• katherine halligan

Updated: Sep 28, 2020

It is a truth about human nature that we most want what is often just out of reach. The grass is nearly always greener on the other side of the fence.

All spring, my children and I were desperate for the misery that was distance learning to end, and for the summer to begin. We longed frantically for freedom from the screen, from the surreal tedium of login failures, from the eye-wateringly dull online assignments, from teachers spending lesson time coaching children through IT glitches rather than educating them, from the utterly atrocious behaviour of other people’s children invading our home, from a noisy houseful of simultaneous Zoom calls creating a cacophony of the random voices of strangers.

Then school was finally, blessedly over. Freedom! Joy! We skipped, we danced, we sang (especially me). We traveled and swam and played and had adventures great and small. But that joy was relatively short-lived, as we realised we’d leapt out of the frying pan, and into the fire.

Endless expanses of time spread before us, but we were like birds with clipped wings: there was a vast sky up there, but no way to fly into it freely. The promise of freedom began to feel a bit cruel, because it was an empty promise. As heart-lifting as our little trips were, travel during a pandemic was ultimately unsustainable and actually more exhausting than fun.

Instead, we spent days — far too many of them — languishing at home, trapped indoors by heatwaves and the unending waves of virus and, lately, dangerously smoky air and falling ash. We would venture out, then worry we’d overdone it and return to our shelter to hide for a while. As our county’s (and the country’s) infection levels rose and fell and rose again, so did our emotions, and the exhaustion of riding the corona-coaster took on a new form. We were tired of being tired, bored of being bored, sick to death of sickness and death.

Summer was becoming a great big bummer.

Without any of the usual swimming lessons, camps or other activities, intense inertia set in. We had no rhythm, no momentum. Without the impetus to go anywhere or do anything on time, we became still, stale, stuck. I could actually feel myself becoming stupider. It’s not surprising that I have been depressed, given the state of the nation, but it’s very difficult to watch young children become palpably, visibly, almost literally depressed: they wilted, flattened, lost their spark. Their eyelids grew heavy from watching too much TV. Their little lights went out. Nearly every day I would manage to lift myself out of my own misery to do something special with them, and our spirits would soar temporarily before flagging once more.

Although we did our level best to create magical, memorable moments for our family, as the long, empty days —or was it just one very long day?— wore on, we all began to long for the structure of school. Even in its much poorer, two-dimensional form, it would mean that we had places to go and people to see.

Please don’t misunderstand me: we had fun this summer, bags and bags of it… until we didn’t. When our children were tiny, they did not go to lessons and camps and activities — you can’t miss what you don’t know — but our days had their own exhausting-but-fulfilling rhythm: wake, eat, play, sleep, repeat. Then, in the intervening years, our calendars filled to bursting and our days were an endless and often exhausting whirlwind of activity… and we liked it. Losing all of those many things we normally do was a profound shock to our system when the state shut down on March 13. I used to complain about my juggling act, but suddenly I was like a clown trying to entertain my audience with just one ball: no juggling, no fun.

So although we were longing for a freedom that during these times of chaos and unrest is denied us, we were also craving structure and order and routine, while I have simultaneously lost my ability to create any or to follow any plan or schedule. I am adrift and exhausted, too drained and hollowed out to continue to create order where none naturally exists anymore. Normally when I am down, I allow myself to sink to the bottom, knowing that soon enough I will find a toehold and push off, back up to the surface where I belong. But these days it seems the ocean is bottomless and there is no depth to which we cannot sink. The sands are shifting so constantly I cannot find my footing. So instead of letting myself float slowly downward as I sometimes do, I realized that I need to dive down deliberately so that I could push off hard and find a way back up to where I can breathe. So I stopped pressuring myself to recover, and allowed myself to make that deep dive into the murky depths. I allowed myself to be sad and angry; I cannot whistle a happy tune all the time, and so I didn’t.

But as I foundered, I realized that I needed some external impetus to drag me back up to the surface and haul us all back to the shore: I needed a fairy godmother in a life-raft. I needed other people who cared about my children to help with this enormous job of navigating these choppy seas. I needed teachers and I needed school, perhaps even more than my children did.

So it was with great excitement that we started back to school this week, jumping gratefully out of the flames of our ennui into the relative safety of the frying pan. But then all too quickly we remembered how uncomfortable that frying pan can be. Because it’s not real school, with classrooms and teachers and friends and no parents in sight, but distance learning, at least for now.

