I am lying in bed as I type this, in a bedroom that still smells like fresh paint. That smell takes ages to go. But I quite like the promise of it. Our bedroom used to smell musty and tired – but now the cracks in the walls are filled, the stains and marks of an old owner erased, and all we need now is a new carpet to finish it all off.
I’ve never really wanted to be in this room before. I remember, a very long time ago now, sitting up here every night, in the midst of separating from my son’s father. And it felt like a sanctuary, and yet a prison.
Last night, I was so restless and sore in bed. My pelvis felt as though the pressure was just too much. And my back was screaming in pain. It was the first night where I wondered if labour really was close. I could feel the weight of my little daughter. And no matter how I lay, I couldn’t escape that true feeling of being helplessly, heavily pregnant.
I woke, startled, and confused of the time. And I realised it was only around midnight. The sky seemed a funny colour for midnight – we’re still sleeping in a room without curtains – so I could see it clearly outside the window. Above Mark’s sleeping form.
I realised that midnight meant that it was the 18th April. The 18th of April is the eve of my due date. But more importantly, it was a day in its own right. The day I would find out where my son would be playing out the next chapter of his life.
I remember applying for schools on the very first day I could. 1st September 2015. I remember filling out the application form on my phone, on the way to work. I felt so strange, selecting schools and adding in my son’s information, when he was only a few months into being three years-old. I was queasy. Newly pregnant and finding it hard. But I remember the satisfaction of turning to Mark and saying: “I’ve done it!” I wonder if I was the first mum in my area to do it. I must have applied before 8:00am.
But I really wanted to give Bill the best chance.
I’m lucky that I live in a village where the schools are all pretty brilliant. And my first, second and third choices were made with confidence. The only difference being that one was closest to my heart.
The third choice was the Catholic primary school I attended as a child. I have fond memories of being part of a class of 12. That was my entire year. Two girls and ten boys. I learnt a lot about religion and morals. And it was very close to both houses I grew up in. But, as an adult, I live on the other side of the village, and I am not 100% sure that I want to raise my children religiously. I will tell them what I believe. And what their fiercely scientific father believes. But I want them to believe in what is right for them. I have no desire to push anything on them, except my love.
The second choice is the primary school my dad attended as a boy. So the thought of having my son learn within the same walls as ‘Po’ was a beautiful feeling. As it is, the secondary school that Bill will be going to is the same one where my parents met, and became childhood sweethearts. And it’s the same corridors my brother and I walked. And the same school my cousins will be going to, when they move up here from Hertfordshire, after years of being apart as a wider family. So to introduce another family link in the form of a primary school, well, that made it feel extra special.
But the first choice. The first choice had my heart.
I’ve started writing that and I can feel myself welling up. But that little plot of land feels like it is very much a part of my little boy. Not just a primary school, the same buildings house a children’s centre and a nursery.
The children’s centre was where I first heard his heartbeat. Where I used to wait for midwife appointments with my mum. Where I would grow giddy in a waiting room, because I felt so special. And I always looked forward to talking about my unborn son.
It’s the same children’s centre I will be visiting tomorrow, for my 40 week appointment. On my due date. To try and see if we can coax my son’s baby sister out. And it’s a place I associate so strongly with falling in love with my children.
The nursery was the place that really brought my little boy to life. The place he’d come back with stories to tell. Where he’d learn new songs. Where he’d make friends – like “Oliver with the straight hair”. The place that took photos of my son and uploaded them to a special site so I could join in with his day. The place that I am learning about. Where to hang coats. Where to put lunch boxes. And I even got to visit last week to show the children my belly. My heart was bursting to be a part of that. These wonderful women who invest time into my son and help him to learn and grow when I can’t. Or at least, when I couldn’t.
And after that, the next step is school.
My son will be four years-old in June. A later baby in the school year, by most standards, but a baby who loves to learn. Who has always been my home bird and will always want to come back to his nest. Just so long as he can fly and bring me back tales to tell.
Soon, I will be cradling a small daughter, with downy hair, and pouted lips. And I will look up and see my son. Who is, much to my bittersweet dismay and celebration, growing up.
My wonderful boy with the true blue eyes, and the fluffy blonde hair, destined always to stick up like a cockatoo at the back. My son with the wry smile when he manages to make you laugh. My son whose only joke is a knock-knock joke about an interrupting cow. Which he can’t master the timing of. My son who is amazing with words. Who can talk to you and explain things to you and you forget how little he still is. But he’s also pretty hopeless at numbers sometimes (don’t worry kiddo, I’m just the same, we’ve got Mark, we’ll be okay).
He’s the son who knows my favourite colour, my favourite flower, my favourite animal. And will always do his best to remind me of that. Like the time he got to choose an animal to rescue at his swimming lesson and his hand shot up when the penguin was offered: “My mama’s favourite animal is a penguin!” Sneaking me a beam as I watched from the side. Or yesterday, when he kept bringing me ‘daffodils’ from the garden (my favourite flower), and I had never loved a dandelion more in my life as a result.
I’m so proud of him. I can’t believe that the years have flown and brought us to this next stage. The stage where he is almost ready to explore the world, more and more, without me. We’ve not had the easiest time as mother and son. We never quite got it right. Until now. There’s been a lot of guilt from me over the years. And a lot of regret. I never managed to be the mother I used to dream of being. I was supposed to be married, and with my husband forever. A family unit just like the movies. I’d have time with my children and I’d somehow find that perfect family/career balance (that feels a bit like a unicorn sometimes – you can’t stick a cone on a horse’s head and call it a unicorn, just like you can’t stick a smile on your face and say you’ve nailed ‘the balance of motherhood’).
But now, looking back, I realised that everything has lead us to today. And I’m so proud of our family. I actually don’t care that we’re ‘blended’. I care that we are happy.
My son has his first choice school. He’ll grow. And learn. And we’ll do spelling together. And maybe read the Biff & Chip books I used to read as a child too. He might join Cubs and a football team. And we’ll have friends over for tea. And I’ll have to try and keep his baby sister away from his toys, as she learns to crawl and adores her big brother.
She’s due tomorrow. 40 weeks. I’ve known she existed since three weeks. That’s a long time to wait for your miracle.
Once upon a time. I sat in this bedroom and I cried for what I had lost. I cried because this was not the life I expected to live. I cried because I knew I would have to raise my son differently to what I had hoped. I cried because I had failed again. That I would have to share him. And be apart from him. I cried because it felt so unfair. I wanted to be happy and I wanted to have a family. But they didn’t exist together. I cried because I was scared I would lose my house. Our home. I cried because I accepted that it may just be me and my son. And that may be the way it will always be.
And now I am sat in this bedroom and I have to admit I’ve cried. But I’ve cried because I am happy. I’m so close to meeting the daughter who ties our family together. So, should anything happen to me, Mark, Bill and this baby girl will always be a family. Because they are connected. She’s a part of us all. My son is about to be a big brother. This is his year, just as much as it is hers.
I am so proud of my family. I love them all so much. And I am so grateful I got this chance.
We’re starting a whole new chapter. And I’m so grateful we get to turn this page together.