Friday, 26 August 2011

A Trip to the Airport

Friday, 26 August 2011
The world is, indeed, a tiny, tiny place. Here I am, four thousand miles away from my parents, and yet, I may as well be living next door – thanks to Facebook, email and Skype, four thousand miles is barely the distance from the end of my nose to the LCD screen.

If my Mum gets her hair cut, I see it on Skype. If she’s deciding what to wear on a night out, she holds up two different shoes to a webcam to get my instant opinion. If I get the laptop out, my two year old comes running over, clambers on my knee and says, “See Nana? See Nana, Mammy?”

It’s certainly a vastly different state of affairs from when I was a kid. We moved from England to Canada in 1981 – some of you out there will be ill equipped to remember that long ago world of blue tissue writing paper, special airmail envelopes with PAR AVION emblazoned up the edge. Transatlantic phone calls were restricted to birthdays and Christmas ONLY, and even then, especially on 25 December, a phone call was usually preceded with at least half an hour’s fevered redialing – and I mean actual dialing, not button pushing -- trying to ‘get a line’ between the busy signals. My Mum is the eldest of five siblings. Add those to my grandparents and my Dad’s side of the family, there was an awful lot of blistered forefingers round our way come Boxing Day.

As if the effort was directly conducive to the hardiness** of the bond of our bloodline, my extended family always has, even to this day, remained very close. My childhood summer holidays meant one thing: a trip to the airport – whether to receive a carload of Limeys or to deliver ourselves to one; that ceremonial journey up the 401 East towards the airport became standard operational procedure for summertime. We’d all pile in the car and head for the airport -- if we were good, stopping for a donut and a coffee on the way.

My earliest notions of travelling distance and time were forged early – I knew when we were nearly at the airport when my old Dad started fiddling with the radio dials, trying to find Toronto Airport's radio station. Back then, we’d check for flight arrivals via radio – any delays would be read out on the station’s AM frequency; we’d all wait with baited breath for a flight number and the word “MANCHESTER” to signify the impending arrival of our kindred on Canadian soil. I can hear the announcer in my mind – or rather, my Dad’s impression of him, warning us in his best clipped broadcast voice: “There is limited paaaaahr-king at Lestaah B Peaaah-son International Aaaahport…”

We'd always go early enough to watch the planes come in for a bit. “Is that them, Dad?” we’d squeal, waving madly off the airport roof, hoping our Grandma and Grandad, or our aunties and uncles or whoever it was would recognise their ant-sized relations from 1000… 900… 800 feet up as they touched down. And you know? Somehow they always did.  :-)

Then we’d scramble into the lift and press the button to be taken down to Arrivals where we’d elbow for a spot at the front with a good view of the automatic doors separating the luggage conveyors from the Arrivals hall.  Jonathan and me would be monkey-barring along the barriers, searching: “Is this them? Awwww, no. Is THIS them? Awww, no.”  

Mum stood, giant swelling of emotion trapped at the back of her throat rendering her unable to speak while her tears waited, quivering pools in her eyelids, for their cue to spill once we finally – at last – recognised the driver behind next luggage trolley.

Is there a name for what happens when you live an ocean away from those you hold most dear? What do you call it when a handful of time zones rips the fabric of filial connection to a sky full of angry swirls of ruddy crimson, fraying cloudy ribbons jostling in some ethereal breeze that never blows hard enough to bring the edges within reach? The pain of the separation, the severance you feel is at best a dull ache – you can live with it, but at times the pain of the tear is acute. The only balm is one of these trips to the airport.

Fast forward 25 years, and I’m my Mum, and the monkeys swinging in the Arrivals hall are my own kids. And that choking ball of emotion is already forming in the back of my throat, because in a few days, my Mum and Dad are coming from Canada.

Ben and I are picking them up from the airport.

We’re setting off really early.

We are going to wave at planes.

We’re definitely going to have a coffee and a donut.

And the best bit? The best bit by miles – four thousand miles – will be watching my boy’s face as he watches for familiar drivers of luggage trolleys.

**hardiness – family joke – my Grandma’s maiden name was “Hardy

Monday, 22 August 2011

Mammy No Mates

Monday, 22 August 2011
I don’t make friends easily. I never have, on reflection. At least with girls – I always had more boy friends than girl ones. I’m a weird uber-opinionated introvert – I have lots to say, but am only really comfortable doing so in trusted company. And then you can’t get me to shut up. I’m not shy, per se, but unless I can spot some obvious common ground in a room full of strangers (cool shoes and tour t-shirts are the best kinds of giveaways) the incline of my tendencies is most certainly more ‘wallflower’ than ‘social butterfly’. Sober, at least.

When I was pregnant with Ben (this was 2004) I felt more than usually isolated; I didn’t know anyone else in my immediate proximity that was also pregnant. I mean, I knew a few people… I was friendly with a few people, but my bestest best girl-friends were all an ocean away. Don’t get me wrong; they were great – they were all really excited, but I had no one to shop for tiny socks with. And I really, really wanted someone to shop for tiny socks with.

I decided that time was right for me to get some “Mum Friends”. For most of my life, I heard tell of friends that my own Mum made while she was pregnant with me – dynamic and affectionate women in baby clinics with whom she immediately bonded. And 30-something years later, she still counts them amongst her closest friends. So discomfort be damned: I was going to find some, too.