For now, it seems that we are very much in the same frying pan as before: crowded and messy and decidedly uncomfortable. This morning my younger daughter — who detests remote learning with a deep and abiding passion — passed me a note, in a delightfully retro way. It said: “Mom this is torcher” [sic]. And, as I was held hostage in the room with her, having rashly promised to keep her company to assuage her loneliness during the first week back online, I can attest that it was.

As much as she adores her teacher (who also taught her older sister, so we know how very lovely and capable she is), it was the behavior of her fellow classmates that was driving her to distraction. Other children and parents interrupted their teacher —and each other — as she heroically tried to help these little lost souls connect with one another and to reacquaint these small feral people with the concept of sitting still and listening. My daughter wept in my arms on a faked bathroom break, complaining that she wasn’t learning anything. I tried to explain to her that we are all learning differently now: it’s less about multiplication, and more about learning how to cope with the world as our problems multiply. We are all learning more about ourselves, as we test not our spelling skills but the limits of our patience and understanding.

So now the fire that was our summer break looks appealing all over again. Already I want to leap back into it, after just three days. As large swathes of California are ablaze, cities across the land are burning, and the whole country appears to be going down in flames, I wonder which is worse: the frying pan or the fire?

Of course the apocalypse that is 2020 would be the year that we Californians see our fire records broken: over 2.5 million acres burned so far; over 14,000 firefighters battling at least 28 fires — most of which are only partially controlled — across the state. And it’s only early September. So far, thankfully, there has been far less loss of life than was suffered after the horrors of the Camp Fire, which ravaged the most ironically named town ever to be burnt to cinders: Paradise. (Paradise Lost, more like.) But while eight fatalities is far less horrific than the one hundred people who perished in 2018, those eight lives lost are still a tragedy, especially for their loved ones whose lives have been ripped apart.

They are, of course, a drop in the ocean of COVID-19 deaths. And as we approach the grimmest milestone yet — nearly 200,000 lives lost, with most scientists, academics and medical professionals suspecting serious undercounting — Nero fiddles (or golfs, or both — though it’s a different sort of fiddling in his case) while Rome burns. The parallels between that tyrant and this are many, from callous megalomaniac insanity to an utterly cavalier disregard for the fall of a once-great empire.

We are going down in flames, and up in flames, all at the same time. Who knew that was even possible? But with each passing day, the impossible becomes possible, the unthinkable becomes reality, the nightmare becomes the norm. Perhaps I should not tempt fate by suggesting things cannot possibly get worse. Because if things don’t go well in November, and Nero doesn’t get booted out of the White House and into prison where he belongs, then things will very definitely be worse, as we descend from a nationwide forest fire to the raging infernos of hell.

So I hope against hope that things will soon be different, brighter, better.

The grass is indeed always greener.

Unless of course it’s on fire.

  • katherine halligan

As the walls closed in over the month of July — despite more midweek beach trips than we’d made in the previous three years combined, despite masked playdates in the park, despite glorious afternoons in friends’ pools, despite everything we’d done to keep our horizons broad and our children entertained — we yearned for freedom and something different. We are gypsies at heart, and so are our children. In recent months, they have begged us to move back to England, to North Carolina, to San Diego, to a city, to a farm. They initiated their own home searches on Zillow, finding new homes that would be better, more interesting, more fun, just…. different. Anywhere but here.

Of course when I say “anywhere but here”, I realise that there are very many places one would not want to be at all, from an ICE detention camp on the US-Mexican border to a certain hospital bed in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Of course I realise that a tongue-in-cheek post about travel is a luxury many can only dream of, especially now. Of course I realise that my privilege affords me the opportunity for a white whine that is perhaps completely out of step with the chaos and sadness of these troubled times. But as I spent a week in bed recovering from the adventure I am about to relay, I wrestled with ways to approach the paradox of my privilege. I have certainly said many times since our current president (I cannot even bear to type his name) came crashing into the Oval Office that I would like to live anywhere but here. If he is not defeated in November, I will mean that more than ever and may even act on it by upping stumps again. But as I have said before, I am not a political journalist; I am just a person who has things to say and who wants to share her reality, however unlike that of the rest of the world it may be. So, with all that in mind, I would like to share some musings on travel, which has been a central, defining part of my life. If you are lucky enough to be able to undertake some of your own, there are definite lessons to be learned; if you are stuck at home in full COVID-avoidance lockdown, you might end up feeling very thankful for your own here and now. I certainly know I am after our summer trip.

