Dear Girl I Do Not Know: Notes from a field in Yorkshire

The Biscuit ThiefI watch my youngest daughter, the Biscuit Thief as she sleeps in our tent. Her hair, damp with morning dew, smells of last night’s campfire; charcoal, pitch, ash and bread. She breathes softly into the earth while her feet, shaped just like her father’s and blackened with soot, stick out from under the covers.

It’s  a long time since I spent significant amounts of time alone with the Biscuit Thief and I have been hoping this camping trip in Yorkshire will help us bond. In fact, I can’t remember being alone with her since the lonely days following her birth by emergency caesarean when I, numb from painkillers and vacant while a blood-transfusion rioted through my veins, could do little more than stare at her from my hospital bed. I could not feel who she was. I have, if I’m honest, spent the last six years searching for the Biscuit Thief, trying to intuit her; a blind snake belly attempting to sense the rain.

Yesterday, the Biscuit Thief jumped from a tree trunk to catch a branch several feet away. She swung wildly from her natural trapeze, beaming from ear-to-ear as I admired her new-found bravery. She leaped again and again until her hands were raw, her knees were bruised and her elbows greened with grass stains. She watched an owl scoping the dusky fields for twilight mice. She ran wild and free and slept deeply, next to me. We curled around each other like a couple of cashews, two quarter moons entwined.

Today, we returned to London from the wilds of Yorkshire. Returned to the metallic fixtures and melancholy squeak of the local swings, to the tiny space that comprises the Biscuit Thief’s bedroom, and I realize it is just no longer acceptable to me, this shrinking down, this boxing-in of life, of her life.

I know that my Biscuit Thief is in the hollowed-out trunk of the oak, she is in the rocks and clover, the shooting stars and the ankles that ache in the cold morning dew. It is no wonder I find it so hard to find her in the city we call home.

I know so many parents, like me, are torn between the countryside and the city; between the raw and the cooked. What choice have you made and do you regret it?


24 thoughts on “Dear Girl I Do Not Know: Notes from a field in Yorkshire

  1. Absolutely gorgeously written. No real advice – sorry. Just wanted to say how much I enjoyed reading that post.

  2. Do you get big gardens in Hove? Always thinks it’s almost as expensive as londinium @rob. Would only be able to buy you half a cuppa… 🙂

  3. Ah those choices. We live in a cabin in the middle of the woods in Devon, so about as far from London as you can get and my six year old and four year old are in heaven 99% of the time. My 13 year old is often not in heaven but scowling into his mobile phone and wishing for Bristol. Do we regret it? No. but it can be tricky…..

  4. What a lovely piece. Having been a city boy for 8 years, when the time came to “settle down” we chose Essex, not quite the Yorkshire dales, but close to London for work and friends but still gave me the greenery I so wanted for my little bear cub. The green lawn I could never afford in London I now have and I’m only a car ride from a woodland or field. The longer I’m away from London the better I feel, safe in the knowledge that my daughter can have trees and lakes and fields to run around in. And not darkened streets

  5. Beautiful. Such lyrical descriptions elevate a common concern of parents.

  6. Really beautiful piece. I too had an emergency c-section and I really get what you are saying about still intuiting your girl … We are looking to move away from London – I really want a garden for Little A. Oh, and you are so right, come to think of it, that park swings do make that melancholic squeaking sound. Lovely post.

  7. Lovely post! Tricky dilemma which will never have only one answer. This is because no one space will fulfil all needs all of the time. I grew up in London, I pined dreadfully for countryside where I live now. My brothers only wanted London life and stayed. As parents now we raised and home educated our two kids in the country, but part of that education was visiting cities and London where we could stay with relatives for free and show them the city wonders. Our eldest had the childhood I wanted – but longed for the city and now lives in Brighton. Our youngest likes the wide open spaces! Lives change. Circumstances change. You can only go with your heart and encourage your children to learn how to go with theirs. x

  8. I love this, beautifully written and very poignant. We’ve opted for the country life, its harder in many ways to make a living etc but kids just thrive in all the open space and relative freedom. I grew up in a city, but it was a very small NZ one so almost like a country town in many respects, I want my kids to have the same wonderful chance of exploration as I did. I was pondering the same question as you some time ago and wrote this post – maybe you can identify a few more on the pros and cons list?

    Sarah x

  9. I love you Sara Bran! Don’t EVER stop writing!!! What an absolutely beautiful piece. I grew up in a very small town and at times have terrible longing to go back to that…to more nature. I hope to get there and still keep my city life too. I don’t regret leaving. I only regret not being able to ‘afford’ to have both now….which I am working on!

  10. I moved from London (17years there!) down to Exeter just under two months ago with my 2 year old, major reason was the deaf academy here since he has no hearing BUT it was always my intention irrespective of needs, to move out of London before primary school age.

