The big sea

Last week, we went on holiday, staying in a villa in Majorca with two other families. We used to do this with these same people before any of us were parents: reading, swimming, eating and drinking. And while spending a week with them was a little like going back in time and it was great to see our children starting to interact, it was incredibly hard work. Stone floors, a swimming pool, sharp edges, banisterless stairs, cacti, a wasps’ nest. Hazard on hazard on hazard. There was nowhere for Elodie to crawl safely, so Paul and I passed her back and forth, counting down the hours between her naps.

The four of us slept in one room, which wasn’t conducive to sleep. The children have never shared with each other before, but getting them down wasn’t really a problem. One of us would stay in the room until they fell asleep, which we don’t do at home, but we were worried about one waking the other (they didn’t). Usually, within a few minutes, one of them would fall asleep and the other would follow shortly after, and Paul or I would creep from the room, only to creep back in later and get undressed in the dark. Elodie slept in a cot, and Joseph, Paul and I shared two pushed-together beds that were bigger than singles but smaller than doubles. Paul shared with Joseph most nights, but whenever I did, he seemed to wake every few minutes through the night and fling his arms around my neck, clinging on tight. It was lovely and exhausting in equal measure.

Halfway through the week, I hit a wall of tiredness that I couldn’t climb over. I don’t know what it was. Annoyingly, it coincided with the day after the men’s night out, which had ended at 4am. We barely made a functioning parent between us, and the hours crawled past. I think it was the next day that we decided we had to get out somewhere and let the kids play. There was a soft play area at a nearby shopping centre, so we headed there. I was so desperate to see Elodie crawling and climbing; I knew it would make her happy. But when we found the place, we couldn’t see a way in, and eventually we were told it didn’t open until 4pm. It was 2.30pm. I was so tired and so fed up that I cried. And then we got back in the car and headed for the beach.

Joseph calls any body of water ‘the sea’. He calls the sea ‘the big sea’. He’d been excited about seeing the big sea on our holiday, and Paul took him down for a paddle while I stayed on a lounger with our things and tried to stop Elodie from eating too much sand. Then when they came back, she and I walked down to the shore. I stood behind her, holding her hands while the waves rushed over our legs, imagining the smile on her face. And then I picked her up and held her in my arms, looked out to the horizon. It was one of those moments when my love for her overwhelmed me. I whispered my thoughts in her ear and I felt like I might burst. Last year, we were both so ill, and now here we were, paddling in the big sea with the sun on our skin and the sky an unreal shade of blue.

The next day, we returned to the soft play place at 4pm, only to be told that Elodie was too young to go in. We paid for Joseph to play and I started to follow him in there, only to be told that ‘mums stay out here’. So I watched him from the café outside, and when he shouted to me that he couldn’t find his way in, I told him to follow someone else. I saw a young boy approach him, speaking Spanish. ‘Ok,’ Joseph said, nodding, ‘ok.’ And he followed the stranger into that bright, primary-coloured world.

By the end of the week, I was ready to go home. Our flight was delayed, but we found a play area at the airport and, finally able to move freely, Elodie took her first steps. Rushed and out of control, she dived towards Paul, and then me. Having heard us say it so many times when she manages anything new, Joseph said ‘Well done, Elodie, we are so proud of you!’ While playing there for half an hour, he made a friend in the casual way that only young children can do, and I half wished we’d spent the entire holiday at the airport.

One of the friends we were with remarked that if she hadn’t known I’d been ill, she wouldn’t have been able to tell. I think that’s a good thing, mostly. But I still do battle with fatigue and various aches and pains, and it can be tough that those battles are invisible to most.

This morning, I walked the kids to nursery and Joseph told the women who look after him there that he’d been ‘on Spain’. When I got back to the house and opened the door, something fell off my keyring and I bent down to pick it up. It was a tiny card alerting people to the fact that I have a port under my skin. I finished chemo about eight months ago and had the port removed soon after, but I’d stopped seeing the card on the keyring I use every day, so I’d never thought to take it off. The fact that it fell off seemed a bit like a sign. Keep letting go of the things you no longer need, Laura. Keep moving on.

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