Oct 27, 2022Liked by Tanya Shadrick

A letter in anticipation of a birthday.

Five o. Fifty. Half a century. Big birthday. BIG birthday. What does it even mean? How do you comprehend half a century? What does it look like, this long passage of time? What does it feel like? I remember my mothers 50th birthday and what that meant. Old. Closer to death. Running out of time. Nearly retired. Menopause. Dried up. Past it. Invisible. But me? Have I lived? Like really lived? Have I felt truly seen, honoured, held before I vanish? What do I do now? Make lists, lots of lists about how to really live now? Have a party? I don’t really want balloons and cake. Will I answer the questions I have now? Will I face myself, really face myself? Will the world make more sense once I pass this threshold into adulthood? Am I too old now to do these things? Wear a mini skirt, get a piercing in my nose, go to a festival, change career, travel the world, have sex (lots of sex), read all the books, play all the records, dance, swim, walk, run and find out who I am. What am I too old for? What am I too young for? What am I for now? Five 0.

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Oct 27, 2022Liked by Tanya Shadrick

A recurring thought on every birthday is my birth day. Not all the day long but at some point I can't help but pay attention to that day decades ago, when I was there for sure but only have conscious knowledge of it from my mother. And that is sparse and indirect, from overheard conversations with her women friends mostly. So there are gaps that I mix up filler for using imagination, my own experience as a woman and that of my mother, now long dead.

A long labour, over twenty four hours, and finally I was pulled out with forceps, actual cold metal forceps that left my soft infant head bruised and misshapen. They also left me with a droopy eye from cranial nerve damage. I was horribly self conscious about it for years, always turning one side to the camera or the mirror to hide it, growing a long fringe to obscure it. When I learnt it was a birth injury I somehow felt better about it, saw it as a battle scar perhaps

My mother was alone in hospital for the whole labour, fathers not admitted then and we'd moved far from her family. A first time mother and an unwilling one at that, she had no clue what to expect, no help or support and she must have been terrified and in horrible pain. Once yanked out I was immediately taken away for several days to have my head 'reshaped' and our shared trauma separated us, meant that the bond between us was never forged.

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Oct 30, 2022Liked by Tanya Shadrick

An Anniversary

It is the 5th anniversary of our IVF journey. A year-long jagged labyrinth of needles and syringes, bloating, sickness, hospital gowns, soothing words and becoming an emotional and physical stranger to myself. And then the freedom at the end. The closed doors, the pitying half-smiles, the letting go. I had burned as a child for adventure, of travels to far off lands, of exotic landscapes, foreign tongues, intoxicating smells and dense climates on virgin skin, never motherhood. When I met my love, we quietly agreed to take the next step, but somehow, I knew this path was not meant for me and the child in me who had spun the globe knew that too.

I am not broken by it, but I find myself lost in a foreign vista. I am brave but not tough and I am cast adrift to chart a course with a heart still so full of love to give and so few to give it to.

My mum whose mind is fragmented, brittle and capricious, focussing long enough to share a moment and then lost again to seas of confusion. My love whose completeness for me is all encompassing and my darling dog whose life will most likely end before mine and for whom I will be riven in two. And so, in my new life, every morning before the sun, I quietly slip off to feed the calves. In the darkness, my feet crunching on cobbled floors, they start their morning clamour. I fill their pens with straw, and give them their warm milk, I touch their noses for signs of fever, and there amidst the peace, with the sting of ammonia and muck in the air, I give my love – a secret before the sun.

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Nov 5, 2022·edited Nov 6, 2022Liked by Tanya Shadrick

Waking early to make an orange cake for your birthday is a small act of love i know all to well that shall replace the words that say I love you mum .

Irish mothers don't go in for all that touchy feely stuff and you have shown me in your own way over and over again in all these years a family just how much you cared.

It just took me some time to understand the nature of the game and to play my part and make my own transactions at our little bank of things unsaid.

Gone are the days i question or rally against why it is this way so ,and come to understand we love so much of the time as we were shown by our parents ,a parent myself i see sharply my own imperfections and think not for the first time think of how this all played out for you growing up in that little sacred place in ireland we got to had all our summers .