So, fuelled by occasionally distressing thoughts of a lonely winter maternity leave with no one to talk to while my husband was occupied with the business of being sole breadwinner, I went to a couple of baby-related workshops and mama-groups – well hello there, boundaries of my comfort zone – to see what, and more specifically who, was on offer. But soft – what hope through yonder stretch marks break? There was one girl at the breastfeeding workshop – for the purposes of this story I’ll call her Mary – who, to my surprise, I struck up a conversation with, and at the end of the session we exchanged numbers. We were due within weeks of one another with our first kids; as good a common ground to start from as any, I figured.

We did see each other once or twice – she had her daughter as scheduled a few weeks before I had Ben; I remember going round to her house to see the baby, and spent an hour or so catching up, getting to know one another. I went round again just before Ben was born, and recall a bit of an odd blip in the conversation in which she seemed really uncomfortable when I didn’t reply in the affirmative to her line of questioning surrounding our plans to have our baby christened. I wouldn’t say I felt ill at ease exactly, but it was a palpable bump, nonetheless. She plainly gave rise to her intentions and her faith and I thought it pointless and a little futile to get into “the whole thing” with her and I steered the conversation elsewhere.

I guess this would be a useful opportunity to state my case on the matter. No need to steel yourself for paragraph after paragraph of religious deliberation, please don’t click away. My spirituality and/or faith is a fairly basic premise: I feel very spiritual, but I’m not a Christian. I don’t worship anything (save chocolate and a wall of Marshall stacks) but I don’t ram this fact down everyone’s throat. Reciprocally, I don’t expect it to be rammed down mine. I don’t claim to be an expert in these things, but I’d say that’s a fair exchange by anyone’s measure. I can’t prove what I believe and neither can you, and neither of us is going to convince the other of anything different, so let us agree to talk about something else – in this instance there was indeed plenty going on; dilating cervixes, swollen ankles, Braxton Hickses, what have you.

So – back to Mary. I called her a few times in the subsequent months, but we never saw each other again.  I tried to initiate another connection with her, but nothing ever materialised.

I’m not completely ignorant of the fact that maybe we both realised that we didn’t really have a lot in common other than our swollen bellies. Maybe she took pity on me and my foreigner-in-England-with-no-mates sob story and thought she’d see if I had anything interesting to say. And maybe I didn’t. But, in earnest, there has always been a part of me that wondered if she took one look at my rusted, busted Christ-o-meter and thought better of striking a closer acquaintance, lest my long and distinguished vocation as a godless, practicing heathen taint her by association. Or maybe it was Christmas and she was busy and then lost my number, etc. etc. etc.

Who knows?

But I was reminded of it all this weekend, when I bumped into her - kind of.

I went for a swim at the local baths this Sunday morning, and walked into the leisure centre at the exact same time as her, her two absolutely adorable daughters, and her husband. I recognised her straight away – I am shit with names but I never forget a face – but if I was familiar to her she gave nothing away. We didn’t say a word to one another – I guess I wanted to spare her the embarrassment of not remembering me, if indeed that was the case.  

I never bothered with any of the “Mum Friends” when I was having Jude. I knew the drill; I didn’t feel the need. I had Jude in the summer – that meant lots of lovely weather to get out for walks in, etc. I kept this blog, I found pages upon pages of sisterly consolation in fellow bloggers, and I passed the ten months of my maternity leave very cheerfully indeed.

But as I was swimming on Sunday, I thought: isn’t it weird how no one is supposed to care what other people think of them, but actually, everybody secretly does? I mean, when I rewind through the poignant moments of the last 20 years or so, I’m not taken with hysterics at the giant gaping hole left by Mary McJudgey-Judger, the holy roller of a friend who never was. I’ve got more blessings than fingers and toes to count them with, and I know it. And I’m thankful and grateful every single day. But it really pisses me off that there is someone – and the laws of averages tell me that she’s likely not the only one – that has possibly made a judgement about me, and my personality, and my lifestyle, etc. based on what she perceived it was missing, rather than what was actually there. Shame.

Ah – it’s no matter; she probably liked shit music anyway.  :-)

Sunday, 14 August 2011

The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo - 13 August 2011

Sunday, 14 August 2011
I recall a conversation with Jason about Scotland – specifically Edinburgh.  It was fairly early on in our romantic history -- he told me that despite living relatively close to the Scottish border, he'd only ever been once.  “We went to The Tattoo,” he’d said. 

I smiled prettily and hoped the fluttering of my eyelashes would mask my confusion; fairly sure that a “tattoo” was something involving ink and needles, I didn't know what part Scotland played in that but damned if I was going to make the boy I fancied think I was an idiot by asking for clarification.  I worked out what he was on about eventually – he spoke with palpable affection at being taken to Edinburgh with his parents, how they gathered with a few other thousand people outside Edinburgh Castle and sat spellbound by scores of pipers and marching bands and fireworks – otherwise known as The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.  

Fast forward 12 years or so to his birthday last December when I was struggling to find an appropriate present for the man who says, “I don’t need anything,” when I remembered the Tattoo tickets were going on sale. 

The Tattoo was yesterday – with our obligatory picnic and thermos of hot water, Jase and Ben and I all piled into the car and headed north.  We got there just in time and even the rain didn’t spoil our excitement.  

It was the perfect birthday present.  Jason was utterly transported and it was obvious every time I caught the look on his face, that the real gift was having given our son a lifelong memory nearly identical to his Daddy’s.