It’s taking me longer than I’d like to write this next post. This is officially now attempt number three; number one was a load of random thoughts that wouldn’t come together in any coherent form, whilst number two was a ridiculously negative outpouring about trying to balance teaching and parenting – I’m going to come back to that one and see what I can do with it. But for now, I’m feeling sentimental, and I want to spread some love. Apologies in advance if it all just gets too much to handle.
We’re in London this weekend; one of my favourite places to visit, and Eva’s too – second only to Florida, which she has been completely obsessed with ever since a family holiday there last year. It was her birthday on Wednesday, and I’m now the slightly bewildered parent of a 10 year old. She decided that this year, instead of a party, she wanted to visit her Auntie and Uncle (and her adoptive Aunties and Uncles, of which there are many) in the big smoke. So far our weekend has included a trip to the Natural History Museum, Kidzania (a ‘city’ built for kids, where they can try their hand at lots of different jobs – I watched her participate, with some slight trepidation, in a liver transplant on a rubber dummy…) and a BBQ at one of my best friends’ house this evening.
I’m writing this lying on my sister’s sofa, where I’m sleeping tonight. I’m lying here on my front, absolutely stuffed full of food and wine, and reflecting, by no means for the first time, on how bloody lucky my daughter and I are to have the family and friends we do. A message one of my friends wrote in her card really touched me tonight – she told my daughter how wonderful it is to grow up with her. When I think back over the last decade, I have to agree.
Having a baby at nineteen is no walk in the park. When I found out, at eighteen, that I was pregnant, my first response was to burst into tears, my second to demand a cigarette from my then boyfriend, and my third was to call my best friend (the same one whose BBQ we went to tonight), who lived ten minutes’ walk from my parents. We traipsed across the field to her mum’s house, where we sat with her and her then boyfriend in a fairly stunned silence, drinking beer which I promptly threw back up. Yes, I was young and stupid. I don’t remember much about the visit – I think they probably both did a pretty good job of trying to lighten the mood – but I do remember needing to go to her for support, and her giving it unreservedly.
The next morning, arriving home from my boyfriend’s house (having vommed about three more times in the night) I shakily told my mum the news. She looked dutifully disappointed and called me a stupid girl; I went to my room and felt incredibly sorry for myself. About half an hour later I went down to the kitchen, where my mum was making toast and smiling to herself. As I entered she looked up at me and said simply ‘I’m going to be a granny!’ This was the start of her relationship with Eva, as the most loving, endlessly generous grandma you could imagine. We lived with her for the first six and a half years of Eva’s life, and she may as well have been another parent to my daughter during some of that time. She helped me enormously; both to achieve at university and professionally, and to continue to have a personal life. During times when I was really unhappy – and at times I was really, really unhappy – she picked up my slack with my little girl. I will always be so incredibly grateful to her for doing this so completely without judgment.
Living at home was hard, though. I resented her at times; I felt inadequate as a parent, in her shadow. We were treading on each other’s toes and generally pissing each other off, and our relationship suffered quite badly. I moved the two of us out, and in with a friend and her own daughter, and we began to slowly repair the damage. It is only with hindsight that I can 100% appreciate everything she did for us. Everything she continues to do. She is an incredible woman, and I’m so lucky she’s my mum.
When my sister fell pregnant during her second year of university in London (yep, for intelligent girls we have bugger all grasp of birth control), my mum was similarly, hugely, supportive. My sister returned home, living with us at my parents’ house and commuting to London a day a week so she could finish her degree at UCL. My mum played another big role in looking after my niece, and the girls spent those vital early years of their childhood absolutely smothered in love. Eva was completely besotted with her ‘little cuz’ from day one, and she is similarly adored in return (though you wouldn’t always know it – little cuz is fiery to say the least). Her mum, the sister closest in age to me, is another inspirational woman. Again, endlessly generous, even whilst dealing with her own shit. She is unbelievably strong – I always find it funny how much I look up to her, despite the fact that I’m the oldest. She is also one of the most hilarious people I have the good fortune to know, let alone be related to.
Then there’s my youngest sister. Staying with her this weekend has been great. We don’t talk enough, because life just does that to you when you’re adults and you live in different cities. Another hilarious and inspirational woman – and I don’t even care if you’re getting bored of reading this. (Please stick with me though…) My youngest sister really did grow up with Eva – I still don’t think she’s completely forgiven me for stealing her thunder by announcing my pregnancy, to the whole family, on her fourteenth birthday. As such, she’s the cool, fun, cheeky Auntie, who it’s aaalways a treat to see. Watching Eva run towards her in Camden, where she was waiting to meet us, made my heart hurt.
I can’t move on without mentioning my dad and my little brother. Jesus, it’s turning into an Oscars acceptance speech. They’re hilarious, annoying, love to take the piss out of everyone and everything, and I couldn’t do without either of them. I’m well aware that I’ve caused my dad no small amount of stress over the years – lots of it financial. I dread to think where I’d be if it wasn’t for his support. Probably in a grotty little flat somewhere, wishing I was anywhere else. When I think of how different our lives could have been, I am overwhelmed by gratitude.
I’m starting to worry that I’m going to put anyone off ever reading anything I write again – it won’t all be so sentimental, I promise. But, to go back to the inspiration for this post, one last tribute must go to my wonderful friends. You have supported me more than you probably know over the last ten years. You have welcomed Eva, and loved her. That was so clear tonight, as it is every time we’re with you – you are the wider family we are both so lucky to have. We love you.