Now is the time of Beltane, the Gaelic festival held midway between the spring equinox and summer solstice to celebrate the beginning of summer. Trees are bursting into leaf, birds gather twigs and preen, flowers paint the world with colour.
We have something wonderful to celebrate too. There is a new baby in our lives. She is only a few days old, and is still at the stage of sleeping most of the time. Holding a warm newborn baby is such a visceral pleasure – the weight, the soft solidity, the downy smell… Your arms feel achingly empty once she’s no longer in them, as if they no longer have any point to them.
When you are offered her to hold for the first time, you feel fearful and clumsy – will you hurt her? Then quite quickly all the learnt-long-ago skills and knowledge come flooding back. Those limbs, that spine, they all are effortful for the baby to hold against gravity – she didn’t need strong muscles when she was contained by fluid and womb walls, but now lying flat on a surface imposes a different position. Her legs tremble with the effort. The passing of cold air across her skin is terrifying for her, though it seems to you a normal room temperature; even having a muslin cloth draped over her torso while her nappy is being changed brings her relief. It begins to feel familiar again – containing those limbs with a swaddling cloth or a supportive hand relaxes the little sleeping person in your arms. Your heart is lost, all over again, and when you’re away from her, she keeps coming back to your thoughts. Underlying this love is a quiet satisfaction – you haven’t lost all your skills, despite the intervening decades since your own children were babies.
Is it true that skills remain lodged deep inside your psyche, ready to re-emerge when the opportunity is there? After a lifetime of academic and professional writing, I am trying my hand at creating fiction. That pleasure of making up a story, lost since childhood, has returned. I am feeling the glee of finding a word out of nowhere, an action that didn’t exist a second ago, and which now feel just right in this new world taking shape on the page. Once, a long time ago, I learnt some skills. Given the chance, I can find them again.