Cat Sick and the Power of Vulnerability: Fiona Merrick on Parenting and Imperfection

Jun 10 2013

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Welcome to our Monday guest post series on Parenting and Imperfection.

Today, I’m thrilled to introduce you to my friend and penpal, Fiona Merrick, the smart and witty writer behind the delightful blog, Writing in the Sky. Like me, Fiona utterly fails at niche writing, dabbling in a little bit of everything, which always keeps me entertained and coming back for more. Also, I admit to a certain, extreme level of glee every time Fiona documents her sons’ mishaps with talcum powder or icing sugar; I just feel so understood when I see her home riddled with mess, though, you know?

I hope you enjoy Fiona as much as I do.

Beth Woolsey

P.S. Because Fiona is from the U.K., I read absolutely everything she writes in a Mary Poppins voice. I’m certain I’m being culturally sensitive and entirely accurate when I do so. You might at least try to be more mature than me.

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Cat Sick and the Power of Vulnerability
by Fiona Merrick

I’d like, if I may, to begin this post by initiating a game with which I know many of you are already very familiar: Good News / Bad News. Beth taught me how to play it, and it’s one of my very favourites. Ready?

Good News: this morning, I flipped our mattress for the first time in years.

Bad News: I was forced to flip the mattress because the cat vomited lavishly all over the bottom sheet of the unmade bed before the day had properly drawn breath, and furthermore was also forced to wash all the bed linen, which was only laundered last week. Those sheets had plenty of mileage left in them yet, I don’t mind telling you.

Good News: today was sunny and warm here in north-east England, so – miracle of miracles – even the super-king-size duvet cover had time to dry outside on the washing line.

Bad News: both my boys have summer colds, and I caught one of them walking right into the newly-spotless and recently-dried duvet cover this afternoon as it blew gently in the breeze, wiping his streaming nose all over it in the process.

Good News: nowadays, my standards are very low indeed and I’m going to sink into that bed tonight irrespective of vomit, snot or indeed any other unpleasant substance that comes my way between now and then.

I know you understand, you mamas of one or two or five or ten kids; I know you relate and empathise and get it, because that’s why most of us are here, isn’t it? We read to know we’re not alone, said CS Lewis, and that’s sure as heck one of the many reasons I show up here at Five Kids Is A Lot Of Kids every time Beth blesses us with a new post, because the honesty and the sharing and the warm sense of community we all find here reminds us that we’re not alone. And we need that, don’t we? We need to know that we’re not the only one. I know I need that reassurance, sometimes desperately and urgently.

So I share my cat-sick story – and I have a hundred similar tales to tell – in case something similar has happened in your household this week, so you know that someone’s standing alongside you in all the mess and unpredictability, telling you you’re not alone. You’re not the only one who’s struggling with this parenting lark. You’re not the only one who didn’t have time to deal with an unscheduled cat-sick incident today. You’re not the only one whose house usually looks as if you’ve been recently burgled. You’re not alone. Solidarity’s where it’s at, and I try to embrace this beautiful truth a little more every day, amidst the hilarious uncontrollability of life with children.

I have an initimate friend – the Diana Barry to my Anne Shirley – who reminds me of this often, just by showing up weekly and empathising with me every time. Fiona and I met in our first week of college; named the same and studying Music together, it was inevitable that our paths would cross, but I prefer to call it providential. Almost two decades later, we’re both still living in our university city and bringing up sons, and she visits my house every Friday for coffee and conversation. I could rhapsodise at length about any one of her amazing qualities as a person – and there are dozens from which to choose – but it’s the honesty that I particularly cherish, the honesty which she encourages and offers, and which allows me to say here I am, with a thousand imperfections – let’s be friends who tell each other the truth, shall we?

I know I can open the door to her wearing ripped jeans and no make-up, hair wild and house wilder, and she’ll hug me warmly and step over the scattered toys on her way to my grubby kitchen which never seems to get any cleaner, try though I honestly do. There, we’ll eat and talk and laugh and share and tell truths about the messy corners of our respective lives. And here’s the thing: Fi doesn’t judge me for the things I can’t manage; instead, she tells me about the things with which she struggles as a mother. She never comments on the Lego bricks dotted underfoot or the piles of laundry dropped randomly throughout my comically and chronically untidy home; instead, she tells me about her daily battle with toys and dirty clothes. There’s no need to maintain an artificial façade of domestic competence in front of her, because I know I have her total understanding, which in return means she has both my trust and my honesty.

In eighteen years of friendship, we’ve built something within which we can give and receive each other’s confessions like a gift: a now-unspoken sense of you-show-me-yours-and-I’ll-show-you-mine, which is all the more precious now we’re walking the mothering road together. Her willingness to make herself vulnerable in my company gives me the strength to be vulnerable myself: vulnerable in my imperfection as both a parent and a person.

And it’s powerful, isn’t it, this thing called vulnerability? It’s freeing. Liberating. Another person’s willingness to open themselves up invites us to do the same, reciprocating in kind, completing the circle and perpetuating the wonderful truth that imperfection is, after all, the reality here. It’s what enables us to draw one another into a community, one by one, calling out there is room for you here, and you’re warmly welcomed as we do so.

And I think that’s what we all need and crave, secretly or openly: the opportunity to feel included somewhere, weaknesses and all, with encrusted clothing and unbrushed hair, barely erect with weariness and carrying a unique set of burdens, yet still accepted by others. The load is much, much lighter when it’s shared by two or by many, which is just one of the many reasons why I love and value my friend Fiona so very deeply, and why I keep showing up at Beth’s place every time she offers us, her readers and friends, another fragment of her mama-heart. Those freely-given glimpses of another’s life, mess and all, help me to stumble through the imperfections of my own, and even to find the humour in something as outrageously disgusting as a bedful of cat sick.

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Fiona Profile Photo

Fiona Merrick is the writer behind Writing in the Sky as well as a stay-at-home mother and former high-school teacher. She lives in the north-east of England with her husband Ben, sons Joshua and Daniel and cat Mandu.

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You can see all of the Parenting and Imperfection posts here.

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