Our brand of love is an act of tug of war so silly it makes me shake my head to think of it ,fully aware that when you are no longer here anymore it will hurt me the most, but still I cannot say it.

So I bake you a cake and

hope you enjoy the of taste it.

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Dear Mum,

You’ll think it’s odd that I’m writing to you, and I know that I only saw you a little while ago, but there is something I want to say.

I’m so glad that you were able to visit us today on your 92nd birthday. I know it wasn’t easy for you – the wheelchair taxi is so tiring, and it takes a lot of gumption these days to steel yourself up for journeys into the outside world. 92 is a big number, hard to imagine until you reach it, and you’ve told me before that you feel every bit of 92. Lots of things are much harder now than they used to be, I can see that.

I was glad that I could make you a birthday cake and it was lovely to sing to you and watch you blow out the candles. It made me smile to see you smile. When we’d finished clapping and the cake was cut, you said that you hoped that you wouldn’t still be here when your next birthday comes around. I think I understand that. How many birthdays are too many? When do we realise that maybe we’ve had enough birthdays and we don’t want any more? I am so grateful to still have you with us, but I don’t want to be selfish and keep wishing more happy returns for you if that’s not what you want for yourself any longer.

I just hope that wherever you are next September 30th, you will be happy, peaceful and smiling, just like you were today.

With so much love on your birthday, Mum. xxx

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55 comments already…believe it or not that’s my favourite and lucky number- honest! Why am I not surprised? Because this place has already proved itself as very special to me. So thank you so much Tanya for welcoming me so heartily and here is my first true tribute to my mother for her birthday. I loved the process of writing it this morning- somehow I woke at 6 like I used to when I last wrote regularly- and I loved honing my handwritten to 300 words. Here they are…

Dear one and only Mum,

Sorry I forgot your birthday.

Luckily Russell remembered and reminded me. We're good loving brothers like that.

I then worked out a way to mark what would’ve been your 87th, as I sat quietly at the kitchen table because Morgan was in the living room with four tweenage pals on a sleepover. Apparently they stayed awake till 5am but she fell asleep at 1! You'd love and cherish how she's blossomed in those ten years since you passed.

Yes, you passed away right there before me. You uncannily waited till I came back from breakfast and then just stopped breathing. So simply. The blessed time I’d had with you through those two nights by your bed at your beloved St. Columba’s hospice, holding your hand, singing to that breath, came to an end and a new simpler world opened up to me.

You see, I connect with that breath every morning after my yoga, lying there like you, just inhaling and exhaling as I need to, nothing else to be done.

I did celebrate your birthday on Sunday by posting about you on the Facebook 'Growing up in Clermiston in the 60s and 70s' group. I took photos of your funeral address by our family's Humanist Celebrant Lara.

She'd met you that previous year when Philip died and you fed her his life story for his funeral. I must publish that address on his next birthday and find a way to expand on the funeral poems I wrote for you both.

Lots of Clermiston folk who knew you responded so lovingly. Not least cousin Janey whom I just discovered was due to be born on your birthday but arrived three days later. Which means it’s her birthday today. I'll go wish her Happy Birthday now.

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Apr 13, 2023Liked by Tanya Shadrick

This year I want you to remember the crow that continued to chase and dive after the fledgling robin, how the parents tried so hard to get the crow away, fierce cries, diving and diving at the crow, how the fledgling finally fell into the grass, how the crow landed, stabbed, carried the fledgling away, how you watched out the window, struck dumb, paralyzed, wanting to save the robin, felt the agony of its parents as their hollow bones filled with terror, knew the crow also needed to survive, how you didn’t know who to save, knew you couldn’t save anyone, that life is uncontrollable, that you don’t choose who lives or dies, that you wouldn’t want this power even if it was possible, how you can only shake your head at the grace of a good day and how everyone you love most is alive today and bow low below your lucky stars and remember it is undeserved, random and not to be taken for granted, you can only write it down, stare off in stunned wonder and forgive yourself on the days you fail and try not to lay awake fearing when it will end. You live in a world that is senseless and beautiful and all you can do is cook for those you love and hope it fills their cells and their souls and watch them fly away.

