When I worked as a journalist in London I never noticed the seasons. I only became aware of them very vaguely, noticing one day that all the trees I cycled past had turned russet-brown, or realising one day in March that the air felt warmer and lighter, heralding Spring.
Since settling into life as a mother the time I spend outdoors has increased exponentially. In a way it's like coming home. I grew up in the countryside, was always outdoors, lived and breathed mud and snails and cow parsley and ponies and grass and air.
As soon as I became a mother I swapped days in an office for days outside. Not always necessarily for the most noble of reasons, I hasten to add. Going out for a walk was one way, often the only way, to cope with Cherry's relentless crying. Wandering across the common after her nap became a way to fill and move the time until Noel came home.
But despite these tough moments, it was mainly for the joy. Every joy, every small victory, every tiny magical moment of the early days and weeks and months of her life, happened outside. The first time I took her out in the carrier, watched the sun bathe her tiny precious face, and sat on a bench and drank in the enormity of my life changing forever while the common outside my front door remained steadfastly the same, always evolving but always constant.
The picnics and walks, the sunshine on her smiling face, the splashing and paddling on hot summer afternoons, her first hesitant stumbling steps.
When Violet was born we spent three hazy golden months, as summer gave way to autumn, outside every single day. We would leave for a park in the morning after breakfast, Violet snug in the sling, and return for naps, then head out for a walk by the river in the afternoon.
Life with two children under two was actually blissfully easy, compared to what was to come. But even when life with two very young children became harder than I thought possible, there was always something I could do to make it a little easier on all of us, and that was to open the front door.
Somehow, somewhere, in the last four and a half years a sense of a deep connection, a grounding, has snuck up on me. Somewhere along the line I have become the parent I always wanted to be. In no way perfect, but definitely a parent I want to be. A parent who remembers what it was like to be a child herself, how it felt.
I have also discovered many things I learned as a child are there, in the back of my mind, still accessible if I want them. The bird books I pored over mean I can now identify most common species from sight. I don't know how I know it's a mistle thrush. I just look, and it comes to me.
Cherry, Violet and I live outside. We do of course spend time in the house, more so in the winter and more particularly this winter and early Spring when the endless damp, cold, grey weather finally got to all of us. But even so, we spend vast, vast swathes of our time and lives outdoors. From March to November it's pretty much all day every day. As the days cool and the evenings draw in, we find other ways to get our fresh air fix, playing football out on our cul-de-sac under the streetlights, going for walks with our red torches, spotting Christmas lights.
Again my motivations aren't always noble. It's often the only way I can keep us going through the day if tempers are fraying, the walls pressing in, there seems to be no physical structure big enough to encompass my daughters' relationship when they are in those moods.
Through the two and a half year of intense sleep deprivation Violet brought with her sunshine-y, joyful presence going outdoors was often the only way to keep me going through the day too.
Everything is made so much easier, so much better, once I step outside.
A friend of mine once said 'I'm a better parent outdoors,' and I agree. But actually that statement isn't big enough for me.
I'm a better person outdoors.
Our front door has become something of a gateway. Stepping outside of it has led all of us to more than I could have possibly imagined. And the person who has benefitted most, is me.
In the last four years I have watched years and years of pent-up hurt, fear and rage melt away. I have felt myself come creeping, slowly slowly, out from inside my head and into the rest of my body. I have become more aware, more present, more confident, more content and more alive. I have come back to myself. Become myself.
As I watch my children begin their journeys with a strong sense of self and connection with nature and the outdoors I realise more than ever how outside is a true gateway.
For them it's the first, and in my view the most important, gateway to learning and knowledge. Counting sticks and stones, creating art with sticks, leaves and berries, telling stories and creating theatricals with snail shells, wildflowers and of course, sticks.
The outdoors prompts thousands of questions. Endless speculation and wondering across its vastness. But there is something so comforting in it too. The predictability of the seasons, the steadfastness of the sky, the constant cycle of life.
As I lay next to Cherry last night, waiting for her to drift off to sleep, she said to me 'Mummy, what's bigger than the sky?'
I thought about it for a while and said 'Space is bigger than the sky.'
She nodded. 'And my collection of stones?'
'No, Cherry. You have a big collection of stones but it's not that big.'
'Well what else is bigger than the sky then?'
I thought about it some more and said 'How much I love you. That's bigger than the sky.'
She nodded with satisfaction. 'Yes, Mummy. And I love you longer than the sky too.'
For my children outdoors brings a deep understanding of their wild natures and the wildness of nature. A connection to the world that will hopefully see them become protective and cherishing of it.
A gateway that will always bring them home.
*This is a blogpost written as part of a competition run by Canopy & Stars for a place on the #CSCollective