‘Summer, when the living is easy
and we store up pleasure in our bodies
like fat, like Eskimos,
for the coming season of privation.’
– Summer in a Small Town, Tony Hoagland
‘Pleasures are not, if they last;
In their passing is their best.
Glory is most bright and gay
In a flash, and so away.’
– Are They Shadows, Samuel Daniel
‘And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.’
– I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, William Wordsworth
I am often being told: “enjoy it while it lasts / make the most of it … it goes too fast.” This worries me on two counts – am I enjoying my 10 month old daughter enough? And how will I manage those phases to come, when the current time runs out?
The thing is, some days I’m just getting through. It was the same, when I think about it, when I was working full time; people would ask if I enjoyed what I did and I would think – well yes, in theory, but in reality? In reality the enjoyment can get overshadowed by all sorts of other things.
Getting through the days is part of the job, I think. It’s the bit of our lives that others don’t see, that I can only guess at when I see the other mothers looking so happy and beautiful, each in their different ways, at the baby groups we sometimes manage to get to.
But when I take a step back, I can see that these moments of being and looking at our best are a kind of reward for all the getting through, and that we need their sustaining power too for the hours ahead.
I had, at some points, thought that pleasure was surplus to the necessary requirements of life, that it was what people did with what was spare and left over: time, money, resources. And even pleasure can take effort, and I can often feel like I don’t have the energy even for that.
But these moments when we are alive to where we are, who we are with, what we are doing and what we are feeling are the highlights that put our experiences into relief. I would have more of them, not less.
So before another week slides by, here are some recent ones I have salvaged from memory:
- DD plucking grass for the first time on the top of a hill. She loves the feel of it coming free in her hands, just as I did. The indiscriminate way in which some blades come loose from the earth, and others remain. She could sit here for some while, going from one meditative pull to another, just as I did. And in a very small way, the bountiful earth seems here once again inexhaustible, despite the threats and the damage that we all know about.
- DD with a red and white striped straw from Costa. You think we’ve produced these to save the planet, to safeguard teeth and sell a brand, she seems to say, but look what I can do with it! I can impress Mummy with the psychedelic patterns it makes rolling along the table; I can play with it or drop it and see if Mummy will pick it up; and when I’ve done all that, I see it is excellent for chewing.
- DD’s joy upon opening a book she hasn’t seen before and finding on the very back page … a mirror! Rocking backwards and forwards to zoom in and out of the baby face in front of her. So perfectly contained, and so unexpected!
- For both of us, the surprise of suddenly spying DD’s reflection in the glass of the iPad, which I had forgotten was sat there on the windowsill. Enjoying a moment together, as surprise breaks through the surface of the ordinary.
- DD smiling the same smile as DH, and I the lucky one who is there to observe the match. The smile bounces from face to face, reflected one in the other.
- Perhaps most of all, I am aware of giving pleasure when we take DD out, whether it be to the supermarket, a coffee shop or the local chip shop. People stop what they are doing to talk to her and enjoy her smile. An older woman stacking shelves; a woman wearied by her day at work; a woman who is out for the day with her carer; even a father who already has his hands full with his own son. DD is thrilled to have someone new to meet, and despite all the social conventions and differences, it seems people can’t help responding as if we did all truly belong to the same family.
At other times I am buoyed up myself. It feels good to be able to notice that these moments are still possible too:
- Driving downhill from a slip road onto the motorway, and accelerating up to speed. That surging feeling of: “we made it, we got out, and we’re on our way!” It is a pleasure to have somewhere to go, a destination to aim for.
- Entering a park and stepping into a different space, one that doesn’t ask so much of me but which extends its own shadow of protection and solace to those who wanderingly seek it. Here the noises are different, the feel of the ground beneath my feet is different, and the shape and colour of things is different. We don’t have to go either up or down; we can stop, gently pass through or simply be.
- Holding hands, which I forget has become a rarity now that normally one of us is occupied with the pushchair. The feel of safety and steadiness, of those hands that I have known and that know me.
Often I think we can be persuaded that pleasure is something to be sought, and then bought. It is sold in quantities and for pounds and pence: 100g chocolate, £15 for afternoon tea, an hour’s baby entertainment for £5. But whilst we are promised happy times, my sense is that when we pay for something, it follows that we get so much and no more; it is not that the goods are mis-sold or subject to false advertising, but rather that the pricing is in fact both accurate and exacting. There can be a weariness in paying for pleasure all the time. We have to give as much as we get.
Life itself, though, comes to us free. Pleasures dart in like a bird on the wing, or a sunbeam falling across the carpet. They do not stay, but neither do they leave us empty, so long as we have been touched.