“The best things in life aren’t things”. My Mother in Law has this quote on her wall in her kitchen, on a cute cross-stitch plaque. She also has “I’m not bossy, I just have better ideas” on a wooden heart by the oven. Not everything is inspired, but that little cross-stitch plaque really struck a chord with me.
I mean, if you are an exceptionally poor person, actually the best things in life are things. Food, shelter, clothing. A teddy for your son, nappies for your baby, that sort of stuff.
Equally, if you’re poor, things can be the worst things. Like brown envelopes from the government, stating they overpaid you something or other and need it back by yesterday. The worst things. Frightening, anxiety-inducing, gut wrenching things.
But assume for a moment that we have all those basics covered. We get by. We’re not well off, but we aren’t starving either. Maybe we can even put a little away each month. A rainy day fund. A future fund for our kids. That sort of thing. Or maybe we’re really well off and holiday in Tahiti or Barbados 3 times a year. Then what are the best things that aren’t things?
As a parent, a partner, a daughter, a sister, a friend, one of my best things is time.
Having time to make a birthday cake. Time to listen. Time to read We’re Going on a Bear Hunt 6 times in a row, with all the right intonation and rhythm, just the way she loves it. Time to cry with you, laugh with you, hell, just meet with you and catch up and exchange pleasantries and see how your kids have grown and what they are discovering now. Time not to care if we run out of time, because we’ll find more time.
I love time. Time is the best thing that isn’t a thing.
My childhood piano teacher use to say ” you can always find time for the things you want to do.” He was talking about piano practice, of course, which I realised I didn’t especially want to do.
But every now and then when I’m flustered and rushed off my feet and desperate to just sit down and drink a coffee while it’s hot and eat my body weight in cinnamon buns and I can’t because I have to do the washing and the baby needs me and I have coursework to do and my floor hasn’t seen a vacuum cleaner in a week and I need to phone the bank and I haven’t got the nappies off the washing line and, and, and… I just stop. I stop and breathe and take a huge gulp of my luke warm coffee, set it down, pick Aeryn up and just sit down and cuddle her. Because except her, everything can wait. I will find the time another time. And we snuggle and say “one thing at at a time!” and read We’re Going on a Bear Hunt three more times. And then she helps me get the nappies off the washing line by eating the pegs for me.
My next favourite thing that isn’t a thing is love. But love is funny, because sometimes love is a thing. Sometimes it manifests as a tangible object, like a book you’re given “because I know she’s your favourite author and it’s new and I thought you’d enjoy it”. Little acts of love, of thought and caring, all wrapped up in a physical thing.
But love is also those deep, intense, lively moments of connection, when your whole being is awake and you can’t believe you are lucky enough to be feeling something so powerful. When I breastfeed Aeryn and she falls asleep all contented and milk drunk and soft and warm, it’s like I might erupt in an oxytocin-fuelled jolt and then melt all over the sofa. Hormones are weird like that.
Other times, she’s trying to bite me or crocodile roll while still attached to my nipple, and love is the force that lets me keep going with this breastfeeding stuff. Because she still needs it. And those crazy minutes and hours attached to me are sometimes the only time she can process the myriad of crazy feelings and emotions that her ever growing and connecting neurons are producing. Being one is hard.
Love is also the comfortable moments. It’s wandering around your house in your pyjamas, stretch marked and exhausted and full of cold and snot and being told you look beautiful by someone who truly means it. It’s lying on the sofa together, reading books and not talking and it not feeling silent. Cooking together, sharing something you’ve made. Looking at the way your daughter plays with your partner and feeling full up and content.
Love is an amazing, evolving, strange thing that isn’t a thing.
There are also lots of things that aren’t things that are so vital and important to everyday life, we can forget to even mention them if we have them. Democracy. Human rights. Play. Legal protection. Imagination. Rationality. Wisdom. Connected-ness. Feminism. Diversity. Sunsets. Okay, okay, sunsets are a thing, I suppose. A transcendent kind of thing.
I try to remember that little cross-stitched quote. Between looking for odd socks, rummaging in the back of the cupboard for the last of the coffee, picking up wooden blocks, romping through the woods and holding all the Very Important Special Rocks Aeryn wants to keep, I remember that the very best things aren’t things at all.
But I’ll keep those rocks for a while, anyway. Because sometimes for me, the best things are the special, tiny, beautiful things.