Thursday, 19 May 2011

Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford

Watching the children pass through their stages of life has been a fascinating experience.

Admittedly, I wasn't saying the same a few years ago.

When they were aged two; when the moon shine had worn off the baby years; when I came out from the high of infant love; when I saw the truly irreconcilable difference that three children had wrought, and the long, bleak crawl ahead of me at the rate of one godawful minute every hour, then it seemed as if I'd woken up inside a life sentence. One that required the renunciation of every moment along the way that had made life pleasurable, and which involved instead a daily ritual trampling on body, mind and spirit.

Now I can see, me and the kids, we've weathered that stage. It was just a transition, and a moment in time. We got to this point; we're used to each other and, in these pre-teen days, we're all growing up okay.

Next, I'm looking forward to the rites of passage in the teenage years proper. The kids are probably thinking the same.

We're already beginning to practise our irrational body-image anxieties and our phobic self-obsessions. We're exploring silent techniques for harbouring rage-filled grudges, and discovering the range of house-rattling impacts to be had when slamming bathroom doors. Yes, we're even experimenting with new inventive ways to exit rooms and hide away pretending indifference, when really we're thinking how on earth do we make up before tea-time, without losing face or descending into mortal combat?

The fact that I have a memory of passing through some of these moments with my own mother is, of course, standing me in good stead; I'm grateful to her, even though I can't tell her anymore, for being around in all my growing up stages, and not chucking a bottle at my head when I thoroughly deserved it.

The fact that she always was around, right up until the day she dropped down dead in a fit of fury about having to depart just when life was taking another interesting direction, makes me a bit more sanguine about the days ahead. I think that whatever growing up angst is thrown at me (literally) by Shark, Squirrel and Tiger, I can probably face it.

I think all this today because we finally make it into the Natural History and Pitt Rivers Museums in Oxford.

The last time we tried this was a few years ago. We never made it inside.

It was a watershed moment: the end of the disastrous au pair summer; the beginning of the new-start autumn. The one which involved a child psychologist, a dramatic car smash and the intended prosecution.

But the days are different again now. As I poke about the ancient stuffed animals, old carved wood relics and dusty tribal objects hoarded by anthropologists, I reflect how, over the last few years, we've changed and yet we've stayed the same. We're all different people, but we're all still here managing life together. We're all talking to each other, negotiating each other, and working through those changes that time brings.

It's a mark, isn't it mother, of a relationship that can endure? If it is always able to change with each new circumstance, weather the experiences good or bad, and always accommodate new difference?