During the course of our UK careers, with five weeks’ paid vacation per year plus public holidays (which is a laughably small amount of holiday time compared with the rest of Europe, who alternately mock and pity the workaholic Brits while they enjoy their own seven weeks’ rest; Americans’ two weeks of leisure are so pathetically mere that they don’t even merit comment, as they are but one more symptom of all that the rest of the world quite rightly perceives to be wrong with the US of A), we traveled all over the world. Once they came along, our daughters discovered the world in our arms, averaging roughly ten plane flights per year, so that our ten-year-old has logged 96 flights in her life thus far and our seven-year-old is close behind with 74. Indeed, before the age of three, our older daughter had been on a plane almost as much as she’d ridden in a car, since we didn’t own one in London and our car trips mainly consisted of cab rides… to the airport.

But their frequent flyer accounts have languished lately, miles unused, with only two flights logged since arriving on these shores three years ago. Instead we did that quintessentially American thing, and took to the road, (re)discovering the delights of California. We lived in a tourist destination, so we starting touring it. How lucky we are, we thought this spring, to live here during the pandemic that has Americans trapped within our own COVID-infested borders for the foreseeable future. We have everything on our doorstep: beaches, mountains, deserts, rivers, forests, national parks, state parks, glorious weather. We could skip the cities and focus our attention on exploring nature.

With that in mind, we made the profoundly dubious decision to spend our summer vacation camping. Anyone who knows me well might have questioned the wisdom of this choice. Certainly I should have questioned it, given that on our last camping trip — which was our girls’ first, to a beautifully wild field near the Grand Canyon — I netted around two hours of broken sleep the first night and only marginally more the second night. But I remembered the children’s giddy joy at being free, at running around in wide-open spaces that were new and different, the luminous light at dusk as we set up our tent in a windstorm, the satisfaction of a meal cooked and shared in the open air, the velvety night sky spangled with a million stars. Sleep is overrated anyway, I thought.

So I suppose I should blame my terribly patchy memory and the resulting rose-coloured glasses for agreeing to a second foray into the wilderness. With all the gusto with which I used to choose beautiful boutique hotels, I selected a campsite on a county beach in Santa Barbara which I managed to snag serendipitously in the three minutes before they were all snapped up by more experienced campers, followed by a quirky hipster spot in an apple orchard in the lush, green coastal hills to the west of San Luis Obispo.

Forgetting what it was really like to lie on a “comfort” air mattress with searing flashes of pain racing down my sciatic nerve, forgetting what it was really like to hear my husband snore so loudly he rattled the windows of the car to which I banished him on the second night, forgetting what it was really like to freeze in a summer sleeping bag in 45F/ 7C weather, I rashly agreed to this new adventure in nature.

Nature delivered. The beach was breathtaking and remote, so far down an extremely winding road that you had to drive 35 minutes back towards civilisation to pick up one fluctuating bar of cell phone signal. The summer-browned hills curved around a startlingly blue bay, creating an expanse of beach that is among the most beautiful I have seen. The apple orchard smelled divine with ripe fruit, the air so clean that lichens grew on the branches of the 115-year-old trees, as we looked up an almost sheer hillside covered in a thousand shades of green.

And it wasn’t just the nature: we explored beautiful towns and missions by day. Ojai, Solvang, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara had all mastered the art of socially distanced dining, turning their sidewalks into restaurants and showing the rest of California how to take advantage of our glorious weather. Why would we ever eat indoors again? With everyone in masks — the value of which Orange County has not yet grasped — there was a social contract of caring, compassionate connectedness which made us feel instantly welcome and part of something bigger and better. We dined on delicious food, we shopped in quirky independent establishments, we fed ostriches (of course), we splashed in icy surf, we built sandcastles, we watched meteor showers. In short, it was a perfect vacation.

By day, it was glorious. But by night — oh, by night! — it was sheer hell. Apart from the endless, brilliant stars and the magic of the meteor showers, which were the sole and truly glorious redeeming feature of the hours between sundown and sunup, I wished almost constantly I were anywhere but in that tent.

Most people we know have either chosen to stay put or to rent a house with all its comforts. With 24 hours between guests and rigorous cleaning protocols in place, with fridges and bathrooms that can be easily wiped down on arrival to ward off any remaining viruses lurking on surfaces, these establishments afford sensible travellers all the same daytime pleasures…. and then they go to sleep. In a bed. Without strange neighbours (by which I mean by strangers and weirdos) a mere few feet away.

