird Wilcocks with our goats and chickens in the garden of our tiny Victorian terraced house in this funny old town by the sea.
Those years I had a long struggle with depression, and found being a young mother, in a town I knew not very well, incredibly hard and lonely. Babies seem to me both amazing and terrifying. Their buddha-nature shines so clear, their clarity, purity and immediacy are awe-inspiring: but they scream and they tire you out; they want more than you can understand, and sometimes you feel battered to exhaustion just keeping going.
Power and control have never greatly appealed to me, and what I most looked forward to was the time when their personalities, choices and self-power had fully unfurled, and they were in their mid-to-late teens – all still at home, but old enough for discussion and inspiration – old enough to be my teachers as I had once been theirs.
Then, ten years ago, just as we reached that stage, my life began to collapse. In the most dreadful circumstances my marriage to my children’s father ended, leaving me at my wits’ end with five daughters still only part-fledged, no job, no family home; just a two-roomed leased apartment.
That was a hard and frightening time. It was then that I chose the name ‘Ember’ for myself. I felt as though my soul had died, and I found myself responsible for the care and upkeep of a meaningless undead body. Ember; rake among the ashes, and underneath the drifting grey lies sometimes the surprise of a quiet red glow – the choice of name expressed a choice still to hope.
I married again, a dear and delightful man who lived in a tiny cottage in the country. I’d thought to encourage my girls to see that new beginnings could always be possible: but it was not a good choice. It was too soon, they were still shell-shocked, I spent most of my time in the car, flying around between that little cottage in the woods and my scattered family and the professional commitments I had begun to rebuild. That time was brief though, because my second husband died of a hideous and terrifying illness that blocked his windpipe and gullet as it inexorably progressed. We cared for him at home, and he died with dignity, beauty and peace, in the place he wanted to be. Then it was back to my tiny apartment, and throwing myself into working all hours to keep our fractured family trucking.
Then I married again, and of necessity moved right away from my dear family up to Aylesbury, for my husband’s work is Oxford-based. For three years we lived there – and made good friends, planted a garden.
But the splinter of grief lodged in the middle of my heart was always the disintegration of my family – and that the chance had been lost to be with them once they had grown up and developed their own ideas and way in the world.
My dear husband is a very, very good life partner. He sees and understands what matters to me. And so it came about that he was willing to change his work pattern to four days in the office, three at home, keeping a berth in Aylesbury but returning to Hastings for our home base.
We found this shabby old house, in need of much repair, but in the right place. A quiet road, looking out over trees, surrounded by birdsong and wild creatures, but only five minutes walk from the central bus stop to catch a ride to anywhere in our locality. A walk through the beautiful park with its majestic trees to chapel, to town, to my oldest daughter’s home. A walled garden (something I have always wanted).
And, best of all, making common cause in a shared household with three of my daughters, and the one who is married with a young child calling in several times a week.
Last night, after the upheaval of moving, then days of torrential rain that exposed all the leaks in our rickety old roof, then Christmas, then several days of snow – at last we had achieved the house move from their small shared home into this bigger house. Today, for the first time in a decade, we are back under one roof. Nothing ever stopped us being family – but today we are one household again. It has been a long, long journey; but at last we are home.
And I give thanks.