Sunday, 23 May 2010

Family strategy

We are mustering our forces. We are planning the week, preparing for the visits, locating maps. We have tracked down telephone numbers, alerted the relatives, acquired an Aunty Dee with her overnight baggage, and begun the whispered conversations about What do the doctors say? and How long?

As we step through the day, picking up lost connections, retreading the family tracks of loyalties, shared histories, remembrances, responsibilities, we have made vows.

We have promised Shark, Squirrel and Tiger that whatever comes, in the morning, strike us dead if we tell a lie, we will behold puffins. For that, we have stood in queues, handed cash, and hold seaboat tickets.

God help us now if there is some puffin disaster of which we are unaware. What if all the puffins of the Farne Islands are wiped out overnight? Forget the international wildlife crisis; the outrage and hand wringing that accompanies mass extinction. If the gritlets do not come eyeball to eyeball with real live puffins, I may as well end my life by jumping off a cliff.

So puffins are, for Shark, Squirrel and Tiger, the highest priority, and our vows have been made. On the back of them, I am getting away with stuff. Rather, the gritlets are tolerating me and today allowing me, before the puffins are delivered, to speak geography, geology, ecology, history, and anything else I can grab hold of that I can reassure myself is vaguely educational.

Yes, because no matter what the circumstance - impending death, mayhem, misery, defiant family loyalty in the face of all, you name your choice of mishap - the home education thing never goes away.

But Shark, Squirrel and Tiger are still young. I don't want them to be involved in all the minutia of family trauma yet. They can learn about that, and all the cupboards filled with bones, much later, when they're teenage old, know it all, and wise enough to shrug their shoulders and say So what? For now, we strange grown ups whisper.

Then I turn to Shark, Squirrel and Tiger and joke with them that I hope they're not treating this as a holiday. I hope they're treating Northumberland as they should: their extended learning experience in an outdoor learning environment.

So here is today's outdoor learning experience. Walks over cliffs, round seashores, through sand dunes, into rocky hollows. I am glad for it, not only for the wind in my face, but because their learning and enjoyment is a place of safety and protection for me too; here I can shield myself, be attentive, find occupation and purpose, set all my thinking, and occupy my gaze. I can laugh and nod approvingly to sand holes, burrows, and deep dug trenches. We can do millipede spotting, seashell pointing, seabird sighting, wave watching.

Then there are the rocks. Thank goodness for those. When the eider ducks have swum away, the seashells are pocketed, the millipedes escaped, and the tide come in, we can still crumble mudstone, grind sandstone, scrutinise limestone, and point out to sea, to the great dolerite lumps of the Whin Sill, after which all sills are named.

Perhaps right now I should feel guilty, or miserable, or evasive or defensive. Or all of them. Plunged back into a family world of duties and obligations, I'm not sure what to feel, nor what to say for the best. I could opt out, and say I think rocks are easier to deal with than people, and much easier to handle than families.