Sunday, 12 April 2009

Strange life

Well I had better fess up. In a short while, we are travelling to Hong Kong. So I seriously must find Tiger some shoes, because she is not wearing those disgusting brown boots with the soles dropping off.

The horror of taking Tiger to the shoe shop in preparation for new travel is not the only thing which has distracted me. I've been sitting here staring through the window, even though I have too much to do for that.

Really, I have amputated a large part of my memory. It is too much for my head.

Dig's adventures took him around the world. And often, I travelled with him. The first time I visited China was many years ago. Our first stop was Beijing. It was freezing cold, snow was piled high on the streets, I wore thermals to protect me against the biting winds. Foreign Exchange Currency was still in use and the Friendship Stores were the recommended places to shop. What would happen? was the future and we chatted about how Capitalism with Chinese Characteristics would envelop Hong Kong.

I had a wonderful introduction to China, and I loved it. We were banqueted, I was introduced to the translator to Chairman Mao, we were toured round Beijing's sights with the help of a British diplomat who did it all with a determined smile. He was approaching retirement, sometimes walked with difficulty over the ice and had a streaming cold. He took us to see the wall at Badaling and extricated us from a difficult situation when we were stopped by army staff. He maintained a calm I am British bearing throughout and I felt utterly safe and remarkably fortunate.

Throughout, I probably hindered Dig as much as I helped. I smiled, hopefully and politely at the right times, but insulted one of the wealthiest and influential men in Beijing when I could not bear to eat four snails in soup that cost, apparently, the monthly wages of one man.

It was, throughout, an exceptional life. And really, I should be happy at these memories, but they only make me sad, which is why I mostly try and forget them.

Travel like this made me different from many people back home in England. It was not a difference I could easily surmount. I guess I was foolish in assuming this life would continue.

When the children were born, that life stopped. Now I could no longer travel with Dig. He went round the world, leaving a wife and triplets behind him.

But at home, left alone, I couldn't tell anyone how my life had changed. I said nothing because I thought few people would care, understand or sympathise in riches to rags. No one was interested anyhow; they saw three babies and wanted news of the children. So what. A privileged and separated lifestyle was swapped for another one, lived apart. A strange, unreal, unknown one; a 'mum of triplets'. Now I was different from everyone else in a different way.

Then Dig flew back to China and his first stop was Beijing. Squirrel, Shark and Tiger were about eighteen months old and happily staggering around bumping into tables and chairs, bruising their foreheads and falling over toys. In determination to be out of the house everyday, come rain or shine, to force myself to fit this life as much as to protect my mind, I took the triplets to a nearby Church hall, to a mums and toddlers meeting.

Now the area where we live in our falling down house isn't wealthy. It's made up of people who work hard, make ends meet, do what they think is right. I like it. Out on our streets it is robust and earthy, it is not cosseted and gated. And at the meeting the young mums sat round in a circle and I joined them. Their children fought over access to wheeled vehicles, dancing toys and the play teapots, and the mums discussed how difficult it was to make ends meet. There was the electricity bill to pay, said one. It's just gone up again! said another. And food. And clothes for the babies. They looked at their children and worried about those things.

These things were true for me too, and I was dealing with much of it alone, but I could not express this, because to say well look! how would you like to buy three sets of clothes! seemed cruelly like oneupmanship to their problems, a hijacking of their concerns and a dismissal of their fears. I could say at a stroke how my difficulties were so much worse, and by comparison, yours pales. So I said nothing.

And then one mum said Isn't it difficult to go shopping? I would like another pair of shoes. But it is so hard to go to the shops with the little one! And I said nothing. Because I am shallow and apart the thought that popped into my mind, with Dig gone not a day before back to China, I thought, But going to the shops is nothing! I didn't get to go to Beijing!

Strangely, I can't ever forget that thought and my own horror at hearing this inside my head, because at that moment it not only showed me how apart I had lived my life. It showed how, even with such an overwhelming change in my life's fortunes, and what a deep struggle that was to me every single day, I simply could not share any of it with anyone.