    Have to say it is great down here, you have the city, a very mini mini London, with it’s arts and culture and you are on the edge of the countryside with so much to do and explore. It is the best of both worlds I think. I don’t regret it one bit and I doubled my house size for less money too.

    I would say get out now, take the leap of faith and enjoy your children. Life is too short x

  11. Oh Ross.. that’s the word..’pining’.. I was split between London and long summers in the New Hampshire mountains as a child, and I guess that’s the thing, I need a bit of both. My teenager is an urban creature and I couldn’t possibly remove her to the countryside now but arghhh, the Biscuit Thief needs it so…so my heart is torn, bound up as it is with theirs xx

  12. It’s so tricky because there are downsides to the countryside too – BUT if you are feeling distant from your little one, that’s harsh and I would probably move tomorrow if I were feeling like you.

    We moved from the countryside in Lincolnshire when I fell pregnant because the commute would have been too long – my son (also 6) would only have seen his Dad at weekends. We gave up 1/3rd of an acre in a thatched cottage for a town house with a postage stamp garden. But we are lucking that the estate we are in is an ex-mental hospital and arboretum, so there is loads of space outside.

    I think in some ways it was right because it was quite a narrow-minded environment and would have been too restrictive for my son. But I also find St Albans to be a bit dull & suburban.

    It was a rush decision to choose as we had such a short time. I think that the reason why St Albans is soooooo full of families is because of the problem you have – people need to be near london to work, but want space for the family. It’s expensive, but not every where – there’s places in and around it that are cheaper like London Colney.

    Think about it – but in the meantime, you could go camping lots more or go on adventures? We are doing lots more of that this year and I find myself feeling much more contented.

  13. We’re taking the girls back to Limetree in the Autumn so they can have a camping holiday without their parents working! I think we find it a lot easier to transition back to ‘life’ after camp because we live so rurally. If I didn’t have the fields and hills in front of me I’d really struggle with the huge contrast. Camping really connects a person to the Earthing ~ literally ‘earths’ them, and going back to the ‘real world’ is quite shocking for the body (despite our craving for hair straighteners or tv) because it knows what it REALLY needs. Thank you for all that you are, and all that you do. With love, Veronika

  14. Beautifully written – Completely love smelling my children when they are all woodsmokey with black feet and wild hair. I am an Ex Londoner (born and bred) but made my escape-to-the-country 4years ago and could not be happier – I do blog about the move from Urban to Rural – mostly just the funny bits (it is still somewhat of a culture shock at times) so pop over and have a look if you like.

  15. I wrote something similar today about no longer feeling where we are living is a long term fit. We live in an in between place, not city not countryside but I personally would love to live somewhere more remote. I grew up in the countryside and my childhood memories are all of being outside for hours on end, running through fields etc and that’s what I want for my kids. Are you considering a move?

  16. Beautfiul writing. It’s about freedom. I had a childhood at a time when we children were as free as birds. We ran through fields, cycled round streets, played in back gardens, in wood and next to streams and rivers. We came home when the street lamps went on. I was lucky. Now, though, with the rise of the motor car children can have the best of both worlds.

  17. At a talk by Sue Palmer, author of ‘Toxic Childhood’, a hall full of adults were asked to recall a favourite childhood memory of play. When asked whether we were outdoors, every single hand was raised. When asked whether we were without adult supervision, again every hand was raised. When asked if we had any manufactured toy (aside from a bicycle which she described as a means of escaping adult supervision) not a single hand was raised. Finally, when asked if our children regularly had this kind of freedom, very few of us were able to raise our hands. I am saddened to think that many of our generation of children are being cheated of those play experiences that we had chosen to be our best.

  18. Thank you Sara for articulating this dilemma I know so well so beautifully. This makes me want to do a runner……

  19. Thought provoking stuff after the heavenly camping holidays… It is tempting, but do we idealise an imagined country existence based on our fortnight’s wood-smoked campfire frolics? Ask how many country dwellers you know when they or their kids were last romping freely in fields … More likely driving to the local out of town supermarket, nearest town or dropping kids off at friends’ houses… We walk more in London, and local communities are like villages in their way… Just not as white middle class… And Londoners are near wide open green spaces, even hills and fields if you get out in Zone 3! You can have a bit of both depending on where you live – outer London, Brighton, Bristol, smaller towns surrounded by countryside… And still connected to the buzz of city life. I think the rural life seems appealing with little ones but when puberty hits, you can be stranded with grumpy kids who don’t want to play in fields any more. Then they get older and move away to the city. And leave you in the countryside…! Then there are other considerations like where friends and family live, schools and so on… It’s so hard, I know many parents struggling with the same decision. List of pros and cons followed by a toss of the coin sounds the way to go!

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