Helen Sargeant © Half buried rabbit in sand, Farr Beach Scotland, 2013

Black clouds push past the full of the moon, and the womb empties

My periods are changing, they now last for three days. Day one begins with a slow trickle, day two a huge rushing gush of blood that no amount of tampons can dam, day three a nothing. It is the huge gush that is so hard to cope with. I feel literally drained by its intensity. A pale lingering ghost of exhaustion, I hulk my body around in self pity, and collapse early to bed.

It is often the most obscure and unexpected things that can wake me from my sleep. Last night it was alphabug, a luminous green catepillar phonetics toy living in a closed draw that had worked its button onto repeat mode gleefully introducing itself again and again as .”Hi, I am alphabug do de do do de da do da do do”, “Hi, I am alphabug do de do do de da do da do do”.

Over the summer, the sound of two young male badgers fighting in my neighbours yard lured me down the stairs and outside in my PJ’s. They were running around and around in frantic circles jumping on top of each others backs, growling, it was utter commotion, violent and bloody. The children often play like badgers The play begins quite happily but often deteriorates ending in upset. I remember too playing with my brother tumbling around in a knot of fun, it must have driven my mother mad. I find myself repeating her very words, “calm down, stop fighting, it will only end in tears”.

I woke another 4 times last night. One:  help Naoise with his poo. Two:  help Naoise with his poo. Three: take the cat back downstairs Four: Sydney jumping in my bed and getting himself into an awkward position. So probably have been woken as much as if I had had a new born baby. Today a state of delirium will fall. I will walk through the day half here and half not, waking myself with tea and coffee and trying not to behave like a rat.

I often dread the weekends, the unstructured time, the push and pull of different family members competing for my attention. I don’t always want to be a mum, I want to finish the shift, run off home to a toy less emptied quite where objects stay fixed and the laundry pile’s does’nt grow.

Turning my back and ignoring bad behavouir has been my mantra this week. I am trying to learn from the sure start parenting course that I am attending. Its really rather a wonderful thing to be given the space to explore being a parent with others. The others however are all mothers, so it is flawed by the absent of the father. Sticking stickers  on every bit of good behavouir that I can identify is another strategy. The letters of love I wrote home worked with Naoise but not with Sydney, he received it with suspician and could not accept the kindness that I wanted him to hear.

At the weekend we went to Liverpool

Walking the length of the Mersey. Sydney scooters along. Naoise sits on his dads shoulders. We treat ourselves to a meal out, made possible by a christmas present of a token last year given by Patricks sister. Stickers on dough balls entertain Naosie. Sydney sits glancing at the light from his phone, working through the words of facebook. After, outside he performs daring tricks on his scooter, flying in the air off the top of granite steps, and then hey mum “look at this” and his “grinding” ends in a right hand thumb disaster.

Sydney has always been brave. He jumps up and says he is fine. He is not. Hot tears well in his eyes and the pain and shock kick in. I hold him close, mother his injury. On the face of it, it looks like nothing.  But as the day progresses his thumb swells.

We are here in Liverpool to look at the exhibition at the Art Turning Left exhibition at the Tate Gallery. We decide the kids would hate it, so me and Patrick take it in turns to see the exhibition. I entertain the children in the “family room”. The art facilities are rubbish, graph paper and coloured biros and the children are more interested in the computer colouring programmes which are really very dull. I cannot help but feel that I am in a holding station keeping my children “well behaved” in this neutral space full of “well meaning” family friendly activities.The thing is children just want to touch and explore and interact with art works with their hands and their bodies and their voices. Galleries are hard spaces to be to negotiate and the rules of engagement are hard to understand. Galleries are not very family friendly.I’m pretty bored in the room and wish they were doing some activity within the gallery itself, but I cannot draw them away from the computers. It would also be great if there was a creche facility, like the ones that they have at Ikea. I am reminded of the pop up creche event carried out by Enemies of Good Art at Tate Modern see: An Action – ‘Enemies of Good Art’ TATE MODERN – POP-UP Creche! April 1st 11.30-14.00

Art Turning Left is a strange exhibition. The art of protest seems somewhat redundant within the walls of the gallery. As an exhibition it does not make much sense, there are huge chunks of fantastic activism that for me are missing. Within this context the works of art/activism are deadened through museology.The Tate Gallery is not a neutral space for such an exhibition. The art of politics perhaps is best played out for real and not really for the gallery walls. Its also worth looking at those acts of protest against this institution such as the Liberate Tate movement that is working to end the sponsorship of the Tate by BP.

There was one thing that I did love in this exhibition, which was the documentation about The Hackney Flashers an organisation that Jo Spence co-established in the late 70’s. I was drawn to one piece of work entitled “Who’s still holding the baby”, the text within this work refers to maintenance work (the care of children) being unpaid and undervalued, and I thought about how this really has not changed that much, has it ?I would have loved to have seen the work of Mierle Laderman exhibited alongside for example the work of The Hackney Flashers, I particularly love her Manifesto of Maintenance Art. There has recently been a solo exhibition of Mierle Laderman’s work at the Arnolfini in Bristol.

