Everyone seems to need a different aspect of us. Have we lost touch of who we are?
Sunday evenings, my sister and I phone. Another week has come and gone, and we’ve both been too busy to catch up properly. Not quite the leisurely lifestyle we once envisaged when we contemplated the impossibly distant image of grandmotherhood.
“Do you feel fragmented?” Lynne asks.
“All the time,” I admit. “It’s as though I’m a different person with everyone I meet.”
There’s a companionable lull in our conversation while we think about this.
Finally, I say, “Do you think it matters?”
“I feel as if it does,” she says. “But it’s unavoidable,” I finish for her.
Look at us. Our typical week embraces everything. We can be the unhurried grandmother with the patience to plant seeds with a young child and wait for them to grow. Next day, we’re an efficient employee, offering fresh ideas. Wife, sister, neighbour… Everyone seems to need a different aspect of us.
“I think I’ve lost sight of who the original me is,” she says.
“Everyone seems to know one side of me,” I say. “They’d be horrified if they ever saw it all.” We laugh.
As young women, we envisaged our sixties as a time of contentment, leisure and freedom. Racing from one task to another while also being heavily involved with grandchildren never crossed our minds. Busy? We thought that’d be a thing of the past.
“What does your week look like?” she asks.
One of us always asks this question. We may not be able to find the time in the coming week to sit down together for coffee or tea, but we like to know what’s going on in each other’s lives.
“I’m meeting an old friend for lunch tomorrow,” I tell her. “Do you remember Judith? I haven’t seen her since the kids were little.”
“They moved when her husband got a job in Newcastle. We stayed in touch for a while,” I explain. It was in the days before Facebook and email, when staying in touch usually meant sitting down to write a letter.
“That’ll be interesting,” she says. I can tell she’s thinking we should meet up for lunch soon. It’s already a month since we’ve actually seen each other. The weeks are slipping by. It’s a shame we live so far apart. “What about you?” I prompt. “I’m working every morning, and then picking Harvey up from school in the afternoons,” she says. “It’s better now he’s old enough to amuse himself.”
“I’m still waiting for Elsa to reach that stage.”
My granddaughter is four. I’m wrecked from minding her yesterday so my daughter could work on a university assignment. Elsa definitely needs my full attention. As I discovered yesterday.
“Elsa likes structure to her days,” I say. “Yesterday we spent the morning making a chocolate slice.”
“The whole morning?”
“If you count the time it took to wash the chocolate out of her clothes, giving her an extra bath, cleaning the kitchen…”
I give an exaggerated groan. “At least I got something resembling a rest. I said if I could lie down for half an hour, we’d make chocolate icing.”
I’d had to listen to an audiobook of fairy tales. A row of soft toys was lined up at the bottom of the bed to listen, too.
“We visited Adam after it was iced,” I continued. “I sat on his front deck drinking coffee while he gave her a ride on his skateboard.” It’d been relaxing watching my son and granddaughter together.
“I’ll bet she loved that,” Lynne says.
“Yes. And I loved watching him use up some of her energy.”
“Where did we ever find the energy to bring up ours?”
Neither of us has an answer. Neither wants to say we were much younger then. We don’t feel any older inside. But our bodies certainly let us know they aren’t designed for the hard slog of motherhood. It’s a hard realisation. Not one to deal with on a Sunday evening.
“Thomas bought a puppy this weekend,” she says.
“Have you found an excuse to go and have a look?”
I can almost feel her smile as she says, “Of course.”
Thomas recently left home and is determined to become independent. Having his mother visit so soon doesn’t quite square with this goal.
But a new puppy…
“I’ll find an excuse too,” I say. “What kind of puppy?”
“It’s a cross between a cocker spaniel and a poodle,” she says. “I think it’s called a spoodle.”
My phone pings. An image of a brown and white puppy gazes back at me from the screen. “Oh, it’s adorable!” I can’t help saying.
“I wanted to hear your voice when you saw him,” she says.
I think back to the days of having to write letters to stay in touch. Of taking photographic film to be developed into prints. Of expensive phone bills. Life’s busier now, but the means of staying in touch keep improving. The immediacy always surprises me.
“I’ve just noticed the time,” Lynne says. “I’ll have to start cooking dinner.”
We say our goodbyes, wishing each other a happy week. Together but apart. That’s what we are. Until next Sunday evening, when it’ll be my turn to phone.
‘We don’t feel any older inside, but our bodies let us know otherwise’