There are few things that make me happier than sharing guest posts on the blog, and especially so when it’s a post from someone I’m a big fan of myself. Michelle at The American Resident is one of my very favourite bloggers. An American living in the UK, dealing with all things expat, she is a wonderful, evocative and honest writer, whose posts on her own blog have moved me to tears of both joy and sadness in the past. In person, she is an irresistibly charming mix of introversion, big warm smiles and blue hair dye. If you love her writing as much as I do, please do pop over to her blog, or at the very least say hello on Twitter.
I watched from the platform while my daughter and her granddad found their seats on the train. Then the frustrating minute of waving, smiling, holding back tears, and waving some more, wishing the train would Just Go, now that she was beyond One Last Hug for the next two weeks. Then slowly the train began to move. I waved again, trying to look cheerful, sending her happiness vibes. Have fun but be safe, my smile said. She returned a blissfully carefree smile of excitement. She loves her visits to the grandparents, hours spent at the local stables, no pressure, no demands to empty the dishwasher, ‘but you must help out, even if they don’t ask.’ ‘I know mum. I do.’
The train gained momentum and glided away and I walked along the platform forcing thoughts of the John Lewis sale just walking distance from the station. It was no use. Before I got to the steps my throat tightened and my forehead pinched and, yep—there they came, the tears.
Sometimes it’s worse than others. ‘Hormones’ I told myself, taking a deep breath I straightened my back. And it’s true; the timing was particularly bad for this visit corresponding with the dreaded monthly hormone storm. But it was more than that.
Every year since my daughter was about three she has been visiting her English grandparents several times a year. Her father and I split shortly before that and although he has been a distant figure she has remained close to his parents. They live on the Northumberland coast, a wild and beautiful country. The routine was established fairly early on that she would visit them one or two (sometimes three) half terms, then for a longer stay in the summer of about two weeks. It was always a rocky goodbye when she was little. Saying goodbye to your little child for several days was like carefully cutting out your heart and putting it on the side of a busy road. It felt dangerous, intensely vulnerable, wrong.
But I knew it was good for her to have that time with other relatives besides myself. And I knew it would be good for me to take advantage of the time apart from her. As a single mum without any other relatives and few friends for support near me it meant that I got to have some time to do Other Things. I went back to university for a second degree when she was little and I spent the first few years of her Northumberland holidays studying myself to exhaustion every minute she was gone. Then when I got serious with a new man I used those breaks to have couple time, sometimes going away on my own holidays.
But those times are the most difficult, for some reason. And that was the problem with this most recent goodbye. My husband and I are going on our third holiday together, just the two of us. When you get together with a partner post-children you don’t have all that easy going couple time that other people do before they have kids. Your getting-to-know-each-other period is wrapped up in the tangle of babysitters, ballet classes, touch rugby early Saturday mornings, and difficult conversations with ex-partners. The opportunity to have couples-only time is rare and important, creating bonds and strengthening the relationship. A good relationship helps people parent together more effectively. I know all that.
But I feel guilty. I feel guilty for different reasons—fling open the wardrobe doors and just look at the array of colours of mother-guilt I have stored up in there! The one I’m wearing at the moment is a neon pink highlighting the fact that I have my daughter at home for three possibly four more years. And I am taking a holiday without her. When I could be taking a holiday with her.
I know my husband and I need this. We’ve had a very difficult couple of years and family life has been frustratingly intense lately, so this break is important and I know we are very fortunate to have the opportunity to take it. And I know my daughter loves going to Northumberland. And I know I am wearing my neon guilt for no reason, I really need to hang it back up, close those wardrobe doors and just enjoy this moment, this opportunity to have a relaxing holiday bonding with my husband. And when we return, and when my daughter returns from her fun in Northumberland, I shall look forward to making plans for the whole family (I’m Googling sites for a four-day weekend camping and surfing in Cornwall or Wales, in case you’re wondering).
I also know I’m not the only one who juggles couple time and family time. Perhaps I need some tips on how to juggle more effectively—feel free to share your ideas!