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Oct 28, 2022Liked by Tanya Shadrick

Dearest me,

Today you watched clouds fly across sky. Standing still, eyes lifted. An eagle caught in current and seemingly so free. Later, you thought there might be a rainbow but didn’t go back to look.

You listened to an owl one night when you couldn’t sleep, risking dark to try for stars. You think you saw one and you might have made a wish.

Water was too cold; smoke burned throats; you saw a sea lion almost come to shore, and it was beautiful.

Someone made someone mad and there’s broken glass on the road now. You like to think about what happened and imagine a life being lived. There may have been love, there was definitely rage and now you have to swerve to miss the shards of it all.

The wind is empty sometimes. You are bumping into silence.

There is stillness and you are crawling, and you are walking in a line that moves like this, but a raven chased a hawk in that same sky clouds were racing and you almost believed in a miracle.

Rain has come again; the apples never ripened; a dog that was lost found home.

Another year has come and gone and you took the table to the other room.

Happy birthday.

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Mar 12Liked by Tanya Shadrick

Dear Daughter

1984: “I’m going to have the baby.” Dad leapt up. Maybe he thought he was going to have be mid-wife but this was ‘Jimmy’s’ and driving wives to hospital was not allowed. I left in the ambulance, wrapped in a white blanket like Virgin Mary, wheel chair for donkey, delivery ward for stable. There was ‘room at the Inn’, except the lift was jammed with an imminent arrival. My waters broke, head engaged, mucus quickly removed from airways, and there, beautiful you. Days later you lay warm and cosy, almost asleep, while outside snow fell on a cold spring day. Brilliant breaking sunshine and I am suddenly overwhelmed with unspeakable happiness.

Between …swapping city for village, we moved to Lincolnshire where you grew up a little shy. Terrorised by your brother trying to convince you that you were adopted, you learnt to hold your own, your sunny personality reflecting your name, ‘bright one’.

A return to the northeast. New schools and plentiful cousins, your reticence disappeared with the arrival of Barney, our King Charles spaniel. Adventurous, on frequent Eurocamp holidays you made friends regardless of language. Persuasive, you appeared one morning in PJ’s, hat, coat, scarf, feet in shoe boxes to convince us to invest in a ski-trip. Laughter always.

If I wondered what the future held for you, you have constantly surprised me: trekking in Madagascar; University; a year in New Jersey; London, Manchester before heading to Cambodia, Asia and finally your fifth continent Australia. Navigating airports, visas, time zones, you evolved into the adventurous one.

2018, home. The most delightful surprise of all, a beautiful son for you. Roots and wings.

2024. I’m so proud of the person you have become: brilliant mother, thoughtful daughter, long suffering sister and you, yourself! Kind, empathetic, humorous and mercy hearted; it’s been 40 years of privilege.

Jean Wilson

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I used to struggle to remember the date of my dad’s birthday. Was it the 28th or the 29th? I don’t really know why this block existed around its date. I never had the same problem with Mum’s birthday, despite knowing that there was some doubt around it. Being born during the war, perhaps in or around an air raid would add difficulty to dates.

Because everything was about mum – how is your mum? Is your mum better? Bless your poor dad, such a rock, looking after your mum. Always the star of the show, though probably preferring not to be, my ‘mad’ mum, my loyal faithful dad.

Once I got his birth date correct, the next pressing issue was what to buy as a gift? The usual stalwarts of socks and shirts soon ran out; the lack of interest in reading, beyond histories of local pubs, ruled out books. So I turned to music – replacing and or updating dad's old tapes of Bob Dylan,The Rolling Stones, Cat Stevens etc. Sometimes a DVD, perhaps Das Boot (to satisfy the former submariner in him) or a comedy by Robin Williams.

I was often not sure if I had got it right. But dad wasn’t that bothered about birthdays really, beyond a nice card and perhaps a pint of bitter later in the pub.

