At long last the seasons are on the turn, winters spell is loosening and the green shoots and sap of spring are rising. The sun is high and proud in the sky by 7am, a sweet relief for every parent with young children. The cruel midwinter days of dark mornings and early sunsets are behind us, and each day seems to stretch and lengthen like one who has been long asleep. As the sun comes out of its winter hibernation so the dozing bulbs nestled in the damp earth respond in kind, poking green shoots curiously above ground. Already snowdrops have appeared, white skirts fluttering in the February gusts, harbingers of the coming spring. Each year when I see those clusters of white, delicate petals defiant of winter’s still steady influence, I feel myself on the verge of happy tears, wanting to kiss the sacred earth and all that lives within her. They are the messengers, the outriders, the ones to test the waters, and once spotted it is not long before others come to join the party. All of a sudden crocuses gleam like purple velvet amongst the greening grass whilst the sunny faces of daffodils wave a cheerful salute, all the colours of sunshine in their open smiles. It won't be long before the glory of bluebells spreads through woodland glade and shady copse like blue fire and the branches of cherry and apple explode in a cloud of blossom.
In our home too spring is making its presence felt. After a long season of neglect I have finally seized a naptime to plant out the window boxes, and each time we leave the house we are waved off by a host of cheerful tete a tetes, whilst blue and white hyacinths crouch within their deep green sleeves, poised to emerge and bless anyone that passes with their divine scent. I love that hyacinths are actually cultivated bluebells, and as I peer into the tightly furled center of the flower I feel their connection to the woodland that spawned them, a hint of bark and the unmistakable scent of leaf mould, that fertile and self replenishing compost that is the envy of every gardener. Perhaps we really are creatures of spring, for in the past week or so Felix has morphed from angry bear to delightful faun, his face alive once again with smiles and laughs, the horrors of sickness and tooth pain and tantrums past, for the time being at least. He wakes as the morning sun floods our bedroom with its welcome rays, like an echo of sunrise.
Donald Winnicots child development classic ‘The Child, the Family and the Outside World’ suggests that babies are like bulbs, complete with all the information and materials they need to grow and develop. Originally published in 1964 his words still ring true, and thanks to the gigantic strides since in genetics and unraveling the mystery of the genetic code, we now know that in fact each human is pre-programmed to develop in their own unique way, that even pre birth mother nature is busy putting the finishing touches on the tiny person that will emerge, red and wrinkled and screaming into the world. Winnicott makes the comparison to a spring bulb in order to highlight both the incredible sophistication of the embryo but also the importance of nurture in order to facilitate and encourage its proper development. No flower - however hardy - can survive without light and water. Even a cactus in the driest desert must receive a tiny amount of annual rainfall, which it collects and stores in its perfectly adapted body. So too is the infant child a bulb of infinite potential, all it’s future contained neatly in the velveteen shell of baby skin. We as parents must ensure that it receives all it needs as it grows steadily upwards from a prone pupae to a plump and crawling infant, and up again to sitting then standing then walking toddler, child and adult.
Even on the coldest, darkest, meanest days of winter, Felix and I have headed out into the weak grey light like worms crawling up through the earth. One blustery, miserable day when any excuse would have sufficed to stay safely indoors we emerged defiant and wrapped in waterproofs from head to toe, and damned if we didn’t have the time of our lives. Felix bellowed with laughter as the wind snatched the hood from my head, wrapping strands of wet hair over my face like thin blonde snakes, watching wide eyed as the wind swirled leaves and litter high into the air and whipped the river into an angry grey soup. It was the kind of day that would blow even the sturdiest umbrella inside out; with a sly and viscous rain that crept into sleeves and down collars. As we struggled home along the river path, wellies gleaming with water, I felt I must be mad. Why take a child out into such weather? And then he looked at me with eyes shining, plump cheeks reddened with cold and nose streaming, and I knew why. That night he slept as soundly as a mouse in its winter nest, dreams scudding with petrol blue storm clouds, thrilling with whipping winds, and racing with swollen rivers of beaten grey water. Now that spring stands poised like a ballerina in the wings, tracing green onto the brown, sprinkling tiny buds on stark winter branches, and dusting off her palette of pastels and jewel shades ready to sweep them over the battered landscape, we vibrate with the memory of harsh winter days and welcome her arrival with joy and excitement.