It’s time for a round up off the things that make me feel that, on balance, ’tis a lovely life and I’m a lucky lady who has, so far, had things work out pretty well.
I think that they are my all-time favourite things, particularly so now that the nights are darker and colder; when I clock off for the evening and exit the boffice (that’s ‘bedroom/office’ to you) and see them all cosy under the lamplight, silently watching youtube reels and questionable manga cartoons, still in their uniforms and with their dirty shoes tucked up underneath them on the couch, no chores or homework done but still all calm and familial, well, it’s life-affirming.
They are still cute, but not in the way they used to be. I only really remember what those days were like – the days of double buggies and nappies and changes of clothing and high chairs and uncompromised routine – because my phone throws up slightly mad photo compilations every now and then and I get to see them all snotty and fat-fingered, with dirty faces and wild toddler hair and I just want to weep into my new Vilshenko wool jumper because they are now into their girlfriends and pot noodles and hoodies and unconfirmed but suspected flirtations with vapes. I miss those babies terribly.
The eldest has begun a love affair with books, which brings me unbridled happiness. I let the children buy books whenever they want as a rule and so now we have quite the steady stream of Sylvia Plath, Camus, Dostoyevsky, Joseph Conrad, Oscar Wilde, Tennessee Williams and Charlotte Bronte arriving down our rickety leaf-strewn staircase. There’s a growing little library in one of the alcove spaces in the boys’ bedroom that is constantly being arranged and rearranged by its proud owner, and a glance at the stacked spines gives me a bit of a psychological parental golden star every time I brave entering their room. That little open-shelved square is an oasis of calm and escapism, an ordered outward sign of what it is to feel grown-up, connected to the world and to imagining across cultures, continents, and class. He’s saying something about himself in displaying these new-found treasures like this, rising up from the sea of discarded clothes and sweat-hardened socks and towels with varying degrees of dampness. It is lovely to be a part of it, even if I only get to pay for them.
The baby is, obviously, still able to meet me where I am at – a small-child glutton. He says funny things and his wispy hair still has that warm biscuity smell and his body is unsullied and unscarred, still with the soft roundness of a toddler, but that is stripped back a little more each morning. He has given up nappies at night and takes himself off to the loo like a child genius. Pleasingly, he drew all over himself this morning with the letter ‘M’ – “for Remi”, he said – and then drew all over the bathroom walls. I thought it was quite cute and considered the energetic scrubbing off that I had to do a bit of a welcome workout for the upper arms. He calls his trousers ‘leg jammies’ and everything from the past is referred to as ‘last day’ which is a very endearing mashup of ‘last night’ and ‘yesterday’. He likes stories about dinosaurs and monkeys and his very favourite things are hammers, eggs and his tiny shiny converse sneakers. He won’t wear socks under any circumstance.
The Middle Others
How terrible that the middle children get lost in the bookends of my first and last. This will be one of the many kinds of things they will bring up with therapy professionals. But there’s a younger middle who has begun to practice magic tricks and he is good, although his preferred thing to make disappear is my engagement ring. So far, it has been returned unscathed. He is also starting to talk to us about his day and his beloved history class, and when he does that, we realise that this feels different because he has never opened up. In the constant noise and drama of our big family, he has quietly observed and saved up his stories. Now, when he turns to us and begins a quiet little tale, we are trying to remember to put down our screens or close the laptop and really, actually listen.
The eight year old has huge trouble getting the tooth fairy to pay up because she or he never has coins anymore and she or he can only remember about the increasing tab in the cold light of day. The troublesome most middle kid is both mouthy and tricky, and hugely receptive to hugs and kind words. But the tricky mouthiness means we forget to hug and be kind. It’s a vicious cycle, hampered by phone calls home from teachers addressing disruptive behaviour, emails saying he didn’t get to school on time, and attention-grabbing pronouncements that he’s spending his afterschool hours asking strangers for money which he then spends on overpriced spicy packets of crisps from the American sweet shop and then resells to gormless and easily-impressed younger kids with pocket money and a high threshold for e-numbers. But they are all amazing and when they leave me, I will need to get a kitten or I shall surely choke on my own sadness.
Shopping, But Discounted
I am cyclical with this stuff – I don’t buy anything for ages, I sell stuff on eBay and feel proud of the pruned wardrobe and the better paypal balance, then I emerge out of my smugness and start buying things again. I’ve recently become the owner of a new-with-tags Erdem wedding dress which was £3220 but which I cannily bought for £170, and two Vilshenko silk 70’s dresses which were £1000-ish but I got them for the tiniest £120 each, and a wool jumper (see somewhere above) for a miniscule £50. I think these represent real bargains – bargains of the century – but then, sometimes, when I say this stuff out loud, people look at me a bit funny. A wedding dress, you say? A silk dress that makes you look a little like a Soviet newsreader with buttons that pop open over your stomach and you don’t notice until much, much later in the evening, you say? Hmmmm. And obviously, buying bargain after bargain can add up. Which might be why saving for a house deposit seems to be an impossible task.
I cannot help myself. These are joy-inducing inventions, buzz-feeding, expensive and always, always very elegant in this London-town. Now we’ve begun to go out again, it’s a ‘passionfruity-freezing martini kind of thing for the lady in the dress with the buttons wide open, please’ kind of sitch.
The free movies are back on, biatches! I’ve been to The Lost Daughter (loved it, and there were canapes and wine in the foyer first) and Licorice Pizza (indulgent and too long but we did get to watch Alannah Haim – lead singer from Haim – do a q&a with Paul Thomas Anderson) and going back into the cinema is just the most gorgeous thing. Particularly if there are cocktails after.
Mine just celebrated their 61st wedding anniversary and they really love each other and they are still healthy-ish and it would be great to see them but Jacinda won’t really let us into the country. Also, Mark has discovered that she’s not going to give him a pension unless we live back there for ten years first. He’s bummed out because he values loyalty above all else and he feels like he should be able to get something back after he paid taxes there for 25 years. But then I said ‘what about all the capital gains we got from owning property there’ and launched into a badly-understood and ill-equipped rant about socialism and asset wealth and poverty divides and then I ran out of steam and sat there for a bit, wishing I had listened during 5th form economics better. But my parents are pretty great.