It was a leave of absence. A fissure in the grind. Planned, saved and negotiated for, we stuck a foot in that gap and we prised it apart with our bare hands. Self-granted permission to play hooky. From work and chores. From the dog and the days of the week, from duty. From our children. From life its very self.
Our trip was wonderful and wondrous; but now we are back and I am all at sea. This is my home, the place I know best, and yet it is almost as if I do not belong here. Where does this knife go? When are swimming lessons? Which switch turns the heated towel rail on? What time does school start?
The daughter of a divorce, a lesbian mother, of second-wave feminism, conceivably I might have eschewed the conventionalities of marriage and children, but I never questioned if they were my path. Did I really understand what I would give up to call myself a wife and mother? No, probably not, but even if I had, I doubt I would have chosen differently. Chosen to be one instead of four. Chosen to keep just my life in my head instead of all of ours. Chosen not to concern myself with whether everyone is where they need to be, with everything they need to have. For a moment, though, I did, I let go. I climbed on that plane and I was free. Free to read and to read and to read. To drink margaritas from noon, and talk until 2am, because there was no one to pick up after, no one to get up for. To skip dinner, and eat corn chips and guacamole for my first meal of the day, to not feel compelled to polish off anyone's scraps. Of course I was not without anxiety, not without worry, I was still, after all, me, but they were diminished, my concerns; they were within my control.
Usually when my husband and I are alone for an evening, conversation turns to our children, to their many misbehaviours, and their various small wins. But with seemingly endless time to ourselves, our talk strayed into new territories. One mad afternoon, on a foreign street, tiddly and windswept, my friend and travel companion confessed she'd hardly thought of her offspring. Me neither, I said. All around us on that busy, busy street in the fifth largest city in the world, they spoke Spanish, yet we exchanged these admissions softly, we were not proud. We were not Bad Mums, but I do not think we felt too guilty either. Curious, perhaps.
And then it was over, and we were flying towards them, and even before we had touched down I felt my children once again clogging my consciousness. They've been so good, said my mother. But, she cautioned, they'll probably play up, now that you're here, pay you back for leaving them. They did, but only a little. And I reverted to being their mother, the role that has most shaped my adulthood. And it feels good and it feels right. But there is a part of me that aches for that other woman, mysterious and lustful, my old self. Bittersweet reminder of what I once was. Heady taste of what I might again be.
Valerie said she considered not writing to me after last week's column on perfectionism. "I suspect some would be put off replying, fearing your judgement that their reply was not good enough." Jonathan, however, wonders whether others picked up on the irony of a grammatical error ("math's") in a piece on perfectionism. David believes it is okay to ride my son to achieve more. "Telling him the truth was your gift. Letting him own the outcome is part of learning." But Liz says growing up with a perfectionist for a mother, she now chooses "to do an 85 per cent job, 99 per cent of the time, enjoying the sense of completion and absence of stress in myself, and in those around me who just want it done so they can enjoy it, eat it, see it, wear it, share it. And when I'm doing the few things I want to achieve a 100 per cent result with, I love it, and savour the time invested and result obtained. Even if no one else notices the difference!"