When my twin boys were tiny, and opportunities for any emotion other than ‘impending doom’ or ‘actual doom’ were equally as tiny, I discovered I could change the course of a whole day with a trip to Waitrose. While the journey from home to store was often fraught with danger and disease (to a certain extent…) once inside the nicest supermarket in the world I was safe and ready for action. And swiftly it came.
As I waited, exhausted and broken, the scent of identical twin babies would waft through the air conditioning, drawing shoppers to me and my enormous double trolley. I was unmissable and they were unstoppable.
Things would kick off with a few accidental of smiles of genuine pleasure. People love it when life matches, and seeing the effect my identical babies were having would lift my spirits enough to start progressing slowly along the first aisle. Next would come a positive exclamation; ‘Oh, look, twins!’ This would be the tipping point for several gangs of elderly ladies to come forward eagerly for a closer look and maybe even an indulgent sniff.
In aisle three I’d catch the eye of a slightly more restrained 50-something lady who would give me a gentle smile and tell me I was doing a fabulous job and my babies were completely beautiful. And by the time I reached the fine wines, the staff would be commenting on my ‘incredible’ post-pregnancy figure and telling me how they’d always wanted twins and how I was the luckiest person they knew. And by then I knew they were entirely right.
I tell you this because I was in Waitrose today, and found the melancholy slightly overwhelming. My babies have just started school, and I am just me again.
My children are all desperate to age. They embrace every new sign of growth and achievement in their lives with such hunger. They constantly want to do more, to know more. But the truth is I have travelled so far from the person I was before they came that I don’t quite know how to cope with their independence. I wait for subtle signs of interest so I know which direction to encourage them in, but I have to manage my expectations to fit in around their already clearly defined understanding of themselves.
Unexpectedly, the selflessness I now have to maintain as a parent is more complete than when I gave up my job, my social life and all the hours in the day to wash bottles and change nappies. Then it was physical, now it’s emotional. I have been assimilated to motherhood for the long haul. And willingly so. There are a few moments each day when the vast freefall of a future without career signposts and monthly appraisals makes me light headed. But I simply don’t see my future in the way I used to, however much I might regret that. It’s not about having no ambition. It’s about finding an ambition that fits in with an overwhelming desire to be at the school gates by 3.30. Which is part of the melancholy of Waitrose. This new ambition also needs to provide a new way of getting attention.