Last week we went on our first family holiday. We were supposed to go to Penrith last year, but F was still waking up a gazillion times a night and I didn’t think I could cope with doing all the driving (because, between you and me, N is a pretty shabby driver) and being awake most of every night. So that brings us to this year. If you’re interested, we stayed at a beautiful cabin called Larchwood Lodge right on the edge of Greystoke Forest. We were visited every day by red squirrels and great spotted woodpeckers and the path at the bottom of the garden literally led straight into the trees… and if I’m not selling this to you by now then just go ahead and look at the website.
I’m not going to relate the blow-by-blow minutiae of the whole week because, to be frank, you’d be bored shitless by the end of the first paragraph. So I’ll spare you the details, but I’ll include links to the places we visited at the end of this post in case you’re ever in Cumbria and stuck for something to do.
The thing is, what I really found myself thinking on the last night of our holiday as I watched my children playing at the edge of the forest through the kitchen window was this: They’re never going to be this age again. O turned four while we were away and I couldn’t help but wonder where those four years have gone. I mean, I hate myself for even typing that because how unbearably cliché do I want to be? But it’s true. Four years ago he was a tiny, helpless baby and I was just getting to grips with motherhood, crying a lot and swearing every time he latched onto my chapped, bleeding nipples for a feed. Now he’s answering back and refusing to go to bed and driving me up the fucking wall half the time, but he’s also this amazing, proper little person and it’s hard to imagine that he was ever that tiny.
Then I looked at F and I felt that all too familiar tug in my gut that happens every time I remember how much of his babyhood I missed out on due to worry and stress, sleep-deprivation and god awful mental illness. And I thought that as much as I possibly can, I will try to savour these moments. So I stood there at the window and I just watched my babies play with flowerpots and sticks and dirt. I watched them delight in every moment of this simplicity and I forgot that I should be calling them in for a bath because it was already long past bedtime. I forgot that I still had stuff to pack for the journey home. I forgot that anything outside of that little snapshot of time actually mattered at all.
I worry so much about the little things, about their routines and what they’re eating. I worry about keeping the house clean and getting the laundry done. And I worry what people think of me when they walk through my front door and see the detritus of family life strewn throughout every room. And I know that it doesn’t really fucking matter what anybody else thinks, but I worry anyway. So I lose these moments to worry sometimes. I don’t stop for long enough to notice the little things half the time. But this holiday has been good for me, because it has shown me what life could be like with my children if I put my worry aside sometimes. If I let F cuddle me for as long as he wants to instead of freaking out about everything that I need to do. If I read O just one more story before bed rather than panic that it’s half past bedtime and he still needs to brush his teeth. This week I’ve learnt that if I put off my worries for just a few more minutes, the whole world really won’t fall on my head.
These are lessons that I will forget as often as I remember them, I’m sure. But the point is that now I know and I will try. I will try to do and be better, for myself as much as my children. So I won’t regret the moments I missed when my children are grown up.
The day after we came back from our holiday was our 5th wedding anniversary, and I’ve been thinking a lot about the people we used to be and who we are now. When we got married, we had only been together for a couple of years. We were just two kids in love and we thought we had it all figured out. We thought we could conquer the world, just the two of us, with the force of that love. I look back on that boundless optimism now and I realise how naïve we really were. Because the truth is that what has kept us together for the last five years has been hard work and determination. We have been determined not to forget, but sometimes we have anyway. Sometimes we’ve screamed at each other to “just fuck off already!” at the end of a hard day – or the beginning of one after a long night. Sometimes it’s almost impossible to imagine who we were when we first met, but I know that I was a fragile, heartbroken thing. I know that I was a flight risk, and I know that N put up with a lot. I know that it took strength and guts for him to resist every one of my attempts to push him away. I know that he loved me a lot, and I know that I loved him enough in return to let him in. To give him the chance to hurt me. And I’m not going to dress this up; there have been shitty times and yes, he has hurt me. More than once. But that street has gone both ways sometimes and the bottom line is the only one that really matters in the end, which is this:
He is my co-pilot. We navigate this journey together. And, when all is said and done, there isn’t anybody I’d rather have in the cockpit with me when all of the lights start flashing at once.
Five years is wood. We are not going to be wooden.
We are going to be God damn TREES.