May Day, Mayday
Well, the bank holiday of 2020 will be a memorable one, both for what we did and what we didn’t do. This year’s bank holiday fell on Friday 8th to celebrate the 75th anniversary of VE Day and we duly participated by making our own bunting; planning, but ultimately failing, to bake our own scones; and having a history lesson which, it later became clear, had been somewhat lacking as my seven-year-old son was left with the impression that Hitler’s first name was ‘Martin’. No, me neither.
And then the youngest child, currently obsessed with Disney films and stories about princesses, floored me with a question about her Dad and me. I’m proud of the fact that we have a pretty positive co-parenting relationship. But our daughter was so young when we split that sometimes navigating the explanation of quite why our family doesn’t look like those in the stories about ‘true love’ she sees on the TV on in the pages of fairy tales is more difficult than I’d anticipated. I thought the conversation we had with her older brother would be the bad bit: that agonising May day three years ago when we told him Daddy wasn’t going to live with us anymore. She was there, of course, and who knows how much a baby can pick up on… but I didn’t realise then that conversation would have to happen over and over; as the ‘baby’ grows up she needs her own story.
She appeared with an old wedding picture I can still remember picking out from hundreds of digital proofs: chosen for the expression on her father’s face when he looked at me. I don’t actually look that great in it, not that I ever like pictures of myself. She doesn’t see that, of course. ‘You’re so beautiful, Mummy! I like your dress. Are you marrying Daddy?’ There it is, the pang of pain, right on cue. But I swallowed it, again, to give some soothing answer, suitable for a four-year-old, about what happened after the happy-ever-after. She doesn’t need the details, and neither do you. But it’s over. Can’t get away from that.
The innocent question transports me to May days past. Eighteen years ago, the first date with him, in another city far away. That date would, for seven years, be our anniversary, before we got married and switched to the ‘official’ one.
Then there was the May day two years ago. Back then I was still unaccustomed to time alone, and when the children went to visit their Dad, my routine for those lonely Sunday afternoons became yoga classes at Stretch. This was genuinely my first taste of time to myself in years. The novelty of reading a book on the tube, the walk along the canal to Broadway market, the simple pleasure of wandering through the buzzy streets, alone but surrounded by people, and then the revelation of moving my body in a way I’d never done before, synchronising breath to movement, stretching, feeling, noticing, was the first step towards healing.
A year ago I was, finally, just hitting my stride. The bank holiday included our usual cosy family film night, the birthday party of one of my son’s best friends, and then, once the kids were away, a brunch with girlfriends and even a date. Not one that lead anywhere but I was back ‘out there’ at last.
And now? My acceptance of my new reality is complete, my appreciation for my fledgling freedom is boundless – and there’s little I can do with it for the time being. I’m not complaining that my personal life is a casualty of the pandemic. That’s true for us all. At times the lockdown has triggered the memory of the time when I first found myself single. But I try to remember that I now have the tools to deal with it. Trying to work with no childcare support, the tyranny of the living room, being stuck indoors for long evenings with no babysitters, and only able to leave the house with a tiny person in tow are all pretty familiar issues to a single parent.
It’s relentless and suffocating being the only adult in a household at times, but I wouldn’t be without my lockdown buddies. Even though I’m looking forward to the day that dinner-time conversation elevates above the level of ‘Who farted?’, I’m grateful that my life choices have meant that I have permanent good company. I could easily have written a blog post about the difficulties of the last eight weeks – and I still might – but this morning, at ‘zoom coffee’ after the church service, we were asked to pray for those who are locked down alone. Right now there’s no end in sight, and although I know we all have completely different circumstances, empathy for others is probably more constructive than focusing on our own struggles. So I’ll fulfil that prayer request and, despite all I’ve lost, stay grateful.