I, on the other hand, eschewed all of these amenities and comforts, like a deranged person in the desert choosing to use her canteen to water a cactus instead of drinking it herself: somehow, in some roundabout way, I told myself I was helping nature by being part of it (a rather dubious, self-defeating and deeply flawed logic, on closer inspection, because nature most assuredly did not want me in it), despite the enormous personal cost. After braving shared toilets — even armed with our own hand soap, toilet paper, gloves and of course masks, it was an experience that would have challenged the heartiest adventurer, pandemic or no — I had to hope that when my children brushed their teeth, they didn’t spit the paste out the tent flap and into my shoes. I had to try to coax my children to fall asleep surrounded by RVs, illegal campfires and the sounds of millennial surfers blithely ignoring the 10pm quiet time. I had to quell the girls’ fears in this strange place: no, a tsunami couldn’t reach us up here on this hillside (actually, could it? Perhaps she had a point); no, there are no kidnapper aliens on that satellite circling above us (and yes, they do look rather ominous when you think about it). I had to wrestle the fly sheet onto the tent, and then near midnight, the flapping of said fly sheet in the rising winds so deafening none of us could sleep (except my hubby, who was happily snoring away), I had to wrestle it off again. Then, just as I’d sunk into a fitful sleep, my hips hurting like an octogeniaran, I heard those fateful words that every parent dreads: “Mommy, I think I’m going to throw up”.

I quickly shepherd the small, nauseous person into the car, thinking that sitting upright in relative comfort on the back seat I could contain what was coming in a barf bag, whereas in the dark of the tent anything could happen. Of course the other child woke up and was frightened without me, and my erstwhile happily snoring husband, now awake and deeply unhappy about it, was not exactly comforting. At least our neighbours in their steel-walled vehicles (and their beds!) might not have heard their plaintive voices or seen our bobbling flashlights or noticed the car doors opening and closing multiple times, I thought — because fear of bothering or offending your fellow travellers becomes a major wet blanket on everything you do, although it seemed on this trip I was perhaps the only traveller so encumbered by such thoughts.

The vomiting episode I dreaded (and yet secretly longed for, because then we could give up and go home) never transpired and it turned out to be a false alarm; so false indeed, that in the morning the previously queasy child confessed to making it all up so that she could sit in the car with me instead of lying miserably in the tent. Anywhere but here.

We returned to the tent, I calmed everyone back down, then realised I desperately needed to pee, but refused to travel a few hundred yards down the steep hill to the cess pit that was the shared bathroom, and so stubbornly went back to sleep in extreme discomfort (both hip and bladder). Just as I drifted off again, there it came: the unmistakable roll of thunder. As the lightning flashed out at sea, I tried to count the seconds between the flash and the clap, but realised in my exhaustion that I’d forgotten which came first. Indeed, I’d forgotten how to count.

I was awakened around half an hour later by the patter of raindrops on my face. I roused my husband again (at least this time he had a job he knew he could master, wrestling a fly sheet onto a tent in the dark and the rain being infinitely easier than comforting a child who only wants the other, absent parent), and we covered that tent. The rain, of course, abruptly stopped.

Back in the sleeping bag, I realised dawn was coming, and gave up, choosing instead to focus my remaining energies on not wetting my pants, until such a time as the zip (the horrible, whining searing scrape of the zip!) would not awaken my children and turn them into exhausted, hollow-eyed beasts the following day. One of us was enough, and I knew I could manage my own exhaustion with the best pair crutches at any tired parent’s disposal: coffee and wine.

Permanent damage to my plumbing system notwithstanding, I survived that first night. The following three (three!) were marked by various other adventures, including noisy neighbours (one of whom had the temerity to snore even louder than my husband, who’d kindly absented himself to a far corner of the orchard), bug bites, more lightning and rain, nightmares, and a child suffering a panic attack (at least — I thought to myself as I held her shaking body and wondered how to help her start breathing again — we’d been to the ER in San Luis Obispo on a vacation two years previously, so she was probably already in their system; sometimes these small comforts get us through the strangest times).

