I was speaking to my oldest friend on the phone the other day when she asked me how I was doing. Genuinely. She didn’t want a flippant answer about how everything is fine. She really wanted to know if I was OK.
And I answered honestly – I am. I really am…
When Alpine Papa and I chose to move to the middle of nowhere during my maternity leave, I was worried that I’d be lonely. What I think my best friend knows is that I had found maternity leave so isolating when I’d had Alpine Boy. I hadn’t really thought about it beforehand, and was just looking forward to my extra-long ‘holiday’ from work (ha!). It was only once I found myself on my own all day every day, with just a tiny baby and some furry cats for company, that I started to go (ever so slightly) mad. We had moved to our little corner of London only a few months before and had been making the commute into the City every day, so we knew no-one locally. Literally no-one. I have lots of lovely friends in London, don’t get me wrong, but they were at work all day. And London is just so damn big that, even when they were home, those friends may as well have been in another country. (No exaggeration – I once drove to see a friend in North London and it took me three hours to get home. It would have been quicker to drive to Calais.)
‘Helpful’ baby books bang on and on about routine. In those first few months of isolation the only routine I could see myself falling into was one of never leaving the house, of talking to no-one, of wearing unwashed trackie bottoms seven days in a row, and of opening the gin at 4.00 pm. I don’t think that’s what Gina Ford had in mind… (For the record I never actually opened the gin at 4.00pm. I usually waited a bit longer…)
Thankfully, I managed to resist such a routine (which is why I’m writing this now from a lovely house in the mountains and not from the bottom of a gin bottle). I finally forced myself out of bed in the morning and got myself out of that stinky tracksuit. I even showered from time to time (when Alpine Boy would be quiet long enough to let me). I signed up to clubs and got out of the house. I made myself talk to people, and in doing so made some lovely friends. I was reassured to find that many of the mums I met felt the same as me – not quite coping with not quite coping, and generally feeling a little bit lonely. I met others who were dealing with new motherhood so well (at least on the face of it) that they were an inspiration (if a tiny bit annoying and smug…!).
And so I survived my first maternity leave with my sanity more or less intact. In fact I was just getting into the swing of things and looking forward to another five months or so at home with my beautiful new baby, when Alpine Papa got made redundant. Boom! It was back to work for me.
I HATED being back at work (not least because it was a particularly busy and stressful time in the office), but I LOVED being back in the land of the living! Where there were people everywhere! Who you could talk to whenever you wanted! About stuff other than poo and vomit and sleeping patterns and weaning! And so, although I would have preferred to stay at home a lot longer, I was happy to be with my friends again, and I loved the fact that it was Alpine Papa and not some stranger who was looking after Alpine Boy while I was away grafting.
So, all that to say that I was worried it would happen again – that I would be oh so lonely on my own all day. And that this time it would be worse – this time we wouldn’t be in some sprawling metropolis inhabited by over 8 million people. We were moving to the middle of nowhere! And my friends would be even further away! Statistically at least, the odds of finding someone to talk to here must be somewhat lower than in good old London.
So far, though, so good. Really. Thanks for asking. Yes, I am on my own. A lot. Alpine Papa works much longer hours than he did in London. But I’m doing OK. I’m doing better than OK.
This time round I have a fantastic three-and-a-half year old to play with and talk to. And although I rarely get to discuss the state of the economy with him or debate the finer points of EU integration, it is enough that he fascinates and amazes (and yes, frustrates and annoys) me daily. I just can’t believe that the tiny being that was sending me crazy three and a half years ago is the same (slightly less tiny) being who is sparing me from the loneliness this time round – with his make-believe dinners cooked in his mini kitchen; with his epic stories about magic butterflies and monsters with big teeth who fart a lot; with his continuous and often baffling questions; and with enough everlasting energy to join me each evening in a bout of Crazy Dancing*.
And I’m doing OK because it’s easier to be on your own here than in London. I get out the house every day. I go for walks. Going for walks in the mountains on your own (well, with only a baby for company) is normal and calming and breathtaking, not weird and lonely.
I’m doing OK because I’ve learned my lesson from first time round – the only way I’m going to avoid Loneliness and his twin brother, Craziness, is by talking to people and making friends. It’s hard, especially in French, but I’m forcing myself to just do it. I talk to random people everywhere and, luckily, they don’t blank me or assume I’m crazy (this ain’t London after all); in fact they want to talk to me! I meet mummies at the school gate, and am plucking up the courage to ask one of them over for coffee (I was going to ask her yesterday but hadn’t done the washing up for about three days. I decided instead to wait until the kitchen didn’t stink and I could at least offer her a clean cup…). I have started going to a mother and baby club, which involves driving for miles to get to people’s houses but so far it’s worth it – they’re all lovely.
And most of all I’m OK because we have had so many good friends come and visit us in the short time we’ve been here, and so many more lined up to come. One day when I’m old and grey I want to open a bed and breakfast, and this is my practice run. Hotel Alpine Mummy is currently doing a roaring trade, and instead of paying for your board all you have to do is talk to me – a lot – to keep me from going mad just that little bit longer. And hide that gin bottle until after 4.00pm…
*Crazy Dancing is a popular pastime in our house. Guests are obliged to join in, whether they like it or not. To try it at home: take one cheesy radio station, preferably which plays non-stop songs from the 60s, 70s, and/or 80s. Turn up very loud. Dance. Crazily. A lot. If you are three and a half you might permit yourself to have a tantrum when the music stops, the adverts come on and/or a slow song starts. Hey, I permit myself the same indulgence and I’m 32.