Sentiment not sentimentality

Helen Sargeant ©, Half eaten biscuit & hello kitty, 2013
Helen Sargeant ©, Half eaten biscuit & hello kitty, 2013

I forgot I was going to write about Sydney’s swollen thumb. It ended with a trip to A&E in Rochdale. An Xray that revealed no broken bones and a long time watching the Xfactor and cringing at Gary Barlows commentary. The Xrays were so beautiful they appeared at the end of a long curtained corridor on two big monitors, all the bones in his hands all his muscles and ligaments, transparent and digitised. Two hands up to ok-ness, and a bandage in sympathy.

I achieved something this week. I bagged up all of Naoise outgrown clothes that have been bundled up in the back of the car for over two months, and donated them to the clothes bank at the Sure Start Centre. I eventually let them go.

Its hard to let things go. I like to grasp hold of the remnants of the past. I love these clothes that I placed on his body ,that I washed over and over that I enjoyed pegging out on the line, bringing in, folding, putting away in draws.

I’ve been thinking about the maternal and sentiment. Not sentimentality, sentiment.

But perhaps it is sentimentality. Sentimentality means exaggerated and self indulgent feelings of tenderness, sadness or nostalgia.  So much of mothering is about tenderness, loss, sadness and perhaps nostalgia for a time lost, …………but is this self indulgent, how can it be ?

Motherhood is not all tenderness, this perhaps is an ideal……there is not one word that fits, as I say one thing, I find myself contradicting the next….its complex, its meanings shift, change, are re-evaluated.

I took a photograph of a half eaten biscuit and a lost toy on the wall by the bus stop near our house. The marks that I am guessing the child had made were imprinted on the half of the biscuit that had been left.

I live in a world of halves and in-between times. Half buried, half finished, half done, half thought out, half way through, half way between one son and another, mother and girl, mothered and mothering, art and mother, mid-life ………….

About Helen Sargeant

I am a visual artist, mother of two children aged 12 and 4, and co-founder of the MeWe arts collective. I intend to use this site to explore how my personal experiences as a mother informs my arts practice. To reflect upon the maternal in relationship to memory, loss, and mental health in particu…Read more

Website: http://helensargeant.co.uk

More posts by Helen Sargeant

4 Responses to “Sleep deprivation, clothes, blood, a biscuit, a&e, art, maintenance”

  1. Frances Earnshaw

    This is such a developed, impressive piece of writing. So full of rich sparks of life. I would read this stuff in book form… now there is a thought…

  2. Helen Sargeant

    Very kind of you Frances, I am so glad that it struck a cord with you. I am not sure where the writing is taking me, just trying to weave some ideas together and see where it leads. I suppose these posts are similar to diary entries.
    I am a visual artist, so the words are foreign in terms of being a form of communication. I’ve stopped thinking is this writing “good enough”, is it legitimate. I guess its like when you find yourself continually questioning your mothering abilities, but it does’nt necessarily help at all to analyse it, as it just demands you to do it anyhow.

  3. Rachel Fallon

    I have come back to this post Helen. It sings to me. It’s mid-term at our house and time is measured by the clicking of computers. My work compass is not pointing north -it has been lamed. The sun is shining(strangely) and I notice the dirt in the house. It’s always half clean and there are mountains of things to sort and let go. Death has visited our house again this week and in honour of the departed, who was very dear, we made kirsch streusel kuchen. She wasn’t very interested in cleaning either but she had lots of practice in letting go.

    • Helen Sargeant

      Dearest Rachel,

      At last I have found a space to reply to you Rachel. The children are still sleeping, all is peaceful at the table in my front room. Its half term here this week. The washing machine is chugging away in the background, the bulbs in the window box have pushed up. Spring has arrived without winter ever feeling like it has shown, albeit the dark nights and mornings giving way to the light

      I am sorry to hear of the loss of your dear friend. I love that you have made a kirsch streusel kuchen in her honour. Looks like a delicious cherry cake, I just googled it to see what kind of a cake you were talking about. The description of your home with your children and time being measured out by the clicking of computers sings to me. It transported me into your domestic space, your home and your life. x

      I’ve been mixing a lot of cake this week as Naoise turned five yesterday. There is something so beautiful, simple and symbolic about baking, how it can mark out a life passing, a life that was once lived. So much to celebrate in-between the mess of life.

      Mixing ingredients in a bowl. A cake rising in the oven. Lifting it out and tipping it carefully to cool. Lighting candles. Cutting through. Sharing slices. Eating together.

      The clearing up can wait !

      I think that it is hard to let go of things, of dirt of the dust of life. When I find peaceful, uninterrupted moments of time I can find myself loving the ordering, sorting and cleaning. Clearing a surface, vacuming the rug, neatly placing plates on a shelf, rubbing wax onto a wooden table has its joy. It provides a short lived fantasy of finding control, and sort of says that I care, Abandoning the housework normally has to do with something more pleasurable demanding I care for it.

      Back to the house…..clearing out bad food from the fridge.

      Love Helen x


Leave a Reply