My husband has never done Valentine’s gifts or cards. In 7 years together he has stayed ever true to his convictions that it’s all a consumerist, capitalist mugs-game and that if you really love someone you’ll show it when you want to, not when you’re told to. Although I may, on occasion, have been slightly jealous when people posted of surprises they’d received on Facebook, I have always respected his determination to avoid this ‘holiday’ – if only because it means I also don’t have to bother. There has been only one exception.
Last year I asked my Cupid-hating husband for a present on Valentine’s Day – an afternoon home alone. One day, whilst whiling away the hours of my maternity leave singing about the wild adventures of some worthy farm animal and his ever-cheerful friends, it occurred to me that I had never had so much as an hour alone in our house. We had moved in one week after our son had been born and since that moment, whenever I’d been home so had he. I’d had occasional moments away from him – evening classes, book group, nights out, trips to visit friends – but I’d never so much as sat on the sofa or been to the loo in my own home without company.
As it required no involvement in the commercial aspect of Valentine’s Day, my husband agreed and headed off for an afternoon of father-son bonding.
Home alone for the first time in nearly a year, and the first time ever in that house, I revelled in the silence. I lazed on the sofa and read, uninterrupted, for hours. Though at times I missed the burbling and ramblings I’d gotten used to (the baby’s, not my husband’s), it was a chance to be ‘me’ again, the me I’d been before I’d become a mum and lost the right to waste hours of my life on whatever indulgence took my fancy at that moment – be it reading Dostoevsky, watching The OC or simply doing nothing at all! When it came time to go and meet my family, I felt rested, rejuvenated and eager to resume my role as wife and mother, glad of my time in an empty house.
Fast forward over a year and I can barely remember the last time I was home alone. Returning to work largely gave me back that pre-baby identity I’d worried about losing and now that the days of breastfeeding and newborn clinginess are over I can head out to be the ‘old me’ fairly regularly (to be fair to my husband, he holds up his aim to show he cares all year round fairly well by doing more than his fair share of solo evening parenting with barely a grumble). Still, when he suggested taking the boy with him to visit a friend this afternoon, leaving me unexpectedly by myself, a small part of me lit up with selfish glee. I could get ahead with schoolwork, do the ironing that’s been clogging the sofa for two weeks and watch a whole film without worrying about burning or neglecting a child, or sack it all off completely and spend the whole afternoon buried in a book with a constant stream of coffee and biscuits at my side. Bliss!
Except…I can’t quite get used to it. I’ve read, I’ve napped, I’ve watched some trashy TV, but somehow I feel lost.
Maybe it’s because my new glasses haven’t arrived and reading is more tiring than it should be. Maybe it’s because I finished watching Gossip Girl last week and haven’t found a suitably crap America teen drama replacement (suggestions?). Maybe it’s because it’s still a little too cold to sit on the balcony and watch the world go by.
Or maybe it’s because there isn’t an ‘old me’ anymore. And there isn’t a new me. Somewhere along the way the boundaries have blurred and I can’t quite define the mum in me as separate to the non-mum me. Somewhere in the last year I’ve figured it out without ever realising it: returning to work, getting a social life and embracing motherhood have combined without me spotting it.
So I look back to the image of my lazy self, whiling away the hours watching Colin Firth in Pride and Prejudice for the fifteenth consecutive time and wonder how the hell I could stand doing so little? And all the time with no one I hitting me in the face with jigsaw pieces or inexplicably piling apples from the fruit bowl in my lap and giggling? How long ago did I buy that ‘Improve your French’ book on which the spine is still unbroken? Probably because I was too hungover to bother opening it most weekends. I think back to those days not with pity, nor regret, nor envy, nor nostalgia, because they’re never coming back, and they’ve never really gone. Like my identity, they’ve subtly woven in with family life. The French book remains untouched; I still wake up hungover on occasions, but these days I get over it pretty bloody quickly or else I’d end up vomiting while changing nappies; and I still have that Pride and Prejudice box set. And, come to think of it, another hour before the boys come back…