Help At Hand

A repost: about the little kindnesses of life.

This morning, with the return of the frost, it was my job to hunt for gloves to keep my children’s fingers from going a rather fetching shade of blue.

Which meant braving that cavernous space underneath the stairs.

For most organised mums-of-the-world, the space under the stairs stores things neatly in transparent boxes. It is well-lit and conducive to putting one’s hand on any accessory with well-oiled speed.

But for me, looking Β under the stairs is like a particularly grim kind of archaeology.

Let us consider the uses of this space. It has residents, oh yes: people -and animals- who inhabit it on a regular basis.

It is Felix’s camp. Bionicles have fought great battles there, and a quiet game of monopoly is possible if you balance the board on the toybox.

The Princesses- my nieces- love to make it their base on long, relentless days with Auntie Kate. The Barbie population of the household, some 40 dolls in various states of undress and coiffure, follow them inside.

When Big Al is around there are few places to hide. The dog finds the cupboard under the stairs suits him very well. He curls up warily in his adopted lair and stays very, very quiet, with body language which shouts Victim.

This morning I got out the archaeological team to inspect the site.

On the top layer: yesterdays warm coats. I go blue in the face telling my offspring to hang them up but we’re still working towards success on that one.

The secondary layer sported the raincoats which have been rendered necessary by the last few weeks.

Still deeper, and there are all the jumpers Maddie did not want to wear when I insisted she should. Her current strategy for looking the way she feels she should is the Last Minute Ditch attempt. She simply takes off the garment I have ruled must stay on, and leaves it under the stairs. By the time I notice, we could be miles away.

Cunning plan.

And then onwards and downwards, through the geological layers, until we reach the cushions- brought to a prized camp for comfort- and the toys.

Shall I count the toys? There is an orange plastic spade and a yellow bat for swingball. There is an inflatable cone, suitable for use as traffic calming measure. Add to that a barbie dressed up as one of Aladdin’s tiller girls (I know, I know), an A4 notebook filled with poetry written by Maddie, and a grotesque mutation combining the concepts of Girls World hair styling models and My Little Pony. Effectively, a pony who looks like Cheryl Cole.

I’m not making this up.

But in among all that debris, not one warm glove was to be found.

We used to have gloves, lots of gloves.

But now one was to be found. Had Macaulay developed a taste for them? Had Big Al posted them all down the toilet when I was not looking?

Then a small gruff voice said, from behind the gigantic pile which had been excavated: “Got my gloves, Mum.”


Once I had moved the excavations back under the stairs pending a proper tidy up, I quizzed Felix. I didn’t recognise his beautiful, blue stripey gloves. Where did he get them from?

Granny, of course.

Since the children were tiny, small but vital jobs have simply been tidied up, without fuss, by my mother-in-law. She seems to be able to spot way ahead of time what we will need, and make sure it is there. She never refers to these little kindnesses, they just happen.

And she had bought the children new gloves.

Not everyone has such a comprehensive support network.

My mind has been much occupied recently with another, fictional, mother who wrote. She was flung into the most distressing kind of chaos, and dire circumstances dictated that she move home with her children and raise money by writing little stories for editors.

She was the mother in E Nesbit’s classic, The Railway Children.

Stranded in a cottage in the middle of nowhere, it was the kindness of strangers that made the children happy, and the cottage home, and brought her wrongly-accused husband back to his family where he belonged.

The doctor would not dream of charging her for his services; the stationmaster befriended her children; the villagers were full of warmth towards the three personable children; and a stranger on a train, who happened to be a very important man, worked tirelessly to free the family’s daddy.

Life can be a challenging business. It can throw both wonderful and terrible events at us, and we do our best to solve them on our own.

But all of us remember times when someone has proffered a small kindness which made life bearable. It has helped bad times to pass and the good times to reappear once more.

And for this, much thanks.

46 thoughts on “Help At Hand

  1. So right! So well said. I have always been fortunate to have such supports. And it has marked my life by easing the tough times–I’ve never known the misfortune of being dispirited by loneliness in difficulties. And I hope that I am more than often available to be that ease to others. What a lovely tribute to your mother-in-law, too. Small kindnesses can make the difference in any day! Debra

  2. so very true, your MIL probably had the same battle, hence she knows what’s needed ahead of time

    your home is a properly lived-in sort of place, not one of those perfect-to-look at uninhabitable places. Thank heaven for others who LIVE at home

  3. I do hope that your MIL reads this lovely post. Doesn’t everybody have cupboards like those? They continue to be full even after your family has left home – they bring their stuff back because it wont fit in their new home!

  4. We haven’t got stairs. Those places under them are so exciting. Harry Potters can emerge, or all manner of monsters. The artefacts lying under yours speak of great youthful activity.

    You are lucky to have a MiL who is such an efficient background support system. So many of the ilk act as an inefficiency-producing very-much-to-the-fore disrupting eruption.