And now? Now, dad doesn’t know it’s his birthday, let alone what day or year it is. When we tell him, he is pragmatic and fine about it, it just comes as a surprise to him, that’s all.

Does a birthday count if the person with it doesn’t remember the significance of the day? I don’t know. I mark it for him, I remember for him.

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OMGOODNESS that video is, as the term you use, so touching! What a wonderful couple you are. I started at this post as it tied in with us first meeting yesterday- 16 April 2023 -on what I was nudged to remember by my brother Russell was our mum’s birthday. I’d forgotten. She’s been ten years gone now. All of this threw up so much yesterday and I’m going to come back to it later but got to make the tea now. But just to say that video has made me feel all the more blessed to find this lovely place 💝

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I loved that Philip Larkin poem to Sally Amis! Not read it before-v moving. Thanks for sharing it

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Nov 27, 2022Liked by Tanya Shadrick

Dear A,

The call for birthday letters arrived the day after your birthday. As always, I’d thought of sending you a card on the first of the month, nearly four weeks early – much too soon, even with the increasing vagaries of airmail. As always, I then forgot, and instead had to send an apologetic email on the day. We’ve both been doing this for years, more birthdays than not.

This is a big one, the year you reach the age your father was when he died. The same age as my father when he died, both of them felled unexpectedly in robust middle age. Soon you and I will both be older, god/dess willing, than our fathers ever were. I see it’s weighing on you.

So many odd ways in which our lives, lived on different continents since secondary school, have intersected and echoed one another. Makes it tempting to read meaning and portent in the patterns. Or to ask, how much were our paths laid by the shared circumstances of the children we were?

But becoming our fathers’ elders – just as each of us mothered our mothers, in their waning months – suggests to me we write our own way. That when we each post photographs of a flat grey sea on the same day – one looking east, the other west – or find we love a particular song or are watching a migratory bird in common, it is cultivated sympathy, not soulless fate. That friendship creates synchronicity, and habits of perception; that it continues to generate the food of its own further thriving. The scattered crumbs of digital contact and also the rich feasts of occasional physical presence.

Cake, dear A. Until I can bake one for you, from a recipe I didn’t learn from either parent.



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Nov 17, 2022Liked by Tanya Shadrick

Oh Tanya your words touch me so deeply. I don't quite know what to say except thank you for your time, your close reading of all the work you are creating here, and your utter care and respect for our words and our work.


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Nov 16, 2022Liked by Tanya Shadrick

To Blackpool, to me.

This year my birthday was hijacked by the queen. It was the day of her funeral, so I decided to take a leaf out of her book and have two. Birthdays that is, not funerals.

So here I am eight days later, on a train to Blackpool. There’s an acorn in my pocket, and the silver sparkly pen my son bought me for my birthday. I chose it myself, he said. Happy birthday from your twat of a son, he wrote in my card. Love you mum.

The rain is heavy and persistent, streaking down the train windows. I trace the wobbling drops with my finger. I know it will stop by the time we pull into Blackpool. The morning has been fraught, my son telling me to go fuck myself multiple times as I try and get him out of the house by 7.30 to catch the bus to college.

As the train pulls further away from my home town, I feel the ties unravelling. At the moment, being in my house, in my life, often feels like being tangled in barbed wire. A year ago, when he admitted that he was seeing someone else, I asked my son’s father to leave the house, and he refused. The situation is ongoing, and somehow it is all my fault.

It’s not my fault.

But Blackpool. Blackpool, where the North Shore is a five minute walk from the station. Blackpool, where the skies are big, and something inside me expands and reaches out to fill the space, tunes into the tides, and listens as the waves crash. Blackpool, where I can reconnect with myself. I am a grain of sand. I am the wind.

Next year, next year, things will be different. Happy birthday.

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Ah thank you Tanya so much ! I wasn't sure I'd I had some to contribute but found myself in the kitchen early sat baking a birthday orange cake 😊

Thank you for always reading and taking time to add these to the archive ! Much love monique xxx

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