Today I am feeling, as my eldest would say, totes emosh.
So totes emosh am I, that this morning I cried a bit after dropping youngest at school which is decidedly out of character on the first day back after half-term when I will normally be seen screeching away from school at speed with music full-blast, fag-in-mouth, headlong into a day of freeeeedom.
His teeny eyes were red from not quite enough sleep. When he yawned he looked like he did when he was a baby.
Do we all look like our baby selves when we yawn?
He’s getting all this extra motherly emoshness because of his sister. She was eighteen on Sunday which is so staggeringly preposterous to me, I feel like any minute I’ll wake up in my bed at home, aged 11, after a nasty bump to the head and a vivid dream where I was caught up in a cyclone and transported to a world where I had a mortgage and kids and stretch-marks.
Saturday night she had a party. Gwyneth and youngest took root in the front room, away from all the extraordinary screeching, while I flitted in and out, trying to look casual whilst assessing every individual for signs of excessive drug ingestion or alcohol poisoning.
There were none. They were all fantastic. The only drama was when the birthday girl suddenly slid down the stairs, spraying her drink all up the walls and banging her arse so hard she cried and then cried even harder when she realised the music had stopped playing which was a far greater catastrophe.
All night I kept welling-up at the sight of her. Her laughing. Her dancing. Her hugging her friends. Her enormous stuck-on-all-night smile.
The emoshness was motherly pride first, to see her so beautifully grown. Second came an unpleasant wave of self-pity, to realise I’d never enjoyed my mother’s gaze at my 18th, or 16th, and don’t even remember those birthdays. The third level of emosh was the familiar guilt that always follows a bit of self-pity, that it was actually Mum who was really in pain and HER who missed out on everything, not ME.
I sat at the end of the garden and allowed myself a few proper tears in the dark for a moment…
…until the spell was broken by the birthday girl screeching WHERE IS MY MUM? WE NEED MORE WINE!
And I was right there, as I have been for the last eighteen years, every day. From bottles of formula to bottles of booze.
On Sunday she went to the Manchester One Love gig. Did you watch any of it? There was Ariana Grande, flitting about the stage in stilts with long swishy ponytail like a teeny show-pony, but also belting out her hits and other people’s hits, soldiering on marvellously through her young tears.
It felt like all the kids were being scooped up in one gigantic hug from their pop idols; from ‘oldies’ (ha) like Robbie to the youngest like Ariana, they were saying: what happened is hideous, and we give shit about it and about you.
Then Liam Gallagher swaggered on in his obligatory over-sized parka, all Manc-moody and I thought, what’s he doing here, doesn’t he hate all these teen-friendly acts? I can’t stand the fella. He’s like an over-grown Horrid Henry who needs a long-overdue good slap from his mam. He wailed nasally into the mic as per, but when they cut to the crowd, the kids were LOVING it. They knew every word.
This is what they all needed. It felt like this generation’s Live Aid; the only night where you would ever see such huge stars on the same stage, coming together for a cause. It was raising money, but it was also raising hope and that’s something the kids desperately needed, especially as they’d woken up that morning to the news from London.
During the gig Gwyneth told me about what Churchill had once said when it was suggested he cut funding for the arts during wartime. He refused, saying: then what are we fighting for?
Turns out, on further googling that he didn’t actually say that, but he should have. Maybe he would have. And it’s true, especially true when we’re being attacked at music venues and bars, that we determine to crack on singing along to bad pop songs and drinking over-priced pints of beer because they are precisely the freedoms and joys our enemies want to destroy.
Her phone lost charge by the end of the gig. Despite knowing we were recording it at home, she had to spend all night with her phone in the air, sobbing her heart out with her friend. She was supposed to walk home (we live just a few minutes away) but she was taking too long. I couldn’t call her. All I could do was sit in the garden listening as police sirens filled the air and the choppers hovered above. Again.
I’m not ashamed to say I was properly worried and I never normally worry about her when she’s out. But it didn’t seem impossible that something impossible might have happened. I moved to the sofa and put the news on, waiting for bad news, my hands frantically at work on youngest’s new fidget-spinner.
Until there she was, her little face bouncing up the front path, grinning through the darkness. Inside, her cold, cold cheeks and hands needed a hot cup of tea and some toast and a full debrief on every single moment of the night.
We stayed up until it wasn’t her birthday anymore. After she went to bed I sat outside, listening as police cars raced to ordinary, more routine situations. A fellow Mum sent a message saying: ‘Well done! She’s eighteen! You can finally take a breath now!’ Even though we both know we never really will.
I’d hold my breath forever for this girl, this eighteen year old girl of mine.
She made me fat, she made me temporarily incontinent, she made me feel both achingly old and alarmingly immature. Hell, for nine months she even made me quit the bloody fags. But I don’t think I’m being too emosh when I say she’s also loved me like nothing I’ve ever known and actually, has taught me to breathe a little easier, to settle into love, into being a family, into being alive.
Being alive is good. Being her Mum is good.
Cleaning up after her party? Not so good…