Snow lungs

6:10 am

Strategies of feminist motherhood in visual culture and in life set out to embarrass – to get in the way of – restrictive traditional taboos, so that maternal qualities such as caring, empathy and sacrifice are displaced, no longer kept solely in the private realm, assigned to their ‘proper place.’ So that we understand and thus enlarge the concepts of maternal care and feminist action as reciprocal: so that feminist care and maternal action are at work when, for example, childcare is no longer considered trivial and does not present an embarrassment to mainstream mother-loathing-if-she-is-out-of-her-place culture. Feminist care and maternal action are at work in loving actions and representations where sentimentality – to be understood as deep, intimate and real feelings not limited to gender – is no longer a cultural embarrassment.

Andrea Liss, Studies in the Maternal: Maternal Ethics: The Surprise of the Real


The cars movement on the main road outside increases as the early morning progresses. Left a warm bed. Washing machine chugging, gas fire glitching and hiccupping and crackling, radiator on, blanket over my legs and laptop light burning the early into my eyes.

” Get down Marney” I sternly proclaim. The black labradors owner is impressed by my assertions and congratulates me for disciplining her dog. This is an entirely strange arrangement, but I have conceded to the fact that if she is not going to stop her lolloping male dog from attempting to launch me to the ground each morning, I will have to discipline it myself.


The birds are more active. I cannot catch them with my mobile phone camera, they dart and fly too quick. They must be hungry, thye must be, the snow is over four foot deep in places. I delight at a wren hopping around near a baby beach tree just at my head height. He scurries away and hides between tuft of grass and clump of snow. The snow is thick and heavy in the trees. As I pass under its canopy, small avalanches of the stuff fall gently to the ground. The snow is thawing already. It is surprisingly warm. Still I have never seen so much snow. It hasn’t drifted. It has just piled up and up. It has stuck in ridges against the sides of the dry stone walls. It has clung to the sides of trunks.  In the smaller branches it sits in clumps and craddles.


I momentarily jump into the sledging field, I had planned to make portraits of all the snowmen, but I have to abandon the mission. The snow is so deep that it reaches right to the inside of my thigh. I am not wearing waterproofs and don’t want to get cold, my throat is already tingling, I am tired and fear that I have contracted Syd’s virus too. I walk on. I walk on and I am in awe of the beauty. It is the best Breugal scape. At the ridge of the hill, behind the large walled georgian mansion the snow piles even deeper. Great lines of snow have formed on top of the gate to the sheep field. The sheep look forlorn, hungry and cold. A large crow sits on the back of one of the sheep, presumably keeping warm or wishing it a carcus.


At the intersection of the perimeter wall of the mansion and the road that stretches onwards to Todmorden Moor where you can see the windmills turn slow in the distance, I meet a woman and a ginger greyhound with a large leather collar. She is friendly. We discuss the snow. We talk about how deep it is, how it snowed all day long. We talk about the lack of drifts and how it has piled higher in some fields than others.  She wistfully tells me that it will all be gone by the weekend. She tells me that she loves snow. We discuss the birds, she is concerned that they are hungry. I tell her about my encounter with the wren. I pat her obedient dog. He is Henry and he is lovely. She lives in the cottage on that farm over there, she points out to me. There are no trees near the farm so she sees few birds at close quarters. We part company.


I speed back home to Syd, its not good to leave him on his own for too long, I can get away with about an hour, he is older now. I run through the two fields down past the herron pond. I run in my big heavy walking boots, maybe I could become a fell runner I think. I think. As J says I need a good supportive sports bra and a pair of sturdy trainers, next month there will be a little money to equipt me. I can wait. I will walk. I will quicken my steps. I will strengthen my muscles. I will breath through an increased pace. I will get stronger, I will.

I have snow lungs.

The snow on the pavements is turning to slush. I notice Naoise red gloves on the pavement, they must have slipped out of Patricks pocket the day before. I ring him to tell him about the magnificent depth of the snow and finding the gloves.

The snow on the pavements is turning to slush and its all brown and mucky and horrid and wet. I have failed at the PhD deadline. I have failed. I am sad. It is hard to battle against the illness of a child, to juggle the demands of caring and working. It  is sometimes impossible to meet a deadline. Next one will come up, next time I will triumph. I will write a draft anyway, I will meet with all my friends that have offered help. I will join two thousand words of clarity and comprehension together. I will. To be patient is hard, to except defeat with your head hanging high. Its ok its ok. Better not to be harsh on myself. I will invent another deadline, as Patrick says the end of February, or maybe before the half term, February is short.


