When it comes to my children I hover somewhere between occasional private emotional wreck and purposefully stoical. I might shed the odd tear once or twice (hello, Cold Feet new season/random Radiohead songs/THE NOTEBOOK obvs) but by and large, in matters of motherhood, I manage to keep it together in public.
OR SO I THOUGHT.
In July I was that mum hiding behind big sunglasses with a suspiciously snotty tissue at Hux’s end of term pre-school play, thinking thoughts of bygone baby years and precious little boy moments, knowing come September he’d become a bonafide grown-up school kid. I was dreading the autumn term and his entrance into our education system, the final signal to an end of the remnants of babyhood.
But then the summer came. We had a blissful week as a threesome at Lakitira followed by the kids heading off to the Isle of Wight with my parents for a camping trip and my annual birthday hop to New York. And in between all this travelling I had a bit of a revelation.
I don’t know what clicked, but in the time leading up to the summer I thought a lot about the last almost-4 years (WHAAAAT) I’ve spent as a single parent. Almost without realising it I’ve bumbled through the time, juggling work and children to find a formula that means we’re not left destitute (i.e. can still buy Diptyque scented candles without feeling guilty) yet still spend a good portion of time together and I kind of think we’ve bossed it.
OK, so boys and non-essential friendships have taken a back seat as I have prioritised kids, work and sleep (in that order, with sleep a very distant third), and for the last couple of months a strange feeling has been creeping up on me. I have been feeling… proud. Accomplished. Happy! Our life as a single parent family has found itself in a really good place.
In my experience, when I became a single mum there wasn’t a moment when I said to myself, right now, I’m going to give up having my own life so I can keep everyone’s heads above water. It’s an automatic thing I did, so automatic that I didn’t even realise I was doing it. In my case, my ex moved 2.5 hours away so more balance over my 2 weekends a month off wasn’t an option: the situation was difficult, I was challenged, but life went on.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m no saint, there were indeed hard times and I would have been driven up the wall if my own parents didn’t love my children almost as much as I do – I’m very fortunate they enjoy spending time with them. And I’ve most definitely had the odd evening ranting and raving about my lack of freedom, but instinctively I have always returned to the most important point at hand, doing what’s best for the little ones, putting their needs above whatever my own might have been.
This summer I was able to take some time to myself. I had a couple of trips to New York, fun times with friends at Soho Farmhouse, dinners in London. I caught up with people I hadn’t seen in a long time and re-ignited friendships I’d sorely missed. It was on one of these occasions, drinking a Manhattan on a friend’s sofa (sorry, couch) in Brooklyn, that I had one of my Eureka! moments.
“It’s so good to see you finally prioritising yourself and your relationships”, my friend said.
And I thought – yeah, it is.
You see, for the last three-and-whatever years I’ve subconsciously made myself feel guilty about considering anything above work and kids. My life has revolved around making other people happy, little people at home and big ones in the office. It’s been worth it – Elfie and Hux are smart, funny, confident little humans and my work is going well – and I wouldn’t change my sacrifices for anything. But it feels really good to be moving on up.
I’m genuinely delighted we’re all spreading our wings a bit more, them with school and independence, me with getting a little bit of my past life back, a little bit of new adventure. It’s time: they’re old enough to need me a little less, I’ve grown enough to need me a little more.
Which is why I haven’t been crying over teeny tiny grey shorts or brand-new black plimsolls this September, though I may have wept over their new school shoes – however this was strictly related to their price ;). It’s why I skipped to the school gate with Hux and Elfie this Monday, feeling proud as the both of them happily hugged their friends hello and sat on the school rug for register without a second glance towards their mum. It’s why I returned home and spun metaphorical cartwheels round my kitchen before gleefully settling back into my home office with a happy sigh.
Growth. It happens to all of us, even if we don’t even know it’s happening.
Here’s to new terms, new starts and new adventures.