The Cure for Sleep: Play
Season 2, 001: (Re)Claiming our creativity
your invitation to write
This month’s extract from The Cure for Sleep is from the week - after seven years of constant care-giving - that both of my young children were finally in primary school. It was my first chance (following my sudden near-death a decade earlier, just days after my first child’s birth) to think about how I might start truly expanding my life. Although it took a good few more years to grow into a more creative way of being, the seeds of my second life as a writer and artist were planted up on that hillside above the school when I gave myself time to think about play. It’s importance.
And so this month’s invitation to write for the story archive is as follows: When did you last play? Describe a favourite childhood game - solitary or shared. What made it so potent?
And a suggestion for more work around this: If that sort of joy has been gone a long time in your life: what small things could you do - soon, in even a few spare minutes - to recover a little of that energy?
You can read the Season One stories contributed by readers over on The Cure For Sleep website: bedtime stories | memory games | bonding | choosing | promises | size & shape | time | desire | regret | faith | rebirth
(All themes are still open for contributions, so that subscribers with time or health limits have the opportunity to take part as and when they are able.)
the cure for sleep: march extract
How had we been together?
It was urgent to me, before starting out on the next stage of my children’s lives and mine, to re-examine all the thousands of ordinary hours I’d spent with my son and daughter: who we were when there was no one there to know or care how I treated them.
The cat’s mother: what I’d have said if anyone before then had asked what kind of caregiver I’d been. In childhood, I’d seen the strays that scavenged from nearby farms become fastidious teachers once they had a litter. Tender, patient. I had cared for my son and daughter that way, but because I kept a little internal distance always – resisting the physical passion other women described for their children – I felt myself a different, lesser breed of mother.
But there was another story of those years. One of compassion and conscientiousness. Of fun and fantasy. Performed for no pay, no status, only the delight of that small boy and girl.
So many games I improvised to meet their need for hours of play and close attention when I was too disabled by back pain to move very much.
Catching the Moon. Torch beam that I bounced around a darkened room in the last excruciating hour before their father came home each evening – letting it linger on a spot until they grabbed at it, only to send the light skipping off and away from them once again.
Mechanical Dancer. Me as an old rusted doll they’d found, who had to be dusted and oiled before they could wind me up – and then I’d begin, slowly, very slowly, to move just a little . . . a finger, then a toe – and then my eyes opened and I rose to my feet, turning about like the ballerina in a jewellery box. Pointed toes, pirouettes – until my spring was unwound and I lay myself back down.
These and other amusements, all played out behind our big bay windows that I kept curtainless, even after dusk in winter, so anyone outside could look in. Not exhibitionism but a safety mechanism. The terrible things in my childhood took place in private, behind thick net curtains. Being always on show in rooms illuminated and open to view like a doll’s house – this, I felt, would keep me in check, and them protected.
By putting on a constant and exhausting show, I’d kept them both safe. But those little games that they each asked for, again and again, with such fervency: what were those?
At this new distance from my girl and boy, I understood of a sudden what was missing in my own development: children who are safe know exactly what they need, and are unafraid to ask for it. Again and again. Their desires are not always being sandbagged or buried or rationed. What might be obvious to others had for me, there and then, the force of revelation. I came back off the hillside at the end of that week with it ringing inside me, as if I were a bell being sounded.
How would it be to give to myself, for even a short while, such kindness? To spend time learning or recovering what I loved, what I yearned for? To ask for exactly what I needed, as my children were able to do? I’d been so concerned in my first life on becoming safe and secure, and intent since the birth and its aftermath on giving care – to the children, other mothers, hospice patients.
Could I do it? Learn how to play, and not for others’ sakes, but my own?
Shadrick, Tanya. The Cure for Sleep (pp. 155-157). Orion. Kindle Edition.
this month’s extra
Listen to Tanya in conversation with acclaimed US writer Melissa Febos, as part of the UK launch for Body Work: The Radical Power of Personal Narrative