Thursday, 6 February 2014


So, our little toddler is slowly turning into a preschooler. Ana’s transition from two to three hasn’t been without its share of difficulty, but now, on the cusp of her third birthday, she has almost completely blossomed into this new person – a little girl who is endlessly more flexible, content and co-operative than the one who used to cry if I put the wrong colour bowl in front of her at breakfast (that being, nonetheless, pretty normal behaviour for that age).

But this post isn’t actually just about Ana (although I often feel that everything in life is somehow about Ana – she is never far from my thoughts and everything reminds me of her, brings her smell to me in sudden gusts). This post is actually about the weekend we celebrated her birthday, and what happened to us, her parents, rather than to the birthday girl herself. And, you know, sometimes even the parents have important things happen to them, too. I think.

We used to live somewhere else (from where we do now). We didn’t live there for an eternity, but long enough – five or six years is quite enough to leave your heart in a place. Before that, we used to live somewhere else again, and before that, the same…You get the drift. We move a lot. Or used to, at least. Every move was a time of transition which had to be handled with care – if you move on too quickly, you risk forgetting where you came from (literally and metaphorically – you might forget not just the place, but all the life that you lived there, and who you became during that time). You need to maintain those links of the past with the present or you can weaken your sense of self, start to float, rootless. The other extreme, of course, is that you only move forward reluctantly. That some invisible elastic pulls you back to where you’ve just come from, so you’re never completely free, never gain momentum, one part of you is always turned the other way. We tried to balance in the space between those extremes, embracing new places and lives, holding on to things we learnt and people we loved in the previous ones.

So this weekend, we went on a road trip. Back to where we used to live, back to our circle of friends. Ana’s eyes had been sore the day before and I put some eye drops in for her. She patted my cheek and said: “You’re just like a real doctor, aren’t you!”. I thought to myself, this birthday better hurry up as she’s getting too cheeky for a two year old! On the way we picked up my cousin, who happens to be in the UK at the moment, for work. “This feels so normal”, she said to me, “I could get used to it”. Well, it is normal for a lot of people, I thought. It hasn’t been for us as we live so far away, but that doesn’t stop us recognising a good thing when we see one.

Ana’s birthday weekend was planned as a combination of things that are Cool for Children (big lunch with friends, cake, new toys, a visit to the big wheel, general mooching about) and things that are Good for Grown Ups (clubbing, a few cocktails, good company, some music long not listened to, a shock wave of memories). We talked to friends, almost feverishly, trying to catch up on everything since that last time we saw each other. How could I condense my daily experiences of playgroups, sport sessions, play dates, housework, home admin, puzzles and stories and baths and that beautiful boredom that comes with the luxury of watching your children grow up next to you, in your own home, rather than cared for by someone else, in a nursery? How could I describe to my friends that mix of happiness and loneliness that comes with always being with my two little mates but very little other human contact, especially adult? How could I explain days which are at the same time pure leisure (as we don’t have to get anywhere, there is no work, preschool is optional, we can always have a duvet day if we feel like it) and a frantic I-haven’t-sat-down-all-day business of nappies, cooking, laundry, hoovering, tidying up toys, wiping away tears, refereeing arguments, hugging and cuddling and laughing and occasionally, almost, crying?

But the friends, they get it. I don’t have to say very much but they get it. It’s the wisdom of friendships, you say just one thing but the friends, they already understand all of it. You give just one example but they take in the whole story. You start to explain but they’re already on your side. You start to say what happened next but they have already guessed it, they know it and they’re cheering for you. That’s how it works, with friendships like this. And you want to hear about their lives too, and because there are many of them and one of you, you get just a snippet from each – a little bit of work trouble here, a new boyfriend there, but you can gather how everyone is from how shiny or tired their eyes are, whether they talk with excitement or worry. You use your ears, and you use all your other senses, and they guide you more fully than mere conversation ever could. By the time you have spent an afternoon together, you have caught up, rejoined, and can now simply relax together.

(Here is the birthday girl, in our hotel, waiting for everyone else to get ready)

(And here is me, proud as punch!)

Now - for us, for this little group of grown up vagabonds who really don’t want to grow up all the way, we tend to relax on the dance floor. It’s all so familiar. We used to live on it. Sometimes I’m surprised that any of us managed to have jobs, children or any other sort of life at all given the amount of time we have spent on the dancefloor. See you on the dancefloor, we used to say to each other. And last Saturday night, we once again were, together, on the dance floor. Afterwards I sent a message to our friend who was the DJ and I asked him: How can we live without dancing like that ever again?

The following day, the birthday celebrations were over, the city was glowing in the sunshine but the shine had already gone out of my mood. I felt I had met myself again after a long time, and I really didn’t want to say goodbye. To the friends we spent the night with, and to me, that old me from those old times. Because I really miss being that person, but in my life now, there is no space to be that person any more. What defines my life these days is the safety of suburbia, the predictability of routine, the mildness of middle class choices, the ennui of repetition, the sleepiness of a provincial life.

Reluctantly we came back, on Sunday night. I could feel the elastic pulling me in the opposite direction. My children’s eyes lay on me with concern: why is mummy sad? Impossible to explain. Even grown ups sometimes struggle to understand the cycle of loss and gain that is always present in life: you lose something, you gain something else. You can never compare the two, because they are different. But sometimes, the fact that you can’t keep hold of both, can make you very sad indeed. I know that I have to let go of the past in order to grow, but sometimes the growing is so hard, I want to leave that to someone else while I just go dancing for just a bit longer.

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