Collecting Naoise the playground is filled with small snow men. Such a sweet surprise. I am glad that they have been building. I am glad they have had fun. They’ve been allowed to play outside and not cooped in. Naoise runs to greet me and he shows me the Snowman that him and F made together, it has a large body and a tiny winy pin of a head. A tall child in his class starts kicking and kicking at it. Can you stop I implore, thats a little mean, he runs off to kick his own snowman down, and I am glad, Naoise was not impressed by his distruction.

I am getting sick of the sound track to Power Rangers after school, but it does allow me to cook tea uninterrupted. I make two dinners one vegetarian, one meat. I am keen to get Syd’s iron levels back up. He is pale. He is pale. He hates ratatouille anyhow. He grimaces at anything remotely healthy.

Later Syd seems in higher spirits. I lie on his top bunk and he plays the song from the Boyhood film on his guitar. I melt in motherly love. I adore his voice. Again I request, he cruelly denies me a second listen in, not good enough mum he tells me, don’t get all soppy on me he says. Must get a thicker skin I keep thinking. Must get tougher to his rejections. Naoise jumps on top of me with plastic guns that he has made from knex. He wants me to fight him, but I am lying down, I am lying down defeated.

All the reading all the research is not a waste. I read some words by Andrea Liss, they are useful. I have toyed over and over with these idea’s of feelings and emotions and sentimentality and motherly love. What is permissible. I love to kiss my Naoise all over. I kiss him to death with my love and he laughs and laughs and we laugh together. I love my children and however frustrating and difficult and annoying and irritating and dismissive they are. Why wouldn’t I want to try to communicate this love, this deep maternal love. Patrick thinks that the problem is cliche. Perhaps it is cliche. Perhaps all of this is cliche. There are only questions. I cut up the idea of sentimentality, I remove the sentiment from the mentality. Mental Sentiments, is that ok ? Small observations. Small little sparks and moments of joy sliced up and reprocessed. The washing machine is reaching a crescendo, and I fear my tracks of thought are slipping into garbage. The cycle ends, sounds like an aeroplane landing in my kitchen. I’ll quote Andrea Liss here as a note to myself, and find that track from the boyhood film, its totally sentimental, and gushing. I give you permission to feel embarrassed by my words. I will explore this embarrassment further, how embarrassing can I be ?

When asked what he considered was the greatest act of heroism he knew, Mahatma Gandhi replied that it the one performed by the mother who woke up in the middle of the night to find that her baby had wet the mattress they were sharing, and who exchanged places to ensure that the baby slept in the dry for the rest of the night. The heroism wasn’t so much in the act but in the fact that the mother had forgotten it entirely the next morning.  Gandhi’s point was that true acts of heroism are threads of common productive actions that weave themselves into the fabric of existence.  Such heroism of everyday life go unnoticed and uncelebrated, but without them the world would grind to a halt.

Dr Jacques Rangasamy ( Review of M(other) exhibition) 

Mothers and all those that mother- you are all heroes, every little action of kindness and love, every sacrifice, every day, this is for you. Gush, blush and enjoy !!  Here is the trailer to the Boyhood film as the official video for Hero is so unbelievably tacky and male and american, and full of bucking rodeo riders, I cannot post it here, maybe I am a snob, but I prefer this, works better with the images from the film. Imagine if I could write a blog for twelve years. How amazing that would be, but I keel over with the thought, I guess that  is what makes this film so amazing, so brilliant, its the commitment by the director and actors to the timeframe and the discrete, intimate moments and scenes of life, of parenting, of care that it captures.













  • Christina

    Lovely writing Helen and interesting thoughts you turn over. I love the photos, and especially the playground pictures with the melted snow. captures something that I can’t put into words about children , schools as places of capture and freedom at the same time.

  • Alison Burrows

    Hi Helen,

    Sorry about your deadline. At the age of 62, 4 degrees later, with my two sons, 37 and 35 and a husband long dead, my only regret is that I didn’t spend enough conscious, so-called “quality” time with my family. Enjoy what you have now, cherish every moment, as you do, and feel no guilt, if possible. I wish I could do it all over again, but better. You will fit that PhD in somewhere. Love to you and your lovely family! xxxx

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