Shattered, sore, profoundly exhausted in mind and body, I nevertheless managed to remain remarkably cheerful during our daytime adventures. So pleased was I to be sitting in restaurants with people bringing me delicious things to eat and then whisking away the dirty dishes, I uttered hardly a single complaint. My condition on this trip, having spent our first one in a campsite with no running water washing dishes in a tiny scummy cooking pot, was that I would not cook a single thing, not even a s’more. Not only did my children not protest, they actually questioned why people thought they had to eat s’mores on camping trips anyway, as they gaily ordered refills of lemonade, guacamole and ice cream.

My poor husband quietly watched his dreams of camping all over the American West with his wife and children go up in the smoke (for there was actual smoke: although open fires were banned, he liked making his coffee over a Bunsen burner, and managed to burn the pot; the smell still lingers in my nostrils). As he plaintively tried to defend our choices by extolling the beautiful sights we’d seen, our daughters fixed him with withering looks, and told him in no uncertain terms that they looked just as good when you slept in a hotel.

As they whined their way through the four-hour car trip back south, wishing they were anywhere but in the car again, we talked of our next trip. With the possibility of borrowing a friend’s RV and the reopening of schools fraught with an uncertainty that might afford us the opportunity of an autumn escape, we wondered whether actual beds and our own toilet would make our next adventure more successful. Everything — the RV, the schools, the travel — remains to be seen. And that uncertainty, that promise of adventure, is precisely what makes travel so alluring in the first place.

One thing is certain, though. When my husband asked me the other day where I thought he should store our tent, many possible replies came to mind (“up your bottom” was one), but there was really only one answer.

In the bin.

Indeed, anywhere but here.

  • katherine halligan

Updated: Aug 28, 2020

Mary Poppins had so much right. When life has you feeling trapped and miserable and wholly out of touch with your inner child, go fly a kite. When you’re feeling low and unsure of what to do, laugh so much you float up to the ceiling. When the world is grey and raining down on you (again), step through a chalk painting into another world.

It is also true that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. And with that in mind, and frankly bored with the lazy old misery guts I was fast becoming, I promised myself last week that I would do something fun with my children every day that this awful pandemic lasts, knowing full well that those days could be interminable. Their lovely little lives have been upended, derailed, and otherwise pinioned and curtailed in almost every possible way. They look up at me, their sweet faces full of hope and fear and ask me if it will be like this for the rest of their lives. And I don’t know what to tell them.

Because of course we all desperately wish it to go away, but we also know that it may not, because that’s how coronaviruses operate. And so because no one knows when or where this will end, and because it matters now more than ever to live each day to its fullest, I took a silent pledge to make every day better, even if only for a few moments. I had been doing this unofficially all spring, but then we had our summer lull, the biggest one yet of those dizzying dips on the coronacoaster which we can’t always see past, when it feels like the only way to go is down.

July was truly tough. Perhaps it was the heady freedom of our spine-tingling trip to the edge of one of the wonders of the world, which then made our four walls seem even more confining when we returned. Perhaps it was the sheer number of days that we have now spent suspended, stuck, saddened and serious. Perhaps it was the empty echoes of a celebration of independence none of us now truly have.

Perhaps it was the fact that we celebrated my beloved great aunt’s 104th birthday without her, having lost her this spring to the cruel ravages of COVID-19, and then the very next day we celebrated my daughter’s tenth birthday in masks and gloves, waving at her friends from our driveway, trying not to think about that strange, gaping hole at the center of her day where there should have been a party.

Perhaps it was the fact that we had dragged ourselves through the miserably lonely months of spring looking forward to the vague promise that summer would be better, when it could only ever pale — nay, blanch to an utterly colorless nothing — in comparison to summers past, and that fact made itself painfully obvious as the month that should have been the heart of summer became such an empty void. Whatever the reason, July was long and lonely and sad, despite time with loved ones and best efforts to make it better. And it’s hard to know where to look because the road behind us is strewn with chaos and loss — and the road ahead could be worse.

Today is the 150th day since California first locked down. So in honor of that rather grim milestone, I share with you a list of the things we have done in the last 150 days to make them lighter and more lovely. I am in no way comparing myself to Mary Poppins; perhaps when my children were smaller and I was younger and sweeter and less exhausted, I achieved those lofty heights on occasion. But these days — these days!— I can often manage simply the one spoonful (and frankly even that can be a struggle). But that is often all it takes to transform a day, to lift my children’s spirits… and mine — because, to quote another favorite, sometimes you just have to whistle a happy tune and you fool yourself as well.

