Back from Brisbane, I spent a few hours today in the garden. Spreading muck, sowing some broad beans, lettuce and broccoli, but mostly planting flowers: 60 mixed iris, sweet peas and Queen Anne's Lace, to keep company with the multitude of freesias, the 100 ranunculas, last year's daffodils and the 140 tulips still sitting in the vegetable crisper. If the plans unfurl in the way I hope, we will drift in colour for months.
Anyone who writes about gardening can't help but state that the planting of seeds is an act of faith; no matter how simple the science, there's something quite surprising in the green from the brown, the pink (or red, or yellow, or white) from the green. Today, the planting of flowers seemed even more a statement of hope than usual. When I think of that loveliness, it sits in a vase in our house - flowers in the garden are too far away for me. And in that image, the vase sits in a house that is serene, sharing space with a family that is happy and calm. A family, indeed, with a rather different emotional tenor to the one we shared today.
Today, Lucy behaved horribly, so horribly I can't quite remember a time when she did not (though I am almost sure that time was only about 48 hours ago). So horribly that is was all I - all we - could do not to scream at her, to hit out hard. Al and I don't physically punish the girls, and days like today strengthen that resolve despite - and because - we want so badly to smack her. On days like today that smack could only be vindictive. On days like today we come to the brink of something very harsh and I'm not sure what stops me - self-discipline perhaps, sometimes drifting into my happy place, a deep breath, screaming in my head, or the intervention of Al (who only fifteen minutes ago was in the same position). We're good and kind people, our own parents were great role models, we have a whole set of financial, social and emotional resources and still we come so close.
As a childless person I was blithely judgmental of any parent who hit their child in anger or laziness or frustration or resentment or any of the 100 other emotional states we are not meant to experience as parents, and to be honest I still often am. But my goodness, the only difference between me and those I judge is that my hand stops barely short.
I love my kids, it goes without saying. But sometimes I need to say it, to remind myself that it's true, and to hold on to that image of a vase of flowers in a happy home.