One crisp morning when Benjamin was in the Sick Kids I popped out to the corner shop for a sausage roll and a breath of fresh air (shocking, I know, but in my defence Benjamin was asleep and there are only so many egg sandwiches from the WRVS café one can eat). I passed a ground floor flat in one of those lovely Victorian sandstone tenements that characterise Edinburgh’s Marchmont area, with its big sash windows wide open. Music and smoke drifted out and I glimpsed a couple sitting there in their pyjamas, drinking coffee, I imagine easing themselves through the morning hangover. Bloody students. I thought. They’ll get a shock when they enter the real world. For a moment, a part of me wished I could go back to whiling away a weekday morning by a sunny window listening to obscure bands with a cigarette for breakfast.
I shouldn’t begrudge them. Fifteen years ago I was them. I’ve had my turn (all seven years of it) of drinking and dancing, smoking and shagging, of cheesy clubs and late-night lock-ins, stealing traffic cones and setting the world to rights; of trying to find someone, and trying to find myself.
Then, I was scooting around town on my little red motorbike, thinking I was the coolest girl in town.
Now, I’m chugging up and down the A1 in my big red MPV, strewn with used suction catheters, soggy biscuits and baby wipes.
Then, I was up all night climbing scaffolding and dancing to Steps (Oh, the shame).
Now, I’m up all night administering Calpol and cuddles (and occasionally dancing to Steps. Thanks, Radio 2).
Then, I was walking out of my room barefoot in the night and stepping on a slug.
Now, I walk out of my room barefoot in the night and step on a Lego brick.
Then, I was waking up fully clothed in somebody else’s bathtub.
Now, I wake up next to the four people that I love most in the world.
Then, I was researching the genetics of the plant kingdom in the big old musty-smelling library where you still had to complete a paper slip to get books up from the underground stacks.
Now, I am researching rare genetic disorders using Google (and grateful that I did take in something of my genetics courses along the way).
Then, I was slipping and sliding into anorexia because I thought looking skinny and fragile would make people love me.
Now, I am proud of the fact that my body has carried, birthed and fed three babies and that my tummy and boobs are evidence of that.
Then, I was drinking strong coffee just to get through the day until I could have a beer.
Actually, I’m still drinking strong coffee just to get through the day until I can have a beer…
Then, I was campaigning against tuition fees because all my friends were going.
Now, I am campaigning for disabled rights and against our impacts on the environment, because I want my children to live in a better world than this one.
Many things have changed; some things haven’t. I’m still me; still the sum of those experiences and all the things I’ve experienced before and after. I’m still learning, just now I’m learning on the job. I like to think each of those things has prepared me in some way for the most important role I’ll ever have, as Jackie, Benjamin and Caitlin’s mum. There’s still nothing wrong with having a few glasses of wine and putting the world to rights every now and then; it’s even better if you can get up the next morning and do a tiny thing that does make it better, for them.
Then, I was desperately trying to find my place in the world.