I saw an advert for the brand of washing powder I used when the children were babies the other day. Out of nowhere, as if it was yesterday, I vividly remembered its smell and inhaling it as I held my children. I could see the damp washing as it tumbled out of the machine and feel its coolness on my hands as I hung it out on the line to slowly dry in the spring sunshine. With a sudden rush I remembered the smell of a newly opened pack of nappies, the sound of opening a container of baby food, the taste of rusks and the heavy heft of a changing bag on my shoulder. At one point my life was full of babygros and little vests and I realised with a shock how long it was since my wash-loads and washing line were full of them – but I couldn’t remember for the life of me when the last time I washed one was, let alone the last time Youngest Son wore one.
There are so many last times in life, and so many of them just slip by unnoticed. I don’t remember the last time I pushed Youngest Son in his buggy, or the last time Oldest Son sneaked into bed with me for a hug. I can’t recall the last time I put Oldest Daughter’s hair in a bun for ballet or did her hair for school. I can’t remember the last time Youngest Daughter agreed with me about anything, although, thinking about it, that may actually be something that’s just not happened yet.
It made me look back over my relationship with E and wonder when the last time he felt love for me was (if he ever felt it) and if I could spot a moment, a time, when he made the decision that I wasn’t enough and changed his relationship with me forever. I don’t know when he last said ‘I love you’ to me and meant it. I said it often; probably every day, usually in an ironic or amused way after pointing out that he hadn’t stacked the dishwasher, or done something he’d promised to do. He always used to reply to these little daily harassments with a resigned sigh, the occasional rolled eye, and an ‘I love you too my love’. I thought these little moments were code for the fact we still loved each other after such a long time. I realise now though that his sigh expressed genuine discontentment and his words contained no love at all. As I looked back on our lives together, and re-evaluated everything I thought I knew, I wondered when was the last time one of his ‘I love you too’s were sincere? When was the last time he genuinely looked forward to coming home to me? When was the last time he valued what we had and what we’d created together? When was the last time he thought of home and his family with the same sudden rush of warmth and love that I still think of it with? Of course, all of my questions about E are moot – it’s entirely possible, completely probable, that he never felt any of those things, and, given his refusal to speak to me about or explain anything, they will never be answered anyway, but it’s a funny feeling looking back and realising that everything you thought you knew was probably wrong.
Whilst the memories triggered by the advert did make me feel very nostalgic and a little bit sad at the times that have passed, they also made me savour the things that are so normal now that I barely notice them – the tangled zip of Youngest Son’s school bag, the click of packed lunch boxes, the texture of Oldest Son’s school jumper, the scent of the body spray drifting from Youngest Daughter’s room and the contented sigh of Oldest Daughter’s favourite cat curled up on her bed, waiting for her to come home. All of these things will disappear one day, all of them will become memories – there will be a last time for all of them. Twenty years ago I was pregnant with Oldest Daughter, life was full of work, career, decorating our new house and planning for the future. Ten years later my life was filled with school runs, nit checks, bath times and the occasional snotty nose. Today it’s filled with texts, you tube, Netflix, nagging (from me) about household jobs, stress about exams and my work clashing with my being a Mum. Who knows what it will comprise in ten years’ time? I just hope that we’re all still fortunate enough to be here to reflect together on how life has changed.
I suppose that all of the last times are replaced by first times, and my lingering sadness over my babies growing up is compensated for by the joy of watching their triumphs on the road to adulthood (and other, less laudable, but equally important, firsts such as coming home drunk, the odd detention and emails about missed homework). I hope that in time all of my lasts with E will be replaced by much more important firsts with my family and maybe even with someone else, a new partner made of decent stuff who deserves my love. Whilst I’m a little sad that I can’t treasure the lasts I don’t remember passing, I’m looking forward to embracing the new things that life has to offer. Mind you, I’m still not sure Youngest Daughter will ever agree with me about anything, I might have to accept that that is a first, and a last, that I will never experience.
Ooh – whilst I’m talking about last times. The last time I saw my comfortable green parka was last August. I wore it to the pub and haven’t seen it since. The house has been searched from top to bottom and both daughters accused of nicking it, but it’s still not turned up, so I can only assume Drunk Me left it in the pub. If anyone spots it in my favourite Ampthill hostelry do let me know.