  5. We all need a support network, whoever that may be in our lives, and it’s such a wonderful privilege. You are so fortunate to include your MiL in that, they’re the stuff of legends much like stepmothers. And I too recognise the glove battle, they seem to disappear into a gigantic black hole every year. I currently have formed one pair which may not have been one originally but also have THREE completely unrelated specimens. πŸ™‚

  6. I think every home has an “under the stairs” lair that serves multiple purposes as you have so well described. I know as a boy, I would find hiding places in the basement or a closet and conduct planning exercises for whatever nonsense I was cooking up.

    It is so nice to have a support system in place that meets those little known needs in the flash of an eye. Your Mother in Law must be not only kind, but, obviously quite wise. We all need someone like that in our lives and should count ourselves very fortunate when they are there for us.

    Little kindnesses, however executed, are the path to paying forward and setting wonderful examples for our children. Kudos indeed to your MIL for setting the example for the children, they may not know it now, but, kindness will become ingrained when one is around it all the time.

  7. I keep reading this same theme, be kind, be nice, do as you would be done by, over and over. Not just in the blogosphere: at home as well. I wonder if I’m not nice and God has had enough?

    I could watch TRC over and over again. One of my all-time favourite films, just as you are one of my all-time favourite bloggers πŸ™‚

    1. Tilly, I just picked myself up off the floor. Coming from you that line is a huge compliment! Thank you!

      Nice: one of the most underrated words in the English language. It and peace share so much. I don’t see it in myself but the kindness of others salves my way through difficult times.

  8. Oh, Kate, we still hunt for gloves and the kids are all grown and moved away and your cupboard could be my own closet. My mom used to do these things, too; she would come over bearing loaves of bakery bread and hair barrettes, just when they were needed the most. Now that I’m a granny myself, I find myself buying socks for a toddler and hair clips, just because they might be needed (and they always are). It is so often the small things like a pair of mittens on a cold day that make all the difference.

    I have The Railway Children sitting on my bedside table right now. I’ve never read it and saw it at a thrift shop, snatched it up, and mean to make that happen asap.

    1. Oh hurrah! Such a fantabulous read, and you have it all before you! Enjoy. It is singularly beautiful, and I long to live in a cottage near the railway and support my meandering family by writing πŸ™‚

  9. I thought we might be off for a romp in some strange land, accessed through that hidey-hole under your stairs. You’d think I’d have learned by now that one is never headed where one thinks when commencing one of your posts. πŸ™‚

    Our support networks are wondrous things, and your MIL certainly appears to quietly fit into that category. How fortunate you are.

  10. Totally splendid post about a “normal” family in. their much-loved home πŸ˜‰ and a double thumbs up for Phil’s mum – good to know pink MIL’s still inhabit the planet!

  11. I truly admire norma Shrewsday for such planning, Kate.
    I’m afraid rather than being proactive, we are all reactive!!!
    Not so well thought out, I fear!

    Love Dad

      1. Everyone has their place, don’t they, Dad? I seem to remember two heads, yours and Felix’s, bent over a crystal set. The man hours the set has had spent on it!

        And Mum: well, what can we all say. I said it once. Must repost Mum’s post sometime.

  12. I think your mother-in-law is lucky to have such a daughter in law as you:

    firstly kind souls like her need to be able to help others, as its in their genes and therefore you fill a space in her life…

    and secondly she is lucky as you are a grateful d-in-law who doesn’t immediately think she’s interfering and are very happy to have her help. A symbiotic relationship.

    1. Ah, Pseu, when it’s our turn how will we view the whole business? I comfort myself that your boys could well marry well ahead of Felix, and I will be able to watch and learn how to be a good mother in law. Frankly, I can see myself as a bit of a loose mother-in-law cannon!

  13. Remembered kindnesses… I loved the Railway Children (still do!), and we had a cupboard under the stairs just like you describe, a wonderful place to hide or chill out when the family seemed just too large for my liking (I expect Macaulay and I would have gotten along fabulously).

  14. It’s wonderful that you appreciate your MIL for her kind gestures . . . and that she chose to make them in the first place -> a positive UPWARD spiral of goodness and goodwill.

    Life is happier/ easier/ better when we focus on the good in others.

  15. What’s sad is that we have a closet under the stairs, and I can blame no one but MTM and me that we cannot find anything in it. I love the description of geological Grand Canyon-like layers of stuff, because that’s exactly how ours is, too. And, I cannot blame anyone little. Two grown people make this mess. Barbies that look like Cheryl Cole may be involved. πŸ™‚

  16. Those little moments of kindness can save us on so many levels.

    You’re definitely not alone in the cupboard-under-the-stairs affliction πŸ˜€

  17. Wow…why do I get flash- backs from “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” when I read about the door beneath your stairs? ..Anyway, ..40 Barbies? AND Big Al? That’s …well, that’s just amazing…has to be another dimension under those stairs…How many “Lightning McQueens” do the Barbies drive?

    Hey, I was just at Celi’s site and read your post about Daisy…and had to reply…you gotta see these two together…

    I replied thus:

    “You should see Daisy and her Cat,,,I’m trying to get Celi to make it into an Award Photo…No More Loyal a Pair have I Seen!” Ever!!!
    Bless You

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