The Extraordinary Ordinary
This evening I went out for a jog. When I say ‘a jog’ I mean I walked around the park at the end of our road at a pace slightly faster than my usual stride, which is hardly a challenge given that my usual stride is one step forwards and five steps into somebody else’s garden chasing a feral toddler.
How fast I was bumbling around the park tonight is kind of irrelevant to this post, I’m just setting the scene, as it was during this uninterrupted walking time that I started thinking about life. Life in general. Everyday life. And how all too often there is build up and expectation attached to daily events, moments and milestones which can leave us feeling under pressure to feel a certain way. Feelings are not like that. By their very nature you can’t create feelings or build up to ‘a moment’. Something either gets you in the feels or it doesn’t.
I need to rewind to this morning for this to make any sense. First though, I need to tell you how years of watching sentimental films and TV dramas has set me up to fail on the feelings front. Real-life is nothing like film-life. Of course, we all know that movies are not real life but once you’ve internalised a whole catalogue of film ‘moments’ it’s hardly surprising if you start to expect life to play out like a script every now and again. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as if I sit at home every night hoping the knock on the door is Andrew Lincoln instructing me to pretend it’s carol singers and declaring his undying love for me on handwritten cue cards. James has never once dressed up as a fighter pilot and serenaded me with You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling but I fell for him nonetheless.
Films have simply left me expecting emotional moments that just haven’t happened. Parenthood has brought about the absolute worst of this disappointment because parenting moments are so well-documented on the big screen. Moments like childbirth, where the parents always share a cuddle and a cry when the baby is born. My boys were delightful and I was over the moon to hold them against me but I didn’t cry. I can remember thinking, ‘Should I be crying now?’ No tears came.
More generally, there are all those scenes in films where motherhood looks amazing. Even when it’s portrayed as chaotic it looks like fun chaos – cereal spillages on floors, lots of noise and laughter, the odd slamming of a door that is later resolved by an emotional chat over fresh coffee and lots of meaningful eye contact. The chaos in my life can be fun too but milk on the floor generally results in a head injury and we tend to save all meaningful eye contact for our smartphones.
This morning, however, something special happened. A special feeling.
I had taken Henry to his first ever gymnastics class and after waiting awkwardly outside, not really knowing what was expected of me in this environment, it was time for him to go in. I have taken him to other classes before – music, drama etc. but these have always been things I have joined in with (to be honest, by the time we stopped the music classes I had found myself running around in a circle doing the animal actions while he tried to climb the chair stacks and steal other people’s shoes). This morning was different, though, because he is four and has joined a group where you just leave them to it. No big deal.
Only it became a big deal for me as I stood there and watched him through the glass. Watched him trot in with zero fear, confidently taking a seat on the mat among the other boys and girls and proceeding to follow them around in a gym circuit, stretching his arms out as he balanced on the beam and joining in with floor exercises (where he was understandably two steps behind everybody else but persevered with such a happy face). He was in his element, and when I saw his eyes searching for me I jumped and waved and mouthed, ‘Well done!’ with a huge thumbs up from the other side of the door. He returned my thumbs up with a long-distance fist pump and then, just as quickly as he had looked for me, he looked away and slotted straight back into the class.
It was nothing like anything you would see in a film. There was no moving soundtrack, no pep talk from me telling him I knew he could do it, no slow-motion shot of him leaping off a balance beam and landing gracefully on the mat to rapturous applause from the rest of the gymnasium. Nobody else noticed anything remarkable.
But I did.
To me, it was extraordinary. My boy was extraordinary. I fought back a lump in my throat as I stood there in a sweaty-smelling gym corridor and realised, with mild amusement, that it was the most proud I have ever felt about anything.
So this evening, as I found myself out walking and contemplating life-in-general, I realised that I have been looking for the wrong moments. Or at the very least looking in the wrong places. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been looking at all.
Feelings aren’t like that.
Feeling just are.
Like pride just was for me, today.