On being spontaneous…

I know it sounds like a bit of a contradiction in terms, but I’ve always had to work really hard at being spontaneous. I don’t remember being particularly spontaneous as a child – but then I suppose whatever you do or don’t do at any given time isn’t really up to you when you’re young, is it? And any nascent spark of spontaneity that may have existed beforehand definitely fizzled out like a damp squib after having my first baby a scant month before my 19th birthday. Following hot on his heels was my second baby a year later, and then my third and final little one arrived a couple of months after my twenty-first birthday.

Babies need routines and familiarity, require regular feeding and changing and patterns of sleep to the extent that pre-planning to the nth degree even the ‘simplest’ of excursions to fit in around those routines became second nature, as automatic as breathing. At this early stage, such belt-and-braces planning brought me precious windows of relative freedom to enjoy the fruits of my labours, stopping me feeling too overwhelmed by it all. Then one by one the babies became toddlers, and then they started school, and that required yet another whole different level of regimented logistics to accommodate.

And when I became a single mum at 24 after a very acrimonious and stressful breakup, out of sheer necessity my planning skills cranked up yet another gear as I juggled earning a living to support my family with keeping up with the housework, DIY, gardening, and all the while still being mum. I have to say I’d have been stuck without my parents’ invaluable practical help at this point, but it was still hard work, and legally the children always remained my responsibility. And perhaps not surprisingly, responsibility and spontaneity made decidedly poor bedfellows… the weight of the former seemed to crush the sheer light-heartedness out of the latter, leaving it all shrivelled and deflated like a punctured balloon.

So nothing was ever truly done on the spur of the moment for me – my moments didn’t have spurs, instead they kept me on a tight rein, always holding me in check, always keeping me alert to having to stay one step ahead of the pack. Only by planning well in advance, keeping track of work shifts and school times and appointments and what felt like a million other timeslots in an ongoing rolling plan in my head could I occasionally create a prospective gap in advance where, all other circumstances permitting, the possibility of making a ‘spontaneous’ decision might potentially be accommodated somewhere along the line.

And it’s a habit I have retained to this day, creating little planned pockets of prospective ‘free’ time to be filled by unplanned, supposedly spur of the moment events. But otherwise I pretty much stick to my set routines, day in, day out. It’s a habit that has long outlived the necessity to do so, and what once kept me safely anchored to a full family timetable has now become a bit of a mill-stone around my neck. So I’m trying hard to break the habit of always pre-planning everything while sticking to those tired old habitual routines that no longer serve any purpose other than to keep me tied down with invisible chains.

And here I am at 50 years old, still working hard at being spontaneous – but this time I’m learning to let go when I can and just go with the flow, wherever it takes me on any given day. Deciding how to spend my time at the time, on the wing, and changing my mind on a whim as the mood takes me. Learning to open my world up to new opportunities instead of quietly and cautiously closing it down, keeping a lid on it, effectively squashing the life and soul out of anything and everything I choose to do…

My Spaceman…

I’m playing with my toys, and mum calls me through to the living room. The telly is on, and mum tells me to sit down and watch, because it’s important. It’s not time for my programmes so I don’t know what is happening. It feels a bit weird, but I do what I’m told and sit down on the rug in front of the fire.

Grown-ups are talking on the telly, and there is a spaceman. I’m bored, and I wonder if I’ve maybe done something bad, like at school when you have to go and sit in the naughty corner and be quiet. The spaceman is walking funny and he sounds all crackly. He’s not a very good spaceman but mum doesn’t seem to notice. I start to ask a question but mum tells me to shush a moment, so I play with the top of my sock instead, rolling it up and down and looking at the flowery sock marks on my leg until mum tells me I can go and play again…

I was five years old when man first walked on the moon. We watched that first moon landing on our old black and white TV back in April 1969 – grainy grey picture with the ubiquitous ghosting and muffled white-noise sound, but we watched it and that’s what mattered. I had no real understanding either of the enormity of the occasion or the historical significance of what was unfolding before me, and have a far clearer memory of being engrossed by the pattern of my sock imprinted on my skin than I have of witnessing any giant leap for mankind.

Television for me at that point revolved mainly around the escapades of Andy Pandy, Pogle’s Wood, the Woodentops, and Tom and Jerry cartoons – not boring men in suits and ties, or even more boring spacemen seemingly doing nothing much in particular! But with hindsight I know that, conspiracy theories notwithstanding, it was an important historical moment to have shared, important enough to keep squirreled away as one of those confusing, not-quite-understanding-what’s-going-on childhood memories that surfaces from time to time and somehow never fails to make me smile…