(Not Always) Plain Sailing
Sometimes it amazes me how, on a weekly – even daily – basis, I can swing between the hauntings of old ghosts and the blessings of freedom. As I’ve said before on this blog, I don’t believe I’ve ever found what you might call ‘resolution’ for the grief of childlessness. But over the years I’ve learned to flow with these life swings. This might sound strange… but accepting there is nothing about my childlessness I can solve or change has brought me peace of mind. Recognising that my grief will appear, perhaps when I least expect it and also taking responsibility for my own happiness and fulfilment means that I no longer live in fear of, or being angry with my childless status. I think these two little snapshots illustrate the blessings/grief thing perfectly.
This week my brother calls me to help out with six days of ‘Emergency Auntie Duties’ for my two nieces whom I adore. Not being accustomed to the day-in, day-out routines of childcare, I have to admit that I find myself quite daunted at the prospect of looking after my nieces for an extended length of time. And one of the things that I find particularly challenging is the loss of that glorious freedom I am used to in my usual day-to-day life. Like anyone else, I have to work, clean and cook but other than that, I am a free agent. So, I’ve had to prepare my wings for a clipping! For these six days I have replaced my usual rhythms with the routine of the school run and the morning and evening cries of ‘have you brushed your teeth?’
I love my role as aunt. I feel totally blessed to be trusted with these two little girls and to
be given the opportunity to have an input in their lives. Looking after them even for this short time makes me appreciate the physical, emotional and financial effort that parents expend every day. I’m also aware of two questions that creep into my mind as I tidy up toys or cook dinner according to the somewhat complicated culinary likes and dislikes of a ten- and six-year-old: “Could I have done this?” and ‘What kind of mother would I have been?” – questions to which I will never know the answer. Yet somehow now, two decades after I realised I wouldn’t ever have children, I feel at peace with that ‘not-knowing’.
And then the grief ghosts arrive: at school drop-off and pick-up I stand with all the parents and I feel like an intruder in a club to which I never got invited. I imagine I stick out like a sore thumb – ‘not a mother’, they seem to be thinking. The truth is that the parents are probably all too involved in their own world to notice me and, rationally, I know that I’m not that important to be thought about by these strangers at all. But still, as I cuddle my nieces then send them off to their classes, I can’t help noticing feelings of grief rising like old acquaintances I thought I’d left behind. Familiar thoughts of inadequacy and failure that have been subsumed over the years return. And I’m suddenly aware that my arms feel empty.
Roll back a week and there I was sailing for ten days in the north of Scotland, totally oblivious to the happenings in the rest of the world and fully immersed (sometimes literally!) in the stuff of wind and tide. The thing with sailing – especially when, like me, you suffer with sea-sickness – is that there are hours spent between harbour A and harbour B when you’re on deck without all the usual distractions of life. I find it impossible to read or write anything even in a light swell. And scrolling through Facebook while navigating across the Pentland Firth would have been a tad foolhardy! So I spent an unusual amount of time in contemplation, looking out at the horizon, wondering exactly how many different types of gull there are. (Eleven, in case you’re wondering!)
One of the things that crossed my mind during these on-deck hours is how free I felt and that, while I don’t exactly celebrate my childless status, I’ve learned to grasp my freedom with both hands. I now feel able to luxuriate in how this childless life allows me – perhaps even encourages me – to find new horizons and to sometimes push myself just that little bit further. Now I know that even when I’m out there in a wild Scottish wind, in 2 metre waves, in the throes of seasickness, freezing cold and feeling totally out of my depth as a rookie sailor, I still have it in me to pull out a little more sail.
As always, thank you for reading and for following this blog.
Until next post, my friends. x