So here we are, finally. 2016 has ground to a halt and it seems I am not alone in being ready for a fresh start for 2017. This has been the murkiest, most bewildering year I have seen for a long time; when at times it has seemed impossible to see beyond the next step and momentum only possible through sheer willpower and self-determination not to succumb to the gloom.
To be honest, by the run-up to Christmas I was ready to stop everything. In particular, the end of the school routine came as a relief to us all: Tula has struggled this year with the twice daily removal of her scoliosis brace, being unable to wear it whilst in a vehicle because of the support around her neck as should she be wearing it in an collision there would be no doubt that her neck would snap. Being at home every day she is accustomed to her confinement: each time she is released and re-imprisoned she is reminded of her torture and it becomes a daily struggle for us all. Her health has been poor too: the ongoing challenge of getting her to eat was tested for a few weeks by a persistent tummy bug which tired her out and took away what little appetite she has with the pressure of the brace on her torso. In the bundle of paintings she brought home from school on the last day of term is an unsmiling self-portrait which she explained was her at school, not smiling because she was not happy.
I took a break from my online life which has been very good for us all. It is easy to forget how disconnecting it is for those around you in real life when your eyes and your brain are occupied elsewhere. Particularly so for the younger girls. Elodie has made great progress this year with her general development: she is completely out of nappies day and night, the youngest to do so out of the four by far. Her independence is quite astounding: even in this big old house she is quite happy to trot downstairs by herself at night and use our unheated, unlit bathroom. She is still a handful though: constantly in need of attention of some kind and very vocal about her requirements, which can be exhausting for all of us. Bringing my awareness back to her needs has helped her calm down a little, even if I do find it a little frustrating now that I have become used to my freedom. I do not want her to feel that the only way she can get attention is through negative behaviour: it is easy to fall into the habit of shouting back at a demanding child. She just needs total, positive attention every now and then, surrounded as she is by her older, differently-demanding siblings.
The house has been the most important change in our lives this year: without doubt it has been the best thing to have happened to us since we moved to France. It feels as if we have finally settled here at last. The language is coming more easily to us all – even Tula, the silent one at school, has come home singing in French and talking with her toys in a squeakily invented Franglais which is very sweet to hear. We have our family carte vitale, or health card plus we no longer need to fill up bottles of drinking water from the village tap, both of which make me a whole lot happier! We have conceded that we cannot build a house on the plot as we had planned, and accepting this has released us in all sorts of ways. Sometimes you just have to admit defeat: even if you had the best intentions to make a plan work, there just is no point in making yourself and those around you suffer unnecessarily. I don’t think I even realised just how unhappy I was living in the mobile homes whilst we were there: I only knew how impossible it felt to make any progress when just standing still required so much effort. Now the task of unpacking and organising the wreckage of our belongings is still to do, but again, that too feels so much more do-able with space around us. It is bliss to be able to finally get our lives in order: particularly so for me as I have so much I am interested in that I very easily become overwhelmed with it all. The simple joy of unpacking my books and being able to find materials is thrilling to me when I have so much I want to do!
I plan to do a lot of making in 2017: I have a new patchwork quilt I have started working on, with which I want to explore the theme of female ancestry in my life, with the Grandmother’s Garden pattern I am following as a starting-point for some stitched writing. A big part of this project is about condensing my enormous hoard of saved fabrics so that when we do eventually move – whether because this house is sold and we need to find somewhere to rent, or if we manage to sell our plot and find our own home at last. These precious scraps need to find a purpose in case the time comes when I have to decide what I must do without.
And there are many things I am planning to do for The 70273 Project, one of which is a new adventure in fabric printing with the idea of creating a densely-worked fabric book to be used as a performance prop. This has been put on hold during the holidays as I find the subject matter too traumatic to balance with family life: this serious and sad history needs space and silence to dive into it fully and at the same time to be able to leave it behind enough so as to be able to function inbetween sessions. The horror can seep into your skin if you do not make an effort to buffer each visit.
La Corbeille will be kicking back into action in the New Year with some stitch kits I plan to put together for sale in the shop: bundles of old lace and ephemera for scrapbooking and crafting. I have a new shed to work in, which whilst lacking the light and the beautiful view of the one Jude built for me, more than makes up for with character and photographic potential.
For 2017 I intend to live in the moment: to concentrate on inner calm and self-fulfilment and to devote myself to learning and growing. There has been such a wave of negativity smothering the world lately, with political and environmental issues dominating the news around the world and, without wanting to stick my head in the sand and ignore it all, I do feel that now, more than ever, the focus has to be on personal growth and connecting with people in a positive, uplifting way. Through self-improvement, through creating and connecting with like-minded souls, together we can choose happiness over defeatism: simple pleasures over mindless consumerism.
The future is slow: clear and bright with hope. And facepaint. Lots of facepaint.