In no particular order (because order no longer seems to matter, and because I can’t remember, which probably also no longer matters), here are some of our favorite things that we’ve done to brighten our darkish days. It is important to know that I have participated in every single thing listed here. Which is possibly why it works so well and why I know the best thing I could do for all of us is to keep my promise to leave no day unbrightened by silliness and magic, as we march forward into the unknown.

We have:

Poured half a bottle of bubbles into the jacuzzi tub — then turned on the jets (the towers of bubbles were so huge they were over my head and took two days to disappear entirely)

Gone boogie boarding

Made sandcastles

Watched dolphins playing in the ocean

Shot foam rockets into the sky

Learned how to ride a bike without training wheels (okay, I already had that one down, but I taught them and my heart soared when they took off, feeling like I was flying along with them)

Played tennis in the park

Played volleyball in the park

Played soccer in the park

Practiced cartwheels and backbends (in the park, of course; it is large and grassy and lovely and usually empty and we are so lucky to have it)

Practiced ballet at the barre

Practiced yoga, with the children taking it in turns to lead us

Designed our dream homes

Made tipis out of twigs and brown paper bags

Made Aboriginal-inspired art out of brown paper bags

Made hats out of brown paper bags

Staged fashion shows

Given each other makeovers

Painted our toenails

Dyed our hair purple and blue

Had dance parties, complete with flashing colored lights and a disco ball

Had mother-daughter sleepovers (just the three of us) in my younger daughter’s bedroom

Had mother-daughter sleepovers in my older daughter’s bedroom

Piled into our bed with a stack of books, every day this spring

Piled into our bed to watch movies

Piled into our bed to play board games

Had tea parties with lovies

Had tea parties with each other

Had hot cocoa on a hot day while reading stacks of books

Had ice cream on a chilly day while reading stacks of books

Made our own sushi

Made a giant rainbow unicorn birthday cake

Made food from eleven different countries (and counting)

Camped in our backyard

Camped in the great outdoors

Dyed our hair purple and blue

Looked at three different planets (and a few moons) through a telescope

Learned how to identify constellations

Searched for comets

Counted the stars

I started this list to remind myself that I am not perhaps the terrible parent I so often feel that I am these days, to remind myself that I have some agency and some small degree of control over the direction in which our lives are headed, to remind myself that I have the power to change things for the better and to pass that power on to my children. I started this list because in a time when we are all exhausted by uncertainty and by interminably bad news, setting out to accomplish even one small thing (sending a text, opening the mail, feeding one’s children) feels like a Sisyphean task. I started this list to try to regain some of the perspective which is so easy to lose when nearly all our external forms of validation have vanished, as we have lost the usual rhythms of our lives which bind us to a sense of ourselves and tether us to what is familiar and known and good.

And all the while we wonder what irreparable harm this time is doing to our children, to us all. Am I locking down too hard and cutting my children off from any semblance of normalcy? Am I letting them out too much and taking too many risks? Am I too strict? Am I too lax? Am I forgetting to teach them about what really matters? Can their brains actually shrink from watching too much tv? Will they ever love reading and school as much as they once did? Will they remember all the times I have yelled at them during lockdown, or will they remember the times I have lifted them up and made them feel loved? Am I crushing their spirits or teaching them to function like regular humans? Will they thank me for all the careful attention I give them or will they remember only the times I have failed them during these dark days?

Assailed by doubts, I do what I can to assuage them before they pull me under (the doubts, not the children — though there are days I feel that in my attempts to rescue them from drowning I start to sink like a stone).

So I turn once more to the wisdom of Mary Poppins. If you’ve never read the books, please do: they are full of many more examples of that delightful juxtaposition of her prim, proper exterior and her magical ability to make absolutely everything far more fun than it could ever have been without her. They are also weirder and more wonderful, and more than a little darker, than the unsurprisingly sugary Disney version. But really, I am democratic in my tastes: I don’t truly differentiate between Julie Andrews’ slightly saccharine but satisfyingly sassy version, or Emily Blunt’s perhaps more faithful interpretation, or PL Travers’ far firmer and fantastically formidable original. I’ll take whatever sugar or hard-won wisdom I can glean; it’s all to the good, however far from practically perfect we may find ourselves these days.

And so we have had our tea parties and we have laughed (though we have yet to float up to the ceiling).

We have made sidewalk chalk drawings (though we have yet to work out how to jump through them into another world).

And of course — of course — we have flown a kite.

And that has made all the difference.

© 2020 Katherine Halligan. Proudly created with