Hello tired parents, we have made it through the summer holidays! I’ve been trying to assess whether I have enjoyed the last six weeks. I have to honestly say that I haven’t. I haven’t ‘enjoyed’ them because I’m not sure if I ‘enjoy’ anything anymore. Now that isn’t as depressing as it may sound. Of- course I enjoy aspects of my life now, but it’s in a very different way. A shift has occurred since I had children. I am a different person, but I constantly rate my experiences by a criteria set by the old me. Am I searching for a self that doesn’t exist anymore? I feel a sense of loss for the carefree person I used to be. Now every experience is had through the fuzzy edges of exhaustion. The constant weight of parental responsibility. The non-stop chatter and screams of emotionally dysfunctional small people. The lack of freedom is claustrophobic. In short, I am too tired to be me and I miss me!
There are defining moments in our lives where we are changed forever; childbirth is one of them and moments of trauma and grief are also defining in their impact on our lives. Our latest book, ‘The Wild Other’ by Clover Stroud is a memoir which focuses on one such defining moment and the ripples it then sends through Clover’s life. At sixteen Clover’s mum has a horse riding accident and is left unable to communicate or recognise anyone, including her family. We see how Clover is pushed to have extreme experiences to try and escape what happened and then later, when she has her own children, we see how she is unable to push it aside anymore.
The narrative moves between different points in the past. The narration begins just after Clover’s third and fourth children were born; Evangeline and Dash. We learn of her post- natal depression. “When I’m giving birth, I feel my role in this life is at its most vivid and precisely defined. There’s no smudginess but instead just ecstasy. The slump of postnatal depression was the diametric opposite of this emotional clarity. It was far, far more painful than childbirth, and unlike labour went on for weeks and months, not hours.” Clover is very honest about her feelings after giving birth. I love the use of the word ‘smudginess’. Your identity and purpose do become blurry. It is as though someone has rubbed you out and you become the faint pencil lines left behind.
She then takes us back to before the accident and what life was like with her mum. “Mum loved expansively. Her love was huge and generous and everywhere, so that just existing a single day as her daughter felt like standing under the bright spotlight of a force that only ever protected.” The idyllic nature of her childhood, amongst the ponies and the ever- present love of her mother, makes the accident even more jarring. Clover’s loss is physical and as a reader I felt this too. Moving structurally between Clover as an adult mother and her as a child and teenager, allows the reader to understand just how defining the accident was, how it changed her life so monumentally and is forever tied up with who she is in the present. As Clover watches a video of herself playing with her daughter Evangeline, she sees not herself, but her mother. “I understood that that was how she had kissed me, that was how she had cared for me and talked to me. I saw that that was how she had loved me.”
I found this memoir moving, vivid and honest. Stroud doesn’t shy away from the dark side of life, but equally her memoir is full of life. She travelled with gypsy ponies in Ireland, rode with cowboys in America and spent time with the ‘wild’ Alani. The horses she rode on always driving her forward to new experiences. They represent freedom and living life without restraint. Just like the landscape that she keeps returning to, the White Horse on the hill above Uffington, they not only connect her to her past, but also ground her in the present and move her forward to her future.
The memoir ends with Stroud on a horse ‘new life is flickering inside me before the ground rushes forward and we’re galloping, we’re flying, we’re going home.” Life moves forward, but it is always connected to the past.
Now I really want to go and ride a horse!