Northern Mummy

General thoughts and wittering about all sorts of things

Apron strings

on August 2, 2012

Today the Bookworm is 9 years, 9 months and 20 days old.  Today is the first day in her life that I haven’t been able to speak to her.

When she was 2 years old, she stayed the night with my mother while we moved house.  I drove her over and dropped her off and we spoke on the phone at bedtime.    The move didn’t go well, our carefully planned arrangements did not come off and the new house ended up in a state.  “We’ll keep her another night,” said my mother on the phone.  “Then you’ll have time to get yourselves straight.”  I declined her offer because I wanted my baby back.  When she came home she refused to speak to me for several hours (my toddler “punishment” for abandoning her, despite the fact that she had the time of her life).  That was the first night we spent apart.

When she was 4 years old and had just started school, Southern Daddy and I went to a wedding near Salisbury.  The reception venue was very small and children were not invited, so my parents came to stay for the weekend to look after the girls.  We had to leave very early in the morning and hadn’t planned to wake them, but the Bookworm was up before anyone.  She cried a lot and begged us not to go.  It’s one of the most difficult things I have done in my life.  We phoned from the reception at bedtime and they were both fine, and we were back to see them by tea-time the next day.  That was the second night we spent apart.

There have been other separations: at first more through necessity than choice, when my mother was dying and I needed to visit frequently; later for more enjoyable reasons, when she’s been for a sleepover at a friend’s house and I’ve had the odd weekend away with Southern Daddy or my best friend from college whom I meet occasionally.  I have always made a point of phoning at least once a day, just as we always make a point of calling to say goodnight to SD when he’s away on a business trip or we’re on our annual summer visit to my parents’.

Yesterday I drove her to Yorkshire for her first Bible camp, which lasts for three days.  She could have gone last year, as the minimum age is 8, but she didn’t want to.  At all.  There was no discussion, we showed her the leaflet and she said “I don’t want to go to that,” and that was that.  (I had similar misgivings about time away from home when I was her age – my mother chose to deal with it by encouraging me to spend regular periods of time away from home, and whilst I didn’t hate any of them completely, I was pretty miserable a lot of the time and only really began to enjoy myself when I started university, so we were keen for our children to provide the impetus for camps and residential trips themselves).  This year, she brought the leaflet home from church and has been “going” ever since.  When our plans fell through to coordinate for her to go at the same time as the son of some friends, so she would know someone there, she was still going.  When two other friend who were keen to go discovered they couldn’t make it, she was undeterred.  We were delighted that she was feeling confident enough to do this by herself.

It only occurred to me last week that I wouldn’t be able to speak to her the whole time she was there.

She doesn’t have a mobile phone – she is 9 and has no need of one.  Even if she did, whilst phones are allowed on camp, they have to be switched off for much of the time (meetings, meals, etc) and the reception is intermittent, so there would be no guarantee that we could contact her.  And of course (the Biggest Deal) nobody else would be talking to their parents.

Yesterday morning she shed a few tears, but they soon cleared up when I told her it was perfectly normal to feel nervous.  Thankfully she seems to have inherited her father’s ability to pack for trips and holidays.  I had made her a kit list the night before and by the time I awoke yesterday she had packed almost everything (only the things on shelves she couldn’t reach were still outstanding) and added a few more things to the list that I had forgotten.  This saved us from additional tears (mine) and tendency to illness (again, mine – I really struggle with travel preparations of any kind) and we were able to leave promptly and arrive on time.  We left her luggage in the cabin she’ll be sharing with 5 other girls and two leaders, and went down to the main building where a craft activity was taking place.  She instantly joined in with the craft and, when I finished the cup of tea I’d been given, she hugged her sister (at my insistence – the Butterfly does not do half-hearted goodbyes so I’d had a quiet word before we left about what was an acceptable minimum) and gave me the tiniest wave before she went back to her collage sea.

One of the leaders I’d been chatting to, who turned out to be the friend of a friend, promised to text me that evening (signal permitting!) to let me know how things were going.  She did so at 8.30 to tell me she had been fine:

Now in bed and getting settled.  Making friends!

It was the best news I could hope for.  I won’t hear anything now until I see her at 11am on Saturday.

I’m not counting the hours, and the Butterfly and I have all sorts of plans – yesterday we met up with friend who lives in Yorkshire and her children for ice creams and play on a farm, tomorrow we’re going to the cinema – but every now and again I realise she’s not here and it feels strange.

Before the Butterfly was born we had 3 years of being a twosome.  We did everything together and most of the time it was just us, because we liked it that way.  Like the year we had an annual pass to the Blue Reef Aquarium and went nearly every week to watch baby dogfish grow and hatch from their mermaid’s purse egg-sacs in the nursery tanks, then grow up until they were nearly as big as the ones in the walk-through aquarium that the attendants fed at 10am, as we watched from our special vantage point that nobody else seemed to know about.  The times she had her afternoon nap while we were driving in the car, and I would stop at the park so that when she awoke we could get straight onto the swings (nothing else – she just spent the whole time hogging a swing!).  Our long car journeys to visit relatives while SD was at work, when I’d think she was sleeping and then suddenly hear a voice say “Look – cows!” as we passed a field of them somewhere along the way.

I didn’t want any more children – I’m not one of those people who “know” they have or haven’t completed their family, but it seemed selfish and greedy to want more when I’d been blessed with so much already.  The Butterfly was born because I was out-voted, 2 against 1, in our little family unit (of course, as soon as she was here, I was utterly convinced they were right!).  A lot of people say it was good for both of us that she came along, because it changed the parameters of our relationship and we learned to share our experiences with someone else.  I agree with them, not least because otherwise it would have been doubly hard to start letting her go, as she grows up.  As it is, our family dynamic is more variable – sometimes it’s all of us, sometimes two or three of us, but the twos and threes are always changing and we get used to spending time in different groups.  It’s good.

I know younger siblings who worry that parents love their first-born more than their subsequent children.  It’s not true.  I don’t think it’s possible.  But you can’t replicate that singular, undivided focus when you have more than one child, just as you can’t go back to being a couple with no children once you’ve had a child, so it will always be different.

However old the Bookworm is, wherever she goes and however long she stays away, I’ll always remember our times of two-ness and treasure them.  They’ll keep me going till I see her again.

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2 responses to “Apron strings

  1. Fiona says:

    Gorgeous. Love this. Hope she is having a brilliant time xxx

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