Well don't feel any sympathy for me. We are deeply fortunate. I am not now quite so alone, but I am more reconciled and the children are growing. I'll take the children to the shoe shop and sort out shoes and sandals and hide away Tiger's old boots all in preparation for their first trip to Hong Kong. It will be like my first trip too, for so many many years. And for that I am deeply grateful and happy.


Kitty said...

I think that thought in your head reveals nothing other than that you are human. And that you a sensitive human at that. Some mothers at those baby and toddler groups come out with the most bizarre thoughts - I too kept my counsel for much of the time when attending those groups. For reasons different to those you had, but I'll bet at least half the women there were doing the same - for one reason or another.

Those groups are wonderful because they allow you to speak about babies and all the paraphernalia that accompanies their advent in your world, without boring other people senseless.

People are all different. Different thoughts, different values, different emotions, different experiences. Nobody's 'stuff' is any more valid (for want of a better term) than anybody else's. Is it?

I hope you all have a wonderful time in Hong Kong - I'll bet you could get Tiger some cracking boots out there!


mamacrow said...

but goodness, it's not/wasn't about you having your privilaged life taken away, it was about you undergoing a huge change - which is always upsetting, even if it's over something miraculous like the gritlets... That's something all mums can relate to one way or another!

of course, people always want to fit in and be the same, especially when vunerable and sleep deprived and terrified as many first time mums are (speaking from my own experience).

I bet my bottom dollar the others weren't telling the whole story, and many had things that put them apart that they thought they couldn't share also...

On the 'can't complain cos I have triplet's' one up manship - yeah, I kinda know a little bit what you mean!

how lovely you're getting to go back again though - and with the gritlets too! Hope you all have a ball :)

Grit said...

hello kitty & mamacrow, thank you for your comments. it was a deeply lonely time in the gritty household and i probably would have benefitted from the therapy to be found in the mummy blog kingdom at that time. but i remain grateful for the many voices, responses, ideas and expressions to be found here now!x

The Gossamer Woman said...

I remember the time when my children were little as a very lonely time (they were 17 months apart). I did not feel any sort of support or confirmation of my feelings from other mothers who all sat around talking about, what I thought, were senseless and unimportant issues. I did not feel validated as a human being with plain human thoughts and emotions that were not always about the children or housework. There was so much more to life, after all.

Jax said...

I was desperately lonely with just the one child, and dashed back to work when she was 14 weeks old. A mummy blog kingdom would have been great, but I don't think I'd have looked then for the ppl I've found now, iyswim.

If I'd had to give up what you gave up, I think I'd have found it very difficult to be as focussed on my children as you so obviously are, I hope you enjoy travelling with them as much as you did before them.

Ruth said...

I can relate to this. I came out of the Merchant Navy to have my first child and it was a huge shock from gadding around on a ship to being at home fulltime AND shoreside with a baby. I had no idea how he was going to change me and was listed to go back to work out of Port Said 4 weeks after his birth:0 I never went back.

kellyi said...

I was lonely too as I lived in a strange town with no friends or family around me when I had my first. I went to toddler group for a month before any one even spoke to me.

I think most mums are lonely at one time, even if they don't admit it.

Have a wonderful time in Hong Kong :)

Grit said...

you are right irene; i have been like a fish out of water at some of the events i have taken the triplets to. when they were born the only community i really had was the online triplets list, which sustained me, truly. from that time, the home ed community has been supportive of me as well as the kids. (and now of course, blogging!)

jax, you hit the nail bang on, thank you!

ruth, thank you. i'm coming to the conclusion that childbirth forces many women to change communities, and for women the sense of community is very important; but suddenly being cut off from one and plunged into a whole different set of people, expectations and relationships? no wonder some of us go bonkers.

yes kelly, i am sure there really is a great pressure on us all to appear to succeed with kids; in answer to the endless question 'how to you cope?' i couldn't very well answer, 'i can't'.