IRISH MAIL: KATE’S COLUMN
I am travelling back to Mayo after a day of meetings in Dublin. It is such a rare treat for me to have to get dressed up in “proper clothes” and have business lunches – driving in the dark to Ballina at six am, humming along to Maxi, tearing out my heated rollers in the train station car park – facing into a whole day away from my boys. A day when I am free from the wife/mother tag and get to be a bona-fide working woman, someone who wears jackets with lapels and proper shoes and lipstick – during the day! And not just Mammy in a track-suit littered with biscuit crumbs who happens to write books on the kitchen table in-between the ferrying and feeding and general floustering about that is our family life.
My solitaire trips to Dublin always start with such a sense of excitement. A posh restaurant for lunch! Vanity Fair on the train home! A sushi box from Aya which I’ll have guzzled before Athlone. Hell, the details don’t matter. It’s an uninterrupted day to myself. Bliss.
My husband wanted me to get the new three thirty train home.
“You’ll be back by seven,” he said hopefully, ”in time for dinner.”
Exactly, I thought. Walking straight into baby-mash and bathtime and three grumpy, expectant faces.
“I’ll try,” I said, “but I can’t promise anything.”
“Just say,” he argued, “just say it’s really important you get the three thirty. Put your foot down.”
Put your foot down you mean, I thought.
“It’s an important meeting,” I said, “It’s work.”
So I loitered over lunch and rang to say I’d be back on the later train.
“How’s the baby?” I said.
“He won’t settle.”
Once, just once, I thought, why can’t you say, “We’re all fine. You go relax and enjoy yourself.” Even if it’s not true. Like I do when you go away.
I went and spent too much money on a tracksuit top, as a reward for getting more work but more as an act of indulgent self-destruction as we are on an agreed economy drive. I dropped in on a friend in their office and moaned at them for an hour then got to the station an hour too early. One whole hour, and no platform announced yet. I went and loitered about in Eason’s, spending far too long deciding on which magazines I could ‘afford’ after splurging on the top.
As I was noting miserably that I had already read most of them in the hairdressers the week before, I stepped back and bumped into a woman and her enormous double buggy. “Sorry,” I said, then instinctively, unable to stop myself, I leaned in for a look. Beautiful twin girls. Perfect, smooth brown skin and pink pouting mouths.
“They’re beautiful,” I said. She smiled back, vaguely, still fingering her magazine. Doubtless unimpressed by the patronizing approval of some nice middle-class white stranger. My hands hovered over the nearest one’s chubby cheek, and I remember my sister, back in my broody years, reprimanding me murderously for touching the newborns of strangers in café’s.
“Parents don’t like that,” she said. “It’s invasive – you’ll give them germs!”
I went back out into the concourse and downed a Butlers Hot Chocolate and had a little petulant cry. I texted my husband. “I miss you. I love you. I’m sorry I’m late. I hate being away.” I didn’t send it because I knew he’d get cross. Every time I go away on business trip there is always a tearful phone call soon after I arrive. Whenever I feel lonely I get angry with him for not being there, even when it is me who has gone away. I take a break from my children to stay sane, but the moment they are not within touching distance, I feel bereft. It is the irrational nature of familial love. Fishfingers for dinner, arguments over Lewis or Top Gear, moaning over homework, running out of baby-wipes during the most spectacular poo of the week - the everyday familiarity of the same small challenges, living with the same people’s habits. Family life can be wearing – something I feel I need to escape. Then I see a stranger’s baby in a buggy and I remember the longing I had through my twenties and much of my thirties for an ordinary family life. And I want to rush home to my husband, and my two sons to fight and feed and slinge about trying to write books while my husband tuts over my spilled biscuit crumbs and not worry about high heels or lipstick or spending money on nice tops that won’t make an difference.
So next time some lady looks into my buggy and coos over my magnificent baby I will remind myself that I am living my dream. And I will ask her if she would like to touch his cheek.